In this podcast, Commander Divine talks to Mitch Horowitz, author of One Simple Idea: How the Lessons of Positive Thinking Can Transform Your Life about how the practice and philosophy of positive thinking have had a massive impact both on individual people and America as a whole. In this far ranging discussion, they touch on meditation, yoga, Ghandi and Napoleon Hill.
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Transcript & Shownotes
Mark Divine: Hey folks, Mark Divine here, coming at you from Sealfit and Unbeatable Mind headquarters in Encinitas, California. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Before we get started with a wickedly cool guest who I know you’re going to love, I want to remind you that if you haven’t yet subscribed to our podcast please get on that. You can go to sealfit.com, the podcast page, you can just Google the podcast, you know, just get on our subscription list so you know when the latest episodes come out. Also, if you like what you hear today, please go rate it, you know I’ve never asked for a rating before, but my team has been begging me to ask for a rating or to review it on Unbeatable Minds, just go to iTunes and just search for it and rate the thing. Hopefully you’ll rate it five stars.
Mark: So today I have an author and fellow journeyman named Mitch Horowitz. He’s had a lifelong interest in man’s search for meaning. Of course, we know a great book by the title by Viktor Frankl, thank you very much for referencing Viktor. So Mitch is an award winning author, he wrote a book called “Occult America,” which sounds fascinating, I want to read that one next. And more recently, a book that I just jammed through a chunk of it last night called “One Simple Idea.” He’s written about everything from the war on witches to the secret life of Ronald Reagan. He writes for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Salon, Washington Post, etcetera, etcetera. He’s the voice of an audio book series including the Jefferson Bible, and the host of a web series called “Origins, Superstitions.” Fascinating. And professionally, Mitch is VP and executive editor at Tarcher/Perigee which is a division of Penguin house. We can find more about him at mitchhorowitz.com, but we will come back to all of that latter on.
So Mitch, thank you so much. Welcome today, I think that we have a lot in common but as I was saying before we started this call, I was just fascinated that you took a historical at this idea of positive thinking and kind of coined it as the American creed. How did you get interested in this subject? Where did this all come from?
Mitch Horowitz: Well, first of all, thanks. I’m glad to be here. We definitely have a lot in common and I’m a fan of your work. My interest goes back to when I was a kid, in early adolescence my home was getting split apart by divorce. We were facing financial disaster. This happens in a lot of households in America, and I began looking for practical philosophies that could act as a searchlight to help me make it through. I had been given a translation of a Talmudic book, a book of ancient Jewish wisdom called “Ethics of the Fathers.” As I began to read into this book, I found that the great rabbinic sages advised positive thinking. That was one idea among others in there on how to look on life, which shocked me and surprised me cause most of us think of injunctions to think positively as something that is relatively new. As something, sometimes that we don’t even take that seriously, frankly, that we think belongs to refrigerator or page-a-day calendars. But as a kid I began to discover that a lot of our most ancient ethical philosophies do rely, among other things, on a positive attitude of mind and that led me on this journey that brings us together on this call today. I stuck with it my whole life.
Mark: Yeah, so the one simple idea that you wrote about and that you peruse the history of is this idea that positive thinking can transform your life. Is that right?
Mitch: That’s right.
Mark: And I thought it was fascinating, cause I share the… most spiritual traditions have some element of mental development and when we talk about mental development we always come around to curating and cultivating a positive mindset. So you start to see this show up according to your work in the late eighteen hundreds in America. Now do you think that the original proponents, such as, I think you reference a Swedenborgian guy and then William James, and even Emerson who is, of course, a well known author. But all these guys, where did they come across the philosophy to start developing this new creed on our continent?
