THE FREEDOM OF LIFE
ANNIE PAYSON CALL
_Author of "Power Through Repose,"
"As a Matter of Course," etc._
LORD GOD of Israel,— Where Thou art we are free! Call out Thy people, Lord, we pray, From Egypt unto Thee. Open our eyes that we may see Our bondage in the past,— Oh, help us, Lord, to keep Thy law, And make us free at last!
Lord God of Israel,— Where Thou art we are free! Freed from the rule of alien minds, We turn our hearts to Thee. The alien hand weighs heavily, And heavy is our sin,— Thy children cry to Thee, O Lord,— Their God,—to take them in.
Lord God of Israel,— Where Thou 'art we are free Cast down our idols from on high, That we may worship Thee. In freedom we will live Thy Love Out from our inmost parts; Upon our foreheads bind Thy Law,— Engrave it on our hearts!
I. THE FREEDOM OF LIFE II. HOW TO SLEEP RESTFULLY III. RESISTANCE IV. HURRY, WORRY, AND IRRITABILITY V. NERVOUS FEARS VI. SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS VII. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF LIFE VIII. OTHER PEOPLE IX. HUMAN SYMPATHY X. PERSONAL INDEPENDENCE XI. SELF-CONTROL XII. THE RELIGION OF IT XIII. ABOUT CHRISTMAS XIV. TO MOTHERS
INTERIOR freedom rests upon the principle of non-resistance to all the things which seem evil or painful to our natural love of self. But non-resistance alone can accomplish nothing good unless, behind it, there is a strong love for righteousness and truth. By refusing to resist the ill will of others, or the stress of circumstances, for the sake of greater usefulness and a clearer point of view, we deepen our conviction of righteousness as the fundamental law of fife, and broaden our horizon so as to appreciate varying and opposite points of view. The only non-resistance that brings this power is the kind which yields mere personal and selfish considerations for the sake of principles. Selfish and weak yielding must always do harm. Unselfish yielding, on the other hand, strengthens the will and increases strength of purpose as the petty obstacles of mere self-love are removed. Concentration alone cannot long remain wholesome, for it needs the light of growing self-knowledge to prevent its becoming self-centred. Yielding alone is of no avail, for in itself it has no constructive power. But if we try to look at ourselves as we really are, we shall find great strength in yielding where only our small and private interests are concerned, and concentrating upon living the broad principles of righteousness which must directly or indirectly affect all those with whom we come into contact.
The Freedom of Life
I AM so tired I must give up work," said a young woman with a very strained and tearful face; and it seemed to her a desperate state, for she was dependent upon work for her bread and butter. If she gave up work she gave up bread and butter, and that meant starvation. When she was asked why she did not keep at work and learn to do it without getting so tired, that seemed to her absurd, and she would have laughed if laughing had been possible.
"I tell you the work has tired me so that I cannot stand it, and you ask me to go back and get rest out of it when I am ready to die of fatigue. Why don't you ask me to burn myself, on a piece of ice, or freeze myself with a red-hot poker?"
"But," the answer was, "it is not the work that tires you at all, it is the way you do it;" and, after a little soothing talk which quieted the overexcited nerves, she began to feel a dawning intelligence, which showed her that, after all, there might be life in the work which she had come to look upon as nothing but slow and painful death. She came to understand that she might do her work as if she were working very lazily, going from one thing to another with a feeling as near to entire indifference as she could cultivate, and, at the same time, do it well. She was shown by illustrations how she might walk across the room and take a book off the table as if her life depended upon it, racing and pushing over the floor, grabbing the book and clutching it until she got back to her seat, or, how she might move with exaggerated laziness take the book up loosely, and drag herself back again. This illustration represents two extremes, and one, in itself, is as bad as the other; but, when the habit has been one of unnecessary strain and effort, the lazy way, practised for a time, will not only be very restful, but will eventually lead to movement which is quick as well.
