POWER THROUGH REPOSE
ANNIE PAYSON CALL
New Edition with Additions
Personality binds—universality expands.
When the body is perfectly adjusted, perfectly supplied with force, perfectly free and works with the greatest economy of expenditure, it is fitted to be a perfect instrument alike of impression, experience, and expression.
W. R. ALGER.
I. THE GUIDANCE OF THE BODY II. PERVERSIONS IN THE GUIDANCE OF THE BODY III. REST IN SLEEP IV. OTHER FORMS OF REST V. THE USE OF THE BRAIN VI. THE BRAIN IN ITS DIRECTION OF THE BODY VII. THE DIRECTION OF THE BODY IN LOCOMOTION VIII. NERVOUS STRAIN IN PAIN AND SICKNESS IX. NERVOUS STRAIN IN THE EMOTIONS X. NATURE'S TEACHING XI. THE CHILD AS AN IDEAL XII. TRAINING FOR REST XIII. TRAINING FOR MOTION XIV. MIND TRAINING XV. ARTISTIC CONSIDERATIONS XVI. TESTS XVII. THE RATIONAL CARE OF SELF XVIII. OUR RELATIONS WITH OTHERS XIX. THE USE OF THE WILL
THE GUIDANCE OF THE BODY
THE literature relating to the care of the human body is already very extensive. Much has been written about the body's proper food, the air it should breathe, the clothing by which it should be protected, the best methods of its development. That literature needs but little added to it, until we, as rational beings, come nearer to obeying the laws which it discloses, and to feeling daily the help which comes from that obedience.
It is of the better use, the truer guidance of this machine, that I wish especially to write. Although attention is constantly called to the fact of its misuse,—as in neglected rest and in over-strain,—in all the unlimited variety which the perverted ingenuity of a clever people has devised, it seems never to have come to any one's mind that this strain in all things, small and great, is something that can be and should be studiously abandoned, with as regular a process of training, from the first simple steps to those more complex, as is required in the work for the development of muscular strength. When a perversion of Nature's laws has continued from generation to generation, we, of the ninth or tenth generation, can by no possibility jump back into the place where the laws can work normally through us, even though our eyes have been opened to a full recognition of such perversion. We must climb back to an orderly life, step by step, and the compensation is large in the constantly growing realization of the greatness of the laws we have been disobeying. The appreciation of the power of a natural law, as it works through us, is one of the keenest pleasures that can come to man in this life.
The general impression seems to be that common-sense should lead us to a better use of our machines at once. Whereas, common-sense will not bring a true power of guiding the muscles, any more than it will cause the muscles' development, unless having the common-sense to see the need, we realize with it the necessity for cutting a path and walking in it. For the muscles' development, several paths have been cut, and many who are in need are walking in them, but, to the average man, the road to the best kind of muscular development still remains closed. The only training now in use is followed by sleight-of-hand performers, acrobats, or other jugglers, and that is limited to the professional needs of its followers.
Again, as the muscles are guided by means of the nerves, a training for the guidance of the muscles means, so far as the physique is concerned, first, a training for the better use of the nervous force. The nervous system is so wonderful in its present power for good or ill, so wonderful in its possible power either way, and so much more wonderful as we realize what we do not know about it, that it is not surprising that it is looked upon with awe. Neither is it strange that it seems to many, especially the ignorant, a subject to be shunned. It is not uncommon for a mother, whose daughter is suffering, and may be on the verge of nervous prostration because of her misused nerves, to say, "I do not want my daughter to know that she has nerves." The poor child knows it already in the wrong way. It is certainly better that she should know her nerves by learning a wholesome, natural use of them. The mother's remark is common with many men and women when speaking of themselves,—common with teachers when talking to or of their pupils. It is of course quite natural that it should be a prevailing idea, because hitherto the mention of nerves by man or woman has generally meant perverted nerves, and to dwell on our perversions, except long enough to shun them, is certainly unwholesome in the extreme.
PERVERSIONS IN THE GUIDANCE OF THE BODY
SO evident are the various, the numberless perversions of our powers in the misuse of the machine, that it seems almost unnecessary to write of them. And yet, from another point of view, it is very necessary; for superabundant as they are, thrusting their evil results upon us every day in painful ways, still we have eyes and see not, ears and hear not, and for want of a fuller realization of these most grievous mistakes, we are in danger of plunging more and more deeply into the snarls to which they bring us. From nervous prostration to melancholia, or other forms of insanity, is not so long a step.
It is of course a natural sequence that the decadence of an entire country must follow the waning powers of the individual citizens. Although that seems very much to hint, it cannot be too much when we consider even briefly the results that have already come to us through this very misuse of our own voluntary powers. The advertisements of nerve medicines alone speak loudly to one who studies in the least degree the physical tendencies of the nation. Nothing proves better the artificial state of man, than the artificial means he uses to try to adjust himself to Nature's laws,—means which, in most cases, serve to assist him to keep up a little longer the appearance of natural life. For any simulation of that which is natural must sooner or later lead to nothing, or worse than nothing. Even the rest-cures, the most simple and harmless of the nerve restorers, serve a mistaken end. Patients go with nerves tired and worn out with misuse,—commonly called over-work. Through rest, Nature, with the warm, motherly help she is ever ready to bring us, restores the worn body to a normal state; but its owner has not learned to work the machine any better,—to drive his horses more naturally, or with a gentler hand. He knows he must take life more easily, but even with a passably good realization of that necessity, he can practise it only to a certain extent; and most occupants of rest-cures find themselves driven back more than once for another "rest."
Nervous disorders, resulting from overwork are all about us. Extreme nervous prostration is most prevalent. A thoughtful study of the faces around us, and a better understanding of their lives, brings to light many who are living, one might almost say, in a chronic state of nervous prostration, which lasts for years before the break comes. And because of the want of thought, the want of study for a better, more natural use of the machine, few of us appreciate our own possible powers. When with study the appreciation grows, it is a daily surprise, a constantly increasing delight.
Extreme nervous tension seems to be so peculiarly American, that a German physician coming to this country to practise became puzzled by the variety of nervous disorders he was called upon to help, and finally announced his discovery of a new disease which he chose to call "Americanitis." And now we suffer from "Americanitis" in all its unlimited varieties. Doctors study it; nerve medicines arise on every side; nervine hospitals establish themselves; and rest-cures innumerable spring up in all directions,—but the root of the matter is so comparatively simple that in general it is overlooked entirely.
When illnesses are caused by disobedience to the perfect laws of Nature, a steady, careful obedience to these laws will bring us to a healthful state again.
Nature is so wonderfully kind that if we go one-tenth of the way, she will help us the other nine-tenths. Indeed she seems to be watching and hoping for a place to get in, so quickly does she take possession of us, if we do but turn toward her ever so little. But instead of adopting her simple laws and following quietly her perfect way, we try by every artificial means to gain a rapid transit back to her dominion, and succeed only in getting farther away from her. Where is the use of taking medicines to give us new strength, while at the same time we are steadily disobeying the very laws from the observance of which alone the strength can come? No medicine can work in a man's-body while the man's habits are constantly counteracting it. More harm than good is done in the end. Where is the use of all the quieting medicines, if we only quiet our nerves in order that we may continue to misuse them without their crying out? They will cry out sooner or later; for Nature, who is so quick to help us to the true way of living, loses patience at last, and her punishments are justly severe. Or, we might better say, a law is fixed and immovable, and if we disobey and continue to disobey it, we suffer the consequences.
REST IN SLEEP
HOW do we misuse our nervous force? First, let us consider, When should the body be completely at rest? The longest and most perfect rest should be during sleep at night. In sleep we can accomplish nothing in the way of voluntary activity either of mind or body. Any nervous or muscular effort during sleep is not only useless but worse,—it is pure waste of fuel, and results in direct and irreparable harm. Realizing fully that sleep is meant for rest, that the only gain is rest, and that new power for use comes as a consequence,—how absurd it seems that we do not abandon ourselves completely to gaining all that Nature would give us through sleep.
Suppose, instead of eating our dinner, we should throw the food out of the window, give it to the dogs, do anything with it but what Nature meant we should, and then wonder why we were not nourished, and why we suffered from faintness and want of strength. It would be no more senseless than the way in which most of us try to sleep now, and then wonder why we are not better rested from eight hours in bed. Only this matter of fatiguing sleep has crept upon us so slowly that we are blind to it. We disobey mechanically all the laws of Nature in sleep, simple as they are, and are so blinded by our own immediate and personal interests, that the habit of not resting when we sleep has grown to such an extent that to return to natural sleep, we must think, study, and practise.