Mitch: Well some of the earliest folks who began to develop this idea on our continent were fleeing religious persecution in Europe. In the early eighteen hundreds, there were people experimenting with what was then called Mesmerism and what we today would call hypnotism who were sometimes encountering problems in societies that they lived in. There was lingering religious persecution or you had social upheavals like the French Revolution which made experimentation in certain for certain people difficult. So some of these people began to cross the Atlantic, come to America. And they were experimenting with what then didn’t really have a name. People had this idea that there was this deeper aspect of the mind. Today we use terms like subconscious mind or unconscious mind. But those terms only began to gain popularity in the eighteen nineties. It’s fairly new. Back then, our forefathers were struggling with a vocabulary to describe what was going on because if you said the mind, people thought “well, you use the mind to do arithmetic problems, to plan out how you’re going to plant your fields.” No one had this idea that there was possibly this deeper, glacial mind that underscored everything that we did. So you had experimenters who were coming from Europe to America, you had some people that were reading scripture, and just coming up with these idea independently, on their own. There were figures like Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science church, Phineas Quimby an early mental healer in New England in the 1830s, 1840s, and then you had figures who were more, you could say, expansive in their thinking like Ralph Waldo Emerson who were among the first Americans to be reading early translations of the “Tao Te Ching,” or the “Bhagavad Gita” or some of the literature of the east. Now we have to keep in mind that some of this literature was only translated really during the lifetimes of these people that we’re talking about, the earliest English translation of the Tao Te Ching goes back to 1838, so westerners didn’t have access to this material. But Emerson did have access to some of these books, there were very few such books in America at the time. But he and he circle had access to them. And they began to piece together Eastern religious ideas with Western religious ideas. There was an atmosphere of experimentation, particularly in New England at that time. Had the mental healing folks, you had the Mesmerists, you had the Transcendentalists and eventually they began to put together what we today would call the “power of positive thinking.” That’s where it was born.
Mark: Right. And I think, correct me if I’m wrong, a lot of this got pushed underground. This is how the mystic schools and the secret societies popped up? Is that right?
Mitch: I think that’s correct.
Mark: So they were trying to practice and trying to like develop… they were leveraging tools and tactics from yoga and from Kabala and other systems that had mental development in it, and that was not viewed as socially correct. So they were persecuted.
Mitch: yeah. There’s definitely truth to that. You know, the winds of what was acceptable and what was unacceptable could change in Europe based on who was in power, so Queen Elizabeth in England for example, was actually pretty friendly to experimentation in spirituality, but when she was replaced by King James there was less friendliness. So people who had been above ground, like a figure like John Dee who was kind of a court astrologer or court magician to Queen Elizabeth, after her death a guy like that was more or less driven underground. So the winds of change could blow very harshly and change very suddenly in Europe. You might have people who were experimenting in Mesmerism who were tolerated, and then after the French Revolution maybe for reasons having nothing to do with Mesmerism, but maybe having to do with their background, they experienced persecution. So there were these sudden and erratic changes in Europe, so, as you said, some of this was driven underground.
Positive Thinking in America[9:17]
Mark: Right. And I think it’s also appropriate to point out that America, the great ground of capitalist experimentation kinda took the ideas from the realm of what was mostly being used for healing and spirituality and began to apply it toward success. Am I right? And that’s where some of the early… like Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie and Vincent Peale and these guys were really focused on using the power of positive thinking in mental development for outward success rather than spiritual development, even though they touched on that sometimes.
Mitch: Yeah, in America, first of all so much of this material, this positive thinking material began as part of the mental healing movement in our country. And American medicine was in terrible condition throughout the nineteenth century. We really didn’t have our first proper hospitals, or teaching hospitals, or med school programs until the 1890s. Once change is… positive changes began in American medicine, some of the people who had been spending their time in the mental healing movement not only feeling less relevant but in some cases were hounded out of business because licensing requirements meant that they could no longer refer to themselves legally as “healers” and so forth. And that was a big political battle in our country in the 1890s. So a lot of the alternative practitioners sort of got pushed to the margins and combined with that the economy was just growing by leaps and bounds. For the very first time, people around the country were seeing new products in the Sears catalog workplaces in more urban environments. Things were changing so rapidly. And the mental healing crowd began to realize that, “well, you know, if these things are really laws, if there is some sort of mental law of cause and effect shouldn’t it be applicable in material areas of life as well?” So we began to see the earliest stirrings of what is now called the “prosperity gospel,” and it came out of the positive thinking world. 1890s, early twentieth century. One of the most influential books in that regard was called “The Science of Getting Rich,” by Wallace D. Wattles which many of your listeners probably know. And he really in some regards set the template for that kind of literature. It was very earnest, you know, it wasn’t a cynical literature. It was this idea that if we could use our mind to heal, if we could use our minds to understand to hidden world, we could also use it to affect things in the seen world, the material world, and that Americans were ready for that message.
Mark: Right. And I think that’s why you probably called this the American creed. Was that your word? Did you come up with that?
