NERVES AND COMMON SENSE
ANNIE PAYSON CALL
Author of "Power Through Repose," "As a Matter of Course," "The Freedom of Life," etc.
NEW AND ENLARGED EDITION
MANY of these articles first appeared in "The Ladies' Home Journal," and I am glad to take this opportunity of thanking Mr. Edward Bok—the editor—for his very helpful and suggestive titles.
ANNIE PAYSON CALL.
I. HABIT AND NERVOUS STRAIN II. HOW WOMEN CAN KEEP FROM BEING NERVOUS III. "YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW I AM RUSHED" IV. "WHY DOES MRS. SMITH GET ON MY NERVES?" V. THE TRYING MEMBER OF THE FAMILY VI. IRRITABLE HUSBANDS VII. QUIET vs. CHRONIC EXCITEMENT VIII. THE TIRED EMPHASIS IX. HOW TO BE ILL AND GET WELL X. IS PHYSICAL CULTURE GOOD FOR GIRLS? XI. WORKING RESTFULLY XII. IMAGINARY VACATIONS XIII. THE WOMAN AT THE NEXT DESK XIV. TELEPHONES AND TELEPHONING XV. DON'T TALK XVI. "WHY FUSS SO MUCH ABOUT WHAT I EAT?" XVII. TAKE CARE OF YOUR STOMACH XVIII. ABOUT FACES XIX. ABOUT VOICES XX. ABOUT FRIGHTS XXI. CONTRARINESS XXII. HOW TO SEW EASILY XXIII. DO NOT HURRY XXIV. THE CARE OF AN INVALID XXV. THE HABIT OF ILLNESS XXVI. WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES ME SO NERVOUS? XXVII. POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE EFFORT XXVIII. HUMAN DUST XXIX. PLAIN EVERY-DAY COMMON SENSE XXX. A SUMMING UP
Habit and Nervous Strain
PEOPLE form habits which cause nervous strain. When these habits have fixed themselves for long enough upon their victims, the nerves give way and severe depression or some other form of nervous prostration is the result. If such an illness turns the attention to its cause, and so starts the sufferer toward a radical change from habits which cause nervous strain to habits which bring nervous strength, then the illness can be the beginning of better and permanent health. If, however, there simply is an enforced rest, without any intelligent understanding of the trouble, the invalid gets "well" only to drag out a miserable existence or to get very ill again.
Although any nervous suffering is worth while if it is the means of teaching us how to avoid nervous strain, it certainly is far preferable to avoid the strain without the extreme pain of a nervous breakdown.
To point out many of these pernicious habits and to suggest a practical remedy for each and all of them is the aim of this book, and for that reason common examples in various phases of every-day life are used as illustrations.
When there is no organic trouble there can be no doubt that defects of character, inherited or acquired, are at the root of all nervous illness. If this can once be generally recognized and acknowledged, especially by the sufferers themselves, we are in a fair way toward eliminating such illness entirely.
The trouble is people suffer from mortification and an unwillingness to look their bad habits in the face. They have not learned that humiliation can be wholesome, sound, and healthy, and so they keep themselves in a mess of a fog because they will not face the shame necessary to get out of it. They would rather be ill and suffering, and believe themselves to have strong characters than to look the weakness of their characters in the face, own up to them like men, and come out into open fresh air with healthy nerves which will gain in strength as they live.
Any intelligent man or woman who thinks a bit for himself can see the stupidity of this mistaken choice at a glance, and seeing it will act against it and thus do so much toward bringing light to all nervously prostrated humanity.
We can talk about faith cure, Christian Science, mind cure, hypnotism, psychotherapeutics, or any other forms of nerve cure which at the very best can only give the man a gentle shunt toward the middle of the stream of life. Once assured of the truth, the man must hold himself in the clean wholesomeness of it by actively working for his own strength of character from his own initiative. There can be no other permanent cure.
I say that strength of character must grow from our own initiative, and I should add that it must be from our own initiative that we come to recognize and actively believe that we are dependent upon a power not our own and our real strength comes from ceasing to be an obstruction to that power. The work of not interfering with our best health, moral and physical, means hard fighting and steady, never-ending vigilance. But it pays—it more than pays! And, it seems to me, this prevailing trouble of nervous strain which is so much with us now can be the means of guiding all men and women toward more solid health than has ever been known before. But we must work for it! We must give up expecting to be cured.
How Women can keep from being Nervous
MANY people suffer unnecessarily from "nerves" just for the want of a little knowledge of how to adjust themselves in order that the nerves may get well. As an example, I have in mind a little woman who had been ill for eight years—eight of what might have been the best years of her life—all because neither she nor her family knew the straight road toward getting well. Now that she has found the path she has gained health wonderfully in six months, and promises to be better than ever before in her life.
Let me tell you how she became ill and then I can explain her process of getting well again. One night she was overtired and could not get to sleep, and became very much annoyed at various noises that were about the house. Just after she had succeeded in stopping one noise she would go back to bed and hear several others. Finally, she was so worked up and nervously strained over the noises that her hearing became exaggerated, and she was troubled by noises that other people would not have even heard; so she managed to keep herself awake all night.
The next day the strain of the overfatigue was, of course, very much increased, not only by the wakeful night, but also by the annoyance which had kept her awake. The family were distressed that she should not have slept all night; talked a great deal about it, and called in the doctor.
The woman's strained nerves were on edge all day, so that her feelings were easily hurt, and her brothers and sisters became, as they thought, justly impatient at what they considered her silly babyishness. This, of course, roused her to more strain. The overcare and the feeble, unintelligent sympathy that she had from some members of her family kept her weak and self-centered, and the ignorant, selfish impatience with which the others treated her increased her nervous strain. After this there followed various other worries and a personal sense of annoyance—all of which made her more nervous.
Then—the stomach and brain are so closely associated—her digestion began to cause her discomfort: a lump in her stomach, her food "would not digest," and various other symptoms, all of which mean strained and overwrought nerves, although they are more often attributed merely to a disordered stomach. She worried as to what she had better eat and what she had better not eat. If her stomach was tired and some simple food disagreed with her all the discomfort was attributed to the food, instead of to the real cause,—a tired stomach,—and the cause back of that,—strained nerves. The consequence was that one kind of wholesome food after another was cut off as being impossible for her to eat. Anything that this poor little invalid did not like about circumstances or people she felt ugly and cried over. Finally, the entire family were centered about her illness, either in overcare or annoyance.
You see, she kept constantly repeating her brain impression of overfatigue: first annoyance because she stayed awake; then annoyance at noises; then excited distress that she should have stayed awake all night; then resistance and anger at other people who interfered with her. Over and over that brain impression of nervous illness was repeated by the woman herself and people about her until she seemed settled into it for the rest of her life. It was like expecting a sore to get well while it was constantly being rubbed and irritated. A woman might have the healthiest blood in the world, but if she cut herself and then rubbed and irritated the cut, and put salt in it, it would be impossible for it to heal.
Now let me tell you how this little woman got well. The first thing she did was to take some very simple relaxing exercises while she was lying in bed. She raised her arms very slowly and as loosely as she could from the elbow and then her hands from the wrist, and stretched and relaxed her fingers steadily, then dropped her hand and forearm heavily, and felt it drop slowly at first, then quickly and quietly, with its own weight. She tried to shut her eyes like a baby going to sleep, and followed that with long, gentle, quiet breaths. These and other exercises gave her an impression of quiet relaxation so that she became more sensitive to superfluous tension.
When she felt annoyed at noises she easily noticed that in response to the annoyance her whole body became tense and strained. After she had done her exercises and felt quiet and rested something would happen or some one would say something that went against the grain, and quick as a wink all the good of the exercises would be gone and she would be tight and strained again, and nervously irritated.
Very soon she saw clearly that she must learn to drop the habit of physical strain if she wanted to get well; but she also learned what was more—far more—important than that: that she must conquer the cause of the strain or she could never permanently drop it. She saw that the cause was resentment and resistance to the noises—the circumstances, the people, and all the variety of things that had "made her nervous."
Then she began her steady journey toward strong nerves and a wholesome, happy life. She began the process of changing her brain impressions. If she heard noises that annoyed her she would use her will to direct her attention toward dropping resistance to the noises, and in order to drop her mental resistance she gave her attention to loosening out the bodily contractions. Finally she became interested in the new process as in a series of deep and true experiments. Of course her living and intelligent interest enabled her to gain very much faster, for she not only enjoyed her growing freedom, but she also enjoyed seeing her experiments work. Nature always tends toward health, and if we stop interfering with her she will get us well.
