The Path Out of Failure
By Mitch Horowitz
The Closure—and rebirth—of the Cayce health center holds universal lessons in how to overcome setback.
In the winter of 1931, the Christian mystic and medical clairvoyant Edgar Cayce came to feel that his life’s work had amounted to nothing.
Edgar had long dreamed of establishing a hospital based on his channeled health readings. But in February of that year, the mystic’s Virginia Beach hospital and research center ran out of operating money and was forced to close its doors, less than two years after opening. Patients had to leave, files were carted off, and Edgar wandered the halls alone gathering his personal belongings before the building was shuttered.
The financial collapse arrived after longtime contributors quarreled with Edgar and abandoned him and his work. The Great Depression did the rest to gut his 30-bed facility.
“I’ve been tested,” Edgar told his wife Gertrude. “And I’ve failed.”
Today, the original hospital building is not only back in the hands of the organization that Edgar founded, the Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.), but the campus has recently undergone a major remodeling and is now a bustling facility that houses a well-regarded school of massage, a refurbished health spa, new classrooms, the offices of a reconstituted Atlantic University, and a health-food restaurant that ranks with dining experiences in “crunchy capitals” like San Francisco and Boulder, Colo.
The new health facility is sleekly designed – to the left I am pictured in its remodeled lobby with actress Lindsay Wagner (right), and A.R.E.’s own “bionic woman,” the tireless Marianna Theo (left).
Edgar’s dream of a dedicated health center is now alive in ways that he wouldn’t have imagined back in the grim winter of 1931. How did this turnaround occur?
Months after the hospital’s closing, while Edgar remained withdrawn and depressed, his eldest son, Hugh Lynn Cayce, then 24, approached him with an idea to reconstitute the Cayce work. But, as the future A.R.E. director saw it, his father needed to free himself from dependency on one or two big donors, as well as from fly-by-night seekers strictly interested in a personal reading. Instead, Hugh Lynn envisioned a member-supported organization that would keep people involved in all its facets of his father’s work – spiritual growth, personal healing, and ancient mysteries – while also providing a steady base of member support.
In essence, Hugh Lynn called for self-determination. He wanted the newly formed A.R.E. to demonstrate: 1) financial independence, with a scrappy willingness to do as much, or as little, as its member-based budget permitted; and 2) intellectual integrity, with a determination to organize, verify, and cross-reference the readings so that patients and seekers were not treated in isolation. Hugh Lynn’s formula transformed temporary defeat into renewed action and purpose.
Hugh Lynn’s program is every bit as serviceable for anyone facing setback today as it was for his father in the early 1930s. Here is what Hugh Lynn told Edgar, as recounted by Cayce family friend and biographer Thomas Sugrue:
“Maybe there’s something wrong with us. Suppose we stop expecting people to do things for us and start doing them for ourselves. The world doesn’t owe us a living because we have a psychic medium in the family; we ought to work for what we get just as everyone else does.
“In the first place, we don’t know anything about the thing we’re trying to sell. We look at the information as if it were a faucet. Just turn the tap and whatever we want flows out. We were going to give the world our wisdom – the wisdom that came out of the faucet when we turned the tap. We figured it was our wisdom because we had the faucet.
“We don’t know anything about psychic phenomena. We have our own experiences, but we don’t know what else has been done in the field.
“What do we know about the Life Readings? Do we know the history well enough to check the periods mentioned for people and give them a bibliography – a list of books and articles – with each reading? Certainly not!
“Do we know enough about philosophy, metaphysics, and comparative religion to check the readings on what is said in these fields?
“When a reading makes a statement and says it is a philosophical truth, do we know what philosophers believed the same thing, and what religions have it in their dogma?
“When a statement about anatomy, or about a disease, or about the use of a medicine or herb is made, do we know whether medical authorities believe the same thing or condemn it, or know nothing of the matter?
“If a person asked us for everything the readings have said about appendicitis, or ulcers of the stomach, or migraine, or the common cold, or epilepsy, or marriage, or forgiveness of sin, or love, could we produce it? Certainly not. That work was barely begun when the hospital closed.
“I think it would be wise if we stopped looking for large donations, stopped dreaming of another hospital, and concentrated on developing a little stock-in-trade. Then, when the next change comes, we’ll be better prepared and we won’t muff it.”
“I don’t know how to do that sort of work—” Edgar began.
“You don’t have to,” Hugh Lynn said. “I’ll do it … I’ll take over the job of manager of the Association. We’ll keep it small; we’ll have a modest budget and a modest program.
“We’ll work quietly, by ourselves, with the help of the local people who are interested. We’ll start study groups. We’ll take series of readings on various subjects. We’ll build up a library on psychic phenomena.
“Then when people come and ask what we do, we can say something other than that we take two readings a day, send them to people who pay for them, and put copies in our files. That isn’t much for an organization that goes around under the name of the Association for Research and Enlightenment.”
I ask you to consider how Hugh Lynn's ideas can be applied in your own life today. I find four principles in his statement:
- Self-Sufficiency. As much as possible, cultivate a sense of realistic self-reliance. Are your plans or projects rightly scaled, or are they overly dependent upon the resources or approval of others? Outsiders can withdraw their support just as quickly as they give it. Build on solid foundations.
- Higher Vision. Regularly check yourself to be certain that your plans are based on the ethical and spiritual certainty of serving something higher, and interjecting real benefit into the world.
- Steady Goes It. Build your projects patiently and methodically. Be willing to do as much, or as little, as resources permit. This is not only practical but also grants you the satisfaction of knowing that you are functioning without compromise and within your own means.
- Sweat Equity. Constantly ask: Am I performing my work with the highest quality and integrity? Do I suffuse my work with the skill and effort necessary to provide the finest possible service?
And, finally, I challenge you to apply these principles in one more way. If you are not already an A.R.E. member, please consider supporting the vision that Hugh Lynn brought into the world. With each of us who steps up, Hugh Lynn and Edgar’s work is further validated and realized.
Mitch Horowitz is a PEN Award-winning historian and the author of Occult America and One Simple Idea: How the Lessons of Positive Thinking Can Transform Your Life. He introduces and narrates the audio edition There Is River: The Story of Edgar Cayce by Thomas Sugrue, and many other audio books. Mitch most recently spoke at A.R.E. on the theme of Mind As Builder.