Few who pretend to rest give up entirely to the bed, a dead weight,—letting the bed hold them, instead of trying to hold themselves on the bed. Watch, and unless you are an exceptional case (of which happily there are a few), you will be surprised to see how you are holding yourself on the bed, with tense muscles, if not all over, so nearly all over that a little more tension would hardly increase the fatigue with which you are working yourself to sleep.
The spine seems to be the central point of tension—it does not give to the bed and rest there easily from end to end; it touches at each end and just so far along from each end as the man or woman who is holding it will permit. The knees are drawn up, the muscles of the legs tense, the hands and arms contracted, and the fingers clinched, either holding the pillow or themselves.
The head, instead of letting the pillow have its full weight, holds itself onto the pillow. The tongue cleaves to the roof of the mouth, the throat muscles are contracted, and the muscles of the face drawn up in one way or another.
This seems like a list of horrors, somewhat exaggerated when we realize that it is of sleep, "Tired Nature's sweet restorer," that we are speaking; but indeed it is only too true.
Of course cases are not in the majority where the being supposed to enjoy repose is using all these numerous possibilities of contraction. But there are very few who have not, unconsciously, some one or two or half-dozen nervous and muscular strains; and even after they become conscious of the useless contractions, it takes time and watchfulness and patience to relax out of them, the habit so grows upon us. One would think that even though we go to sleep in a tense way, after being once soundly off Nature could gain the advantage over us, and relax the muscles in spite of ourselves; but the habits of inheritance and of years are too much for her. Although she is so constantly gracious and kind, she cannot go out of her way, and we cannot ask her to do so.
How simple it seems to sleep in the right way; and how wholesome it is even to think about it, in contrast to the wrong way into which so many of us have fallen. If we once see clearly the great compensation in getting back to the only way of gaining restful sleep, the process is very simple, although because we were so far out of the right path it often seems slow. But once gained, or even partially gained, one great enemy to healthful, natural nerves is conquered, and has no possibility of power.
Of course the mind and its rapid and misdirected working is a strong preventive of free nerves, relaxed muscles, and natural sleep. "If I could only stop myself from thinking" is a complaint often heard, and reason or philosophy does not seem to touch it. Even the certain knowledge that nothing is gained by this rapid thought at the wrong time, that very much is lost, makes no impression on the overwrought mind,—often even excites it more, which proves that the trouble, if originally mental, has now gained such a hold upon the physique that it must be attacked there first. The nerves should be trained to enable the body to be an obedient servant to a healthy mind, and the mind in giving its attention to such training gains in normal power of direction.
If you cannot stop thinking, do not try; let your thoughts steam ahead if they will. Only relax your muscles, and as the attention is more and more fixed on the interesting process of letting-go of the muscles (interesting, simply because the end is so well worth gaining), the imps of thought find less and less to take hold of, and the machinery in the head must stop its senseless working, because the mind which allowed it to work has applied itself to something worth accomplishing.
The body should also be at rest in necessary reclining in the day, where of course all the laws of sleep apply. Five minutes of complete rest in that way means greater gain than an hour or three hours taken in the usual manner. I remember watching a woman "resting" on a lounge, propped up with the downiest of pillows, holding her head perfectly erect and in a strained position, when it not only would have been easier to let it fall back on the pillow, but it seemed impossible that she should not let it go; and yet there it was, held erect with an evident strain. Hers is not an unusual case, on the contrary quite a common one. Can we wonder that the German doctor thought he had discovered a new disease? And must he not be already surprised and shocked at the precocious growth of the infant monster which he found and named? "So prone are mortals to their own damnation, it seems as though a devil's use were gone."
There is no better way of learning to overcome these perversions in sleep and similar forms of rest, than to study with careful thought the sleep of a wholesome little child. Having gained the physical freedom necessary to give perfect repose to the body, the quiet, simple dropping of all thought and care can be made more easily possible. So we can approach again the natural sleep and enjoy consciously the refreshment which through our own babyhood was the unconscious means of giving us daily strength and power for growth.
To take the regular process, first let go of the muscles,—that will enable us more easily to drop disturbing thoughts; and as we refuse, without resistance, admittance to the thoughts, the freedom from care for the time will follow, and the rest gained will enable us to awaken with new life for cares to come. This, however, is a habit to be established and thoughtfully cultivated; it cannot be acquired at once. More will be said in future chapters as to the process of gaining the habit.
OTHER FORMS OF REST
DO you hold yourself on the chair, or does the chair hold you? When you are subject to the laws of gravitation give up to them, and feel their strength. Do not resist these laws, as a thousand and one of us do when instead of yielding gently and letting ourselves sink into a chair, we put our bodies rigidly on and then hold them there as if fearing the chair would break if we gave our full weight to it. It is not only unnatural and unrestful, but most awkward. So in a railroad car. Much, indeed most of the fatigue from a long journey by rail is quite unnecessary, and comes from an unconscious officious effort of trying to carry the train, instead of allowing the train to carry us, or of resisting the motion, instead of relaxing and yielding to it. There is a pleasant rhythm in the motion of the rapidly moving cars which is often restful rather than fatiguing, if we will only let go and abandon ourselves to it. This was strikingly proved by a woman who, having just learned the first principles of relaxation, started on a journey overstrained from mental anxiety. The first effect of the motion was that most disagreeable, faint feeling known as car-sickness. Understanding the cause, she began at once to drop the unnecessary tension, and the faintness left her. Then she commenced an interesting novel, and as she became excited by the plot her muscles were contracted in sympathy (so-called), and the faintness returned in full force, so that she had to drop the book and relax again; and this process was repeated half-a-dozen times before she could place her body so under control of natural laws that it was possible to read without the artificial tension asserting itself and the car-sickness returning in consequence.
The same law is illustrated in driving. "I cannot drive, it tires me so," is a common complaint. Why does it tire you? Because instead of yielding entirely and freely to the seat of the carriage first, and then to its motion, you try to help the horses, or to hold yourself still while the carriage is moving. A man should become one with a carriage in driving, as much as one with his horse in riding. Notice the condition in any place where there is excuse for some anxiety,—while going rather sharply round a corner, or nearing a railroad track. If your feet are not pressed forcibly against the floor of the carriage, the tension will be somewhere else. You are using nervous force to no earthly purpose, and to great earthly loss. Where any tension is necessary to make things better, it will assert itself naturally and more truly as we learn to drop all useless and harmful tension. Take a patient suffering from nervous prostration for a long drive, and you will bring him back more nervously prostrated; even the fresh air will not counteract the strain that comes from not knowing how to relax to the motion of the carriage.
A large amount of nervous energy is expended unnecessarily while waiting. If we are obliged to wait for any length of time, it does not hurry the minutes or bring that for which we wait to keep nervously strained with impatience; and it does use vital force, and so helps greatly toward "Americanitis." The strain which comes from an hour's nervous waiting, when simply to let yourself alone and keep still would answer much better, is often equal to a day's labor. It must be left to individuals to discover how this applies in their own especial cases, and it will be surprising to see not only how great and how common such strain is, but how comparatively easy it is to drop it. There are of course exceptional times and states when only constant trying and thoughtful watchfulness will bring any marked result.
We have taken a few examples where there is nothing to do but keep quiet, body and brain, from what should be the absolute rest of sleep to the enforced rest of waiting. Just one word more in connection with waiting and driving. You must catch a certain train. Not having time to trust to your legs or the cars, you hastily take a cab. You will in your anxiety keep up exactly the same strain that you would have had in walking,—as if you could help the carriage along, or as if reaching the station in time depended upon your keeping a rigid spine and tense muscles. You have hired the carriage to take you, and any activity on your part is quite unnecessary until you reach the station; why not keep quiet and let the horses do the work, and the driver attend to his business?
It would be easy to fill a small volume with examples of the way in which we are walking directly into nervous prostration; examples only of this one variety of disobedience,—namely, of the laws of rest. And to give illustrations of all the varieties of disobedience to Nature's laws in activity would fill not one small book, but several large ones; and then, unless we improve, a year-book of new examples of nervous strain could be published. But fortunately, if we are nervous and short-sighted, we have a good share of brain and commonsense when it is once appealed to, and a few examples will open our eyes and set us thinking, to real and practical results.
