One of the popular catchphrases of the personal development movement is "you create your own reality". Look around and you will see it or something similar on this site. It is a useful belief to hold. Useful doesn't mean true. Manifesting in a physical world, we have no way to know the ultimate truth of things. Our scientific knowledge isn't truth. It is a useful model. Spiritual knowledge isn't truth. It is a useful model. In the tools, techniques, and theories of personal development you are not going to find truth. You will find models that are more or less useful.
One of the things about models is that they should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. They must explain experience. Conceptual simplification for didactic reasons is necessary, but this can sometimes lead to uncorrected misapprehensions. I've been guilty of doing this. So have others. I wrote this article is to correct some of these misapprehensions.
Most, if not all of the techniques of personal development have a history that goes back thousands of years. They were called magic. Two old definitions are "the art and science of causing change to occur in accordance with the will" and "the art and science of causing changes in consciousness to occur in accordance with the will". My view of magic is that it is the use of psychological techniques to cause change in the psychological and physical world. The roots do not gainsay the effectiveness of the techniques, but people need to know the roots of what they do. Many are based on the ancient Hermetic doctrines, one of the most basic being "As above, so below". This is the source of the many techniques of creative visualization which use imagination and desire to effectuate changes in consensus reality. In the West this is rooted in ancient Egyptian magic and has come down to us in modern times through nineteenth century Theosophy and ritual magic. Again, I take no issue with the techniques themselves. Browse through this site and you will see that I recommend many of them. Realize they are not new, though. The only thing that really changes is the presentation to make them palatable to a new generation.
Money, Persuasion and Manipulation
Money, as they say, makes the world go round. In a perfect world world of perfect people communism would be the perfect economic system. The early Christian church used it. Within small spiritually-based communities it is still used. On a large scale it doesn't work and will not work as long as all men are not perfect. Until then, money is one of the significators of value. Buy books that teach you something new. Buy tapes that inspire you. Make donations to sites, people, and organizations that assist you in your journey of growth. Therein is fair trade for value given and value received.
Any work that attempts to teach, that tries to get you to change your mode of life, is a work of persuasion. Usually the persuasion is done with your best interests in mind. At times the persuasion crosses the line into manipulation. The techniques of persuasion and the techniques of manipulation are often similar, but the intents are diametrically opposed. Persuasion is normally used to teach you a course of action, a mode of behaviour that is beneficial to you, while manipulation is always used to get you to engage in an action that is beneficial to the manipulator.
Everyone is selfish. The selfishness may be directed at long-term spiritual growth, or it may be directed at the short-term goals of satisfying physical needs and emotional desires. Most of us, of necessity, display some mixture of the two extremes. Anyone who tells you they will give you the secrets to happiness, but first you have to give them several hundred, if not thousands of dollars, isn't looking out for your best interests, but for theirs. Anyone who presses your emotional buttons to get you to send them money is manipulating you. Anyone who lays a claim on you for material support due to their desire to devote their full attention to bringing you the tools and techniques of growth is manipulating you. When you see a television evangelist doing such things, you aren't fooled by their act. Use the same standards when dealing with the personal development gurus. This is not to say you shouldn't participate in such exchanges, but do so with your eyes open.
Simplicity and Complexity
No one is perfect, least of all I. Sometimes as I am cruising the web I get irritated, especially at the sweetness and light New Age personal development sites. You know the ones I mean. They are the sites that convey the image that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world. They are the ones that imply all you need to do is sit in lotus, visualize your goal, see it as existing, and it will come to pass in the fullness of time, if not by tomorrow.
Yes, God is in his heaven, and God is in you and me, your next door neighbor, and the rock sitting by your front step. But all is not right in the world. There is pain here as well as love. There is a white Isis and a black Isis. The major religions of the world have incorporated the concept of evil for a reason. All is not right with the world. We are apprentices in creation and, as with all apprentices, some of our efforts shine with the inner gleam of perfection while others, let's just say they leave something to be desired.
Many people have combined the belief in responsibility for creating their personal reality with the belief in the existence of only one consciousness, and extrapolated it to mean that all reality is subjective. I, the experiencer, am the one and only consciousness and nothing exists in my life but what I put there. On one level this is a useful model, but on another it is not.
Yes, I believe there is only one consciousness. Illumination is the process and act of becoming aware of that one consciousnes. At that level everything is subjective. Yes, I believe that our personal worlds are a reflection of who we are. But reality is composed of wheels within wheels. Just as my personal life is a reflection of who I am at any given time, I am part of the personal life of many other people, a part of their dream made real. In our acts of creation, we throw off sparks that themselves become real, just as we are a spark that has become real and independent. Wheels within wheels. At the personal level, a naive subjectivism doesn't explain the facts of experience. That is why I like the term 'consensus reality', which I first came across in Jane Roberts' books. The physical world is the result of psycho-spiritual creation, but it is the world of the many, not the one. We consent, individually and en masse to participate in the world dream. There is an intimate interplay between the subjective and the objective. Just as our emotional state is shaped by the interplay of our thoughts and attitudes and our physical state, we shape and are shaped by our personal vision of the world.
Keep your models as simple as possible, but no simpler. You have created a reality that is social and subjective. You are not alone.