To take another example, you may write holding the pen with much more force than is needful, tightening your throat and tongue at the same time, or you may drag your pen along the paper and relieve the tendency to tension in your throat and tongue by opening your mouth slightly and letting your jaw hang loosely. These again are two extremes, but, if the habit has been one of tension, a persistent practice of the extreme of looseness will lead to a quiet mode of writing in which ten pages can be finished with the effort it formerly took to write one.
Sometimes the habit of needless strain has taken such a strong hold that the very effort to work quietly seems so unnatural as to cause much nervous suffering. To turn the corner from a bad habit into a true and wholesome one is often very painful, but, the first pain worked through, the right habit grows more and more easy, until finally the better way carries us along and we take it involuntarily.
For the young woman who felt she had come to the end of her powers, it was work or die; therefore, when she had become rested enough to see and understand at all, she welcomed the idea that it was not her work that tired her, but the way in which she did it, and she listened eagerly to the directions that should teach her to do it with less fatigue, and, as an experiment, offered to go back and try the "lazy way" for a week. At the end of a week she reported that the "lazy way" had rested her remarkably, but she did not do her work so well. Then she had to learn that she could keep more quietly and steadily concentrated upon her work, doing it accurately and well, without in the least interfering with the "lazy way." Indeed, the better concentrated we are, the more easily and restfully we can work, for concentration does not mean straining every nerve and muscle toward our work,—it means dropping everything that interferes, and strained nerves and muscles constitute a very bondage of interference.
The young woman went back to her work for another week's experiment, and this time returned with a smiling face, better color, and a new and more quiet life in her eyes. She had made the "lazy way" work, and found a better power of concentration at the same time. She knew that it was only a beginning, but she felt secure now in the certain knowledge that it was not her work that had been killing her, but the way in which she had done it; and she felt confident of her power to do it restfully and, at the same time, better than before. Moreover, in addition to practising the new way of working, she planned to get regular exercise in the open air, even if it had to come in the evening, and to eat only nourishing food. She has been at work now for several years, and, at last accounts, was still busy, with no temptation to stop because of overfatigue.
If any reader is conscious of suffering now from the strain of his work and would like to get relief, the first thing to do is to notice that it is less the work that tires him than his way of doing it, and the attitude of his mind toward it. Beginning with that conviction, there comes at first an interest in the process of dropping strain and then a new interest in the work itself, and a healthy concentration in doing the merest drudgery as well as it can be done, makes the drudgery attractive and relieves one from the oppressive fatigue of uninteresting monotony.
If you have to move your whole body in your daily work, the first care should be to move the feet and legs heavily. Feel as if each foot weighed a ton, and each hand also; and while you work take long, quiet breaths,—breaths such as you see a man taking when he is very quietly and soundly sleeping.
If the work is sedentary, it is a help before starting in the morning to drop your head forward very loosely, slowly and heavily, and raise it very slowly, then take a long, quiet breath. Repeat this several times until you begin to feel a sense of weight in your head. If there is not time in the morning, do it at night and recall the feeling while you are dressing or while you are going to work, and then, during your work, stop occasionally just to feel your head heavy and then go on. Very soon you become sensitive to the tension in the back of your neck and drop it without stopping work at all.
Long, quiet breaths while you work are always helpful. If you are working in bad air, and cannot change the air, it is better to try to have the breaths only quiet and gentle, and take long, full breaths whenever you are out-of-doors and before going to sleep at night.
Of course, a strained way of working is only one cause of nervous fatigue; there are others, and even more important ones, that need to be understood in order that we may be freed from the bondage of nervous strain which keeps so many of us from our best use and happiness.
Many people are in bondage because of doing wrong, but many more because of doing right in the wrong way. Real freedom is only found through obedience to law, and when, because of daily strain, a man finds himself getting overtired and irritable, the temptation is to think it easier to go on working in the wrong way than to make the effort to learn how to work in the right way. At first the effort seems only to result in extra strain, but, if persisted in quietly, it soon becomes apparent that it is leading to less and less strain, and finally to restful work.
There are laws for rest, laws for work, and laws for play, which, if we find and follow them, lead us to quiet, useful lines of life, which would be impossible without them. They are the laws of our own being, and should carry us as naturally as the instincts of the animals carry them, and so enable us to do right in the right way, and make us so sure of the manner in which we do our work that we can give all our attention to the work itself; and when we have the right habit of working, the work itself must necessarily gain, because we can put the best of ourselves into it.
It is helpful to think of the instincts of the beasts, how true and orderly they are, on their own plane, and how they are only perverted when the animals have come under the influence of man. Imagine Baloo, the bear in Mr. Kipling's "Jungle Book," being asked how he managed to keep so well and rested. He would look a little surprised and say: "Why, I follow the laws of my being. How could I do differently?" Now that is just the difference between man and beast. Man can do differently. And man has done differently now for so many generations that not one in ten thousand really recognizes what the laws of his being are, except in ways so gross that it seems as if we had sunken to the necessity of being guided by a crowbar, instead of steadily following the delicate instinct which is ours by right, and so voluntarily accepting the guidance of the Power who made us, which is the only possible way to freedom.
Of course the laws of a man's being are infinitely above the laws of a beast's. The laws of a man's being are spiritual, and the animal in man is meant to be the servant of his soul. Man's true guiding instincts are in his soul,—he can obey them or not, as he chooses; but the beast's instincts are in his body, and he has no choice but to obey. Man can, so to speak, get up and look down on himself. He can be his own father and his own mother. From his true instinct he can say to himself, "you must do this" or "You must not do that." He can see and understand his tendency to disobedience, and he can force himself to obey. Man can see the good and wholesome animal instincts in himself that lead to lasting health and strength, and he can make them all the good servants of his soul. He can see the tendency to overindulgence, and how it leads to disease and to evil, and he can refuse to permit that wrong tendency to rule him.
Every man has his own power of distinguishing between right and wrong, and his own power of choosing which way he shall follow. He is left free to choose God's way or to choose his own. Through past and present perversions, of natural habit he has lost the delicate power of distinguishing the normal from the abnormal, and needs to be educated back to it. The benefit of this education is an intelligent consciousness of the laws of life, which not only adds to his own strength of mind and body, but increases immeasurably his power of use to others. Many customs of to-day fix and perpetuate abnormal habits to such an extent that, combined with our own selfish inheritances and personal perversions, they dim the light of our minds so that many of us are working all the time in a fog, more or less dense, of ignorance and bondage. When a man chooses the right and refuses the wrong, in so far as he sees it, he becomes wise from within and from without, his power for distinguishing gradually improves, the fog lifts, and he finds within himself a sure and delicate instinct which was formerly atrophied for want of use.
The first thing to understand without the shadow of a doubt, is that, man is not in freedom when he is following his own selfish instincts. He is only in the appearance of freedom, and the appearance of freedom, without the reality, leads invariably to the worst bondage. A man who loves drink feels that he is free if he can drink as much as he wants, but that leads to degradation and delirium tremens. A man who has an inherited tendency toward the disobedience of any law feels that he is free if he has the opportunity to disobey it whenever he wants to. But whatever the law may be, the results have only to be carried to their logical conclusion to make clear the bondage to which the disobedience leads. All this disobedience to law leads to an inevitable, inflexible, unsurmountable limit in the end, whereas steady effort toward obedience to law is unlimited in its development of strength and power for use to others. Man must understand his selfish tendencies in order to subdue and control them, until they become subject to his own unselfish tendencies, which are the spiritual laws within him. Thus he gradually becomes free,—soul and body,—with no desire to disobey, and with steadily increasing joy in his work and life. So much for the bondage of doing wrong, and the freedom of doing right, which it seems necessary to touch upon, in order to show clearly the bondage of doing right in the wrong way, and the freedom of doing right in the right way.
It is right to work for our daily bread, and for the sake of use to others, in whatever form it may present itself. The wrong way of doing it makes unnecessary strain, overfatigue and illness. The right way of working gives, as we have said before, new power and joy in the work; it often turns even drudgery into pleasure, for there is a special delight in learning to apply one's self in a true spirit to "drudgery." The process of learning such true application of one's powers often reveals new possibilities in work.
It is right for most people to sleep eight hours every night. The wrong way of doing it is to go to sleep all doubled up, and to continue to work all night in our sleep, instead of giving up and resting entirely. The right way gives us the fullest possible amount of rest and refreshment.
It is right to take our three meals a day, and all the nourishing food we need. The wrong way of doing it, is to eat very fast, without chewing our food carefully, and to give our stomachs no restful opportunity of preparation to receive its food, or to take good care of it after it is received. The right way gives us the opportunity to assimilate the food entirely, so that every bit of fuel we put into our bodies is burnt to some good purpose, and makes us more truly ready to receive more.
It is right to play and amuse ourselves for rest and recreation. We play in the wrong way when we use ourselves up in the strain of playing, in the anxiety lest we should not win in a game, or when we play in bad air. When we play in the right way, there is no strain, no anxiety, only good fun and refreshment and rest.
We might go through the narrative of an average life in showing briefly the wonderful difference between doing right in the right way, and doing right in the wrong way. It is not too much to say that the difference in tendency is as great as that between life and death.
It is one thing to read about orderly living and to acknowledge that the ways described are good and true, and quite another to have one's eyes opened and to act from the new knowledge, day by day, until a normal mode of life is firmly established. It requires quiet, steady force of will to get one's self out of bad, and well established in good habits. After the first interest and relief there often has to be steady plodding before the new way becomes easy; but if we do not allow ourselves to get discouraged, we are sure to gain our end, for we are opening ourselves to the influence of the true laws within us, and in finding and obeying these we are approaching the only possible Freedom of Life.
How to Sleep Restfully
IT would seem that at least one might be perfectly free in sleep. But the habits of cleaving to mistaken ways of living cannot be thrown off at night and taken up again in the morning. They go to sleep with us and they wake with us.
If, however, we learn better habits of sleeping, that helps us in our life through the day. And learning better habits through the day helps us to get more rest from our sleep. At the end of a good day we can settle down more quickly to get ready for sleep, and, when we wake in the morning, find ourselves more ready to begin the day to come.
There are three things that prevent sleep,—overfatigue, material disturbances from the outside, and mental disturbances from, within.
It is not uncommon to hear people say, "I was too tired to sleep"—but it is not generally known how great a help it is at such times not to try to sleep, but to go to work deliberately to get I rested in preparation for it. In nine cases out of ten it is the unwillingness to lie awake that keeps us awake. We wonder why we do not sleep. We toss and turn and wish we could sleep. We fret, and fume, and worry, because we do not sleep. We think of all we have to do on the following day, and are oppressed with the thought that we cannot do it if we do not sleep. First, we try one experiment to see if it will not make us sleep, and when it fails, we try another, and perhaps another. In each experiment we, are watching to see if it will work. There are many things to do, any one of which might help us to sleep, but the watching to see if they will work keeps us awake.
When we are kept awake from our fatigue, the first thing to do is to say over and over to ourselves that we do not care whether we sleep or not, in order to imbue ourselves with a healthy indifference about it. It will help toward gaining this wholesome indifference to say "I am too tired to sleep, and therefore, the first thing for me to do is to get rested in order to prepare for sleep. When my brain is well rested, it will go to sleep; it cannot help it. When it is well rested, it will sleep just as naturally as my lungs breathe, or as my heart beats."
In order to rest our brains we want to lie quietly, relaxing all our muscles, and taking even, quiet breaths. It is good when we can take long, full breaths, but sometimes that is too fatiguing; and then we must not only take moderately long, breaths, but be careful to have them gentle, quiet, and rhythmic. To make a plan of breathing and follow it keeps the mind steadily concentrated on the breathing, and gives the rest of the brain, which has been working on other things, a chance to relax and find its own freedom and rest. It is helpful to inhale while we count seven, exhale while we count seven, then rest and breathe naturally while we count seven, and to repeat the series of three for seven times; but to be strict with ourselves and see that we only do it seven times, not once more nor once less. Then we should wait a little and try it again,—and so keep on for a number of times, repeating the same series; and we should always be sure to have the air in our bedrooms as fresh as possible. If the breathing is steady and rhythmical it helps very much, and to inhale and exhale over and over for half an hour has a very pleasant, quieting effect—sometimes such exercises make us nervous at first, and, if we are very tired, that often happens; but, if we keep steadily at work, the nervousness disappears and restful quiet follows which very often brings restoring and refreshing sleep.
Another thing to remember—and it is very important—is that an overtired brain needs more than the usual nourishment. If you have been awake for an hour, and it is three hours after your last meal, take half a cup, or a cup of hot milk. If you are awake for another two hours take half a cup more, and so, at intervals of about two hours, so long as you are awake throughout the night. Hot milk is nourishing and a sedative. It is not inconvenient to have milk by the side of one's bed, and a little saucepan and spirit lamp, so that the milk can be heated without getting up, and the quiet simple occupation of heating it is sometimes restful in itself.
There are five things to remember to help rest an overtired brain: 1. A healthy indifference to wakefulness. 2. Concentration of the mind on simple things. 3. Relaxation of the body. 4. Gentle rhythmic breathing of fresh air. 5. Regular nourishment. If we do not lose courage, but keep on steadily night after night, with a healthy persistence in remembering and practising these five things, we shall often find that what might have been a very long period of sleeplessness may be materially shortened and that the sleep which follows the practice of the exercises is better, sounder, and more refreshing, than the sleep that came before. In many cases a long or short period of insomnia can be absolutely prevented by just these simple means.
Here is perhaps the place to say that all narcotics are in such cases, absolutely pernicious.
They may bring sleep at the time, but eventually they lose their effect, and leave the nervous system in a state of strain which cannot be helped by anything but time, through much suffering that might have been avoided.
When we are not necessarily overtired but perhaps only a little tired from the day's work, it is not uncommon to be kept awake by a flapping curtain or a swinging door, by unusual noises in the streets, or by people talking. How often we hear it said, "It did seem hard when I went to bed tired last night that I should have been kept awake by a noise like that—and now this morning, I am more tired than when I went to bed."
The head nurse in a large hospital said once in distress: "I wish the nurses could be taught to step lightly over my head, so that they would not keep me awake at night." It would have been a surprise to her if she had been told that her head could be taught to yield to the steps of the nurses, so that their walking would not keep her awake.
It is resistance that keeps us awake in all such cases. The curtain flaps, and we resist it; the door swings to over and over again, and we resist it, and keep ourselves awake by wondering why it does not stop; we hear noises in the street that we am unused to, especially if we are accustomed to sleeping in the stillness of the country, and we toss and turn and wish we were in a quiet place. All the trouble comes from our own resistance to the noise, and resistance is nothing but unwillingness to submit to our conditions.
If we are willing that the curtain should go on flapping, the door go on slamming, or the noise in the street continue steadily on, our brains yield to the conditions and so sleep naturally, because the noise goes through us, so to speak, and does not run hard against our unwillingness to hear it.
There are three facts which may help to remove the resistance which naturally arises at any unusual sound when we are tired and want to get rest.
One is that in almost every sound there is a certain rhythm. If we yield to the sound enough to become sensitive to its rhythm, that, in itself, is soothing, and what before was keeping us awake now helps us to go to sleep. This pleasant effect of finding the rhythm in sound is especially helpful if one is inclined to lie awake while travelling in sleeping cars. The rhythm of sound and motion in sleeping cars and steamers is, in itself, soothing. If you have the habit of feeling as if you could never get refreshing sleep in a sleeping car, first be sure that you have as much fresh air as possible, and then make up your mind that you will spend the whole night, if necessary, in noticing the rhythm of the motion and sound of the cars. If you keep your mind steadily on it, you will probably be asleep in less than an hour, and, when the car stops, you will wake only enough to settle comfortably into the sense of motion when it starts again. It is pleasant to notice the gentleness with which a good engineer starts his train at night. Of course there is a difference in engineers, and some are much more gentle in starting their engines than others, but the delicacy with which the engine is started by the most expert is delightful to feel, and gives us many a lesson on the use of gentle beginnings, with other things besides locomotive engines, and especially in our dealings with each other.
The second fact with regard to yielding, instead of resisting, in order to get to sleep is that listening alone, apart from rhythm, tends to make one sleepy, and this leads us at once to the third fact, that getting to sleep is nothing but a healthy form of concentration.
If true concentration is dropping everything that interferes with fixing our attention upon some wholesome object, it means merely bringing the brain into a normal state which induces sleep when sleep is needed. First we drop everything that interferes with the one simple subject, and then we drop that, and are unconscious.
Of course it may take some time to make ourselves willing to submit to an unusual noise if we have the habit of feeling that we must necessarily be disturbed by it, and, if we can stop the noise, it is better to stop it than to give ourselves unnecessary tasks in non-resistance.
Then again, if we are overtired, our brains are sometimes so sensitive that the effect of any noise is like that of being struck in a sore spot, and then it is much more difficult to bear it, and we can only make the suffering a little less by yielding and being willing that it should go on. I cannot go to sleep while some one is knocking my lame arm, nor can I go to sleep while a noise is hitting my tired brain; but in such cases we can give up expecting to go to sleep, and get a great deal of rest by using our wills steadily not to resist; and sometimes, even then, sleep will come upon us unexpectedly.
With regard to the use of the will, perhaps the most dangerous pitfall to be avoided is the use of drugs. It is not too much to say that they never should be used at all for cases of pure sleeplessness, for with time their power to bring sleep gradually becomes exhausted, and then the patient finds himself worse off than before, for the reactionary effect of the drugs leaves him with exhausted nerves and a weakened will. All the strengthening, moral effect which can be gained from overcoming sleeplessness in wholesome ways is lost by a recourse to drugs, and character is weakened instead of strengthened.
When one has been in the habit of sleeping in the city, where the noise of the street is incessant, a change to the perfect silence of the country will often keep sleep off quite as persistently as noise. So with a man who has been in the habit of sleeping under other abnormal conditions, the change to normal conditions will sometimes keep him awake until he has adjusted himself to them, and it is not uncommon for people to be so abnormal that they resist rhythm itself, such as is heard in the rolling of the sea, or the rushing of a river.
The re-adjustment from abnormal to normal conditions of sleeping may be made surely if we set about it with a will, for we have all nature on our side. Silence is orderly for the night's rest, and rhythm only emphasizes and enhances the silence, when it is the rhythm of nature.
The habit of resistance cannot be changed in a single day—it must take time; but if the meaning, the help, and the normal power of non-resistance is clearly understood, and the effort to gain it is persistent, not only the power to sleep, but a new sense of freedom may be acquired which is quite beyond the conception of those who are in the daily habit of resistance.
When we lie down at night and become conscious that our arms and our legs and our whole bodies are resting heavily upon the bed, we are letting go all the resistance which has been left stored in our muscles from the activities of the day.
A cat, when she lies down, lets go all resistance at once, because she moves with the least possible effort; but there are very few men who do that, and so men go to their rest with more or less resistance stored in their bodies, and they must go through a conscious process of dropping it before they can settle to sleep as a normal child does, without having to think about how it is done. The conscious process, however, brings a quiet, conscious joy in the rest, which opens the mind to soothing influences, and brings a more profound refreshment than is given even to the child—and with the refreshment new power for work.
One word more about outside disturbances before we turn to those interior ones which are by far the most common preventatives of refreshing sleep. The reader will say: "How can I be willing that the noise should go on when I am not willing?" The answer is, "If you can see clearly that if you were willing, the noises would not interfere with your sleep, then you can find the ability within you to make yourself willing."
It is wonderful to realize the power we gain by compelling and controlling our desires or aversions through the intelligent use of the will, and it is easier to compel ourselves to do right against temptation than to force ourselves to do wrong against a true conviction. Indeed it is most difficult, if not impossible, to force ourselves to do wrong against a strong sense of right. Behind an our desires, aversions, and inclinations each one of us possesses a capacity for a higher will, the exercise of which, on the side of order and righteousness, brings into being the greatest power in human life. The power of character is always in harmony with the laws of truth and order, and although we must sometimes make a great effort of the will to do right against our inclinations the ease of such effort increases as the power of character increases, and strength of will grows steadily by use, because it receives its life from the eternal will and is finding its way to harmony with that.
It is the lower, selfish will that often keeps us awake by causing interior disturbances.
An actor may have a difficult part to play, and feel that a great deal depends upon his success. He stays awake with anxiety, and this anxiety is nothing but resistance to the possibility of failure. The first thing for him to do is to teach himself to be willing to fail. If he becomes willing to fail, then all his anxiety will go, and he will be able to sleep and get the rest and new life which he needs in order to play the part well. If he is willing to fail, then all the nervous force which before was being wasted in anxiety is set free for use in the exercise of his art.
Looking forward to what is going to happen on the next day, or within a few days, may cause so much anxiety as to keep us awake; but if we have a good, clear sense of the futility of resistance, whether our expected success or failure depends on ourselves or on others, we can compel ourselves to a quiet willingness which will make our brains quiet and receptive to restful sleep, and so enable us to wake with new power for whatever task or pleasure may lie before us.
Of course we are often kept awake by the sense of having done wrong. In such cases the first thing to do is to make a free acknowledgment to ourselves of the wrong we have done, and then to make up our minds to do the right thing at once. That, if the wrong done is not too serious, will put us to sleep; and if the next day we go about our work remembering the lesson we have learned, we probably will have little trouble in sleeping.
If Macbeth had had the truth and courage to tell Lady Macbeth that both he and she were wicked plotters and murderers, and that he intended, for his part, to stop being a scoundrel, and, if he had persisted in carrying out his good intentions, he would never have "murdered sleep."
A MAN once grasped a very hot poker with his hand, and although he cried out with pain, held on to the poker. His friend called out to him to drop it, whereupon the man indignantly cried out the more.
"Drop it? How can you expect me to think of dropping it with pain like this? I tell you when a man is suffering, as I am, he can think of nothing but the pain."
And the more indignant he was, the tighter he held on to the poker, and the more he cried out with pain.
This story in itself is ridiculous, but it is startlingly true as an illustration of what people are doing every day.
There is an instinct in us to drop every hot poker at once; and probably we should be able to drop any other form of unnecessary disagreeable sensation as soon as possible, if we had not lost that wholesome instinct through want of use. As it is, we must learn to re-acquire the lost faculty by the deliberate use of our intelligence and will.
It is as if we had lost our freedom and needed to be shown the way back to it, step by step. The process is slow but very interesting, if we are in earnest; and when, after wandering in the bypaths, we finally strike the true road, we find our lost faculty waiting for us, and all that we have learned in reaching it is so much added power.
But at present we are dealing in the main with a world which has no suspicion of such instincts or faculties as these, and is suffering along in blind helplessness. A man will drop a hot poker as soon as he feels it burn, but he will tighten his muscles and hold on to a cold in his head so persistently that he only gets rid of it at all because nature is stronger than he is, and carries it off in spite of him.
How common it is to see a woman entirely wrapped up, with a handkerchief held to her nose,—the whole body as tense as it can be,—wondering "Why does it take so long to get rid of this cold?" To get free from a severe cold there should be open and clear circulation throughout the whole body. The more the circulation is impeded, the longer the cold will last. To begin with, the cold itself impedes the circulation; and if, in addition, we offer resistance to the very idea of having a cold, we tighten our nerves and our bodies and thereby impede our circulation still further. It is curious that the more we resist a cold the more we hold on to it, but it is a very evident fact; and so is its logical corollary, that the less we resist it the sooner it leaves us.