THE USE OF THE BRAIN
LET us now consider instances where the brain alone is used, and the other parts of the body have nothing to do but keep quiet and let the brain do its work. Take thinking, for instance. Most of us think with the throat so contracted that it is surprising there is room enough to let the breath through, the tongue held firmly, and the jaw muscles set as if suffering from an acute attack of lockjaw. Each has his own favorite tension in the act of meditation, although we are most generous in the force given to the jaw and throat. The same superfluous tension may be observed in one engaged in silent reading; and the force of the strain increases in proportion to the interest or profundity of the matter read. It is certainly clear, without a knowledge of anatomy or physiology, that for pure, unadulterated thinking, only the brain is needed; and if vital force is given to other parts of the body to hold them in unnatural contraction; we not only expend it extravagantly, but we rob the brain of its own. When, for purely mental work, all the activity is given to the brain, and the body left free and passive, the concentration is better, conclusions are reached with more satisfaction, and the reaction, after the work is over, is healthy and refreshing.
This whole machine can be understood perhaps more clearly by comparing it to a community of people. In any community,—Church, State, institution, or household,—just so far as each member minds his own business, does his own individual work for himself and for those about him, and does not officiously interfere with the business of others, the community is quiet, orderly, and successful. Imagine the state of a deliberative assembly during the delivery of a speech, if half-a-dozen of the listeners were to attempt to help the speaker by rising and talking at the same time; and yet this is the absurd action of the human body when a dozen or more parts, that are not needed, contract "in sympathy" with those that have the work to do. It is an unnecessary brace that means loss of power and useless fatigue. One would think that the human machine having only one mind, and the community many thousands, the former would be in a more orderly state than the latter.
In listening attentively, only the brain and ears are needed; but watch the individuals at an entertaining lecture, or in church with a stirring preacher. They are listening with their spines, their shoulders, the muscles of their faces. I do not refer to the look of interest and attention, or to any of the various expressions which are the natural and true reflection of the state of the mind, but to the strained attention which draws the facial muscles, not at all in sympathy with the speaker, but as a consequence of the tense nerves and contracted muscles of the listener. "I do not understand why I have this peculiar sort of asthma every Sunday afternoon," a lady said to me. She was in the habit of hearing, Sunday morning, a preacher, exceedingly interesting, but with a very rapid utterance, and whose mind travelled so fast that the words embodying his thoughts often tumbled over one another. She listened with all her nerves, as well as with those needed, held her breath when he stumbled, to assist him in finding his verbal legs, reflected every action with twice the force the preacher himself gave,—and then wondered why on Sunday afternoon, and at no other time, she had this nervous catching of the breath. She saw as soon as her attention was drawn to the general principles of Nature, how she had disobeyed this one, and why she had trouble on Sunday afternoon. This case is very amusing, even laughable, but it is a fair example of many similar nervous attacks, greater or less; and how easy it is to see that a whole series of these, day after day, doing their work unconsciously to the victim, will sooner or later bring some form of nervous prostration.
The same attitudes and the same effects often attend listening to music. It is a common experience to be completely fagged after two hours of delightful music. There is no exaggeration in saying that we should be rested after a good concert, if it is not too long. And yet so upside-down are we in our ways of living, and, through the mistakes of our ancestors, so accustomed have we become to disobeying Nature's laws, that the general impression seems to be that music cannot be fully enjoyed without a strained attitude of mind and body; whereas, in reality, it is much more exquisitely appreciated and enjoyed in Nature's way. If the nerves are perfectly free, they will catch the rhythm of the music, and so be helped back to the true rhythm of Nature, they will respond to the harmony and melody with all the vibratory power that God gave them, and how can the result be anything else than rest and refreshment,—unless having allowed them to vibrate in one direction too long, we have disobeyed a law in another way.
Our bodies cannot by any possibility be free, so long as they are strained by our own personal effort. So long as our nervous force is misdirected in personal strain, we can no more give full and responsive attention to the music, than a piano can sound the harmonies of a sonata if some one is drawing his hands at the same time backwards and forwards over the strings. But, alas! a contracted personality is so much the order of the day that many of us carry the chronic contractions of years constantly with us, and can no more free ourselves for a concert at a day's or a week's notice, than we can gain freedom to receive all the grand universal truths that are so steadily helpful. It is only by daily patience and thought and care that we can cease to be an obstruction to the best power for giving and receiving.
There are, scattered here and there, people who have not lost the natural way of listening to music,—people who are musicians through and through so that the moment they hear a fine strain they are one with it. Singularly enough the majority of these are fine animals, most perfectly and normally developed in their senses. When the intellect begins to assert itself to any extent, then the nervous strain comes. So noticeable is this, in many cases, that nervous excitement seems often to be from misdirected intellect; and people under the control of their misdirected nervous force often appear wanting in quick intellectual power,—illustrating the law that a stream spreading in all directions over a meadow loses the force that the same amount of water would have if concentrated and flowing in one channel. There are also many cases where the strained nerves bring an abnormal intellectual action. Fortunately for the saving of the nation, there are people who from a physical standpoint live naturally. These are refreshing to see; but they are apt to take life too easily, to have no right care or thought, and to be sublimely selfish.
Another way in which the brain is constantly used is through the eyes. What deadly fatigue comes from time spent in picture galleries! There the strain is necessarily greater than in listening, because all the pictures and all the colors are before us at once, with no appreciable interval between forms and subjects that differ widely. But as the strain is greater, so should the care to relieve it increase. We should not go out too far to meet the pictures, but be quiet, and let the pictures come to us. The fatigue can be prevented if we know when to stop, and pleasure at the time and in the memory afterwards will be surprisingly increased. So is it in watching a landscape from the car window, and in all interests which come from looking. I am not for one instant condemning the natural expression of pleasure, neither do I mean that there should be any apparent nonchalance or want of interest; on the contrary, the real interest and its true expression increase as we learn to shun the shams.
But will not the discovery of all this superfluous tension make one self-conscious? Certainly it will for a time, and it must do so. You must be conscious of a smooch on your face in order to wash it off, and when the face is clean you think no more of it. So you must see an evil before you can shun it. All these physical evils you must be vividly conscious of, and when you are so annoyed as to feel the necessity of moving from under them self-consciousness decreases in equal ratio with the success of your efforts.
Whenever the brain alone is used in thinking, or in receiving and taking note of impressions through either of the senses, new power comes as we gain freedom from all misdirected force, and with muscles in repose leave the brain to quietly do its work without useless strain of any kind. It is of course evident that this freedom cannot be gained without, first, a consciousness of its necessity. The perfect freedom, however, when reached, means freedom from self-consciousness as well as from the strain which made self-consciousness for a time essential.
THE BRAIN IN ITS DIRECTION OF THE BODY
WE come now to the brain and its direction of other parts of the body.
What tremendous and unnecessary force is used in talking,—from the aimless motion of the hands, the shoulders, the feet, the entire body, to a certain rigidity of carriage, which tells as powerfully in the wear and tear of the nervous system as superfluous motion. It is a curious discovery when we find often how we are holding our shoulders in place, and in the wrong place. A woman receiving a visitor not only talks all over herself, but reflects the visitor's talking all over, and so at the end of the visit is doubly fatigued. "It tires me so to see people" is heard often, not only from those who are under the full influence of "Americanitis," but from many who are simply hovering about its borders. "Of course it tires you to see people, you see them with, so much superfluous effort," can almost without exception be a true answer. A very little simple teaching will free a woman from that unnecessary fatigue. If she is sensible, once having had her attention brought and made keenly alive to the fact that she talks all over, she will through constant correction gain the power of talking as Nature meant she should, with her vocal apparatus only, and with such easy motions as may be needed to illustrate her words. In this change, so far from losing animation, she gains it, and gains true expressive power; for all unnecessary motion of the body in talking simply raises a dust, so to speak, and really blurs the true thought of the mind and feeling of the heart.
The American voice—especially the female voice—is a target which has been hit hard many times, and very justly. A ladies' luncheon can often be truly and aptly compared to a poultry-yard, the shrill cackle being even more unpleasant than that of a large concourse of hens. If we had once become truly appreciative of the natural mellow tones possible to every woman, these shrill voices would no more be tolerated than a fashionable luncheon would be served in the kitchen.
A beautiful voice has been compared to corn, oil, and wine. We lack almost entirely the corn and the oil; and the wine in our voices is far more inclined to the sharp, unpleasant taste of very poor currant wine, than to the rich, spicy flavor of fine wine from the grape. It is not in the province of this book to consider the physiology of the voice, which would be necessary in order to show clearly how its natural laws are constantly disobeyed. We can now speak of it only with regard to the tension which is the immediate cause of the trouble. The effort to propel the voice from the throat, and use force in those most delicate muscles when it should come from the stronger muscles of the diaphragm, is like trying to make one man do the work of ten; the result must eventually be the utter collapse of the one man from over-activity, and loss of power in the ten men because of muscles unused. Clergyman's sore throat is almost always explainable in this way; and there are many laymen with constant trouble in the throat from no cause except the misuse of its muscles in talking. "The old philosopher said the seat of the soul was in the diaphragm. However that may be, the word begins there, soul and body; but you squeeze the life out of it in your throat, and so your words are born dead!" was the most expressive exclamation of an able trainer of the voice.
Few of us feel that we can take the time or exercise the care for the proper training of our voices; and such training is not made a prominent feature, as it should be, in all American schools. Indeed, if it were, we would have to begin with the teachers; for the typical teacher's voice, especially in our public schools, coming from unnecessary nervous strain is something frightful. In a large school-room a teacher can be heard, and more impressively heard, in common conversational tones; for then it is her mind that is felt more than her body. But the teacher's voice mounts the scale of shrillness and force just in proportion as her nervous fatigue increases; and often a true enthusiasm expresses itself—or, more correctly, hides itself—in a sharp, loud voice, when it would be far more effective in its power with the pupils if the voice were kept quiet. If we cannot give time or money to the best development of our voices, we can grow sensitive to the shrill, unpleasant tones, and by a constant preaching of "lower your voices," "speak more quietly," from the teacher to herself, and then to her pupils, from mother to child, and from every woman to her own voice, the standard American voice would change, greatly to the national advantage.
I never shall forget the restful pleasure of hearing a teacher call the roll in a large schoolroom as quietly as she would speak to a child in a closet, and every girl answering in the same soft and pleasant way. The effect even of that daily roll-call could not have been small in its counteracting influence on the shrill American tone.
Watch two people in an argument, as the excitement increases the voice rises. In such a case one of the best and surest ways to govern your temper is to lower your voice. Indeed the nervous system and the voice are in such exquisite sympathy that they constantly act and react on each other. It is always easier to relax superfluous tension after lowering the voice.
"Take the bone and flesh sound from your voice" is a simple and interesting direction. It means do not push so hard with your body and so interfere with the expression of your soul. Thumping on a piano, or hard scraping on a violin, will keep all possible expression from the music, and in just the same proportion will unnecessary physical force hide the soul in a voice. Indeed with the voice—because the instrument is finer—the contrast between Nature's way and man's perversion is far greater.
One of the first cares with a nervous invalid, or with any one who suffers at all from overstrained nerves, should be for a quiet, mellow voice. It is not an invariable truth that women with poorly balanced nerves have shrill, strained voices. There is also a rigid tone in a nervously low voice, which, though not unpleasant to the general ear, is expressive to one who is in the habit of noticing nervous people, and is much more difficult to relax than the high pitched voices. There is also a forced calm which is tremendous in its nervous strain, the more so as its owner takes pride in what she considers remarkable self-control.
Another common cause of fatigue with women is the useless strain in sewing. "I get so tired in the back of my neck" is a frequent complaint. "It is because you sew with the back of your neck" is generally the correct explanation. And it is because you sew with the muscles of your waist that they feel so strangely fatigued, and the same with the muscles of your legs or your chest. Wherever the tired feeling comes it is because of unnatural and officious tension, which, as soon as the woman becomes sensible of it, can be stopped entirely by taking two or three minutes now and then to let go of these wrongly sympathetic muscles and so teach them to mind their own business, and sew with only the muscles that are needed. A very simple cause of over-fatigue in sewing is the cramped, strained position of the lungs; this can be prevented without even stopping in the work, by taking long, quiet, easy breaths. Here there must be no exertion whatever in the chest muscles. The lungs must seem to expand from the pressure of the air alone, as independently as a rubber ball will expand when external pressure is removed, and they must be allowed to expel the air with the same independence. In this way the growth of breathing power will be slow, but it will be sure and delightfully restful. Frequent, full, quiet breaths might be the means of relief to many sufferers, if only they would take the trouble to practise them faithfully,—a very slight effort compared with the result which will surely ensue. And so it is with the fatigue from sewing. I fear I do not exaggerate, when I say that in nine cases out of ten a woman would rather sew with a pain in her neck than stop for the few moments it would take to relax it and teach it truer habits, so that in the end the pain might be avoided entirely. Then, when the inevitable nervous exhaustion follows, and all the kindred troubles that grow out of it she pities herself and is pitied by others, and wonders why God thought best to afflict her with suffering and illness. "Thought best!" God never thought best to give any one pain. He made His laws, and they are wholesome and perfect and true, and if we disobey them we must suffer the consequences! I knock my head hard against a stone and then wonder why God thought best to give me the headache. There would be as much sense in that as there is in much of the so-called Christian resignation to be found in the world to-day. To be sure there are inherited illnesses and pains, physical and mental, but the laws are so made that the compensation of clear-sightedness and power for use gained by working our way rightly out of all inheritances and suffering brought by others, fully equalizes any apparent loss.
In writing there is much unnecessary nervous fatigue. The same cramped attitude of the lungs that accompanies sewing can be counteracted in the same way, although in neither case should a cramped attitude be allowed at all Still the relief of a long breath is always helpful and even necessary where one must sit in one position for any length of time. Almost any even moderately nervous man or woman will hold a pen as if some unseen force were trying to pull it away, and will write with firmly set jaw, contracted throat, and a powerful tension in the muscles of the tongue, or whatever happens to be the most officious part of this especial individual community. To swing the pendulum to another extreme seems not to enter people's minds when trying to find a happy medium. Writer's paralysis, or even the ache that comes from holding the hand so long in a more or less cramped attitude, is easily obviated by stopping once in an hour or half hour, stretching the fingers wide and letting the muscles slowly relax of their own accord. Repeat this half-a-dozen times, and after each exercise try to hold the pen or pencil with natural lightness; it will not take many days to change the habit of tension to one of ease, although if you are a steady writer the stretching exercise will always be necessary, but much less often than at first.
In lifting a heavyweight, as in nursing the sick, the relief is immediate from all straining in the back, by pressing hard with the feet on the floor and thinking the power of lifting in the legs. There is true economy of nervous force here, and a sensitive spine is freed from a burden of strain which might undoubtedly be the origin of nervous prostration. I have made nurses practise lifting, while impressing the fact forcibly upon them by repetition before they lift, and during the process of raising a body and lowering it, that they must use entirely the muscles of the legs. When once their minds have full comprehension of the new way, the surprise with which they discover the comparative ease of lifting is very pleasant. The whole secret in this and all similar efforts is to use muscular instead of nervous force. Direct with the directing power; work with the working power.
THE DIRECTION OF THE BODY IN LOCOMOTION
LIFTING brings us to the use of the entire body, which is considered simply in the most common of all its movements,—that of walking.
The rhythm of a perfect walk is not only delightful, but restful; so that having once gained a natural walk there is no pleasanter way to rest from brain fatigue than by means of this muscle fatigue. And yet we are constantly contradicting and interfering with Nature in walking. Women—perhaps partly owing to their unfortunate style of dress—seem to hold themselves together as if fearing that having once given their muscles free play, they would fall to pieces entirely. Rather than move easily forward, and for fear they might tumble to pieces, they shake their shoulders and hips from side to side, hold their arms perfectly rigid from the shoulders down, and instead of the easy, natural swing that the motion of walking would give the arms, they go forward and back with no regularity, but are in a chronic state of jerk. The very force used in holding an arm as stiff as the ordinary woman holds it, would be enough to give her an extra mile in every five-mile walk. Then again, the muscles of the throat must help, and more than anywhere else is force unnecessarily expended in the waist muscles. They can be very soon felt, pushing with all their might—and it is not a small might—officiously trying to assist in the action of the legs; whereas if they would only let go, mind their own business, and let the legs swing easily as if from the shoulders, they might reflect the rhythmic motion, and gain in a true freedom and power. Of course all this waste of force comes from nervous strain and is nervous strain, and a long walk in the open air, when so much of the new life gained is wrongly expended, does not begin to do the good work that might be accomplished. To walk with your muscles and not use superfluous nervous force is the first thing to be learned, and after or at the same time to direct your muscles as Nature meant they should be directed,—indeed we might almost say to let Nature direct them herself, without our interference. Hurry with your muscles and not with your nerves. This tells especially in hurrying for a train, where the nervous anxiety in the fear of losing it wakes all possible unnecessary tension and often impedes the motion instead of assisting it. The same law applies here that was mentioned before with regard to the carriage,—only instead of being quiet and letting the carriage take you, be quiet and let your walking machine do its work. So in all hurrying, and the warning can hardly be given too many times, we must use our nerves only as transmitters—calm, well-balanced transmitters—that our muscles may be more efficient and more able servants.
The same mistakes of unnecessary tension will be found in running, and, indeed, in all bodily motion, where the machine is not trained to do its work with only the nerves and muscles needed for the purpose. We shall have opportunity to consider these motions in a new light when we come to the directions for gaining a power of natural motion; now we are dealing only with mistakes.
NERVOUS STRAIN IN PAIN AND SICKNESS
THERE is no way in which superfluous and dangerous tension is so rapidly increased as in the bearing of pain. The general impression seems to be that one should brace up to a pain; and very great strength of will is often shown in the effort made and the success achieved in bearing severe pain by means of this bracing process. But alas, the reaction after the pain is over—that alone would show the very sad misuse which had been made of a strong will. Not that there need be no reaction; but it follows naturally that the more strain brought to bear upon the nervous system in endurance, the greater must be the reaction when the load is lifted. Indeed, so well is this known in the medical profession, that it is a surgical axiom that the patient who most completely controls his expression of pain will be the greatest sufferer from the subsequent reaction. While there is so much pain to be endured in this world, a study of how best to bear it certainly is not out of place, especially when decided practical effects can be quickly shown as the result of such study. So prevalent is the idea that a pain is better borne by clinching the fists and tightening all other muscles in the body correspondingly, that I know the possibility of a better or more natural mode of endurance will be laughed at by many, and others will say, "That is all very well for those who can relax to a pain,—let them gain from it, I cannot; it is natural for me to set my teeth and bear it." There is a distinct difference between what is natural to us and natural to Nature, although the first term is of course misused.
Pain comes from an abnormal state of some part of the nervous system. The more the nerves are strained to bear pain, the more sensitive they become; and of course those affected immediately feel most keenly the increased sensitiveness, and so the pain grows worse. Reverse that action, and through the force of our own inhibitory power let a new pain be a reminder to us to let go, instead of to hold on, and by decreasing the strain we decrease the possibility of more pain. Whatever reaction may follow pain then, will be reaction from the pain itself, not from the abnormal tension which has been held for the purpose of bearing it.
But—it will be objected—is not the very effort of the brain to relax the tension a nervous strain? Yes, it is,—not so great, however, as the continued tension all over the body, and it grows less and less as the habit is acquired of bearing the pain easily. The strain decreases more rapidly with those who having undertaken to relax, perceive the immediate effects; for, of course, as the path clears and new light comes they are encouraged to walk more steadily in the easier way.
I know there are pains that are better borne and even helped by a certain amount of bracing, but if the idea of bearing such pain quietly, easily, naturally, takes a strong hold of the mind, all bracing will be with a true equilibrium of the muscles, and will have the required effect without superfluous tension.
One of the most simple instances of bearing pain more easily by relaxing to it occurs while sitting in the dentist's chair. Most of us clutch the arms, push with our feet, and hold ourselves off the chair to the best of our ability. Every nerve is alive with the expectation of being hurt.
The fatigue which results from an hour or more of this dentist tension is too well known to need description. Most of the nervous fatigue suffered from the dentist's work is in consequence of the unnecessary strain of expecting a hurt and not from any actual pain inflicted. The result obtained by insisting upon making yourself a dead weight in the chair, if you succeed only partially, will prove this. It will also be a preliminary means of getting well rid of the dentist fright,—that peculiar dread which is so well known to most of us. The effect of fright is nervous strain, which again contracts the muscles. If we drop the muscular tension, and so the nervous strain, thus working our way into the cause by means of the effect, there will be no nerves or muscles to hold the fright, which then so far as the physique is concerned cannot exist. So far as the physique is concerned,—that is emphatic; for as we work inward from the effect to the cause we must be met by the true philosophy inside, to accomplish the whole work. I might relax my body out of the nervous strain of fright all day; if my mind insisted upon being frightened it would simply be a process of freeing my nerves and muscles that they might be made more effectually tense by an unbalanced, miserably controlled mind. In training to bring body and mind to a more normal state, the teacher must often begin with the body only, and use his own mind to gently lead the pupil to clearer sight. Then when the pupil can strike the equilibrium between mind and body,—he must be left to acquire the habit for himself.
The same principles by which bearing the work of the dentist is made easier, are applicable in all pain, and especially helpful when pain is nervously exaggerated. It would be useless and impossible to follow the list of various pains which we attempt to bear by means of additional strain.
Each of us has his own personal temptation in the way of pain,—from the dentist's chair to the most severe suffering, or the most painful operation,—and each can apply for himself the better way of bearing it. And it is not perhaps out of place here to speak of the taking of ether or any anaesthetic before an operation. The power of relaxing to the process easily and quietly brings a quicker and pleasanter effect with less disagreeable results. One must take ether easily in mind and body. It a man forces himself to be quiet externally, and is frightened and excited mentally, as soon as he has become unconscious enough to lose control of his voluntary muscles, the impression of fright made upon the brain asserts itself, and he struggles and resists in proportion.
These same principles of repose should be applied in illness when it comes in other forms than that of pain. We can easily increase whatever illness may attack us by the nervous strain which comes from fright, anxiety, or annoyance. I have seen a woman retain a severe cold for days more than was necessary, simply because of the chronic state of strain she kept herself in by fretting about it; and in another unpleasantly amusing case the sufferer's constantly expressed annoyance took the form of working almost without intermission to find remedies for herself. Without using patience enough to wait for the result of one remedy, she would rush to another until she became—so to speak—twisted and snarled in the meshes of a cold which it took weeks thoroughly to cure. This is not uncommon, and not confined merely to a cold in the head.
We can increase the suffering of friends through "sympathy" given in the same mistaken way by which we increase our own pain, or keep ourselves longer than necessary in an uncomfortable illness.
NERVOUS STRAIN IN THE EMOTIONS
THE most intense suffering which follows a misuse of the nervous power comes from exaggerated, unnecessary, or sham emotions. We each have our own emotional microscope, and the strength of its lens increases in proportion to the supersensitiveness of our nervous system. If we are a little tired, an emotion which in itself might hardly be noticed, so slight is the cause and so small the result, will be magnified many times. If we are very tired, the magnifying process goes on until often we have made ourselves ill through various sufferings, all of our own manufacture.
This increase of emotion has not always nervous fatigue as an excuse. Many people have inherited emotional magnifying glasses, and carry them through the world, getting and giving unnecessary pain, and losing more than half of the delight of life in failing to get an unprejudiced view of it. If the tired man or woman would have the good sense to stop for one minute and use the power which is given us all of understanding and appreciating our own perverted states and so move on to better, how easy it would be to recognize that a feeling is exaggerated because of fatigue, and wait until we have gained the power to drop our emotional microscopes and save all the evil results of allowing nervous excitement to control us. We are even permitted to see clearly an inherited tendency to magnify emotions and to overcome it to such an extent that life seems new to us. This must be done by the individual himself, through a personal appreciation of his own mistakes and active steps to free himself from them. No amount of talking, persuading, or teaching will be of the slightest service until that personal recognition comes. This has been painfully proved too often by those who see a friend suffering unnecessarily, and in the short-sighted attempt to wrench the emotional microscope from his hand, simply cause the hold to tighten and the magnifying power to increase. A careful, steady training of the physique opens the way for a better practice of the wholesome philosophy, and the microscope drops with the relaxation of the external tension which has helped to hold it.
Emotions are often not even exaggerated but are from the beginning imaginary; and there are no more industrious imps of evil than these sham feelings. The imps have no better field for their destructive work than in various forms of morbid, personal attachment, and in what is commonly called religion,—but which has no more to do with genuine religion than the abnormal personal likings have to do with love.
It is a fact worthy of notice that the two powers most helpful, most strengthening, when sincerely felt and realized, are the ones oftenest perverted and shammed, through morbid states and abnormal nervous excitement. The sham is often so perfect an image of the reality that even the shammer is deceived.
To tell one of these pseudo-religious women that the whole attitude of her externally sanctified life is a sham emotion, would rouse anything but a saintly spirit, and surprise her beyond measure. Yet the contrast between the true, healthful, religious feeling and the sham is perfectly marked, even though both classes follow the same forms and belong to the same charitable societies. With the one, religion seems to be an accomplishment, with a rivalry as to who can carry it to the finest point; with the other, it is a steadily growing power of wholesome use.
This nervous strain from sham emotions, it must be confessed, is more common to the feminine nature. So dangerously prevalent is it that in every girls' school a true repression of the sham and a development of real feeling should be the thoughtful, silent effort of all the teachers. Any one who knows young girls feels deeply the terrible harm which comes to them in the weakening of their delicate, nervous systems through morbid, emotional excitement. The emotions are vividly real to the girls, but entirely sham in themselves. Great care must be taken to respect the sense of reality which a young girl has in these mistakes, until she can be led out so far that she herself recognizes the sham; then will come a hearty, wholesome desire to be free from it.
A school governed by a woman with strong "magnetism," and an equally strong love of admiration and devotion, can be kept in a chronic state of hysteria by the emotional affection of the girls for their teacher. When they cannot reach the teacher they will transfer the feeling to one another. Where this is allowed to pervade the atmosphere of a girls' school, those who escape floods of tears or other acute hysterical symptoms are the dull, phlegmatic temperaments.
Often a girt will go from one of these morbid attachments to another, until she seems to have lost the power for a good, wholesome affection. Strange as it may seem, the process is a steady hardening of the heart. The same result comes to man or woman who has followed a series of emotional flirtations,—the perceptions are dulled, and the whole tone of the system, mental and physical, is weakened. The effect is in exact correspondence in another degree with the result which follows an habitual use of stimulants.
Most abnormal emotional states are seen in women—and sometimes in men—who believe themselves in love. The suffering is to them very real. It seems cruel to say, "My dear, you are not in the least in love with that man; you are in love with your own emotions. If some one more attractive should appear, you could at once transfer your emotional tortures to the seemingly more worthy object." Such ideas need not be flung in so many words at a woman, but she may be gently led until she sees clearly for herself the mistake, and will even laugh at the morbid sensations that before seemed to her terribly real.
How many foolish, almost insane actions of men and women come from sham emotions and the nervous excitement generated by them, or from nervous excitement and the sham emotions that result in consequence!
Care should be taken first to change the course of the nervous power that is expressing itself morbidly, to open for it a healthy outlet, to guide it into that more wholesome channel, and then help the owner to a better control and a clearer understanding, that she may gain a healthy use of her wonderful nervous power. A gallop on horseback, a good swim, fresh air taken with any form of wholesome fun and exercise is the way to begin if possible. A woman who has had all the fresh air and interesting exercise she needs, will shake off the first sign of morbid emotions as she would shake off a rat or any other vermin.
To one who is interested to study the possible results of misdirected nervous power, nothing could illustrate it with more painful force than the story by Rudyard Kipling, "In the Matter of a Private."
Real emotions, whether painful or delightful, leave one eventually with a new supply of strength; the sham, without exception, leave their victim weaker, physically and mentally, unless they are recognized as sham, and voluntarily dismissed by the owner of the nerves that have been rasped by them. It is an inexpressibly sad sight to see a woman broken, down and an invalid, for no reason whatever but the unnecessary nervous excitement of weeks and months of sham emotion. Hardly too strong an appeal can be made to mothers and teachers for a careful watchfulness of their girls, that their emotions be kept steadily wholesome, so that they may grow and develop into that great power for use and healthful sympathy which always belongs to a woman of fine feeling.
There is a term used in college which describes most expressively an intense nervous excitement and want of control,—namely, "dry drunk." It has often seemed to me that sham emotions are a woman's form of getting drunk, and nervous prostration is its delirium tremens. Not the least of the suffering caused by emotional excitement comes from mistaken sympathy with others. Certain people seem to live on the principle that if a friend is in a swamp, it is necessary to plunge in with him; and that if the other man is up to his waist, the sympathizer shows his friendliness by allowing the mud to come up to his neck. Whereas, it is evident that the deeper my friend is immersed in a swamp, the more sure I must be to keep on firm ground that I may help him out; and sometimes I cannot even give my hand, but must use a long pole, the more surely to relieve him from danger. It is the same with a mental or moral swamp, or most of all with a nervous swamp, and yet so little do people appreciate the use of this long pole that if I do not cry when my friend cries, moan when my friend moans, and persistently refuse to plunge into the same grief that I may be of more real use in helping him out of it, I am accused by my friend and my friend's friend of coldness and want of sympathy. People have been known to refuse the other end of your pole because you will not leave it and come into the swamp with them.
It is easy to see why this mistaken sympathy is the cause of great unnecessary nervous strain. The head nurse of a hospital in one of our large cities was interrupted while at dinner by the deep interest taken by the other nurses in seeing an accident case brought in. When the man was put out of sight the nurses lost their appetite from sympathy; and the forcible way with which their superior officer informed them that if they had any real sympathy for the man they would eat to gain strength to serve him, gave a lesson by which many nervous sympathizers could greatly profit.
Of course it is possible to become so hardened that you "eat your dinner" from a want of feeling, and to be consumed only with sympathy for yourself; but it is an easy matter to make the distinction between a strong, wholesome sympathy and selfish want of feeling, and easier to distinguish between the sham sympathy and the real. The first causes you to lose nervous strength, the second gives you new power for wholesome use to others.
In all the various forms of nervous strain, which we study to avoid, let us realize and turn from false sympathy as one to be especially and entirely shunned.
Sham emotions are, of course, always misdirected force; but it is not unusual to see a woman suffering from nervous prostration caused by nervous power lying idle. This form of invalidism comes to women who have not enough to fill their lives in necessary interest and work, and have not thought of turning or been willing to turn their attention to some needed charity or work for others. A woman in this state is like a steam-engine with the fire in full blast, and the boiler shaking with the power of steam not allowed to escape in motive force.
A somewhat unusual example of this is a young woman who had been brought up as a nervous invalid, had been through nervous prostration once, and was about preparing for another attack, when she began to work for a better control of her nervous force. After gaining a better use of her machine, she at once applied its power to work,—gradually at first and then more and more, until she found herself able to endure what others had to give up as beyond their strength.
The help for these, and indeed for all cases, is to make the life objective instead of subjective. "Look out, not in; look up, not down; lend a hand," is the motto that must be followed gently and gradually, but surely, to cure or to prevent a case of "Americanitis."
But again, good sense and care must be taken to preserve the equilibrium; for nervous tension and all the suffering that it brings come more often from mistaken devotion to others than from a want of care for them. Too many of us are trying to make special Providences of ourselves for our friends. To say that this short-sighted martyrdom is not only foolish but selfish seems hard, but a little thought will show it to be so.
A woman sacrifices her health in over-exertion for a friend. If she does not distress the object of her devotion entirely out of proportion to the use she performs, she at least unfits herself, by over-working, for many other uses, and causes more suffering than she saves. So are the great ends sacrificed to the smaller.
"If you only knew how hard I am trying to do right" comes with a strained face and nervous voice from many and many a woman. If she could only learn in this case, as in others, of "vaulting ambition that o'er-leaps itself and falls upon the other side;" if she could only realize that the very strained effort with which she tries, makes it impossible for her to gain,—if she would only "relax" to whatever she has to do, and then try, the gain would be incomparable.
The most intense sufferers from nervous excitement are those who suppress any sign of their feeling. The effort to "hold in" increases the nervous strain immensely. As in the case of one etherized, who has suppressed fright which he feels very keenly, as soon as the voluntary muscles are relaxed the impression on the brain shows itself with all the vehemence of the feeling,—so when the muscles are consciously relaxed the nervous excitement bursts forth like the eruption of a small volcano, and for a time is a surprise to the man or woman who has been in a constant effort of suppression.
The contrast between true self-control and that which is merely repressed feeling, is, like all contrast between the natural and the artificial, immeasurable; and the steadily increasing power to be gained by true self-control cannot be conveyed in words, but must be experienced in actual use.
Many of us know with what intense force a temper masters us when, having held in for some time, some spring is touched which makes silence impossible, and the sense of relief which follows a volley of indignant words. To say that we can get a far greater and more lasting relief without a word, but simply through relaxing our muscles and freeing our excited nerves, seems tame; but it is practically true, and is indeed the only way from a physical standpoint that one may be sure of controlling a high temper. In that way, also, we keep the spirit, the power, the strength, from which the temper comes, and so far from being tame, life has more for us. We do not tire ourselves and lose nervous force through the wear and tear of losing our temper. To speak expressively, if not scientifically, Let go, and let the temper slip over your nerves and off,—you do not lose it then, for you know where it is, and you keep all the nervous force that would have been used in suppression or expression for better work.
That, the reader will say, is not so easy as it sounds. Granted, there must be the desire to get a true control of the temper; but most of us have that desire, and while we cannot expect immediate success, steady practice will bring startling results sooner than we realize. There must be a clear, intelligent understanding of what we are aiming at, and how to gain it; but that is not difficult, and once recognized grows steadily as we gain practical results. Let the first feeling of anger be a reminder to "let go." But you will say, "I do not want to let go,"—only because your various grandfathers and grandmothers were unaccustomed to relieving themselves in that manner. When we give way to anger and let it out in a volley of words, there is often a sense of relief, but more often a reaction which is most unpleasant, and is greatly increased by the pain given to others. The relief is certain if we "relax;" and not only is there then no painful reaction, but we gain a clear head to recognize the justice or injustice of our indignation, and to see what can be done about its cause.
Petty irritability can be met in the same way. As with nervous pain it seems at first impossible to "relax to it;" but the Rubicon once crossed, we cannot long be irritable,—it is so much simpler not to be, and so much more comfortable.
If when we are tempted to fly into a rage or to snap irritably at others we could go through a short process of relaxing motions, the effect would be delightful. But that would be ridiculous; and we must do our relaxing in the privacy of the closet and recall it when needed outside, that we may relax without observation except in its happy results. I know people will say that anything to divert the mind will cure a high temper or irritability. That is only so to a limited extent; and so far as it is so, simply proves the best process of control. Diversion relieves the nervous excitement, turning the attention in another direction,—and so is relaxing so far as it goes.
Much quicker and easier than self-control is the control which allows us to meet the irritability of others without echoing it. The temptation to echo a bad temper or an irritable disposition in others, we all know; but the relief which comes to ourselves and to the sufferer as we quietly relax and refuse to reflect it, is a sensation that many of us have yet to experience. One keeps a clear head in that way, not to mention a charitable heart; saves any quantity of nervous strain, and keeps off just so much tendency to nervous prostration.
Practically the way is opened to this better control through a physical training which gives us the power of relaxing at will, and so of maintaining a natural, wholesome equilibrium of nerves and muscles.
Personal sensitiveness is, to a great degree, a form of nervous tension. An individual case of the relief of this sensitiveness, although laughable in the means of cure, is so perfectly illustrative of it that it is worth telling. A lady who suffered very much from having her feelings hurt came to me for advice. I told her whenever anything was said to wound her, at once to imagine her legs heavy,—that relaxed her muscles, freed her nerves, and relieved the tension caused by her sensitive feelings. The cure seemed to her wonderful. It would not have done for her to think a table heavy, or a chair, or to have diverted her mind in any other way, for it was the effect of relaxation in her own body that she wanted, which came from persistently thinking her legs heavy. Neither could her sensitiveness have taken a very deep hold, or mere outside relaxation would not have reached it; but that outside process had the effect of greatly assisting in the power to use a higher philosophy with the mind.
Self-consciousness and all the personal annoyances that come with or follow it are to so great an extent nervous tension, that the ease with which they may be helped seems sometimes like a miracle to those who study for a better guidance of their bodies.
Of worries, from the big worries with a real foundation to the miserable, petty, nagging worries that wear a woman's nervous system more than any amount of steady work, there is so much to be said that it would prove tedious, and indeed unnecessary to recount them. A few words will suggest enough toward their remedy to those who are looking in the right direction, and to others many words would be of no avail.
The petty worries are the most wearing, and they fortunately are the most easily helped. By relaxing the muscular contractions invariably accompanying them we seem to make an open channel, and they slip through,—which expression I am well aware is not scientific. The common saying, "Cares roll off her like water off a duck's back," means the same thing. Some human ducks are made with backs eminently fitted for cares to slip from; but those whose backs seem to be made to hold the cares can remould themselves to the right proportions, and there is great compensation in their appreciation of the contrast.
Never resist a worry. It is increased many times by the effort to overcome it. The strain of the effort makes it constantly more difficult to drop the strain of the worry. When we quietly go to work to relax the muscles and so quiet the nerves, ignoring a worry, the way in which it disappears is surprising. Then is the time to meet it with a broad philosophizing on the uselessness of worry, etc., and "clinch" our freedom, so to speak.
It is not at the first attempt to relax, or the second, or the ninth, that the worry will disappear for many of us, and especially for worriers. It takes many hours to learn what relaxing is; but having once learned, its helpful power is too evident for us not to keep at it, if we really desire to gain our freedom.
To give the same direction to a worrier that was so effective with the woman whose feelings were easily hurt, may seem equally ridiculous; but in many cases it will certainly prove most useful. When you begin to worry, think your legs heavy. Your friends will appreciate the relief more than you do, and will gain as you gain.
A recital of all the emotional disturbances which seem to have so strong a hold on us, and which are merely misdirected nervous force, might easily fill a volume; but a few of the most common troubles, such as have been given, will perhaps suffice to help each individual to understand his own especial temptations in that direction,—and if I have made even partially clear the ease with which they may be relieved through careful physical training, it is all I can hope for.
The body must be trained to obey the mind; the mind must be trained to give the body commands worth obeying.
The real feelings of life are too exquisite and strengthening in their depth and power to be crowded out by those gross forms of nervous excitement which I can find no better name for than sham emotions. If we could only realize this more broadly, and bring up the children with a wholesome dread of morbid feeling what a marked change would there be in the state of the entire race!
All physicians agree that in most cases it is not overwork, it is not mental strain, that causes the greater number of cases of nervous disturbance, but that they are more often brought on by emotional strain.
The deepest grief, as well as the greatest joy, can be met in a way to give new strength and new power for use if we have a sound philosophy and a well-guided, wholesome body to meet it. But these last are the work of years; and neither the philosophy nor the physical strength can be brought to bear at short notice, although we can do much toward a better equilibrium even late in life.
Various forms of egotism, if not exactly sham emotions, are the causes of great nervous strain. Every physician knows the intense egotism which often comes with nervous prostration. Some one has very aptly said that insanity is only egotism gone to seed. It often seems so, especially when it begins with nervous prostration. We cannot be too careful to shun this nervous over-care for self.
We inherit so strongly the subjective way of living rather than the objective, that it impresses itself upon our very nerves; and they, instead of being open channels for the power always at our command to pass freely to the use for which it is intended, stop the way by means of the attention which is so uselessly turned back on ourselves, our narrow personal interests, and our own welfare. How often we see cases where by means of the nervous tension all this has increased to a disease, and the tiresome Ego is a monster in the way of its owner and all his would-be friends. "I cannot bear this." "I shall take cold." "If you only knew how I suffered." Why should we know, unless through knowing we can give you some relief? And so it goes, I—I—I—forever, and the more the more nervous prostration.
Keep still, that all which is good may come to you, and live out to others that your life may broaden for use. In this way we can take all that Nature is ready to give us, and will constantly give us, and use it as hers and for her purposes, which are always the truest and best Then we live as a little child would live,—only with more wisdom.
NATURE is not only our one guide in the matter of physical training, she is the chief engineer who will keep us in order and control the machine, if we aim to fulfil her conditions and shun every personal interference with the wholesome working of her laws.
Here is where the exquisite sense of growing power comes. In studying Nature, we not only realize the strength that comes from following her lead, but we discover her in ourselves gently moving us onward.
We all believe we look to Nature, if we think at all; and it is a surprise to find how mistaken we are. The time would not be wasted if we whose duties do not lead us to any direct study of natural life for personal reasons, would take fifteen minutes every day simply to think of Nature and her methods of working, and to see at the same time where, so far as we individually are concerned, we constantly interfere with the best use of her powers. With all reverence I say it, this should be the first form of prayer; and our ability to pray sincerely to God and live in accordance with His laws would grow in proportion to our power of sincere sympathy with the workings of those laws in Nature.
Try to realize the quiet power of all natural growth and movement, from a blade of grass, through a tree, a forest of trees, the entire vegetable growth on the earth, the movement of the planets, to the growth and involuntary vital operations of our own bodies.
No words can bring so full a realization of the quiet power in the progress of Nature as will the simple process of following the growth of a tree in imagination from the working of its sap in the root up to the tips of the leaves, the blossoms, and the fruit. Or beginning lower, follow the growth of a blade of grass or a flower, then a tree, and so on to the movement of the earth, and then of all the planets in the universe. Let your imagination picture so vividly all natural movements, little by little, that you seem to be really at one with each and all. Study the orderly working of your own bodily functions; and having this clearly in mind, notice where you, in all movements that are or might be under the control of your will, are disobeying Nature's laws.
Nature shows us constantly that at the back of every action there should be a great repose. This holds good from the minutest growth to the most powerful tornado. It should be so with us not only in the simple daily duties, but in all things up to the most intense activity possible to man. And this study and realization of Nature's method which I am pleading for brings a vivid sense of our own want of repose. The compensation is fortunately great, or the discouragement might be more than could be borne. We must appreciate a need to have it supplied; we must see a mistake in order to shun it.
How can we expect repose of mind when we have not even repose of muscle? When the most external of the machine is not at our command, surely the spirit that animates the whole cannot find its highest plane of action. Or how can we possibly expect to know the repose that should be at our command for every emergency, or hope to realize the great repose behind every action, when we have not even learned the repose in rest?
Think of Nature's resting times, and see how painful would be the result of a digression.
Our side of the earth never turns suddenly toward the sun at night, giving us flashes of day in the darkness. When it is night, it is night steadily, quietly, until the time comes for day. A tree in winter, its time for rest, never starts out with a little bud here and there, only to be frost bitten, and so when spring-time comes, to result in an uneven looking, imperfectly developed tree. It rests entirely in its time for rest; and when its time for blooming comes, its action is full and true and perfect. The grass never pushes itself up in little, untimely blades through the winter, thus leaving our lawns and fields full of bare patches in the warmer season. The flowers that close at night do not half close, folding some petals and letting others stay wide open. Indeed, so perfectly does Nature rest when it is her time for resting, that even the suggestion of these abnormal actions seems absolutely ridiculous. The less we allow ourselves to be controlled by Nature's laws, the more we ignore their wonderful beauty; and yet there is that in us which must constantly respond to Nature unconsciously, else how could we at once feel the absurdity of any disobedience to her laws, everywhere except with man? And man, who is not only free to obey, but has exquisite and increasing power to realize and enjoy them in all their fulness, lives so far out of harmony with these laws as ever to be blind to his own steady disobedience.
Think of the perfect power for rest in all animals. Lift a cat when she is quiet, and see how perfectly relaxed she is in every muscle. That is not only the way she sleeps, but the way she rests; and no matter how great or how rapid the activity, she drops all tension at once when she stops. So it is with all animals, except in rare cases where man has tampered with them in a way to interfere with the true order of their lives.
Watch a healthy baby sleeping; lift its arm, its leg, or its head carefully, and you will find each perfectly relaxed and free. You can even hold it on your outspread hands, and the whole little weight, full of life and gaining new power through the perfect rest, will give itself entirely to your hands, without one particle of tension. The sleep that we get in babyhood is the saving health of many. But, alas! at a very early age useless tension begins, and goes on increasing; and if it does not steadily lead to acute "Americanitis," it prevents the perfect use of all our powers. Mothers, watch your children with a care which will be all the more effective because they will be unconscious of it; for a child's attention should seldom be drawn to its own body. Lead them toward the laws of Nature, that they may grow in harmony with them, and so be saved the useless suffering, strain, and trouble that comes to us Americans. If we do not take care, the children will more and more inherit this fearful misuse of the nervous force, and the inheritance will be so strong that at best we can have only little invalids. How great the necessity seems for the effort to get back into Nature's ways when we reflect upon the possibilities of a continued disobedience!
To be sure, Nature has Repose itself and does not have to work for it. Man is left free to take it or not as he chooses. But before he is able to receive it he has personal tendencies to restlessness to overcome. And more than that, there are the inherited nervous habits of generations of ancestors to be recognized and shunned. But repose is an inmost law of our being, and the quiet of Nature is at our command much sooner than we realize, if we want it enough to work for it steadily day by day. Nothing will increase our realization of the need more than a little daily thought of the quiet in the workings of Nature and the consequent appreciation of our own lack. Ruskin tells the story with his own expressive power when he says, "Are not the elements of ease on the face of all the greatest works of creation? Do they not say, not there has been a great effort here, but there has been a great power here?"
The greatest act, the only action which we know to be power in itself, is the act of Creation. Behind that action there lies a great Repose. We are part of Creation, we should be moved by its laws. Let us shun everything we see to be in the way of our own best power of action in muscle, nerve, senses, mind, and heart. Who knows the new perception and strength, the increased power for use that is open to us if we will but cease to be an obstruction?
Freedom within the limits of Nature's laws, and indeed there is no freedom without those limits, is best studied and realized in the growth of all plants,—in the openness of the branch of a vine to receive the sap from the main stem, in the free circulation of the sap in a tree and in all vegetable organisms.
Imagine the branch of a vine endowed with the power to grow according to the laws which govern it, or to ignore and disobey those laws. Imagine the same branch having made up its vegetable mind that it could live its own life apart from the vine, twisting its various fibres into all kinds of knots and snarls, according to its own idea of living, so that the sap from the main stem could only reach it in a minimum quantity. What a dearth of leaf, flower, and fruit would appear in the branch! Yet the figure is perfectly illustrative of the way in which most of us are interfering with the best use of the life that is ours.
Freedom is obedience to law. A bridge can be built to stand, only in obedience to the laws of mechanics. Electricity can be made a useful power only in exact obedience to the laws that govern it, otherwise it is most destructive. Has man the privilege of disobeying natural laws, only in the use of his own individual powers? Clearly not. And why is it that while recognizing and endeavoring to obey the laws of physics, of mechanics, and all other laws of Nature in his work in the world, he so generally defies the same laws in their application to his own being?
The freedom of an animal's body in obeying the animal instincts is beautiful to watch. The grace and power expressed in the freedom of a tiger are wonderful. The freedom in the body of a baby to respond to every motion and expression is exquisite to study. But before most children have been in the world three years their inherited personal contractions begin, and unless the little bodies can be watched and trained out of each unnecessary contraction as it appears, and so kept in their own freedom, there comes a time later, when to live to the greatest power for use they must spend hours in learning to be babies all over again, and then gain a new freedom and natural movement.
The law which perhaps appeals to us most strongly when trying to identify ourselves with Nature is the law of rhythm: action, re-action; action, re-action; action, re-action,—and the two must balance, so that equilibrium is always the result. There is no similar thought that can give us keener pleasure than when we rouse all our imagination, and realize all our power of identifying ourselves with the workings of a great law, and follow this rhythmic movement till we find rhythm within rhythm,—from the rhythmic motion of the planets to the delicate vibrations of heat and light. It is helpful to think of rhythmic growth and motion, and not to allow the thought of a new rhythm to pass without identifying ourselves with it as fully as our imagination will allow.
We have the rhythm of the seasons, of day and night, of the tides, and of vegetable and animal life,—as the various rhythmic motions in the flying of birds. The list will be endless, of course, for the great law rules everything in Nature, and our appreciation of it grows as we identify ourselves with its various modes of action.
One hair's variation in the rhythm of the universe would bring destruction, and yet we little individual microcosms are knocking ourselves into chronic states of chaos because we feel that we can be gods, and direct our own lives so much better than the God who made us. We are left in freedom to go according to His laws, or against them; and we are generally so convinced that our own stupid, short-sighted way is the best, that it is only because Nature tenderly holds to some parts of us and keeps them in the rhythm, that we do not hurl ourselves to pieces. This law of rhythm—or of equilibrium in motion and in rest—is the end, aim, and effect of all true physical training for the development and guidance of the body. Its ruling power is proved in the very construction of the body,—the two sides; the circulation of the blood, veins and arteries; the muscles, extensor and flexor; the nerves, sensory and motor.
When the long rest of a body balances the long activity, in day and night; when the shorter rests balance the shorter activity, as in the various opportunities offered through the day for entire rest, if only a minute at a time; when the sensory and motor nerves are clear for impression and expression; when the muscles in parts of the body not needed are entirely quiet, allowing those needed for a certain action to do their perfect work; when the co-ordination of the muscles in use is so established that the force for a movement is evenly divided; when the flexor rests while its antagonizing muscle works, and vice versa,— when all this which is merely a natural power for action and rest is automatically established, then the body is ready to obey and will obey the lightest touch of its owner, going in whatever direction it may be sent, artistic, scientific, or domestic. As this exquisite sense of ease in a natural movement grows upon us, no one can describe the feeling of new power or of positive comfort which comes with it; and yet it is no miracle, it is only natural. The beasts have the same freedom; but they have not the mind to put it to higher uses, or the sense to enjoy its exquisite power.