Reality is Created by Actions, Not Thoughts!


Question:  I read something the other day about the Law of Attraction, which basically states: you attract what you think about.

I’m wondering what you view is of this.


Interesting question, which gives me the opportunity to talk about a contentious issue – that being the counterproductive influence of New Age notions on meditation practice.  I can only hope that in what follows as I type, an answer of a kind will make itself evident.

The ‘law of attraction’ is the name given to the belief that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, one can bring about positive or negative results in ones physical reality. Proponents of this theory use a hotchpotch of orphaned facts from quantum physics to sell the idea that consciously driven thinking will directly ‘manifest’ as physical events.  Of course, this usually inevitably leads to the buying of books and CD’s to teach you how to manifest wealth and happiness simply by wishing for it.

Speaking personally, I regard ‘The Law of Attraction’ as it is popularly propagated as a form of mental fascism, in which ‘positive’ thoughts are courted to get what we desire, while other so-called ‘negative’ thoughts are suppressed because they threaten what we desire.

The notion that ‘thoughts create reality’ arose out of the New Age movement which has its origins in the writings of an English author by the name of Thomas Troward in the latter part of the 18th century, who, along with Madam Blavatsky, wrote a series of works which were influenced by a mismatched melange of Eastern mysticism conveniently lumped in with Christianity to make it palatable.

Since then the general thrust of this movement has persisted in many forms, appearing more recently in films like ‘What the Bleep: Down the Rabbit Hole’ and ‘The Secret’ in which, predictably, the ‘thoughts creating physical reality theory’ has once again been mixed with badly understood quantum physics, all with the purpose of commercially marketing a new kind of snake oil to desperate and lazy people.

And it’s a big market, as the advertising columns of the many New Age publications attest – because a lot of people want to believe that changing their life is that facile – that all they need to do is think positive thoughts exclusively, and wealth and happiness will duly ‘manifest’.

The attraction is obvious, because it gives people the illusion of having control over their lives.  All they need is to change their thoughts about money, and suddenly they’ll attract money like a magnet. And the purveyors of these lucrative schemes have a get out of jail card – because if it doesn’t work, it’s your fault because you didn’t try hard enough to think those positive thoughts.

This attempt to control the freeform intuitive universe of mind is futile, stupid and incredibly harmful to the ecology of mind and can only lead to confusion and frustration in life.

Because life and the mind are not so logical as to obey our wishes like machines.

Life and mind evolve from an infinite number of stimuli through almost identical processes, summed up in the Pali term, ‘Karma Vipaka’ – that being the law of cause and effect.  That being, for every action, there will be a reaction in kind. For every event there will be a counter-event in kind.

Or,  as the Buddha said:

According to the seed that’s sown,

So is the fruit you reap there from,

Doer of good will gather good,

Doer of evil, evil reaps,

Down is the seed, so thou shalt taste the fruit thereof.

Notice the key word here is ‘doer’ – not thinker.  So even though Thomas Troward and the New Age occasionally try to use Buddhist theory to try to slate the original cause for life effects to our thinking, nevertheless, it remains a universal fact that the dynamic of cause and effect relates almost specifically to actions, not thoughts.

That is to say, our life appears out of what we do, not what we think.  And though thoughts do indeed precede actions, nevertheless, unless those thoughts become ‘intentions-crystallised –as –action’ no effect will ensue.

For example, let’s say we hate someone – we hate them so much that we cannot stop thinking about how we would like to ruin them, hurt them, crush them and so on. These negative thoughts spontaneously arise from the hurt and fear we feel, perhaps created by the actions of that person to us in the past.

But let’s also say we decide, wisely, that when we meet this person, we will act with kindness, courtesy and good will, regardless of what we think.  That is our intention.

And we crystallise this intention as action – when next we meet this person, we act to that person with kindness and love regardless of the bitter hatred our thoughts spontaneously express  – and the effect that carries on from our actions is indeed harmonious.  Perhaps our kindness then softens our enemy, and they too begin to act back to us with kindness and love, which soothes our hatred until it disappears.

So we see, that it was actions that changed our reality – not thoughts.


When I was counselling people as part of meditation training, I met so many people who had been through the New Age carnival who had, as a result of their mindless subscription to the ‘thoughts create reality’ notion, become terrified of their internal environment.

