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The Drama of Love and Death Edward Carpenter

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The Drama of Love and Death

by Edward Carpenter

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Divine Singles are the ones we keep

CHAPTER VI

The Passage of Death

Allowing, then, that our human nature may be roughly divided as above into four main constituents, the destiny of two of these at death seems pretty clear. It is clear that (1) the central self remains (whether “we” know it or not) the same as it ever was, and ever will be, eternal, shining in glory and irradiating the world. It goes on, to be the birth-source, may be, of numberless lives to come. On the other hand, it is equally clear that (4) the actual visible tangible body dies, perishes, and is broken up. Though it may return, in its elements and through what we call Nature, into the great birth-source, it ceases as an individual body to exist, and passes even before the eyes of onlookers into other forms. The fate of these two portions of the human entity can hardly be doubted—of the innermost central portion, continuance, with but slow or secular change, if any; of the outermost material shell, immediate decay and dissolution.

What, then, may we suppose is the destiny of the other two portions, the human and the animal part? I think we may fairly suppose that they 88 each share to a considerable degree the destiny of that extreme to which they are closest related. The outer personality or animal life, (3), is most closely related to the body. Its passions and desires (though in themselves psychical and mental entities) look always to the body for their expression and satisfaction. It is difficult to suppose them functioning without the body. We cannot, for instance, very well imagine the passion for drink without some kind of mouth or gullet through which to work (though of course it may carry on a sort of dream-activity by representing these channels to itself, or creating mental images of them). And similarly of the passion of personal vanity, or the passion of sex: they refer themselves always to the body, in some degree or other.

It is clear then, I think, that when the body in death breaks up, these psychic elements which function through it and correspond to the various parts and organs—these passions and desires, and with them the whole animal being—are to some extent involved in the ruin. They are (in most cases) smitten with dire suffering and confusion. A terrible misgiving and dismay assault them; and with the break-up and disruption of the body they too experience the agonies of disruption, and foresee their own dissolution and death.[41]

89 Yet to conclude from this that these elements do absolutely perish, would, I think, be a mistake. For these passional entities and this animal soul, though they seek the body and manifest themselves through it, are not the same as the body. They have a creative power within them.[42] The drunkard, as suggested, deprived of his liquor, represents furiously to himself in imagination the act of drinking: he dreams a gullet a yard long and an endless swallow—and in doing so he actually moulds and modifies his swallowing apparatus. The vain man and the sexual similarly mould and modify their bodies; they contribute to the building of the shapes which they use. And this sort of process going on through the ages has created the forms of the animals and mankind, and their respective members and organs.[43] All these things are the expression and manifestation and output of the psychical entities and passions and qualities underlying—which themselves are implicit in the world-soul, which indeed have grown up and manifested themselves out of the world-soul, and which still deeply though hiddenly root back into it.

The most reasonable and obvious answer, then, to the question, What becomes of the animal life and its satellite passions when the body dies? seems to be that under normal conditions they die too—in the sense that they cease to be manifest. They die, like the body, only with this 90 difference, that being psychical—i.e. having a consciousness and a self underlying, while the body dies back into earth and air, they die back into the psychic roots from which they originally sprang—that is, into that form of the Self or World-soul of which they are the manifestation—as, for instance, in the case of the animals, into the self or soul of the race; in the case of undeveloped man, partly into the soul of the race and partly into the human soul which is affiliated to the soul of the race; and in the case of perfected man, entirely into the human soul or inner personality which, having now found and established its union with the supreme and eternal Self, is no longer dependent on the soul of the race, but has entered into a divine and immortal life of its own.

Thus in entirely normal cases, both of animals and man, we should conclude that the animal soul at the time of bodily death may return perfectly calmly and naturally into its own roots (as fern-fronds die back in winter), and the whole process may fulfil itself quite simply and graciously and with a minimum of suffering. But this can only be expected to happen in instances where instinctively (as in healthy animals and primitive men) or intentionally (as among a few of mankind) the perfect unity, physical and mental, of the organism has been preserved. In such cases each desire and passion, standing in a close and direct relationship to the spirit or self of the whole organism, is easily and willingly indrawn again at the appointed time; and there is little 91 or no struggle or agony. But in the great masses of mankind—especially in the domains of civilization—where this unity has been lost, it is easily seen that many of the passional elements, loosed from the true service of the informing spirit, carry on a mad and violent career of their own; and to curb these or reduce them to orderly acquiescence and subordination is almost impossible. On the contrary, with the general weakening of the total organism they often break out into greater activity. The ruling passions, “strong in death,” push themselves to the fore and tyrannize over the failing or ageing man, and render his actual dissolution stormy and painful; and not only so, but they sometimes generate phantasmal embodiments of themselves which haunt the dying man, or even become visible to outsiders.