Mitch: That’s my term. The closest everybody in this country, whatever their spiritual or political outlook seems to be can usually find some commonality around this idea that what you think determines what happens to you. And people are not walking around Italy and France and Russia and other nations thinking that. My book is being translated into Chinese and I’m very grateful for that, but sometimes I have these long conversations with the Chinese translator and I’ll talk about… I’ll use an expression that to us would be very ordinary, like “If you want something with your whole soul it can make a difference.” And the translator will be like “What are you talking about?” you know? It’s funny, but these ideas are uniquely American. We’ve exported them to other parts of the world, but that notion that your attitude affects what’s going to happen to you, it’s unique to American soil in this age.
Mark: That’s fascinating.
Mitch: We’ve exported it elsewhere. It’s not unheard of, by any means. But it was born here.
Mark: Yeah, and it kind of forms the bedrock of the whole entrepreneurial movement as it continues to gain steam. One thing that’s radically unique about America is our entrepreneurial spirit which is infused with this American creed of “Hey, anything’s possible if I put my mind to it.”
Mitch: Yeah and there’s a variety of reasons for that. You know, when the stock market appeared in this country in the 1890s there was this feeling that money could kind have come from out of the ether, but at the same time that’s the social cause but I think there were inner causes too. There were people who encountered some of these books and I’ve had the experience myself, and I’ve had the experience myself. Encountered really new thought in books like “Conquest of Poverty” by a woman named Helen Willman and they felt that these books provided them with a pivot point in their lives. I still meet people who have those experiences today. I’ll meet people who have read a book like “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill, and they feel that…
Mark: That had a big influence on me. I think I read that seven times when I was seventeen.
Mitch: No kidding. It’s been a big influence on me, and I’ve had friends who have described problems to me and I’ve said “Look, I want you to do something that you wouldn’t ordinarily think of doing. You get a copy of Napoleon Hill you get a copy of “Think and Grow Rich.” Read it and do what he says as if your life depends on it. That’s the key. You can’t just read it and stroke your chin or say “well, I’ll give it a little try.” It won’t succumb to that. It only succumbs to doing it with your whole being. And when people do that… I meet artists, doctors, business people, people of all walks of life who describe their lives as before and after they discovered that book so there’s been a testimony in this country that’s been very influential around some of this literature.
Positivity and Cultural Context[14:50]
Mark: yeah, I’ve experiences that a lot with the Unbeatable Mind program for people who have not been exposed to these. Essentially I think that’s kind of what… when we can synthesize and present ideas in a way that will connect with a new cultural context then that’s a really valuable contribution to the fold.
Mitch: You hit it on the head. Putting it in a new cultural context.
Mark: Right, right.
Mitch: We think people have heard of these ideas, but there’s so many people who have not. And it’s amazing when you reach them they’re like “I never knew I had these options. I never knew this existed.”
Mark: Well I think it’s like Carol Dweck says its growth through fixed mindset. So a lot of times the vast majority of people have that fixed mindset, but all it takes is that trigger like reading “Think and Grow Rich,” in my case, or for someone reading your book, or getting exposed to one principle that unlocks a door to new ways of thinking. And then boom they just shift to a growth mindset and they can’t stop consuming. And that’s huge. Then they’re on the path. Almost “born again.” You know, not in a Christian born again sense but like, life has a whole new sense of opportunity and purpose. That is cool.
Mitch: Yeah, it’s interesting.
Mark: A lot of your peers in the journalist… journalistic and academic society still really pooh-pooh the positive thinking, and a lot of that I think is because of kinda New Age philosophy lacked what you just referenced which is that you actually gotta do the work, right? And so there was a lot of fantastical thinking about “Hey all I gotta do is be positive and it’s all gonna come to me.” You know my mother-in-law had that going on, and you know, just didn’t work. And you know. Don’t wanna get in to it right here because I’ll probably…
Mitch: Mother-in-law stories, they’re always fraught with issues…
Mark: We don’t wanna talk about this on the podcast…
Mitch: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: But there’s a lot of people who’ve been exposed to that and think “well, that’s a crock of shit, you know.”
Mitch: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: And you know, the whole New Age movement and “The Secret” and all that. What is your take on all that? How did we get so off track in the mainstream with this philosophy?