With desperate smiles pasted on their faces, they would meticulously avoid all ‘negativity’, chanting vacuous affirmations to themselves and determining every day to ‘look on the bright side’ of everything.  Meanwhile their lives were usually falling apart, and they kept wondering why disaster , chaos and darkness kept blindsiding them (which was why they were coming to see me)– because after all, they would reason, they were thinking all the ‘right’ thoughts.

So why was their life so thwarted and horrible?

And I would tell them, if you keep censoring and suppressing your own darkness, then it makes sense it will keep blindsiding you from all hidden places you have consigned it to.  Just because you refuse to consciously acknowledge a stream of thinking does not mean its source does not exist.

Or, as Jung very wisely said:

“The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate.  That is to say, when the individual remains divided and does not become aware of his inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposite halves.”             

To live efficiently, we must allow our internal environment to be free – to be able to express itself freely.  We must be aware of everything, of all the thoughts that arise – happy, sad, peaceful, violent, insane, sane, whatever.  Because everything that arises in mind is as essential as any plant, seed, bug or bacteria in a healthy forest.

To practice suppression of our natural darkness in favour of so-called ‘positive outcomes’ is to estrange ourselves from one half of our self, making it inevitable that, like terrorists pushed underground, tis dark side of our conditioned self will always take us by surprise.

But here’s the thing.

The only power we have in this awareness of the full spectrum of our self, is to develop the detachment and strength to be able to choose which thought streams we will enact in our life.

Because as I said, it is from our conscious intentions and actions that reality arises.

And this is where meditation practice is immensely helpful – because it teaches us to be aware of the full spectrum of our internal environment both dark and light, yet fully able to withhold permission for certain thought streams to enact as anxiety or mindless action.


Now … one more point on this issue of thinking in meditation.

There are basically three kinds of conscious thought:

1.  Spontaneous – those thoughts which arise intuitively, usually fleeting.

2.  Functional – a simple mental statement of intention or fact which elicits no emotional reaction.

3.  Reactive – an argument for or against something – an opinion or reaction which elicits an emotional reaction of some kind.

Of these three, the main focus of meditation methods is to learn to neutralise only the last kind of thinking – reactive thinking.

Because it is only reactive thinking that ties us up in knots.  It is reactive thinking, where we like this or don’t like that, which creates tension and anxiety of all kinds, whether pleasant and unpleasant, and in turn forming the physical impetus to act mindlessly.

So remember – the purpose of meditation is not to have a mind without thought.  That’s impossible.  The mind thinks – that’s its purpose in a life, to create thought energy.  So no matter how advanced you get in meditation, the mind will keep on thinking – perhaps in more subtle forms – but nevertheless, thought energy will always flow.

The point of the meditation methods is to give you the power to let go of reactive thinking when it arises. Because as long as reactive thoughts are efficiently cauterised as soon as they arise, the mind and body will go still.

And that is the purpose of the mental noting method – to cauterise reactive thinking as soon as it appears.

And for this, we use functional thoughts.  So when you note, ‘thinking, thinking’, that is a functional thought. It has no power except as way of directing the attention to pay attention to a certain object in a certain conditioned way.  And in our case, the note forms a trigger cause the attention to let go of any reaction that may have arise from it’s noticing of that object.

So please, please – never be afraid of any thought, however insane or wrong it might seem.

Thoughts of all kinds are essential expressions of your inner ecology, like storms, cyclones and earthquakes are expressions of our external ecology.

Allow all thoughts to arise – be aware of everything, while choosing carefully which streams of thinking you choose to enact, and which you let go of to fade away. And for that purpose, the functional thinking of mental noting is perfect.

Hope this is all clear … again, thanks for the opportunity to write about the larger issues I attached to your question.


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2 thoughts on “Reality is Created by Actions, Not Thoughts!

  1. Hi Roger

    Great post. I fully concur with you, that meditation is as much to do with fearlessly resting the demons and dragons of our inner lives as it in searching for the light… I pointed to this in Nothing Special and other essays, when facing my own emotional battle with fear and anger.