There is just this difference between the healing of a physical sore and the healing of strained and irritated nerves With the one our bodies are healed, and things go on in them about the same as before. With the other, every use of the will to free ourselves from the irritation and its cause not only enables us to get free from the nervous illness, but in addition brings us new nerve vigor.
When nervous illness is met deeply enough and in the normal way, the result is that the nerves become stronger than ever before.
Often the effect of nervous strain in women is constant talking. Talk—talk—talk, and mostly about themselves, their ailments, their worries, and the hindrances that are put in their way to prevent their getting well. This talking is not a relief, as people sometimes feel. It is a direct waste of vigor. But the waste would be greater if the talk were repressed. The only real help comes when the talker herself recognizes the strain of her talk and "loosens" into silence.
People must find themselves out to get well—really well—from nervous suffering. The cause of nervous strain is so often in the character and in the way we meet circumstances and people that it seems essential to recognize our mistakes in that direction, and to face them squarely before we can do our part toward removing the causes of any nervous illness.
Remember it is not circumstances that keep us ill. It is not people that cause our illness. It is not our environment that overcomes us. It is the way we face and deal with circumstances, with people, and with environment that keeps our nerves irritated or keeps them quiet and wholesome and steady.
Let me tell the story of two men, both of whom were brought low by severe nervous breakdown. One complained of his environment, complained of circumstances, complained of people. Everything and every one was the cause of his suffering, except himself. The result was that he weakened his brain by the constant willful and enforced strain, so that what little health he regained was the result of Nature's steady and powerful tendency toward health, and in spite of the man himself.
The other man—to give a practical instance—returned from a journey taken in order to regain the strength which he had lost from not knowing how to work. His business agent met him at the railroad station with a piece of very bad news. Instead of being frightened and resisting and contracting in every nerve of his body, he took it at once as an opportunity to drop resistance. He had learned to relax his body, and by doing relaxing and quieting exercises over and over he had given himself a brain impression of quiet and "let go" which he could recall at will. Instead of expressing distress at the bad news he used his will at once to drop resistance and relax; and, to the surprise of his informant, who had felt that he must break his bad news as easily as possible, he said "Anything else?" Yes, there was another piece of news about as bad as the first. "Go on," answered the man who had been sick with nerves; "tell me something else."
And so he did, until he had told him five different things which were about as disagreeable and painful to hear as could have been. For every bit of news our friend used his will with decision to drop the resistance, which would, of course, at once arise in response to all that seemed to go against him.
He had, of course, to work at intervals for long afterward to keep free from the resistance; but the habit is getting more and more established as life goes on with him, and the result is a brain clearer than ever before in his life, a power of nerve which is a surprise to every one about him, and a most successful business career.
The success in business is, however, a minor matter. His brain would have cleared and his nerve strengthened just the same if what might be called the business luck had continued to go against him, as it seemed to do for the first few months after his recovery. That everything did go against him for some time was the greatest blessing he could have had. The way he met all the reverses increased his nerve power steadily and consistently.
These two men are fair examples of two extremes. The first one did not know how to meet life. If he had had the opportunity to learn he might have done as well as the other. The second had worked and studied to help himself out of nerves, and had found the true secret of doing it.
Some men, however, and, I regret to say, more women, have the weakening habit so strong upon them that they are unwilling to learn how to get well, even when they have the opportunity. It seems so strange to see people suffer intensely—and be unwilling to face and follow the only way that will lead them out of their torture.
The trouble is we want our own way and nervous health, too, and with those who have once broken down nervously the only chance of permanent health is through learning to drop the strain of resistance when things do not go their way. This is proved over and over by the constant relapse into "nerves" which comes to those who have simply been healed over. Even with those who appear to have been well for some time, if they have not acquired the habit of dropping their mental and physical tension you can always detect an overcare for themselves which means dormant fear—or even active fear in the background.
There are some wounds which the surgeons keep open, even though the process is most painful, because they know that to heal really they must heal from the inside. Healing over on the outside only means decay underneath, and eventual death. This is in most cases exactly synonymous with the healing of broken-down nerves. They must be healed in causes to be permanently cured. Sometimes the change that comes in the process is so great that it is like reversing an engine.
If the little woman whom I mentioned first had practiced relaxing and quieting exercises every day for years, and had not used the quiet impression gained by the exercises to help her in dropping mental resistances, she never would have gained her health.
Concentrating steadily on dropping the tension of the body is very radically helpful in dropping resistance from the mind, and the right idea is to do the exercises over and over until the impression of quiet openness is, by constant repetition, so strong with us that we can recall it at will whenever we need it. Finally, after repeated tests, we gain the habit of meeting the difficulties of life without strain—first in little ways, and then in larger ways.
The most quieting, relaxing, and strengthening of all exercises for the nerves comes in deep and rhythmic breathing, and in voice exercises in connection with it. Nervous strain is more evident in a voice than in any other expressive part of man or woman. It sometimes seems as if all other relaxing exercises were mainly useful because of opening a way for us to breathe better. There is a pressure on every part of the body when we inhale, and a consequent reaction when we exhale, and the more passive the body is when we take our deep breaths the more freely and quietly the blood can circulate all the way through it, and, of course, all nervous and muscular contraction impairs circulation, and all impaired circulation emphasizes nervous contraction.
To any one who is suffering from "nerves," in a lesser or greater degree, it could not fail to be of very great help to take half an hour in the morning, lie flat on the back, with the body as loose and heavy as it can be made, and then study taking gentle, quiet, and rhythmic breaths, long and short. Try to have the body so loose and open and responsive that it will open as you inhale and relax as you exhale, just as a rubber bag would. Of course, it will take time, but the refreshing quiet is sure to come if the practice is repeated regularly for a long enough time, and eventually we would no more miss it than we would go without our dinner.
We must be careful after each deep, long breath to rest quietly and let our lungs do as they please. Be careful to begin the breaths delicately and gently, to inhale with the same gentleness with which we begin, and to make the change from inhaling to exhaling with the greatest delicacy possible—keeping the body loose.
For the shorter breaths we can count three, or five, or ten to inhale, and the same number to exhale, until we have the rhythm established, and then go on breathing without counting, as if we were sound asleep. Always aim for gentleness and delicacy. If we have not half an hour to spare to lie quietly and breathe we can practice the breathing while we walk. It is wonderful how we detect strain and resistance in our breath, and the restfulness which comes when we breathe so gently that the breath seems to come and go without our volition brings new life with it.
We must expect to gain slowly and be patient; we must remember that nerves always get well by ups and downs, and use our wills to make every down lead to a higher up. If we want the lasting benefit, or any real benefit at all when we get the brain impression of quiet freedom from these breathing exercises, we must insist upon recalling that impression every time a test comes, and face the circumstances, or the person, or the duty with a voluntary insistence upon a quiet, open brain, rather than a tense, resistant one.
It will come hard at first, but we are sure to get there if we keep steadily at it, for it is really the Law of the Lord God Almighty that we are learning to obey, and this process of learning gives us steadily an enlarged appreciation of what trust in the Lord really is. There is no trust without obedience, and an intelligent obedience begets trust. The nerves touch the soul on one side and the body on the other, and we must work for freedom of soul and body in response to spiritual and physical law if we want to get sick nerves well. If we do not remember always a childlike attitude toward the Lord the best nerve training is only an easy way of being selfish.
To sum it all up—if you want to learn to help yourself out of "nerves" learn to rest when you rest and to work without strain when you work; learn to loosen out of the muscular contractions which the nerves cause; learn to drop the mental resistances which cause the "nerves," and which take the form of anger, resentment, worry, anxiety, impatience, annoyance, or self-pity; eat only nourishing food, eat it slowly, and chew it well; breathe the freshest air you can, and breathe it deeply, gently, and rhythmically; take what healthy, vigorous exercise you find possible; do your daily work to the best of your ability; give your attention so entirely to the process of gaining health for the sake of your work and other people that you have no mind left with which to complain of being ill, and see that all this effort aims toward a more intelligent obedience to and trustfulness in the Power that gives us life. Wholesome, sustained concentration is in the very essence of healthy nerves.
"You Have no Idea how I am Rushed"
A WOMAN can feel rushed when she is sitting perfectly still and has really nothing whatever to do. A woman can feel at leisure when she is working diligently at something, with a hundred other things waiting to be done when the time comes. It is not all we have to do that gives us the rushed feeling; it is the way we do what is before us. It is the attitude we take toward our work.