Mitch: That’s a great question, and I encounter it all the time. Here we have this philosophy of positive thinking that on one hand is embraced by millions of Americans and on the other hand is reviled by many journalists, academics, social critics and I sort of occupy both worlds and I feel very tugged in between them. One of the things I try to do, I always try to defend New Age and positive thinking philosophy to the journals of opinion within the mainstream newspapers, among mainstream journalists, because very often these people are operating out of a conformist mindset with regard to their attitudes toward New Age or positive thinking. They’ve never read one of these books. They’ve never read a Norman Vincent Peale, they’ve never read a Napoleon Hill, a Dale Carnegie and so forth. So they’re operating off of an educated opinion that tells them these books hold nothing serious for sensitive, intelligent, searching people. They’ve never thought to verify that, but that’s just become a kind of check mark on a list of what does and does not constitute serious thought. So they’re operating from an unexamined assumption. I find that often in private I’m able to persuade them of that. In public it’s more difficult. Because there’s been a kind of intellectual vogue in this country since the 1950s when Norman Vincent Peale and the power of positive thinking first became popular, that all this stuff misleads people, misdirects people, blinds them to the complexities of daily life. And I challenge that entirely. You can find some of that attitude in certain parts of this literature. You can also find that attitude contradicted in many parts of this literature. Wallace D. Wattles although he hasn’t been with us in a long time, was very much a social radical. When he wrote the “Science of Getting Rich,” he was also running for Congress on the socialist party ticket. Marcus Garvey, the pioneering Black Nationalist, was very much into positive mind metaphysics, and I’ve demonstrated that by looking at his speeches and his articles. Now more recently, some of this philosophy in what very loosely could be considered a more conservative tradition and that’s what some journalists and commentators are operating off of. But I would put the challenge back to them that there’s nothing in that that suggests that it’s ineffective or unhelpful in the life of any individual who is trying to figure out if there are ways to use his or her mind that are different, that are more effective, that might result in that person discovering better, more applicable ways of conducting themselves out in the world. It’s a delicate question, because if there is a pro-business or pro-corporate tone in some people like Napoleon Hill or Norman Vincent Peale, and there is, does that mean that the artist, the activists, the teachers can’t also use that material to find better ways of conduct. And my conclusion is that not only is that possible, but that it’s going on all the time. There have been kind of cultural frictions that have made the journalistic and academic classes hostile to this literature, but they’re just not looking deeply enough. They’re also not wrong all the time. I mean, sometimes they’re critique is correct. And as I’ve said before, it’s not that they’re wrong, it’s that they’re not right enough because they’re inquiry is shallow into this literature. And this literature has been, and these ideas have been influential across such a sweep of the nation, different races, classes, people of different political and economic outlooks that you can’t really appreciate where America is as a nation, and you can’t really, in your heart of hearts want to improve America and fix the things that are wrong with America, if you don’t at least take the time to grok to ideas that have animated the lives of so many of its people. It’s not enough to have a shallow, drive-by inquiry of this literature. It’s insufficient. So my challenge back to the journalistic world is would you cover a presidential campaign this way? Would you write an article about state or local corruption this way? Your inquiry is too shallow. You need to go back, look deeper, talk to people like us… And then see if maybe your opinion is leavened a little bit.
Positivity, Science and Spirituality[22:26]
Mark: Now I think a big part of the challenge is that these things are very hard to validate scientifically, right? But that’s starting to change, too. I read a recent, wish I could remember who published the research product about… you know, validating positive thinking in terms of obviously just mood, and having an effect on depression and those types of things. And I’ve seen references about research projects about just smiling and having… that’s more of a physiological, psychological thing.