    But an interesting example of the dichotomy between methods of dealing with the ‘negativity’, and the risks of not allowing these forces validation (or a voice) was illustrated well by Hal and Sidra Stone PHD in what they called ‘Voice Dialogue Therapy’. Voice Dialogue was a form of ‘relationship therapy’ and had strong grounding in the ideas of Jung and as such was a psycho-dynamic technique to enable partners to express unexpressed or unvented feelings towards each other without damaging the core of the relationship. The central tenet is that we have multiple selves or voices that need to relate to one another and therefore like a family, need to have a strong relationship (or harmony) to function.

    When it first came out the New Age movement jump onto this and tried to integrate this method with Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualisation, at the time a best selling book of how to achieve material things from our thoughts and was in many ways a spearhead of the movement.

    Yet when I met Hal and Sidra in 1989 they were severely hacked off with all the New Age jingoism and misrepresentations made of their value that underpinned therapy. Their method had been contaminated with the fascism, of ‘positive thinking’ and other beliefs that the new age movement promoted. Paradoxically, the New Age professed to be non-judgmental, yet achieved a stronger discriminatory mindset, by enforcing a new set of mantras of conditioned thinking.

    But at the time I was interested in finding common ground that VDT approach might have had with Zazen. When I spoke to Hal and Sidra about this agreed that there was certainly a kinship, a connection between Sitting silently – emptying oneself and witnessing the material coming up. They go hand in hand. Both makes a conscious effort towards letting go to enable the state of eventual BEING. Both brought the practitioner to an place of stillness with what’s there, allowing the energy to be there, rather than interfering or controlling the flow of one thoughts. A perfect relationship? Possibly.

    Years later I noticed VDT taking root in Big Mind, the acclaimed revolution to american Zen Buddhism, in which VDT is employed to help meditators deal with the demons and dragons they encountered on the zafu.

    I accept that we should choose our attentions carefully. We need to discern harmful thoughts to skillful ones. Our attention to this in our inner life, or spirituality, depends on it. At the same time we need balance. Ultimately any activity of thought, whether it be negative or positive, distorts the insight offered by Vipassana and other traditions. So it seems that we have come full circle. No wisdom but the silence, so I’ll shut up now 🙂

    Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

  2. Hi Lee, always a pleasure to read your comments. I was not aware of VDT and will look into it.

    I took the opportunity to do a little rant on ‘mental fascism’ in that post, because I’ve noticed a few people around me are resorting to a kind of desperate positivism in response to their growing sense of angst, and it’s been driving me nuts – because the more they subscribe to their newly acquired religion of ‘manifesting a better reality’, the more narcisistic and oblivious to others they become.

    And their reasoning is logical, going something like, “I no longer have to care for the homeless because after all, they created their reality, so they should be responsible for it.”

    Sigh .. ifrustrating to say the least.

    And not only that, but their hyper-positivist-manifesting-wealth-and-happiness comes hand in hand with a relative increase in passive aggressive behaviour. And its very frustrating trying to deal with a frantically grinning person who’s just discreetly driven a kinfe into your back.
    Reminds me of a Monty Python kind of situation, which might go like:
    “Why have you driven that knife into my back?”
    “What knife?”
    “The one you just put there.”
    “There’s no knife …. you’re just imagining it.”
    “There is a knife and you put it there.”
    “No, there isn’t. I think you should cheer up a bit. Life seems to be getting you down.”

    The positive thinking movement has, in my view, created people who are terrified of their own mentalities. And, encouraged to censor their thoughts, they become blind to their sublimina motivations, and how they ACTUALLY feel – which then distorts the way they act – regardless of their intentions.

    My experience has shown that some of the most wonderful, loving people have come with all their flaws on show, with a healthy awareness of their own darkness,often cursing and defiant in the face of it. Wonderful people – loyal, generous and loving to the core.

    And counter to that, some of the most corrupt snakes I’ve ever met have come in the guise of loving, caring and sharing, and butter wouldn’t melt in their hyper-positive-loving-you mouths. People who, even as they committed the most terrible acts, would be unblinkingly declaring great concern and love for their victims.

    And I would wonder how they could do the terrible things they did, and the only thing I could come up with was, they believed their oewn bullshit.In a haze of hyper-positive smoke, they were entirely oblivious to their darkness and it’s potentials.

    It’s a huge subject, and the psychology behind it is fascinating.

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