Frederick Myers, dealing with this subject,[44] invents the term psychorrhagy for this tendency of portions of the psyche under certain conditions to break loose from the whole man; and thinks that this process takes place not only at death, but that there are some folk born with what he calls a psychorrhagic diathesis, who are consequently peculiarly apt for throwing off phantasms of one kind or another. He says:[45]—“That which ‘breaks loose’ on my hypothesis is not the whole principle of life in the organism; rather it is some psychical element probably of very varying character, and definable mainly by its power of 92 producing a phantasm, perceptible by one or more persons, in some portion or other of space. I hold that this phantasmogenetic effect may be produced either on the mind, and consequently on the brain of another person—in which case he may discern the phantasm somewhere in his vicinity, according to his own mental habit or prepossession—or else directly on a portion of space, ‘out in the open,’ in which case several persons may simultaneously discern the phantasm in that actual spot.”

Myers then proceeds to give a great number of very interesting and extremely well-attested cases of such phantasms, ranging from merely momentary apparitions of persons during their life or at the hour of their death to the persistent haunting of houses over a long period. And I mention this in order to show that there is good authority now for believing it possible not only that phantasms may be generated by the disintegration of the diseased or dying organism, which will haunt the patient himself; but that in cases the psychic elements generating these phantasms may be powerful enough to create a ghostly body which may endure, surviving the earth-body, and manifesting itself to outside observers on occasions for a considerable time.[46]

93 So much for the fate of the outer personality or animal part. Now with regard to (2), the inner personality or human soul, we may ask, What becomes of that? And the answer particularly interests us, because it is with this section that we—or at least the more thoughtful of mankind generally—identify “ourselves.” It is probable that almost any reader of these pages would credit his “I” or “self,” not to the one universal Being (to union with whom he may nevertheless distantly aspire), nor to the group of terrestrial desires and interests which we have termed the animal being, but rather to that constellation of nobler character which we have called the human soul. This, he will say, is the self that truly interests, that most deeply represents, me. Tell me, what becomes of that?

I think it is obvious that in the hour of death there are only two directions in which that human soul can turn, in which “we” can turn. We can turn for help either outwards toward the region of the animal self, or inwards toward the central universal self. And I think it equally obvious that the latter direction can alone really supply our need. At first no doubt it may be natural to seek outwards; but now alas! in the hour of dissolution the man discovers that all that region of his nature, in which indeed he has often found comfort before, is 94 becoming involved in the ruin above described. Large portions of his animal faculties are already being torn away—or are sinking into lethargy and sleep. His bodily organs are losing their vitality; some of them have already become useless. His mental faculties—especially the more concrete and external faculties, like the memory of events and names—are becoming disintegrated. True, his general outlook may in cases seem to become wider and more serene as death approaches, and his inner character and personality to become more luminous and gracious; but it is a perilous passage on which he is embarked and in general threatening clouds gather round. The consciousness is painfully invaded by the lesser mentalities which surround it; the ruling passions domineer; silly little habits and tricks, of mind and body, obsess the man; phantoms and delirium overpower, or seek to overpower, him; he is astonished and perturbed to find himself on the fringe of a world in which figures, half-strange, half-familiar, come and go, and force themselves upon him with an odd persistence and a rather terrible kind of intelligence. It requires all his presence of mind to gather himself together, to hold his own, to suppress the rebel rout, and to find amid all the flux something indomitable and sure to which to cling.

There is clearly only one thing to cling to—and this must be insisted on—only that one great redeeming universal Self of which we have spoken: only that superb omnipresent Life which 95 we find in the very central depth of our souls. (And fortunate he who has already so far taken refuge in this, that the wreck and ruin of the visible world and the mortal onset of Death cannot dislodge him!) That alone is fixed and sure; and to that the personal man must turn.