Mitch: Absolutely correct. A friend of mine who’s a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University, Norm Rosenthal, was one of the designers of a study on whether Botox injections relieve depression. And what Norm and his collaborators found was that there was a marked improvement in depression in people that received Botox treatments. And they were trying to figure out why and their hypothesis is that Botox freezes certain muscles in the face that are involved in frowning. And that it may be a physiological fact that mood as biochemical phenomenon follows expression rather than vice versa. The studies are incredible. Now one of the things I feel that I can share with you and your listeners is that although the placebo studies, physiological studies are out there. I’ve read them; I’ve written about them, I applaud them. The truth is my outlook on life really is a metaphysical outlook. It would be easy for me to just to talk in terms of cognition and psychology and biochemistry and just take a kind of science journalist approach to it. But the truth is, I write as a believer. And I write as someone with a metaphysical view on life, I think if I had to point to a piece of literature that captured my point of view it would have to be Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “The Oversoul.” I do think there’s a non-physical aspect to intelligence. I do think that we all participate in some sort of cognition or exchange of information that is extra-physical. It goes beyond the body, and there is something non-physical in how thought impacts are circumstances and relations and I’m working very hard to try to figure out what that is. To try to find some way of enunciating it. Or to try to find some way of using it, which may be a goal that’s more practically within reach. And that’s something that I’ve felt emboldened to talk about more and more, because when I’m doing mainstream interviews or writing for mainstream news sources and such, the people I’m working with jump to the assumption I must be interested in all this stuff because there’s a cognitive basis for it, and yeah there is, but I write from the spiritual perspective. I do believe that it’s a viable spiritual path. I do believe that it’s a path that makes a positive difference in the life of the individual and I’m trying to understand, when does that happen? Under what circumstances? When does it not happen? Because it’s not evidently working the same way. We live under a lot of laws and forces. There’s a non-physical aspect to our existence and if we can work with that, experiment with that, we can discover a whole different dimension to life. A different set of possibilities.
Mark: Yeah, I completely agree. My pretty deep exposure and practice of yoga which also has heavily influenced the martial art if not being the ultimate progenitor to the martial arts. You know, coming from a warrior tradition and practicing those ancient physical, mental, spiritual practices, I’m not going to just call them spiritual, because they really were physical, mental and spiritual. In fact, yoga… one of the primary treatises on yoga, as you’re aware is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and he; in the very first sutra or second sutra he says yoga is the science of mental development. And so here we’ve got a training system that you could consider that oldest personal development system known to mankind. It’s thousands of years old. And yet, it’s not something that modern science has really any ability still to validate from a third party, objective standpoint. But that doesn’t mean that that cancels out five thousand years of personal experience with the power and benefit for transformation and with development of the mental development tools, which include positive mental thinking. The whole approach that we use at Unbeatable Mind is heavily influenced by that as well, in that negative thinking really destroys performance, weakens you and will lead to disease and disruption of your homeostasis. So, you know, why would we want to be on that negative scale of energetic and emotional energy? So we want to move toward the positive. How do we move into the positive energetic realm? Well we use positive internal dialogue. Well that’s positive thinking, right? We use positive words, positive motions, and we practice it. Because they need to be practiced. Anyway, I’ll get off my horse. But the other thing I wanted to ask you about was how can the American creed be that we can achieve anything we put our minds to; you know, let’s be positive and transform ourselves and our country. And that we can create companies and industries that will always make the world better. How can that be our American creed, and yet the media and politics be so unbelievably negative at the same time? It’s really kind of uncanny to me, that we have this polarity.
Mitch: It is… what you’ve put your finger on is so important, because frankly we may be at a kind of crossroads, I mean, when I concluded this book a couple of years ago, and I referred to positive thinking as the American creed, I could point to every possible example to back up that claim. But we have got this attitude of hostility that now dominates our political culture and for a long time has dominated our digital and our online culture. And I would challenge people to look at that very, very seriously. I mean, first of all political winds come and go. I don’t know who’s going to win the election. I know that Donald Trump doesn’t sound like Ronald Reagan, and I prefer somebody who sounds like Ronald Reagan. Now, whoever’s going to win is going to win. You know, political trends come and go. Of more concern to me personally is the level of vitriol and invective and hatred, frankly that goes around online. And I would ask every individual to look at that in his or her own life because I was talking about this the other night on a radio show and I was surprised at the level of response most of it positive that I got to it. If a person feels that they are stuck in life, if their plans aren’t working out, if their relationships aren’t working out, I would challenge that person to look at the role of gossip in their own life, because that is a poison. That is a poison. And if you start to look at most of our entertainment you’ll see that a lot of it, a lot of it is based in gossip and humiliation. That is true for most social media. There is a tone of sarcasm and cynicism and hostility online on Twitter, on Face book on the other sites. Most of our so-called reality television really just involves putting people in situations where somebody’s going to take a spill. Somebody’s going to get humiliated. And if you listen to most of our talk radio forget it, all day long it’s who’s going to be the next person who’s made out to look like a fool, or gets called a name and can’t collect themselves in time to strike back. We’re on this steady, daily diet of this stuff. We all participate in it. It’s poison. It’s absolute poison. And I do think that there’s a circuit of influence that we are part of in life. You could use the expression what goes around comes around, you could use the expression “karma.” Every religion, every civilization known to man since primeval times literally has some conception of karma. You can use whatever Jesus said, “In what measure you mete out so shall be measured out unto you,” the Jewish sages said the same things. There’s not a system on earth, going back to deepest antiquity, that doesn’t have some concept of karma. I take that very seriously. Deadly seriously. And we as a culture, but more importantly, we as individuals have to ask ourselves “What relationship am I going to have to all this stuff?” I would challenge everybody listening, really sit down and ask yourself “am I participating in gossip all day long on social media?”
Mark: Even just consuming. Participating is interacting, but just consuming… consuming media on TV, consuming Twitter feeds and internet that is negative is participating.
Mitch: It’s poison. And it goes on everywhere. And we reward it. And we applaud it. I mean, if you name the top ten most famous Americans right now, you know, people are going to have different conceptions of who that is, but everyone’s list is going to be dominated by people who are known for humiliating other people. And that says something. So I would say anyone listening who wants to make an immediate improvement in his or her life, and I would stand by that, immediate improvement, cut out the gossip, stop consuming it, stop participating in it. Stop it on social media, stop it in our relationships and I think that’s profoundly important. That’s going to make probably a greater difference in the life of an individual than one would ever guess.
Mark: Yeah, I agree. And that’s a terrific practice right there. And I’d like to point out that there’s both individual karma and collective karma, but collective karma is simply the sum total of individual actions acting out on the social/structural stage. And so, like Ghandi said “Be the change you want to be.”
Mitch: And there’s a great example of one man with a positive mindset about what the future of his country could be or should be who had an enormous impact on the collective karma of India. So everyone can do their part just by starting to shift their mindset and to practice positivity. And to practice it in the direction of a goal. You know, people think that positive thinking always has to go toward businesses. It does, and I applaud that. But the idea of having a single goal, Ghandi had a single goal which was to free a nation and make it into a democracy. Well, it so happens that it worked. Having that one single definite goal I think is so vital. It enlists so many energies from the individual, and that’s another thing I think we can do. Abstaining from gossip doesn’t mean sitting around like a hermit all day long. Maybe all that energy and all that wasted time and wasted energy can be directed toward a goal whatever it is. It may be business oriented, it may be personal. You may be a teacher, you may be a soldier, whatever it is that you want to do well. So much gets unleashed when you’re focused on that one, defining goal.
Mark: You know, I want to ask you something because you wrote a book about this, that I think most people have an incorrect idea about the word or notion of “occult.” What I understand is that “occult” just means “hidden.” And so a lot of these metaphysical systems and training, like the Rosicrucians and stuff like that in the European past, they couldn’t do it openly like we talked about in this podcast, because they got persecuted so they took it hidden and it became the “occult.” Now I think most Americans think the occult is magic, and that’s not accurate, right?
Mitch: That’s correct. You know, the occult was a term—you’re absolutely correct—it comes out of a Latin term “occulta” or “occultum” which just means secret or hidden. It came into use in the early Renaissance simply because Renaissance scholars were rediscovering the ancient civilizations and religious systems of Egypt, Rome, Greece. But the temple orders and the structures of the ancient world had all been long gone, and they were trying to find a way to refer to this early pre-Christian spirituality and in trying to find terms in which to discuss it, they would call it “occult” or secret, hidden, only because its structures and orders were gone. Most of its chief documents at that time were untranslated. It was an unknown territory to the western mind and the term “occult” henceforth came to be used to describe this ancient, pre-Christian spirituality, it didn’t mean sinister or demonic. Very often it was referring to some sort of esoteric or magical practices, but it could also be referring to a set of ethics instead of principles that belonged to the spiritual orders of the old world. But it just means secret or hidden. People shouldn’t have sinister connections with it. And I freely use terms like occult or New Age or ESP or even Positive Thinking, because I think those terms have historical integrity and I don’t want us to lose them just because some people are critical of those terms doesn’t mean we jettison them as if they’re not valuable. They have a place in history, they have a place in our lives so nowadays, I invite people to call me New Age, and it’s such a relief not to be running from a term like that just cause I know what the negative connotations are. People think it’s soft-headed, foolish, unrealistic. I get it. But it also captures something about a therapeutic spirituality that’s grown up in this country and I don’t want us to lose those terms. I don’t want us to lose our history.