Now this rushed feeling in the brain and nerves is intensely oppressive. Many women, and men too, suffer from it keenly, and they suffer the more because they do not recognize that that feeling of rush is really entirely distinct from what they have to do; in truth it has nothing whatever to do with it.
I have seen a woman suffer painfully with the sense of being pushed for time when she had only two things to do in the whole day, and those two things at most need not take more than an hour each. This same woman was always crying for rest. I never knew, before I saw her, that women could get just as abnormal in their efforts to rest as in their insistence upon overwork. This little lady never rested when she went to rest; she would lie on the bed for hours in a state of strain about resting that was enough to tire any ordinarily healthy woman. One friend used to tell her that she was an inebriate on resting. It is perhaps needless to say that she was a nervous invalid, and in the process of gaining her health she had to be set to work and kept at work. Many and many a time she has cried and begged for rest when it was not rest she needed at all: it was work.
She has started off to some good, healthy work crying and sobbing at the cruelty that made her go, and has returned from the work as happy and healthy, apparently, as a little child. Then she could go to rest and rest to some purpose. She had been busy in wholesome action and the normal reaction came in her rest. As she grew more naturally interested in her work she rested less and less, and she rested better and better because she had something to rest from and something to rest for.
Now she does only a normal amount of resting, but gets new life from every moment of rest she takes; before, all her rest only made her want more rest and kept her always in the strain of fatigue. And what might seem to many a very curious result is that as the abnormal desire for rest disappeared the rushed feeling disappeared, too.
There is no one thing that American women need more than a healthy habit of rest, but it has got to be real rest, not strained nor self-indulgent rest.
Another example of this effort at rest which is a sham and a strain is the woman who insists upon taking a certain time every day in which to rest. She insists upon doing everything quietly and with—as she thinks—a sense of leisure, and yet she keeps the whole household in a sense of turmoil and does not know it. She sits complacently in her pose of prompt action, quietness and rest, and has a tornado all about her. She is so deluded in her own idea of herself that she does not observe the tornado, and yet she has caused it. Everybody in her household is tired out with her demands, and she herself is ill, chronically ill. But she thinks she is at peace, and she is annoyed that others should be tired.
If this woman could open and let out her own interior tornado, which she has kept frozen in there by her false attitude of restful quiet, she would be more ill for a time, but it might open her eyes to the true state of things and enable her to rest to some purpose and to allow her household to rest, too.
It seems, at first thought, strange that in this country, when the right habit of rest is so greatly needed, that the strain of rest should have become in late years one of the greatest defects. On second thought, however, we see that it is a perfectly rational result. We have strained to work and strained to play and strained to live for so long that when the need for rest gets so imperative that we feel we must rest the habit of strain is so upon us that we strain to rest. And what does such "rest" amount to? What strength does it bring us? What enlightenment do we get from it?
With the little lady of whom I first spoke rest was a steadily-weakening process. She was resting her body straight toward its grave. When a body rests and rests the circulation gets more and more sluggish until it breeds disease in the weakest organ, and then the physicians seem inclined to give their attention to the disease, and not to the cause of the abnormal strain which was behind the disease. Again, as we have seen, the abnormal, rushed feeling can exist just as painfully with too much and the wrong kind of rest as with too much work and the wrong way of working.
We have been, as a nation, inclined toward "Americanitis" for so long now that children and children's children have inherited a sense of rush, and they suffer intensely from it with a perfectly clear understanding of the fact that they have nothing whatever to hurry about. This is quite as true of men as it is of women. In such cases the first care should be not to fasten this sense of rush on to anything; the second care should be to go to work to cure it, to relax out of that contraction—just as you would work to cure twitching St. Vitus's dance, or any other nervous habit.
Many women will get up and dress in the morning as if they had to catch a train, and they will come in to breakfast as if it were a steamer for the other side of the world that they had to get, and no other steamer went for six months. They do not know that they are in a rush and a hurry, and they do not find it out until the strain has been on them for so long that they get nervously ill from it—and then they find themselves suffering from "that rushed feeling."
Watch some women in an argument pushing, actually rushing, to prove themselves right; they will hardly let their opponent have an opportunity to speak, much less will they stop to consider what he says and see if by chance he may not be right and they wrong.
The rushing habit is not by any means in the fact of doing many things. It asserts itself in our brains in talking, in writing, in thinking. How many of us, I wonder, have what might be called a quiet working brain? Most of us do not even know the standard of a brain that thinks and talks and lives quietly: a brain that never pushes and never rushes, or, if by any chance it is led into pushing or rushing, is so wholesomely sensitive that it drops the push or the rush as a bare hand would drop a red-hot coal.
None of us can appreciate the weakening power of this strained habit of rush until we have, by the use of our own wills, directed our minds toward finding a normal habit of quiet, and yet I do not in the least exaggerate when I say that its weakening effect on the brain and nerves is frightful.
And again I repeat, the rushed feeling has nothing whatever to do with the work before us. A woman can feel quite as rushed when she has nothing to do as when she is extremely busy.
"But," some one says, "may I not feel pressed for time when I have more to do than I can possibly put into the time before me?"
Oh, yes, yes—you can feel normally pressed for time; and because of this pressure you can arrange in your mind what best to leave undone, and so relieve the pressure. If one thing seems as important to do as another you can make up your mind that of course you can only do what you have time for, and the remainder must go. You cannot do what you have time to do so well if you are worrying about what you have no time for. There need be no abnormal sense of rush about it.
Just as Nature tends toward health, Nature tends toward rest—toward the right kind of rest; and if we have lost the true knack of resting we can just as surely find it as a sunflower can find the sun. It is not something artificial that we are trying to learn—it is something natural and alive, something that belongs to us, and our own best instinct will come to our aid in finding it if we will only first turn our attention toward finding our own best instinct.
We must have something to rest from, and we must have something to rest for, if we want to find the real power of rest. Then we must learn to let go of our nerves and our muscles, to leave everything in our bodies open and passive so that our circulation can have its own best way. But we must have had some activity in order to have given our circulation a fair start before we can expect it to do its best when we are passive.
Then, what is most important, we must learn to drop all effort of our minds if we want to know how to rest; and that is difficult. We can do it best by keeping our minds concentrated on something simple and quiet and wholesome. For instance, you feel tired and rushed and you can have half an hour in which to rest and get rid of the rush. Suppose you lie down on the bed and imagine yourself a turbulent lake after a storm. The storm is dying down, dying down, until by and by there is no wind, only little dashing waves that the wind has left. Then the waves quiet down steadily, more and more, until finally they are only ripples on the water. Then no ripples, but the water is as still as glass. The sun goes down. The sky glows. Twilight comes. One star appears, and green banks and trees and sky and stars are all reflected in the quiet mirror of the lake, and you are the lake, and you are quiet and refreshed and rested and ready to get up and go on with your work—to go on with it, too, better and more quietly than when you left it.
Or, another way to quiet your mind and to let your imagination help you to a better rest is to float on the top of a turbulent sea and then to sink down, down, down until you get into the still water at the bottom of the sea. We all know that, no matter how furious the sea is on the surface, not far below the surface it is absolutely still. It is very restful to go down there in imagination.
Whatever choice we may make to quiet our minds and our bodies, as soon as we begin to concentrate we must not be surprised if intruding thoughts are at first constantly crowding to get in. We must simply let them come. Let them come, and pay no attention to them.
I knew of a woman who was nervously ill, and some organs of her body were weakened very much by the illness. She made-up her mind to rest herself well and she did so. Every day she would rest for three hours; she said to herself, "I will rest an hour on my left side, an hour on my right side, and an hour on my back." And she did that for days and days. When she lay on one side she had a very attractive tree to look at. When she lay on the other she had an interesting picture before her. When she lay on her back she had the sky and several trees to see through a window in front of the bed. She grew steadily better every week—she had something to rest for. She was resting to get well. If she had rested and complained of her illness I doubt if she would have been well to-day. She simply refused to take the unpleasant sensations into consideration except for the sake of resting out of them. When she was well enough to take a little active exercise she knew she could rest better and get well faster for that, and she insisted upon taking the exercise, although at first she had to do it with the greatest care. Now that this woman is well she knows how to rest and she knows how to work better than ever before.
For normal rest we need the long sleep of night. For shorter rests which we may take during the day, often opportunity comes at most unexpected times and in most unexpected ways, and we must be ready to take advantage of it. We need also the habit of working restfully. This habit of course enables us to rest truly when we are only resting, and again the habit of resting normally helps us to work normally.
