Vacuum means emptiness to most of us and, in a sense, that is correct. A more exact definition, however, would be a reduction in pressure below some standard value. Hence, a vacuum can be of varying degrees. What would be a high degree vacuum on the surface of the earth is the normal pressure in the upper atmosphere, for instance.
Vacuum, or reduction in pressure, can be both useful to mankind and destructive. It cleans our houses, gets the fuel from the tank of our car to the engine, and makes possible all degrees of pumping devices. On the other hand, a relatively small reduction in atmospheric pressure results in the hurricane, tornado, and other violent wind storms with their consequent effects. Why are these effects possible? There is a scientific law which states that "Nature abhors a vacuum." This merely means that the natural balance has been disturbed and Nature strives to bring back that balance as soon as possible.
There is another form of vacuum which often turns out to be even more destructive than the hurricane or tornado as far as the human race is concerned. This condition we might call "Mental Vacuum," or the reduction in the pressure of our thinking. If this occurs there must be some other element in man's nature which fills in the gap thus created. One need not seek far for the answer to this problem as one can observe it every day. It is the emotional part of man that takes over when the "thinking pressure" is reduced. As far as an individual is concerned this can be a very harmful thing if left to continue for any length of time. One is caught in a whirlpool of fears or depressions from which there is seemingly no relief until that individual can sit down with himself and think out his problem.
On a large scale, when a whole group of people reduce their thinking pressure and allow some other person to do their thinking for them, we have events occurring even more destructive than in the case of the individual — the worst of these being mob violence. Just as in the case of a single individual, the emotions can be appealed to as they have more or less replaced the thinking principle. When, and if, this reduced thinking power reaches a national scale, the possible results are even more to be feared. An emotional hurricane can be created which may pass beyond the boundaries of a country and involve many more people in its fury. This does not imply that all the people in any one country have succumbed to this reduction in thinking, but enough have so that the average is below normal. We have all seen in past years the effects of this type of blind following of the thoughts and ideas of one man or group of men.
Of course it always seems easier to let someone else do things for us. It really doesn't take much effort on our part to follow this course and up to a point it may prove rather pleasant. However, there always comes the day when we need to think for ourselves, and then we find how out of practice we are. We either go under, or make twice the effort normally required to solve our problems. Again, perhaps, it is the fear of not being like our neighbors or friends that causes us to reduce our thinking pressure and merely follow the crowd, whether we like it or not. A most comfortable condition you say? Possibly, until some storm of life overtakes us and we find nothing firm to grasp. It has been said, also, that when the "spark of life" has departed from man's religion and left mere forms, he will not be able to find the answers he needs in times of stress and will turn to any idea offering a way out. But the "rosy" promises and Utopias seldom have turned out to be what they appear, and man has found himself worse off than before.
It takes effort on our part to keep a "positive pressure" of thought, but one must practise to be perfect, or even to attain near perfection in anything he sets out to do, and positive thinking is no exception. We are faced today with many and serious world problems that have resulted because a degree of "mental vacuum" has set in on great masses of people. The only cure for these conditions is more right thinking. It has been said that man has reached his present state of development using only about ten percent of his brain power. One wonders what would happen if the other ninety percent were used in constructive effort.
These states of "mental vacuum" are not as harmful when applied to just the routine daily tasks, as there are usually some factors to balance the condition. The greater effects are felt in our relations with the rest of humanity. The answers required to create a "positive pressure" in this case are not so easily arrived at. Yet the instructions for doing so have been handed down from age to age, and it merely takes a questioning mind to interpret them. Perhaps the high power of modern existence and the rate at which new scientific discoveries are let loose on mankind have created a condition of taking everything on faith and without much question. We do not mean to imply here that new things and changing times are not good in themselves. The only question is, do men keep their thinking abreast of the changes, and rate them at their true value?
At this point some may say, "But this does not apply to me. I am fairly successful in business or in running a home and have many good friends." To such a person we may say again that there are all degrees of the condition we have called "mental vacuum," and would ask of his knowledge of the beliefs and customs of other races, for instance.
Such a thing as a successful United Nations effort will be impossible without a more general knowledge of other peoples. Or again, we might ask of his knowledge concerning his own make-up, and of Nature which surrounds him and with which he must live while here on earth. Can we say that there is enough thought given to these subjects to overcome even a partial vacuum? We must remember that in these "vacuums," however small, some part of our emotional nature will fill in the gap, if positive thinking does not supply the necessary pressure. Admittedly no one reaches the degree of perfection in thinking where there is no fear of anything, but the trained mind can reduce the effects of emotions where the untrained cannot. It must be worth a try at least, and happy is the man who can say, "I know," rather than just, "I believe."
(From Sunrise magazine, November 1953; copyright © 1953 Theosophical University Press)
That best portion of a good man's life,
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love.