Mark: Right. Let’s talk about the Masons. Now they were, at least a lot of people believe they were an occult or secret organization and that the Masons had a lot of founding fathers were part of the group. They had metaphysical practices. They were early proponents of the power of positive thinking, right?
Mitch: Yeah, and I think the Masons by and large have been a very good influence on western life, you know? They’re obviously still around. They’re nowhere near as influential politically today as they were saying at the time of our nation’s founding when you had people like Benjamin Franklin and George Washington and John Hancock who in fact, were Freemasons. They were a group who believed in religious liberty. That believed that the individual’s own spiritual and ethical search should be protected, should be valued. They believed in ecumenism. You could belong to different religions as long as you professed the belief in one creator you could serve as a Freemason. And they probably had their earliest roots in some of the religious experiments that were going on during the Renaissance when some of the ancient religious ideas were being rediscovered. And they believed that great societies like the dawning United States in 1776 belonged to a kind of chain of civilizations Egypt, Greece, Rome that were involved in one way or another in the spiritual search. And I think that certain ethics of religious liberty, and certain protections of the individual search for meaning were moved along, promoted helped into actualization by Freemasonry at this country’s founding. They were certainly a secretive organization. Particularly back in Europe there was a necessity to be secretive if you were dabbling in ideas that went outside of what was considered socially or in some cases even legally acceptable. But in this country, I think Masonry has been a really positive influence, and I would encourage people to take a second look at it. Today Masonry exists largely as a civic and charitable organization, but back in the day when it was politically powerful, I think that it imparted and helped nurture some very good ideas about individual liberty and religious liberty. It’s been a positive part of our history.
Mark: Do you think any of those early elements still exist within Masonic structure? I mean, are there people who are trying to reach the 33rd level and trying to find enlightenment through the Masons? Or is it really, like you said a civic organization?
Mitch: well, you know there’s a younger breed of Masons who are more interested in the more esoteric side of Masonry and some of that younger group is gaining influence, which I really applaud. You know, for several generations in our country I think we’ve had many Masons who have seen the organization as a place to make business contacts, do good charitable work, network, and frankly have a nice meal and to have a meeting and you get together in a fraternal atmosphere. But there is a group of younger Masons today and they’re interested in pursuing some of the esoteric teachings more deeply. So actually I think the younger group is reviving Masonry as an organization of spiritual search rather than as strictly a civic and charitable organization. It’s always co-existed; I mean these varying trends have always been found within Masonry. But I think the esoteric threads are being more bound together, are becoming more a part of the fabric of contemporary Masonry right now.
Mark: Yeah, fascinating. Well, we could talk for probably another two hours but we’re already at about 41 minutes so I wanna ask a couple more questions that are going to get more into the practical things for the listeners. Who… what would you recommend if you said okay read this one book right now to someone who really has not been exposed to positive mind metaphysics, what would you recommend? Who’s your favorite author, thinker, in this?
Mitch: Well I have several favorites but if somebody was brand new to the field and said “Come on. What can this stuff really do for me?” I suppose I’d probably say read “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. Some people are turned off by the title because they think, either it sounds greedy, or it seems excessively material, but I’ve written and I’ll stand by this, any artist, any actor, any activist who hasn’t read “Think and Grow Rich” is selling himself short. You could take the principles in that book and if you follow them with all your heart and all your intellect. Cause there’s no halfway. You have to either be completely in it or don’t even approach the gates. But if you really put yourself into that book with everything you’ve got, things will happen. I stand by every principle in that book, and I would say for the non-business person there are worlds to be discovered within that book. I’ve had doctors tell me that that book has been meaningful to them. Anybody with a goal will derive something out of that book. So there are many authors I love, but I would recommend that as a starting place.
Mark: Yes, it’s great. I would love to see it updated, because I was listening to it on audiotape recently. You know, it was written right after the market crash of 1929 or it was published and of course the earlier volumes of “Laws of Success” preceded that but “Think and Grow Rich” was kind of like the popular version of that philosophy. Meant to be read by the masses. It’s really interesting. He’s talking about different entrepreneurial ideas that just seem so arcane today that I think it’d be cool if we could find a way to update that book with more modern examples and whatnot.
