The Theosophical Forum – June 1946

MENTAL FURNITURE — M. G. Gowsell

The matter of household furniture looms quite large in the interests of the majority of us occidental people. And of course it naturally follows that these personal possessions will be almost as varied in character as the householders themselves, either in the arrangement or disarrangement of the diverse items in a room, or in their style, shape, substance or origin. Particular value might be placed upon them as family heirlooms, or perhaps as antiques. Some of the belongings may be classed as Renascent, Victorian or ultramodern, and be valued in proportion to their age. But the appraisal of any one of them might be quite apart from its usefulness or serviceability. Few people will fail to recall how, when and where the various items were acquired and what they cost.

But how many of us attach as much, if any importance whatsoever, to our mental furniture: how and under what circumstances we came by the several items comprising this so vastly more important aggregation. Our personal reactions to any given circumstance in life at any time will depend wholly upon our mental furniture: in other words, upon our preconceived ideas, which too often will account for the bulk of it. These may have been intelligently noted, tested, even reflected upon and closely scrutinized before being accepted, or, which is far more likely to be the case, they may have been simply borrowed, unthinkingly. Too often our staunchest convictions will, upon close inspection, be found to be mere opinions or prejudices — prejudgments, to give the word its true meaning — and hence be seen for what they are, just vagrants, existing without visible or logical means of support. Would that we might exercise the same amount of discrimination in respect to these vital items that we use in selecting our household equipment.

There is a subtle connection if not correspondence between what we may choose to call mental furniture and the household variety, the constituents of both ranging from the antique to the modern. Moreover it happens that in most households the several rooms will be differently furnished. Let these rooms then represent places where we indulge in different thought processes. For our thoughts will be modified if not changed as we go from room to room for different purposes. There would of course be the kitchen and dining room where meals would be the main subject of speculation. There will be the living room where our thoughts become more general. There might perhaps be the library or study, and each place differently appointed. Most people will agree that diverse places invite entirely separate sets of ideas or lines of thought, and so to have an intimate bearing upon certain phases of our mental equipment, or parts of our composite nature, of which they are a reflection. As an illustration: Take the man whose circumstances compel him to go from city to city or country to country. He would certainly find himself presenting a totally different part of himself, quite another front, while in New Orleans to that in New York. He would likewise react in quite another manner while in Sydney or Melbourne to when he was in Rome or Moscow. So disparate, so pronounced may these be, that he might be said to be hardly the same man at any two of such places. So much for the psychology of places in a larger degree. It will be somewhat similar with all of us as we move about within our home sphere.

Much is being said about our way of life. And it may be pertinent to point out that much of our mental furniture lying in the background of the general awareness is being weighed in the balance. Termites of circumstance are making rapid inroads into some of our oldest and most cherished items, rendering them inept, inadequate and wholly unsafe for further service, when not actually dangerous to longer have around. Wasn't it Plato who said that ideas rule the world, the implication by extension being that ideas also rule our individual lives and serve to make us what we are, for as a man thinks so is he. Well, how do we think? Did space permit it might be of interest to go over the matter in some detail and ascertain just how we equip ourselves for the function, for there are various kinds of thinking. Doubtless the commonest form that our thinking takes is that of reverie, sometimes referred to as the free association of ideas: what one may choose to think about when he doesn't have to think. But as this cannot be regarded as real thinking, being altogether too egocentric and hence pettily personal, perhaps the least said about it the better. To expatiate here would only be to hold up the mirror with a vengeance and prove about as unprofitable perhaps as would meditation upon one's limitations, none of which may be surmounted except by applying the chemical law of substitution.

Thinking should have, as an objective, an increase of knowledge. Means to such an end would naturally involve more than one kind of thinking, one of which will be when our beliefs are seriously questioned, as then they will need our defense. For people believe what they want to believe. Some will go to great lengths in support of their opinions, not so much perhaps that they attach any inordinate value to their ideas, as such, but that they should be questioned is all too apt to incur resentment, their self-esteem being jeopardized, and thus some face-saving will be in order. Hence there would be an assembling of every conceivable excuse or argument for maintaining their views. Nevertheless this would engender some thinking, if only to defend what they have long been accustomed to accept as unquestionable verities. Of course, in the final analysis, like the reverie, this will be more a matter of cerebration than of real thinking.

Real thinking is creative, means work, and represents the opposite pole to the reverie. It has to do with the higher mind, which is impersonal and quite another part of man's composite nature. It is through the region of the higher mind, not yet too readily available to the majority, that we achieve real knowledge of the great worthwhiles of life. It is this, or through this, that the transformation of a man or of a world may be achieved. A reflective mind is a primary essential to this kind of thinking. For it is by such means that we are enabled to change our mind, yes, and change our heart also. Finally, it is of the utmost importance that our mental furniture be kept in order at all times, particularly during these of today.


The Theosophical Forum

THEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE