AS A COLLEGE STUDENT, I loved backpacking and learning about how to get along in the great outdoors, so I took a university course from a former Green Beret who had honed his survival skills in Vietnam. As you might imagine, he was unusually adept at surviving under difficult circumstances—and had a lot to teach us. But his philosophy regarding the preciousness of life was a bit different from mine.
This instructor believed that everyone has the capacity to brutally kill, and that he could draw out that instinct at will. To that end, he brought several crates of chickens on a group camping trip. And rather than teaching people to kill the chickens mercifully, he chose the most cruel way imaginable. Class member after class member stepped up to do the deed.
But I objected to this heinous behavior. Instead of taking part, I found myself affirming the power and presence of God, divine Love. Despite the picture in front of me, I chose to see that man and woman are created in the image and likeness of this Love. I acknowledged prayerfully that it is intelligent to see this Love as all-powerful, rather than subscribing to the idea that brutal killing is necessary for survival. And I recognized that since we're all governed by a benevolent God who is the source of all intelligence, no human will or despotism could gain control of anyone's thinking and lead that one awry, nor could one of God's ideas gain pleasure or satisfaction from harming another. The interesting thing is that I didn't feel critical either of the instructor or my classmates. I simply recognized that I was seeing a mesmerized state of consciousness, not the truth of anyone's nature. And I continued to pray until I was convinced of each person's capacity for intelligent reasoning and behavior.
To deal with animal magnetism effectively, one must simply ask, What truth is this trying to negate about God and His idea? and then affirm that verity.
One by one, class members withdrew from the group and stood next to me until no one was left to participate in the brutality. I hadn't said a word about my protest, just firmly held to what I knew to be true about God and His creation.
Later that evening, the instructor asked if I would take a walk with him. He told me that over the years of teaching this class, he'd enjoyed seeing how far he could push people in acting contrary to their core beliefs. Never before had he found a student who wouldn't ultimately participate, finally getting caught up in the frenzy and succumbing to peer pressure. He couldn't understand what made me different, but in the course of thinking about it, he'd realized that bringing out animal traits in his students probably wasn't a good idea. He also said he would never do it again.
This experience taught me a lot about animal magnetism—a rather foreboding term that's easily demystified when one understands its spurious nature and how to deal with it. Back in the 18th century, an Austrian physician named Franz Mesmer coined the term animal magnetism to identify what he believed was a power, similar to magnetism, that exercised control over the human body. While Mesmer eventually fell into relative obscurity, his field of study still has followers today.
These days, animal magnetism is called mesmerism or hypnotism, but its original term tells a lot about how it works. In essence, it's animal in nature and magnetic in function. In other words, whatever draws one away from God or debases one's true spiritual nature is animal magnetism. It stems from a belief that mind is in matter and that this mind is a mixture of good and evil. So it couldn't possibly have any basis in reality, since reality is the truth that God is Mind, and we are this Mind's expression.
Animal magnetism is basically evil's claim to power and action. As such, it takes on many different guises. Sometimes it shows up in a relatively innocuous form —such as the belief that we're prone to little problems like stubbing a toe, burning a cake, exchanging cross words, or losing a wallet. At other times, it's much more aggressive—rearing its head as a failed marriage, financial ruin, global warming, and terrorism's complicated plots and conspiracies. In the story I conveyed, animal magnetism painted a picture that as mindless followers of a charismatic instructor, my peers were led to act out uncharacteristic brutality.
Mary Baker Eddy, the author of Science and Health, well understood the workings of animal magnetism and the importance of remaining alert to it. From the depths of her own experience in dealing with its so-called despotism, she explained, "Its basis being a belief and this belief animal, in Science animal magnetism, mesmerism, or hypnotism is a mere negation, possessing neither intelligence, power, nor reality, and in sense it is an unreal concept of the so-called mortal mind." Science and Health, p.102. "A mere negation" is the clearest and most demystifying definition of animal magnetism that I've encountered, partly because it points to the solution to dealing with it effectively. One must simply ask, What truth is this trying to negate about God and His idea? and then affirm that verity.
In the case of my college camping experience, animal magnetism was acting to convince the instructor that he would gain power and pleasure through controlling the minds of his students. The participants believed that they would find approval and camaraderie in following the leadings of the instructor. It attempted to convince me that I was seeing just such men and women in action rather than the merciful men and women of divine Love's creating.
This experience also illustrates a straightforward way of dealing with animal magnetism. Instead of kowtowing to its false suggestions, I challenged what was being negated about each individual's true selfhood by reasoning from the standpoint that God is Love, divine Mind, the source of all intelligence, and that His creation must express that love and intelligence. Animal magnetism works through the imposition of human will despotically controlling another, so an equal measure of human will—no matter how well intentioned—won't neutralize it. Instead, omnipotent Love—the God that governs the entire universe—disarms it. In praying about animal magnetism, it's important to get straight to the truth regarding the lie that's being presented—otherwise you can end up in a boxing match with the aggressive suggestions and take a few licks in the process. See what animal magnetism is suggesting, refute it, then stand on the side of truth. In this way only can one see animal magnetism for what it actually is: nothing.
Christ Jesus' admonition to "judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" John 7:24. also gives some insight into how to deal with animal magnetism. Had I been impressed by, angry about, or even disgusted with the actions of my instructor or peers, I would have been just as mesmerized as they were. Instead, I found refuge in exploring more of their true selfhood as sons and daughters of God. As a result, each one woke up to that pure and merciful selfhood.
This approach of turning from the false mental picture and taking a stand on the side of a good God and His good creation applies to animal magnetism's many guises, whether they come in the form of adverse weather conditions, terrorism, disease, or poverty. Although it appears threatening in these extreme forms, in essence, it is merely an attempt to deny the power and presence of God, which is impossible. Rather than succumbing to a mesmeric misconception, judging righteous judgement promises a surefire victory over animal magnetism and keep us safe on the side of Truth.
A contributing editor, Colleen Douglass is a practitioner and teacher of Christian Science in Los Angeles, California.
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