A wise old lady said: "My dear, you cannot exaggerate the unimportance of things." She expressed even more, perhaps, than she knew.
It is our habit of exaggerating the importance of things that keeps us hurried and rushed. It is our habit of exaggerating the importance of ourselves that makes us hold the strain of life so intensely. If we would be content to do one thing at a time, and concentrate on that one thing until it came time to do the next thing, it would astonish us to see how much we should accomplish. A healthy concentration is at the root of working restfully and of resting restfully, for a healthy concentration means dropping everything that interferes.
I know there are women who read this article who will say; "Oh, yes, that is all very well for some women, but it does not apply in the least to a woman who has my responsibilities, or to a woman who has to work as I have to work."
My answer to that is: "Dear lady, you are the very one to whom it does apply!"
The more work we have to do, the harder our lives are, the more we need the best possible principles to lighten our work and to enlighten our lives. We are here in the world at school and we do not want to stay in the primary classes.
The harder our lives are and the more we are handicapped the more truly we can learn to make every limitation an opportunity—and if we persistently do that through circumstances, no matter how severe, the nearer we are to getting our diploma. To gain our freedom from the rushed feeling, to find a quiet mind in place of an unquiet one, is worth working hard for through any number of difficulties. And think of the benefit such a quiet mind could be to other people! Especially if the quiet mind were the mind of a woman, for, at the present day, think what a contrast she would be to other women!
When a woman's mind is turbulent it is the worst kind of turbulence. When it is quiet we can almost say it is the best kind of quiet, humanly speaking.
Why does Mrs. Smith get on My Nerves?
IF you want to know the true answer to this question it is "because you are unwilling that Mrs. Smith should be herself." You want her to be just like you, or, if not just like you, you want her to be just as you would best like her.
I have seen a woman so annoyed that she could not eat her supper because another woman ate sugar on baked beans. When this woman told me later what it was that had taken away her appetite she added: "And isn't it absurd? Why shouldn't Mrs. Smith eat sugar on baked beans? It does not hurt me. I do not have to taste the sugar on the beans; but is it such an odd thing to do. It seems to me such bad manners that I just get so mad I can't eat!"
Now, could there be anything more absurd than that? To see a woman annoyed; to see her recognize that she was uselessly and foolishly annoyed, and yet to see that she makes not the slightest effort to get over her annoyance.
It is like the woman who discovered that she spoke aloud in church, and was so surprised that she exclaimed: "Why, I spoke out loud in church!" and then, again surprised, she cried: "Why, I keep speaking aloud in church!"—and it did not occur to her to stop.
My friend would have refused an invitation to supper, I truly believe, if she had known that Mrs. Smith would be there and her hostess would have baked beans. She was really a slave to Mrs. Smith's way of eating baked beans.
"Well, I do not blame her," I hear some reader say; "it is entirely out of place to eat sugar on baked beans. Why shouldn't she be annoyed?"
I answer: "Why should she be annoyed? Will her annoyance stop Mrs. Smith's eating sugar on baked beans? Will she in any way—selfish or otherwise—be the gainer for her annoyance? Furthermore, if it were the custom to eat sugar on baked beans, as it is the custom to put sugar in coffee, this woman would not have been annoyed at all. It was simply the fact of seeing Mrs. Smith digress from the ordinary course of life that annoyed her."
It is the same thing that makes a horse shy. The horse does not say to himself, "There is a large carriage, moving with no horse to pull it, with nothing to push it, with—so far as I can see—no motive power at all. How weird that is! How frightful!"—and, with a quickly beating heart, jump aside and caper in scared excitement. A horse when he first sees an automobile gets an impression on his brain which is entirely out of his ordinary course of impressions—it is as if some one suddenly and unexpectedly struck him, and he shies and jumps. The horse is annoyed, but he does not know what it is that annoys him. Now, when a horse shies you drive him away from the automobile and quiet him down, and then, if you are a good trainer, you drive him back again right in front of that car or some other one, and you repeat the process until the automobile becomes an ordinary impression to him, and he is no longer afraid of it.
There is, however, just this difference between a woman and a horse: the woman has her own free will behind her annoyance, and a horse has not. If my friend had asked Mrs. Smith to supper twice a week, and had served baked beans each time and herself passed her the sugar with careful courtesy, and if she had done it all deliberately for the sake of getting over her annoyance, she would probably have only increased it until the strain would have got on her nerves much more seriously than Mrs. Smith ever had. Not only that, but she would have found herself resisting other people's peculiarities more than ever before; I have seen people in nervous prostration from causes no more serious than that, on the surface. It is the habit of resistance and resentment back of the surface annoyance which is the serious cause of many a woman's attack of nerves.
Every woman is a slave to every other woman who annoys her. She is tied to each separate woman who has got on her nerves by a wire which is pulling, pulling the nervous force right out of her. And it is not the other woman's fault—it is her own. The wire is pulling, whether or not we are seeing or thinking of the other woman, for, having once been annoyed by her, the contraction is right there in our brains. It is just so much deposited strain in our nervous systems which will stay there until we, of our own free wills, have yielded out of it.
The horse was not resenting nor resisting the automobile; therefore the strain of his fright was at once removed when the automobile became an ordinary impression. A woman, when she gets a new impression that she does not like, resents and resists it with her will, and she has got to get in behind that resistance and drop it with her will before she is a free woman.
To be sure, there are many disagreeable things that annoy for a time, and then, as the expression goes, we get hardened to them. But few of us know that this hardening is just so much packed resistance which is going to show itself later in some unpleasant form and make us ill in mind or body. We have got to yield, yield, yield out of every bit of resistance and resentment to other people if we want to be free. No reasoning about it is going to do us any good. No passing back and forth in front of it is going to free us. We must yield first and then we can see clearly and reason justly. We must yield first and then we can go back and forth in front of it, and it will only be a reminder to yield every time until the habit of yielding has become habitual and the strength of nerve and strength of character developed by means of the yielding have been established.
Let me explain more fully what I mean by "yielding." Every annoyance, resistance, or feeling of resentment contracts us in some way physically; if we turn our attention toward dropping that physical contraction, with a real desire to get rid of the resistance behind it, we shall find that dropping the physical strain opens the way to drop the mental and moral strain, and when we have really dropped the strain we invariably find reason and justice and even generosity toward others waiting to come to us.
There is one important thing to be looked out for in this normal process of freeing ourselves from other people. A young girl said once to her teacher: "I got mad the other day and I relaxed, and the more I relaxed the madder I got!"
"Did you want to get over the anger?" asked the teacher.
"No, I didn't," was the prompt and ready answer.
Of course, as this child relaxed out of the tension of her anger, there was only more anger to take its place, and the more she relaxed the more free her nerves were to take the impression of the anger hoarded up in her; consequently it was as she said: the more she relaxed the "madder" she got. Later, this same little girl came to understand fully that she must have a real desire to get over her anger in order to have better feelings come up after she had dropped the contraction of the anger.
I know of a woman who has been holding such steady hatred for certain other people that the strain of it has kept her ill. And it is all a matter of feeling: first, that these people have interfered with her welfare; second, that they differ from her in opinion. Every once in a while her hatred finds a vent and spends itself in tears and bitter words. Then, after the external relief of letting out her pent-up feeling, she closes up again and one would think from her voice and manner—if one did not look very deep in—that she had only kindliness for every one. But she stays nervously ill right along.
How could she do otherwise with that strain in her? If she were constitutionally a strong woman this strain of hatred would have worn on her, though possibly not have made her really ill; but, being naturally sensitive and delicate, the strain has kept her an invalid altogether.
"Mother, I can't stand Maria," one daughter says to her mother, and when inquiry is made the mother finds that what her daughter "cannot stand" is ways that differ from her own. Sometimes, however, they are very disagreeable ways which are exactly like the ways of the person who cannot stand them. If one person is imperious and demanding she will get especially annoyed at another person for being imperious and demanding, without a suspicion that she is objecting vehemently to a reflection of herself.
There are two ways in which people get on our nerves. The first way lies in their difference from us in habit—in little things and in big things; their habits are not our habits. Their habits may be all right, and our habits may be all right, but they are "different." Why should we not be willing to have them different? Is there any reason for it except the very empty one that we consciously and unconsciously want every one else to be just like us, or to believe just as we do, or to behave just as we do? And what sense is there in that?
"I cannot stand Mrs. So-and-so; she gets into a rocking-chair and rocks and rocks until I feel as if I should go crazy!" some one says. But why not let Mrs. So-and-so rock? It is her chair while she is in it, and her rocking. Why need it touch us at all?
"But," I hear a hundred women say, "it gets on our nerves; how can we help its getting on our nerves?" The answer to that is: "Drop it off your nerves." I know many women who have tried it and who have succeeded, and who are now profiting by the relief. Sometimes the process to such freedom is a long one; sometimes it is a short one; but, either way, the very effort toward it brings nervous strength, as well as strength of character.
Take the woman who rocks. Practically every time she rocks you should relax, actually and consciously relax your muscles and your nerves. The woman who rocks need not know you are relaxing; it all can be done from inside. Watch and you will find your muscles strained and tense with resistance to the rocking. Go to work practically to drop every bit of strain that you observe. As you drop the grossest strain it will make you more sensitive to the finer strain and you can drop that—and it is even possible that you may seek the woman who rocks, in order to practice on her and get free from the habit of resisting more quickly.
This seems comical—almost ridiculous—to think of seeking an annoyance in order to get rid of it; but, after laughing at it first, look at the idea seriously, and you will see it is common sense. When you have learned to relax to the woman who rocks you have learned to relax to other similar annoyances. You have been working on a principle that applies generally. You have acquired a good habit which can never really fail you.
If my friend had invited Mrs. Smith to supper and served baked beans for the sake of relaxing out of the tension of her resistance to the sugar, then she could have conquered that resistance. But to try to conquer an annoyance like that without knowing how to yield in some way would be, so far as I know, an impossibility. Of course, we would prefer that our friends should not have any disagreeable, ill-bred, personal ways, but we can go through the world without resisting them, and there is no chance of helping any one out of them through our own resistances.
On the other hand a way may open by which the woman's attention is called to the very unhealthy habit of rocking—or eating sugar on beans—if we are ready, without resistance, to point it out to her. And if no way opens we have at least put ourselves out of bondage to her. The second way in which other people get on our nerves is more serious and more difficult. Mrs. So-and-so may be doing very wrong—really very wrong; or some one who is nearly related to us may be doing very wrong—and it may be our most earnest and sincere desire to set him right. In such cases the strain is more intense because we really have right on our side, in our opinion, if not in our attitude toward the other person. Then, to recognize that if some one else chooses to do wrong it is none of our business is one of the most difficult things to do—for a woman, especially.
It is more difficult to recognize practically that, in so far as it may be our business, we can best put ourselves in a position to enable the other person to see his own mistake by dropping all personal resistance to it and all personal strain about it. Even a mother with her son can help him to be a man much more truly if she stops worrying about and resisting his unmanliness.
"But," I hear some one say, "that all seems like such cold indifference." Not at all—not at all. Such freedom from strain can be found only through a more actively affectionate interest in others. The more we truly love another, the more thoroughly we respect that other's individuality.
The other so-called love is only love of possession and love of having our own way. It is not really love at all; it is sugar-coated tyranny. And when one sugar-coated tyrant' antagonizes herself against another sugar-coated tyrant the strain is severe indeed, and nothing good is ever accomplished.
The Roman infantry fought with a fixed amount of space about each soldier, and found that the greater freedom of individual activity enabled them to fight better and to conquer their foes. This symbolizes happily the process of getting people off our nerves. Let us give each one a wide margin and thus preserve a good margin for ourselves.
We rub up against other people's nerves by getting too near to them—not too near to their real selves, but too near, so to speak, to their nervous systems. There have been quarrels between good people just because one phase of nervous irritability roused another. Let things in other people go until you have entirely dropped your strain about them—then it will be clear enough what to do and what to say, or what not to do and what not to say. People in the world cannot get on our nerves unless we allow them to do so.
The Trying Member of the Family
"TOMMY, don't do that. You know it annoys your grandfather."
"Well, why should he be annoyed? I am doing nothing wrong."
"I know that, and it hurts me to ask you, but you know how he will feel if he sees you doing it, and you know that troubles me."
Reluctantly and sullenly Tommy stopped. Tommy's mother looked strained and worried and discontented. Tommy had an expression on his face akin to that of a smouldering volcano.
If any one had taken a good look at the grandfather it would have been very clear that Tommy was his own grandson, and that the old man and the child were acting and reacting upon one another in a way that was harmful to both; although the injury was, of course, worse to the child, for the grandfather had toughened. The grandfather thought he loved his little grandson, and the grandson, at times, would not have acknowledged that he did not love his grandfather. At other times, with childish frankness, he said he "hated him."
But the worst of this situation was that although the mother loved her son, and loved her father, and sincerely thought that she was the family peacemaker, she was all the time fanning the antagonism.
Here is a contrast to this little story An old uncle came into the family of his nephew to live, late in life, and with a record behind him of whims and crotchets in the extreme. The father and mother talked it over. Uncle James must come. He had lost all his money. There was no one else to look after him and they could not afford to support him elsewhere where he would be comfortable. They took it into account, without offence, that it was probably just as much a cross to Uncle James to come as it was to them to have him. They took no pose of magnanimity such as: "Of course we must be good and offer Uncle James a home," and "How good we are to do it!" Uncle James was to come because it was the only thing for him to do. The necessity was to be faced and fought and conquered, and they had three strong, self-willed little children to face it with them. They had sense enough to see that if faced rightly it would do only good to the children, but if made a burden to groan over it would make their home a "hornets' nest." They agreed to say nothing to the children about Uncle James's peculiarities, but to await developments.
Children are always delighted at a visit from a relative, and they welcomed their great-uncle with pleasure. It was not three days, however, before every one of the three was crying with dislike and hurt feelings and anger. Then was the time to begin the campaign.
The mother, with a happy face, called the three children to her, and said "Now listen, children. Do you suppose I like Uncle James's irritability any better than you do?"
"No," came in a chorus; "we don't see how you stand it, Mother."
Then she said: "Now look here, boys, do you suppose that Uncle James likes his snapping any better than we do?"
"If he does not like it why does he do it?" answered the boys.
"I cannot tell you that; that is his business and not yours or mine," said the mother; "but I can prove to you that he does not like it. Bobby, do you remember how you snapped at your brother yesterday, when he accidentally knocked your house over?"
"Yes!" replied Bobby.
"Did you feel comfortable after it?" "You bet I didn't," was the quick reply.
"Well," answered the mother, "you boys stop and think just how disagreeable it is inside of you when you snap, and then think how it would be if you had to feel like that as much as Uncle James does."
"By golly, but that would be bad," said the twelve-year-old.
"Now, boys," went on the mother, "you want to relieve Uncle James's disagreeable feelings all you can, and don't you see that you increase them when you do things to annoy him? His snappish feelings are just like a sore that is smarting and aching all the time, and when you get in their way it hurts as if you rubbed the sore. Keep out of his way when you can, and when you can't and he snaps at you, say: 'I beg your pardon, sir,' like gentlemen, and stop doing what annoys him; or get out of his way as soon as you can."
Uncle James never became less snappish. But the upright, manly courtesy of those boys toward him was like fresh air on a mountain, especially because it had become a habit and was all as a matter of course. The father and mother realized that Uncle James had, unconsciously, made men of their boys as nothing else in the world could have done, and had trained them so that they would grow up tolerant and courteous toward all human peculiarities.
Many times a gracious courtesy toward the "trying member" will discover good and helpful qualities that we had not guessed before. Sometimes after a little honest effort we find that it is ourselves who have been the trying members, and that the other one has been the member tried. Often it is from two members of the family that the trying element comes. Two sisters may clash, and they will generally clash because they are unlike. Suppose one sister moves and lives in big swings, and the other in minute details. Of course when these extreme tendencies are accented in each the selfish temptation is for the larger mind to lapse into carelessness of details, and for the smaller mind to shrink into pettiness, and as this process continues the sisters get more and more intolerant of each other, and farther and farther apart. But if the sister who moves in the big swings will learn from the other to be careful in details, and if the smaller mind will allow itself to be enlarged by learning from the habitually broader view of the other, each will grow in proportion, and two women who began life as enemies in temperament can end it as happy friends.
There are similar cases of brothers who clash, but they are not so evident, for when men do not agree they leave one another alone. Women do not seem to be able to do that. It is good to leave one another alone when there is the clashing tendency, but it is better to conquer the clashing and learn to agree.