And I think we may say that it is not merely the personal soul’s highest duty and best welfare to turn in this direction; but that in a sense and by the law of its nature it must do so. For even in those cases where the man does not recognize this universal Being within, nor consciously believe in and hold on to the same, still is it not true that unconsciously he is very near and very closely related? For all the great qualities which we have already described as characterizing the most intimate human soul, are they not just those which must relate it to the universal Self? I mean such things as Equality—the sense of inner equality with all human and other creatures; Freedom—the sense of freedom from local and material bonds; Indifference—indifference as to fate and destiny; Magnanimity; abounding Charity and Love; dignity; courage; power—all these things, are they not obviously the qualities which dawn upon the personal soul and color it when it is coming into touch with the universal? Are they not the natural ‘sign and symbol’ of union or partial union with that Self? And more: are there not other things belonging more distinctly to the unconscious and subliminal region (which we shall deal with presently)—I 96 mean such things as deep memory, intuition, clairvoyance, telepathy, prophetic faculty, and so forth—which point to the same conclusion?

The inner personal soul of man is surely already conjoined to the universal, and must cling to it by its very nature. And though the man may not exactly be conscious of this union; though he may hardly really know the depth of his own nature; though, notwithstanding his own splendid qualities of character, some thin film may yet divide him from awareness of the all-redeeming Presence; yet none the less that Presence is there; and is the core and centre of his being.

That being granted, it seems clear that in the disintegration of death the inner personality (whether consciously or unconsciously) will cling to the eternal self within it. And this seems to be the explanation of the part played by Religion in the history of the world, and its close connection with death. The different religions being lame attempts to represent under various guises this one root-fact of the central universal Life, men have at all times clung to the religious creeds and rituals and ceremonials as symbolizing in some rude way the redemption and fulfilment of their own most intimate natures—and this whether consciously understanding the interpretations, or whether (as most often) only doing so in an unconscious or quite subconscious way.

Happy, I say, is the man who has so far 97 consciously taken refuge and identified himself with the great life that the onset of death fails to disturb or dislodge him. For him a wonderful passage is prepared—amazing indeed and bewildering, baffling at times and exhausting, yet by no means dismaying or terrifying. But for the ordinary mortal who has not yet arrived at this—for whom the Presence (beheld perhaps intermittently before) is now clouded and withdrawn from his decisive reach—for such a man it would seem best and most natural simply to gather and compact himself together as firmly as possible, and detaching his mind as well as he can from its earthly entanglements and hindrances, to launch forth boldly, and with such faith and confidence as he can muster, on his strange journey. There is a plant of the Syrian deserts—the Rose of Jericho—about the size of our common daisy plant, and bearing a similar flower, which in dry seasons, when the earth about its roots is turned into mere sand, has the presence of mind to detach itself from its hold altogether and to roll itself into a mere ball—flower, root and all. It is then blown along the plains by the wind and travels away until it reaches some moist and sheltered spot, when it expands again, takes hold on the ground, uplifts its head, and merrily blooms once more. Like the little Rose of Jericho, the human soul has at times to draw in its roots (which we may compare to the animal part) and separate them from their earthly entanglement; even the sun in heaven, which it knows 98 distantly for the source of its life, may be obscured; but compacting itself for the nonce into a sturdy ball, it starts gaily on its far adventure.

May we presume at all to speculate on the soul’s actual passage out of this world and its experiences on the way? No doubt there are queer things to be encountered! I think it is obvious that if the soul passes out of this terrestrial world of ours into another state of existence (definite, but quite imperceptible to our present senses) there must be a borderland region in which phenomena occur of an intermediate character—faintly and fitfully perceptible by our present faculties, but lacking in the solidity and regularity of our present world; borderland phenomena in two senses, as being due (a) partly to the break-up of our present senses and the present stage of existence, and (b) partly to the glimmering perception of forms and figures belonging to a farther stage.