Mitch: You know I have a piece online that your listeners might dig called “How to read a self-help book.” If you just throw my name and that title into Google you’ll find it. And I kind of walk people through not getting hung up on the arcane words and language. Cause, you know, some of the great literature is characterized by terms that we wouldn’t use today, or social situations that we no longer have. So, you know, one can approach it as it is and still realize, okay, there’s going to be certain things in here that are outdated, but the master’s principles are still absolutely rock solid.
Mark: Yeah, I agree with that hundred percent. And that’s one that I recommend as a starting point too. I love that. And then what about practice? How do you personally practice this philosophy?
Mitch: Well I have several aspects to my practice. One is meditation. I think everybody should have some kind of meditative practice. Mine happens to be Transcendental meditation. It’s very important to get to a place where your thinking is focused at least twice a day. At least twice a day for a fairly extended period by which I mean somewhere between twenty minutes and a half hour at least twice a day. You need to be sitting in a situation where your mind is just focused in a certain way, and you’re getting in touch with certain core principles that tell you who you are, what you’re working for, what you’re about. I think it’s extremely important to write down goals. And I don’t mean just write them down in some rote, passive way, but sit down and subject yourself to a really personal uninhibited scrutiny in which you would ask yourself, “what do I really want?” Not, “what do I tell myself I want?” not “what have I told myself for the last fifteen years?” but what do I really want that I might even be embarrassed to admit to people or embarrassed to go public with. It’s so important to be uninhibited and completely brave and intimate with yourself about what you really want. And hone that list to one absolutely core goal. And that should be something that is always in front of your mind. And I think that using your mind to visualize and affirm not just in ways that involve recitation but in ways that you’re getting into a very quiet, relaxed space.
It’s good to do this just before you drift off to sleep at night. Or just when you are coming to wakefulness in the morning. Use your mind in that very supple state to repeat your aim to yourself, to visualize that aim. Not just in the style of repetition but in a kind of unified state when you’re emotions, your body, your mind all seem to be on the same track. That’s a very precious moment. That’s an exercise that I would use every day. And I think it’s also important to have a program of reading ethical literature at your back that you use every day. You should be reading passages from the Gospels, or the Tao Te Ching, or the Bhagavad Gita, or Ralph Waldo Emerson. Some great enduring ethical literature, so that your moral compass is pointed in the right direction. Those would be four steps that I would recommend to everybody.
Mark: Yeah, I love that. And that fourth one is really critical too. Because that’s been one of the big criticisms legitimately of the whole positive genre of writing you know some of the people who did the writing didn’t necessarily always follow an ethical path or a moral code that could stand scrutiny. So maybe they didn’t walk the talk as much.
Mitch: Yeah, it’s just part of the human situation, but I think anybody’s who’s going to embark on any kind of program of practical spirituality, metaphysical search, should have an ethical teaching at their back. And it should be part of their daily practice, daily reading.
Mark: Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more. Awesome. This has been fantastic. Very, very interesting. Thank you so much for your time. I’m going to go back and read the book cover to cover. Where can people find more about you? I guess just by Googling your name.
Mitch: Right, I’m super-easy to find. Throw my name into Google. It’ll take you to my website, there are various links there. Things that your listeners might find interesting. Once you put my name into Google you’ll have a whole variety of things to choose from.
Mark: Awesome. Well, again, thank you so much. Look forward to meeting in person some day…
Mark: And maybe doing this again.
Mitch: Thanks man, really appreciate it.
Mark: It’s been great. All right folks, there you hear it. Mitch Horowitz. “One Simple Idea.” I highly encourage you to check out the book if you have an interest in the whole history, and he’s got some great tips and takeaways on a lot of the different positive thinking authors and leaders. Just fascinating. So I really, really honor Mitch’s contribution to the whole field. And as usual, stay focused on your own daily practice, in particular the morning rituals. If you don’t practice it doesn’t work. If you practice you’ll find those breakthroughs that you’re looking for. Reach out to myself or my team at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or issues. Stay focused. Train hard. Have fun. And don’t forget to go ahead and rate this podcast on iTunes.