So long as the normal course of my life leads me to live with some one who rubs me the wrong way I am not free until I have learned to live with that some one in quiet content. I never gain my freedom by running away. The bondage is in me always, so long as the other person's presence can rouse it. The only way is to fight it out inside of one's self. When we can get the co-operation of the other so much the better. But no one's co-operation is necessary for us to find our own freedom, and with it an intelligent, tolerant kindliness.
"Mother, you take that seat. No, not that one, Mother—the sun comes in that window. Children, move aside and let your grandmother get to her seat."
The young woman was very much in earnest in seeing that her mother had a comfortable seat, that she had not the discomfort of the hot sun, that the children made way for her so that she could move into her seat comfortably. All her words were thoughtful and courteous, but the spirit and the tone of her words were quite the reverse of courteous. If some listener with his eyes shut had heard the tone without understanding the words he might easily have thought that the woman was talking to a little dog.
Poor "Mother" trotted into her seat with the air of a little dog who was so well trained that he did at once what his mistress ordered. It was very evident that "Mother's" will had been squeezed out of her and trampled upon for years by her dutiful daughter, who looked out always that "Mother" had the best, without the first scrap of respect for "Mother's" free, human soul.
The grandchildren took the spirit of their mother's words rather than the words themselves, and treated their grandmother as if she were a sort of traveling idiot tagged on to them, to whom they had to be decently respectful whenever their mother's eye was upon them, and whom they ignored entirely when their mother looked the other way.
It so happened that I was sitting next to this particular mother who had been poked into a comfortable seat by her careful daughter. And, after a number of other suggestions had been poked at her with a view to adding to her comfort, she turned to me and in a quaint, confidential way, with the gentle voice of a habitual martyr, and at the same time a twinkle of humor in her eye, she said "They think, you know, I don't know anything."
And after that we had a little talk about matters of the day which proved to me that "Mother" had a mind broader and certainly more quiet than her daughter. I studied the daughter with interest after knowing "Mother" better, and her habitual strain of voice and manner were pathetic. By making a care of her mother instead of a companion, she was not only guilty of disrespect to a soul which, however weak it may have been in allowing itself to be directed in all minor matters, had its own firm principles which were not overridden nor even disturbed by the daughter's dominance. If the daughter had only dropped her strain of care and her habit of "bossing" she would have found a true companion in her mother, and would have been a healthier and happier woman herself.
In pleasant contrast to this is the story of a family which had an old father who had lost his mind entirely, and had grown decrepit and childish in the extreme. The sons and daughters tended him like a baby and loved him with gentle, tender respect. There was no embarrassment for his loss of mind, no thought of being distressed or pained by it, and because his children took their father's state so quietly and without shame, every guest who came took it in the same way, and there was no thought of keeping the father out of sight. He sat in the living-room in his comfortable chair, and always one child or another was sitting right beside him with a smiling face. Instead of being a trying member of the family, as happens in so many cases, this old father seemed to bring content and rest to his children through their loving care for him.
Very often—I might almost say always—the trying member of the family is trying only because we make her so by our attitude toward her, let her be grandmother, mother, or maiden aunt. Even the proverbial mother-in-law grows less difficult as our attitude toward her is relieved of the strain of detesting everything she does, and expecting to detest everything that she is going to do. With every trying friend we have, if we yield to him in all minor matters we find the settling of essential questions wonderfully less difficult.
A son had a temper and the girl he married had a temper. The mother loved her son with the selfish love with which so many mothers burden their children, and thought that he alone of all men had a right to lose his temper. Consequently she excused her son and blamed her daughter-in-law. If there were a mild cyclone roused between the two married people the son would turn to his mother to hear what a martyr he was and what misfortune he had to bear in having been so easily mistaken in the woman he married. Thus the mother-in-law, who felt that she was protecting her poor son, was really breeding dissension between two people who could have been the best possible friends all their lives.
The young wife very soon became ashamed of her temper and worked until she conquered it, but it was not until her mother-in-law had been out of this world for years that her husband discovered what he had lost in turning away from his wife's friendship, and it was only by the happy accident of severe illness that he ever discovered his mistake at all, and gained freedom from the bondage of his own temper enough to appreciate his wife.
If, however, the wife had yielded in the beginning not only to her husband's bad temper but also to the antagonism of her mother-in-law, which was, of course, annoying in many petty ways, she might have gained her husband's friendship, and it is possible that she might, moreover, have gained the friendship of her mother-in-law.
The best rule with regard to all trying members of the family is to yield to them always in non-essentials; and when you disagree in essentials stick to the principle which you believe to be right, but stick to it without resistance. Believe your way, but make yourself willing that the trying member should believe her way. Make an opportunity of what appears to be a limitation, and, believe me, your trying member can become a blessing to you.
I go further than that—I truly believe that to make the best of life every family should have a trying member. When we have no trying member of our family, and life goes along smoothly, as a matter of course, the harmony is very liable to be spurious, and a sudden test will all at once knock such a family into discord, much to the surprise of every member. When we go through discord to harmony, and once get into step, we are very likely to keep in step:
Be willing, then, make yourself willing, that the trying member should be in the way. Hope that she will stay in your family until you have succeeded in dropping not only all resistance to her being there, but every resistance to her various ways in detail. Bring her annoying ways up to your mind voluntarily when you are away from her. If you do that you will find all the resistances come with them and you can relax out of the strain then and there. You will find that when you get home or come down to breakfast in the morning (for many resistances are voluntarily thrown off in the night) you will have a pleasanter feeling toward the trying member, and it comes so spontaneously that you will be surprised yourself at the absence of the strain of resistance in you.
Believe me when I say this: the yielding in the non-essentials, singularly enough, gives one strength to refuse to yield in principles. But we must always remember that if we want to find real peace, while we refuse to yield in our own principles so long as we believe them to be true, we must be entirely willing that others should differ from us in belief.
SUPPOSE your husband got impatient and annoyed with you because you did not seem to enter heartily into the interests of his work and sympathize with its cares and responsibilities and soothe him out of the nervous harassments. Would you not perhaps feel a little sore that he seemed to expect all from you and to give nothing in return? I know how many women will say that is all very well, but the husband and father should feel as much interest in the home and the children as the wife and mother does. That is, of course, true up to a certain point, always in general, and when his help is really necessary in particular. But a man cannot enter into the details of his wife's duties at home any more than a woman can enter into the details of her husband's duties at his office.
Then, again, my readers may say: "But a woman's nervous system is more sensitive than a man's; she needs help and consolation. She needs to have some one on whom she can lean." Now the answer to that will probably be surprising, but an intelligent understanding and comprehension of it would make a very radical difference in the lives of many men and women who have agreed to live together for life—for better and for worse.
Now the truth is man's nervous system is quite as sensitive as a woman's, but the woman's temptation to emotion makes her appear more sensitive, and her failure to control her emotions ultimately increases the sensitiveness of her nerves so that they are more abnormal than her husband's. Even that is not always true The other day a woman sat in tears and distress telling of the hardness of heart, the restlessness, the irritability, the thoughtlessness, the unkindness of her husband. Her face was drawn with suffering. She insisted that she was not complaining, that it was her deep and tender love for her husband that made her suffer so. "But it is killing me, it is killing me," she said, and one who saw her could well believe it. And if the distress and the great strain upon her nerves had kept on it certainly would have made her ill, if not have actually ended her life with a nervous collapse.
The friend in whom she confided sat quietly and heard her through. She let her pour herself out to the very finish until she stopped because there was nothing more to say. Then, by means of a series of gentle, well-adapted questions, she drew from the wife a recognition—for the first time—of the fact that she really did nothing whatever for her husband and expected him to do everything for her. Perhaps she put on a pretty dress for him in order to look attractive when he came home, but if he did not notice how well she looked, and was irritable about something in the house, she would be dissolved in tears because she had not proved attractive and pleased him. Maybe she had tried to have a dinner that he especially liked; then if he did not notice the food, and seemed distracted about something that was worrying him, she would again be dissolved in tears because he "appreciated nothing that she tried to do for him."
Now it is perfectly true that this husband was irritable and brutal; he had no more consideration for his wife than he had for any one else. But his wife was doing all in her power to fan his irritability into flame and to increase his brutality. She was attitudinizing in her own mind as a martyr. She was demanding kindness and attention and sympathy from her husband, and because she demanded it she never got it.
A woman can demand without demanding imperiously. There is more selfish demanding in a woman's emotional suffering because her husband does not do this or that or the other for her sake than there is in a tornado of man's irritability or anger. You see, a woman's demanding spirit is covered with the mush of her emotions. A man's demanding spirit stands out in all its naked ugliness. One is just as bad as the other. One is just as repulsive as the other.
It is a radical, practical impossibility to bring loving-kindness out of any one by demanding it. Loving-kindness, thoughtfulness, and consideration have got to be born spontaneously in a man's own mind to be anything at all, and no amount of demanding on the part of his wife can force it.
When this little lady of whom I have been writing found that she had been demanding from her husband what he really ought to have given her as a matter of course, and that she had used up all her strength in suffering because he did not give it, and had used none of her strength in the effort to be patient and quiet in waiting for him to come to his senses, she went home and began a new life. She was a plucky little woman and very intelligent when once her eyes were opened. She recognized the fact that her suffering was resistance to her husband's irritable selfishness, and she stopped resisting.
It was a long and hard struggle of days, weeks, and months, but it brought a very happy reward. When a man is irritable and ugly, and his wife offers no resistance either in anger or suffering, the irritability and ugliness react upon himself, and if there is something better in him he begins to perceive the irritability in its true colors. That is what happened to this man. As his wife stopped demanding he began to give. As his wife's nerves became calm and quiet his nerves quieted and calmed. Finally his wife discovered that much of his irritability had been roused through nervous anxiety in regard to his business about which he had told her nothing whatever because it "was not his way."
There is nothing in the world that so strengthens nerves as the steady use of the will to drop resistance and useless emotions and get a quiet control. This woman gained that strength, and to her surprise one day her husband turned to her with a full account of all his business troubles and she met his mind quietly, as one business man might meet another, and without in the least expressing her pleasure or her surprise. She took all the good change in him as a matter of course.
Finally one day it came naturally and easily to talk over the past. She found that her husband from day to day had dreaded coming home. The truth was that he had dreaded his own irritability as much as he had dreaded her emotional demanding. But he did not know it—he did not know what was the matter at all. He simply knew vaguely that he was a brute, that he felt like a brute, and that he did not know how to stop being a brute. His wife knew that he was a brute, and at the same time she felt throughly convinced that she was a suffering martyr. He was dreading to come home and she was dreading to have him come home—and there they were in a continuous nightmare. Now they have left the nightmare far, far behind, and each one knows that the other has one good friend in the world in whom he or she can feel entire confidence, and their friendship is growing stronger and clearer and more normal every day.
It is not the ceremony that makes the marriage: the ceremony only begins it. Marriage is a slow and careful adjustment. A true story which illustrates the opposite of this condition is that of a man and woman who were to all appearances happily married for years. They were apparently the very closest friends. The man's nerves were excitable and peculiar, and his wife adjusted herself to them by indulging them and working in every way to save him from friction. No woman could stand that constant work of adjustment which was in reality maladjustment, and this wife's nerves broke down unexpectedly and completely.
When our nerves get weak we are unable to repress resistance which in a stronger state we had covered up. This wife, while she had indulged and protected her husband's peculiarities, had subconsciously resisted them. When she became ill her subconscious resistance came to the surface. She surprised herself by growing impatient with her husband. He, of course; retorted. As she grew worse he did not find his usual comfort from her care, and instead of trying to help her to get well he turned his back on her and complained to another woman. Finally the friction of the two nervous systems became dangerously intense. Each was equally obstinate, and there was nothing to do but to separate The woman died of a broken heart, and the man is probably insane for the rest of his life.
It was nothing but the mismanagement of their own and each other's nerves that made all this terrible trouble. Their love seemed genuine at first, and could certainly have grown to be really genuine if they had become truly adjusted. And the saddest part of the whole story is that they were both peculiarly adapted to be of use to their fellow-men. During the first years of their life their home was a delight to all their friends.
Tired nerves are likely to close up a man or make him irritable, complaining, and ugly, whereas the tendency in a woman is to be irritable, complaining, and tearful. Now of course when each one is selfishly looking out for his or her comfort neither one can be expected to understand the other. The man thinks he is entirely justified in being annoyed with the woman's tearful, irritable complaints, and so he is—in a way. The woman thinks that she has a right to suffer because of her husband's irritable ugliness, and so she has—in a way. But in the truest way, and the way which appeals to every one's common sense, neither one has a right to complain of the other, and each one by right should have first made things better and clearer in himself and herself.
Human nature is not so bad—really in its essence it is not bad at all. If we only give the other man a real chance. It is the pushing and pulling and demanding of one human being toward another that smother the best in us, and make life a fearful strain. Of course there is a healthy demanding as well as an unhealthy demanding, but, so far as I know, the healthy demanding can come only when we are clear of personal resistance and can demand on the strength of a true principle and without selfish emotion. There is a kind of gentle, motherly contempt with which some women speak of their husbands, which must get on a man's nerves very painfully. It is intensely and most acutely annoying. And yet I have heard good women speak in that way over and over again. The gentleness and motherliness are of course neither of them real in such cases. The gentle, motherly tone is used to cover up their own sense of superiority.
"Poor boy, poor boy," they may say; "a man is really like a child." So he may be—so he often is childish, and sometimes childish in the extreme. But where could you find greater and more abject childishness than in a woman's ungoverned emotions?
A woman must respect the manliness of her husband's soul, and must cling to her belief in its living existence behind any amount of selfish, restless irritability, if she is going to find a friend in him or be a friend to him. She must also know that his nervous system may be just as sensitive as hers. Sometimes it is more sensitive, and should be accordingly respected. Demand nothing and expect nothing, but hold him to his best in your mind and wait.
That is a rule that would work wonderfully if every woman who is puzzled about her husband's restlessness and lack of interest in home affairs would apply it steadily and for long enough. It is impossible to manufacture a happy, sympathetic married life artificially—impossible! But as each one looks to one's self and does one's part fully, and then is willing to wait for the other, the happiness and the sympathy, the better power for work and the joyful ability to play come—they do come; they are real and alive and waiting for us as we get clear from the interferences.
"Why doesn't my husband like to stay with me when he comes home? Why can't we have nice, cozy times together?" a wife asks with sad longing in her eyes.
And to the same friend the husband (who is, by the way, something of a pig) says: "I should be glad to stay with Nellie often in the evening, but she will always talk about her worries, and she worries about the family in a way that is idiotic. She is always sure that George will catch the measles because a boy in the next street has them, and she is always sure that our children do not have the advantages nor the good manners that other children have. If it is not one thing it is another; whenever we are alone there is something to complain of, and her last complaint was about her own selfishness." Then he laughed at what he considered a good joke, and in five minutes had forgotten all about her.
This wife, in a weak, selfish little way, was trying to give her husband her confidence, and her complaint about her own selfishness was genuine. She wanted his help to get out of it. If he had given her just a little gracious attention and told her how impossible it was really to discuss the children when she began the conversation with whining complaint, she would have allowed herself to be taught and their intercourse would have improved. On the other hand, if the wife had realized that her husband came home from the cares of his business tired and nervous, and if she had talked lightly and easily on general subjects and tried to follow his interests, when his nerves were rested and quiet she might have found him ready and able to give her a little lift with regard to the children.
It is interesting and it is delightful to see how, as we each work first to bear our own burdens, we not only find ourselves ready and able to lighten the burdens of others but find others who are helpful to us.
A woman who finds her husband "so restless and irritable" should remember that in reality a man's nervous system is just as sensitive as a woman's, and, with a steady and consistent effort to bear her own burdens and to work out her own problems, should prepare herself to lighten her husband's burdens and help to solve his problems; that is the truest way of bringing him to the place where he will be glad to share her burdens with her as well as his own.
But we want to remember that there is a radical difference between indulging another's selfishness, and waiting, with patient yielding, for him to discover his selfishness himself, and to act unselfishly from his own free will.
Quiet vs. Chronic Excitement
SOME women live in a chronic state of excitement all the time and they do not find it out until they get ill. Even then they do not always find it out, and then they get more ill.
It is really much the same with excitable women as with a man who thinks he must always keep a little stimulant in himself in order to keep about his work. When a bad habit is established in us we feel unnatural if we give the habit up for a moment—and we feel natural when we are in it—but it is poison all the same.
If a woman has a habit of constantly snuffing or clearing her throat, or rocking a rocking chair, or chattering to whoever may be near her she would feel unnatural and weird if she were suddenly wrenched out of any of these things. And yet the poisoning process goes on just the same.
When it seems immaterial to us that we should be natural we are in a pretty bad way and the worst of it is we do not know it.
I once took a friend with me into the country who was one of those women who lived on excitement in every-day life. When she dressed in the morning she dressed in excitement. She went down to breakfast in excitement. She went about the most humdrum everyday affairs excited. Every event in life—little or big—was an excitement to her—and she went to bed tired out with excitement—over nothing.
We went deep in the woods and in the mountains, full of great powerful quiet.
When my friend first got there she was excited about her arrival, she was excited about the house and the people in it, but in the middle of the night she jumped up in bed with a groan of torture.
I thought she had been suddenly taken ill and started up quickly from my end of the room to see what was the trouble.
"Oh, oh," she groaned, "the quiet! It is so quiet!" Her brain which had been in a whirl of petty excitement felt keen pain when the normal quiet touched it.
Fortunately this woman had common sense and I could gradually explain the truth to her, and she acted upon it and got rested and strong and quiet.
I knew another woman who had been wearing shoes that were too tight for her and that pinched her toes all together. The first time she wore shoes that gave her feet room enough the muscles of her feet hurt her so that she could hardly walk.
Of course, having been cramped into abnormal contraction the process of expanding to freedom would be painful.
If you had held your fist clenched tight for years, or months, or even weeks, how it would hurt to open it so that you could have free use of your fingers.
The same truth holds good with a fist that has been clenched, a foot that has been pinched, or a brain that has been contracted with excitement.
The process leading from the abnormal to the normal is always a painful one. To stay in the abnormal means blindness, constantly limiting power and death.
To come out into a normal atmosphere and into a normal way of living means clearer sight, constantly increasing power, and fresh life.
This habit of excitement is not only contracting to the brain; it has its effect over the whole body. If there is any organ that is weaker than any other the excitement eventually shows itself. A woman may be suffering from indigestion, or she may be running up large doctor's bills because of either one of a dozen other organic disturbances, with no suspicion that the cause of the whole trouble is that the noisy, excited, strained habits of her life have robbed her body of the vitality it needed to keep it in good running order.
As if an engineer threw his coal all over the road and having no fuel for his engine wondered that it would not run. Stupid women we are—most of us!
The trouble is that many of us are so deeply immersed in the habit of excitement that we do not know it.
It is a healthy thing to test ourselves and to really try to find ourselves out. It is not only healthy; it is deeply interesting.
If quiet of the woods, or, any other quiet place, makes us fidgety, we may be sure that our own state is abnormal and we had better go into the woods as often as possible until we feel ourselves to be a part of the quiet there.
If we go into the woods and get soothed and quieted and then come out and get fussed up and excited so that we feel painfully the contrast between the quiet and our every-day life, then we can know that we are living in the habit of abnormal excitement and we can set to work to stop it.
"That is all very well," I hear my readers say, "but how are you going to stop living in abnormal excitement when every circumstance and every person about you is full of it and knows nothing else?"
If you really want to do it and would feel interested to make persistent effort I can give you the recipe and I can promise any woman that if she perseveres until she has found the way she will never cease to be grateful.
If you start with the intention of taking the five minutes' search for quiet every day, do not let your intention be weakened or yourself discouraged if for some days you see no result at all.
At first it may be that whatever quiet you find will seem so strange that it will annoy you or make you very nervous, but if you persist and work right through, the reward will be worth the pains many times over.
Sometimes quieting our minds helps us to quiet our bodies; sometimes we must quiet our bodies first before we can find the way to a really quiet mind. The attention of the mind to quiet the body, of course, reacts back on to the mind, and from there we can pass on to thinking quietly. Each individual must judge for herself as to the best way of reaching the quiet. I will give several recipes and you can take your choice.
First, to quiet the body:—
1. Lie still and see how quietly you can breathe.
2. Sit still and let your head droop very slowly forward until finally it hangs down with its whole weight. Then lift it up very, very slowly and feel as if you pushed it all the way up from the lower part of your spine, or, better still, as if it grew up, so that you feel the slow, creeping, soothing motion all the way up your spine while your head is coming up, and do not let your head come to an entirely erect position until your chest is as high as you can hold it comfortably. When your head is erect take a long, quiet breath and drop it again. You can probably drop it and raise it twice in the five minutes. Later on it should take the whole five minutes to drop it and raise it once and an extra two minutes for the long breath.
When you have dropped your head as far as you can, pause for a full minute without moving at all and feel heavy; then begin at the lower part of your spine and very slowly start to raise it. Be careful not to hold your breath, and watch to breathe as easily and quietly as you can while your head is moving.
If this exercise hurts the back of your neck or any part of your spine, don't be troubled by it, but go right ahead and you will soon come to where it not only does not hurt, but is very restful.
When you have reached an erect position again stay there quietly—first take long gentle breaths and let them get shorter and shorter until they are a good natural length, then forget your breathing altogether and sit still as if you never had moved, you never were going to move, and you never wanted to move.
This emphasizes the good natural quiet in your brain and so makes you more sensitive to unquiet.
Gradually you will get the habit of catching yourself in states of unnecessary excitement; at such times you cannot go off by yourself and go through the exercises. You cannot even stop where you are and go through them, but you can recall the impression made on your brain at the time you did them and in that way rule out your excitement and gain the real power that should be in its place.
So little by little the state of excitement becomes as unpleasant as a cloud of dust on a windy day and the quiet is as pleasant as under the trees on top of a hill in the best kind of a June day.
The trouble is so many of us live in a cloud of dust that we do not suspect even the existence of the June day, but if we are fortunate enough once or twice even to get to sneezing from the dust, and so to recognize its unpleasantness, then we want to look carefully to see if there is not a way out of it.
It is then that we can get the beginning of the real quiet which is the normal atmosphere of every human being.
But we must persist for a long time before we can feel established in the quiet itself. What is worth having is worth working for—and the more it is worth having, the harder work is required to get it.
Nerves form habits, and our nerves not only get the habit of living in the dust, but the nerves of all about us have the same habit. So that when at first we begin to get into clear air, we may almost dislike it, and rush back into the dust again, because we and our friends are accustomed to it.
All that bad habit has to be fought, and conquered, and there are many difficulties in the way of persistence, but the reward is worth it all, as I hope to show in later articles.
I remember once walking in a crowded street where the people were hurrying and rushing, where every one's face was drawn and knotted, and nobody seemed to be having a good time. Suddenly and unexpectedly I saw a man coming toward me with a face so quiet that it showed out like a little bit of calm in a tornado. He looked like a common, every-day man of the world, so far as his dress and general bearing went, and his features were not at all unusual, but his expression was so full of quiet interest as to be the greatest contrast to those about him. He was not thinking his own thoughts either—he was one of the crowd and a busy, interested observer.
He might have said, "You silly geese, what are you making all this fuss about, you can do it much better if you will go more easily." If that was his thought it came from a very kindly sense of humor, and he gave me a new realization of what it meant, practically, to be in the world and not of it.
If you are in the world you can live, and observe, and take a much better part in its workings. If you are of it, you are simply whirled in an eddy of dust, however you may pose to yourself or to others.
The Tired Emphasis
"I AM so tired, so tired—I go to bed tired, I get up tired, and I am tired all the time."
How many women—how many hundred women, how many thousand women—say that to themselves and to others constantly.
It is perfectly true; they are tired all the time; they do go to bed tired and get up tired and stay tired all day.
If, however, they could only know how very much they increase their fatigue by their constant mental emphasis of it, and if at the same time they could turn their wills in the direction of decreasing the fatigue, instead of emphasizing it, a very large percentage of the tired feeling could be done away with altogether.
Many women would gladly make more of an effort in the direction of rest if they knew how, and I propose in this article to give a prescription for the cure of the tired emphasis which, if followed, will bring happy results.
When you go to bed at night, no matter how tired you feel, instead of thinking how tired you are, think how good it is that you can go to bed to get rested.
It will probably seem absurd to you at first. You may say to yourself: "How ridiculous, going to bed to get rested, when I have only one short night to rest in, and one or two weeks in bed would not rest me thoroughly."
The answer to that is that if you have only one night in which to rest, you want to make the most of that night, and if you carry the tired emphasis to bed with you you are really holding on to the tired.
This is as practically true as if you stepped into a bog and then sat in it and looked forlorn and said. "What a terrible thing it is that I should be in a bog like this; just think of having to sit in a black, muddy bog all the time," and staying there you made no effort whatever to get out of it, even though there was dry land right in front of you.
Again you may answer: "But in my tired bog there is no dry land in front of me, none at all."
I say to that, there is much more dry land than you think—if you will open your eyes—and to open your eyes you must make an effort.
No one knows, who has not tried, what a good strong effort will do in the right direction, when we have been living and slipping back in the wrong direction.