We all have a center of strength, a place from which we live life with a deep sense of confidence and well-being, the feeling that we’re on the right track. But it’s more than this. It’s a deeply intuitive knowing that we are something much more than our cumulative history. We know ourselves as a spiritual being whose essence is grounded in something greater than the surface personality we hold out to the world. This knowing is more than intellectual information gleaned from book studies. It’s the unshakable knowledge that our being is derived from the living presence of God, the source of all. This is the place we go when our world appears to be collapsing and our faith is shaken to its very core.
It’s obvious by the level of unrest we see in the world that many have strayed from their center of strength, that something essential to their happiness is missing. Ironically, the closer one lives to the surface of his or her being, the more prone they are to embrace the belief that this gnawing dissatisfaction can somehow be addressed through external means. They assume their place of rest and peace of mind is located on a distant horizon. Yet they reach that horizon only to find another. They set and accomplish goal after goal, with none ever being quite as fulfilling as they had hoped. The satisfaction gleaned never fully quenches their thirst for that missing element.
Does this mean that we throw in the towel and give up hope of finding satisfaction on this earth? No. But we need to learn to look in the right place to experience it. Our craving for that missing element is not satisfied by the temporal manna of material accomplishment. The fulfillment we seek is found in a much deeper yet more accessible place. And while it has become a cliché to say our answers are found within, this is still as true today as ever. Our challenge is to move beyond simply mouthing such feel-good words and come to know and experience the deeper reality they represent.
Emerson gave us an excellent way to understand this when he wrote, “Every man is an inlet and may become an outlet to all there is in God.” To appreciate the wisdom of his words, we can think of two types of ponds. The first is a simple depression dug in the ground and filled by the external sources of rain and runoff. This pond has no outlet. The second is fed from an underground spring. Because this pond is filled from a perpetual water source, it creates its own outlet to accommodate the natural overflow.
Now suppose we use each of these ponds to irrigate two separate fields of corn. We must pump water from the rain-filled pond. With the spring-filled pond, we only need to dig a canal from the outlet to the field. The corn in both fields starts out well, but it isn’t long before we notice a drop in the water level of the rain-fed pond. With no rain in sight, we begin rationing water. Soon we notice a difference in our two fields. Over time, the field irrigated by the rain-fed pond begins turning brown and becomes stunted from a lack of water. The second field, irrigated by the spring-fed pond, continues to flourish.
If you think of yourself as the pond and the field as your life, with which of these two ponds do you most identify? Many will respond positively to Emerson’s imagery, yet in practice will find themselves behaving more like the rain-fed pond. There’s a very good reason for this. In our daily life, most of what we do involves the field of material matters. It’s easy to tie our sense of happiness and well-being, even our identity, to the condition of the crop. We can so turn away from our natural inlet as to forget that it’s even there. We begin to define ourselves based on the condition of the field. Because of this, we turn to the sky (outside sources) for answers. When the rains come, life is good. When they stop, we wonder what we may have done wrong and what we can do to bring rain. We pray to the rain gods, so to speak, with the hope of influencing the weather.
The spring-fed pond, on the other hand, is unaffected by changes in the weather. Because it maintains the same steady flow of water in rain or drought, it thinks of the field and its crop in a very different way. The field is the effect of its oneness with the spring. We could direct its waters to any kind of crop, or no crop, and it would still be the spring-fed pond that it is. Lack is not a word in its vocabulary.
From the point of view of each of these ponds, how might we define success and prosperity? The focus of each is completely different. With the rain-fed pond, we associate prosperity with externals like rain and the condition of the crop. With the spring-fed pond, we associate prosperity with the pond’s natural internal connection to the spring. Having or not having enough are never concerns with this pond. In terms of peace of mind, we can see how the rain-fed pond might experience ups and downs while the perpetually supplied spring-fed pond, not subject to the possibility of lack, maintains a steady experience of peace.
Let’s return to Emerson’s, Every man is an inlet and may become an outlet to all there is in God. Notice he didn’t say that some people are rain-fed ponds and others are spring-fed ponds. He said that every person is a spring-fed pond. Many, however, believe and behave as if they are a rain-fed pond, that their good comes from external sources. The process we refer to as the spiritual path, then, is not a matter of evolving from a rain-fed pond to a spring-fed pond. It’s a matter of waking up to the truth that we are each now a spring-fed pond. Every person is an inlet and may become an outlet to all there is in God. How do we transition from a rain-fed self-image to the truth of our spring-fed nature?
Considering our illustration, it’s important to be clear on a couple of points. We are not an inlet to the cornfield. We direct our outlet to the cornfield. The cornfield is the effect of a our choice as to how we direct our water. Praying for more rain and visualizing a more abundant crop does not produce a healthy harvest. It’s the steady supply of water that ensures the better crop. Prosperity depends on our keeping the spring open.
Water in this case represents the universal energy that is God. This energy is brought to bear on the kind and quality of life we want. As Emilie Cady points out, it isn’t more things (corn and rain) that we’re after but a deeper awareness of God that we seek. Empowered by this awareness, we till and plant the field of our life knowing all that we need to take each step is provided. From the spiritual perspective, it’s never the thing, but the energy that produces the thing that we seek to experience first. It is then that, as Jesus pointed out, the thing itself is added. Like the spring-fed pond, we are supplied from the inside out. The successful crop is the inevitable result.
It’s not just individuals who fall into the trap of behaving as if they are rain-fed ponds. Many leaders in the New Thought community have turned from emphasizing the individual’s oneness with the spring to oneness with the rain-fed ponds of the world. This is driven by the notion that one rain-fed pond may have a little water, but a collective of rain-fed ponds has a lot of water. If we all ban together, there will be plenty of water to go around. Under the guise of such catchphrases as “spiritual social action” and “mission concentric ministry,” their emphasis is on finding ways to redistribute water from the haves to the have nots. In truth, a hundred rain filled ponds don’t hold a candle to the power of a single spring-fed pond. Imagine how powerful a hundred spring-fed ponds would be!
Bringing individuals back to their spring-fed source was the primary focus of the founders and pioneers of the early New Thought movement. Fortunately, it still is with some, but much of today’s spiritual pop culture has turned instead to the politically charged landscape of social reform. While they claim this is a natural evolution, the reverse is actually true. This makeshift, outside/in approach to changing the world is as old as civilization itself. The seers of all ages who have encouraged the inside/out approach have always been a minority voice crying in the wilderness of popular human thought. The shift back to our spiritual center cannot be accomplished in groups. Souls, again as Emerson wrote, are not saved in bundles. We each have our own inner spring and our return to it is a private affair. No spiritual community can take us to this inner sanctuary. They can only encourage and support us in our return.
If you feel your life has lost its meaning or is moving in a direction that does not suit you, it’s probably time to re-establish yourself in your spiritual center of strength. Take time to become still, to hold this image of yourself as a spring-fed pond being filled from within. As you regain your spiritual strength and power, you will view and approach your life with new vision, new enthusiasm, and possibly a whole new direction.