With regard to (a), it is of course common for the mind to ‘wander,’ and for all sorts of phantoms and hallucinations to obsess and cloud it in the last stages of illness; and these vagaries of the mind are no doubt due to or connected with excess or deficiency of circulation in the brain, and morbid physical conditions of one kind or another. But it is possible that a wider and more general view than that may be taken concerning them. I have already referred the reader to the Note at the end of 99 this chapter. All our desires and passions are psychical entities, having a life and consciousness of their own, though affiliated to the total soul within which they work. All our organs and functions are carried on by intelligences, similarly affiliated yet in degree independent. Under normal conditions “we” are unaware of these; entities and intelligences—it is only when they rebel that they come decisively to our notice. In disease, mental and physical, there is rebellion. We become painfully conscious of the independent and often undesired activity of our organs, and of our passions—and so, unfortunately for them, do our friends! In morbid states of mind and body certain functions, certain passions, take on an independent vitality to such a degree that at last they endue a kind of personality and give rise to strings of phantasms which we believe to be real. In dreams, though there is not exactly rebellion, the higher powers of the mental organism being at rest, the lesser functionaries similarly display an extraordinary and impish activity and present us with amazing masquerades of actual life.

What then, we may ask, does probably happen in the moment of death, when the organism has become wasted and enfeebled by disease, and when the nucleus of the man, the inner personality, has compacted itself together into close compass in preparation for its long journey? What happens to all those marginal desires which have chiefly occupied themselves with the affairs of the body 100 or lower mind—those innumerable little spirits and imps which (as we discover in dreams, or by closely watching our waking thoughts) are continually planning and scheming their own little successes and gratifications? What happens to the thousand and one intelligences which carry on the functions and processes of the organism? and whose labors, now that the bodily life is coming to an end, are no more needed? Is there not a danger—or at least a likelihood—of this strange masquerade of dreamland, of these painful obsessions of disease, being repeated with ever-increased intensity? True, that if the organism has been kept so well in hand during life as to cause all outlying passions and desires to weaken and become quiescent simultaneously with the body—or at least to go back quietly into the kennels of a long sleep—like a pack of hounds when the chase is over—then these phantoms, these obsessions, may in that last hour be conspicuous by their absence. But since in the vast majority of cases this is not, and cannot be so, it seems more probable that as a rule the departing soul will make its exit, not only through the perishing bodily part, but through a mass of debris, as it may be called, of the mind (chiefly though perhaps not entirely “the animal mind”), through a cloud of tags and tatters of mentality, thrown off in the final crisis. It seems probable that just as the actual body, bereft at death of its one pervading vitality, breaks out in a mass of corruption or minute multitudinous 101 life, so there is a tendency, at any rate, for the lower mind to break out into a strange ghostly rabble—a cloud of phantasms, exhaled and projected from the dying person. Of these phantasms most, no doubt, are only visible to the patient himself (though that does not render them any more agreeable as visitors); others are discernible by clairvoyants present; while others again are distinctly seen even by persons at a distance in space or time—as in the numerous and well-authenticated instances of “wraiths.” The picture is not altogether pleasant, but it has a certain general congruity with admitted facts, and with a fairly-accepted body of tradition and theory; and provisionally I suppose we may accept it.

It seems likely, then, that the passage of the inner self, or human soul, out of life and its delivery in another world, the other side of death, may very closely correspond to Birth—to the birth of a babe under ordinary conditions into this world. Just as the babe, when being born, passes through the lower passages of the body, so the human self at death is expelled inwardly through all the debris and litter of the mind, into another less material and more subtle world than ours. And just as the pangs of childbirth are bad—but they are so mainly beforehand and in preparation, while the actual delivery is swift and a vast relief—so, in cases, the pains and anguish in preparation for death may be great (the squealing of demons torn from their hold on the soul, 102 the cries of intelligences cut off from their coöperative life and source of sustenance in the body, the fears and distress of the animal mind, the yellow fury of the passions, and the death-struggles of the various organs!) yet the final passage itself may be calm and gracious and friendly.

Anyhow, as in other cases of human experience, it would be a mistake to depict this one as by any means uniform in its character. On the contrary, it is probably susceptible of great variety. The Head of a Department (if it becomes necessary for him to leave his post) may find, in one case, that he is turned out, so to speak, with kicks—that he has to run the gauntlet of the execrations of his subordinates; or in another case he may leave amid the expression of every good wish, and along a path made pleasant and easy for him; or again he may go “trailing clouds of glory,” and with a retinue of followers behind him, who refuse to remain now that their leader is departing. Some such differences possibly, and we may say probably, present themselves in the passage of death. The experience of childbirth varies to an extraordinary degree. We hear of Indian tribeswomen who only go aside for an hour while their people are on the march, and then rejoin them again at the next halting-place. And who knows but what Death and the preparation for it might be as easy—if only the doctors and the sky-pilots would hurry up and tell us something really useful, instead of spending their time in vivisecting the 103 wretched animals, or in mumbling over ancient creeds?

Now, with regard to the second kind of borderland phenomena, (b), the glimmering perception in death of forms and figures or conditions of being belonging to a farther stage of existence: I do not propose at present to dwell upon this matter at any length. But with modern psychical research there has come a good deal of evidence to show that on deathbeds it not at all unfrequently happens that distinct and ardent recognition of departed friends takes place; and though, no doubt, it may seem possible to explain these as cases in which the simple memory of a departed friend is very powerfully resuscitated, still this explanation hardly covers a good many cases—such as those for instance in which the dying person was unaware that the friend had died, and yet apparently recognized him as a visitor from the beyond-world.[47] Also of course, modern research has brought forward some amount of testimony in favor of actual communications with the departed through the agency of entranced mediums; so that, though this whole matter is still sub judice, we may with fair reason suppose that both in trance-conditions and in the hour of death there are not merely apparitions and phenomena due to disintegrations on this side of the border, but also some kind of real communications and manifestations from the other side.

Anyhow, it is clear that each person’s experience 104 of death is likely to depend a good deal on the question as to where the centre of gravity of his self-consciousness is placed; and that—as a part of the Art of dying—the object of our endeavor should be to throw (during life) the self-consciousness inward into that part of our being which is durable and immortal in its nature, into that part in which we are united, and feel our union, with other creatures, into that portion where the word itself (self-consciousness) ceases to have a petty and sinister meaning and becomes transformed with a glorious signification. In that case it is indeed likely that the soul may be endowed beforehand with divine vision. It must be our object, by throwing our consciousness always that way, to strengthen the power of the inner soul over the outer personality and all its functions, and at the same time to rivet more and more the hold of that inner soul on the One Self (the source of all vitality and centre of limitless power, if we only understand it so)—so that ultimately the outer and animal personality (though always beautiful in its nature and not to be despised) ceases largely to have an independent and uncoördinated vitality of its own, or to be the scene of uncontrolled activities and conflict, and becomes more the expression and instrument of the inner self: to such a degree indeed that at the dissolution of the body the animal soul, passing into slumber, easily dies down to its deep roots in the human soul, there of course to await its future reawakening, and 105 thus leaving the latter liberated from earth-entanglement and free to start (like the Syrian rose) on its long journey.

In this freeing for the forward journey there must, one would think, be a great sense of joy and satisfaction—even as there must be in the freeing of a May-fly from its water-bred pupa into the glory of air and sunshine. Just as it obviously is (notwithstanding some drawbacks) a joy to the Babe to enter upon its new life, so it may well be that to the dying person—notwithstanding the perils of the change, the fears of the unknown, the parting with friends, the apparent rending of cherished ties—there is a strange joy in shelling off the old husks, and in getting rid of the accumulations and dead rubbish of a lifetime. A thousand and one tiresome old infirmities and bonds of body and mind—now for the first time realized in their true meaning—slip off; and the ship of the soul, “to port and hawser’s tie no more returning,” departs with a strange thrill and quiver upon its “endless cruise.”

The details of this launch and departure we cannot of course ordain. The mode of death is not always within our sphere to determine. Accident may decide, or some hereditary weakness for which the individual can hardly be held responsible. Some diseases are by their nature hard upon the patient; others are kindly in their course. In those that bring great weakness of body there is sometimes an easy passage—the 106 earthly and corporeal part relaxing its hold, while the mind and character become heavenly-clear. In others of an inflammatory nature, or where there is great organic vitality, there may be severe and prolonged struggle. Anyhow, one can imagine the relief when the process is complete. It is not uncommon to experience a strange expansion of the spirit on occasions when the body is seriously weakened by ordinary illness. What must this expansion be when the body finally succumbs—this sense of immensely enlarged life, this impression of sailing forth toward a new and boundless ocean! How strange to stand a moment on the brink of terrestrial mortality, and to be conscious of—to see, even with the inner visual power—the shell one has left behind, with all its commonplace and banal surroundings: concrete indeed and material enough, but lying now outside oneself—something almost foreign to one and indifferent, abandoned on the very margin and shore of real life; to stand for a moment; and then to turn and pass inward into that subtle and immense ethereal existence, now to be learnt and explored, which lies within and informs and transfuses all our solid world, and surpasses all its boundaries!

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