It would seem absurd to people who do not understand, to say:—
"I have caught cold, I must relax and let it go through me."
But the literal truth is that when we relax, we open the channels of circulation in our bodies, and so allow the cold to be carried off. In addition to the relaxing, long, quiet breaths help the circulation still more, and so help the cold to go off sooner.
In the same way people resist pain and hold on to it; when they are attacked with severe pain, they at once devote their entire attention to the sensation of pain, instead of devoting it to the best means of getting relief. They double themselves up tight, and hold on to the place that hurts. Then all the nervous force tends toward the sore place and the tension retards the circulation and makes it difficult for nature to cure the pain, as she would spontaneously if she were only allowed to have her own way.
I once knew a little girl who, whenever she hit one elbow, would at once deliberately rub the other. She said that she had discovered that it took her mind away from the elbow that hurt, and so stopped its hurting sooner. The use of a counterirritant is not uncommon with good physicians, but the counter-irritant only does what is much more effectually accomplished when the patient uses his will and intelligence to remove the original irritant by ceasing to resist it.
A man who was troubled with spasmodic contraction of the throat once went to a doctor in alarm and distress. The doctor told him that, in any case, nothing worse than fainting could happen to him, and that, if he fainted away, his throat would be relieved, because the fainting would relax the muscles of the throat, and the only trouble with it was contraction. Singularly, it did not seem to occur to the doctor that the man might be taught to relax his throat by the use of his own will, instead of having to faint away in order that nature might do it for him. Nature would be just as ready to help us if we were intelligent, as when she has to knock us down, in order that she may do for us what we do not know enough to do for ourselves.
There is no illness that could not be much helped by quiet relaxing on the part of the patient, so as to allow nature and remedial agencies to do their work more easily.
That which keeps relief away in the case of the cold, of pain, and of many illnesses, is the contraction of the nerves and muscles of the body, which impedes the curative power of its healing forces. The contraction of the nerves and muscles of the body is caused by resistance in the mind, and resistance in the mind is unwillingness: unwillingness to endure the distress of the cold, the pain, or the illness, whatever it may be; and the more unwilling we are to suffer from illness, the more we are hindering nature from bringing about a cure.
One of the greatest difficulties in life is illness when the hands are full of work, and of business requiring attention. In many eases the strain and anxiety, which causes resistance to the illness, is even more severe, and makes more trouble than the illness itself.
Suppose, for instance, that a man is taken down with the measles, when he feels that he ought to be at his office, and that his absence may result in serious loss to himself and others. If he begins by letting go, in his body and in his mind, and realizing that the illness is beyond his own power, it will soon occur to him that he might as well turn his illness to account by getting a good rest out of it. In this frame of mind his chances of early recovery will be increased, and he may even get up from his illness with so much new life and with his mind so much refreshed as to make up, in part, for his temporary absence from business. But, on the other hand, if he resists, worries, complains and gets irritable, he irritates his nervous system and, by so doing is likely to bring on any one of the disagreeable troubles that are known to follow measles; and thus he may keep himself housed for weeks, perhaps months, instead of days.
Another advantage in dropping all resistance to illness, is that the relaxation encourages a restful attitude of mind, which enables us to take the right amount of time for recovery, and so prevents either a possible relapse, or our feeling only half well for a long time, when we might have felt wholly well from the time we first began to take up our life again. Indeed the advantages of nonresistance in such cases are innumerable, and there are no advantages whatever in resistance and unwillingness.
Clear as these things must be to any intelligent person whose attention is turned in the right direction, it seems most singular that not in one case in a thousand are they deliberately practised. People seem to have lost their common sense with regard to them, because for generations the desire for having our own way has held us in bondage, and confused our standard of freedom; more than that, it has befogged our sense of natural law, and the result is that we painfully fight to make water run up hill when, if we were to give one quiet look, we should see that better things could be accomplished, and our own sense of freedom become keener, by being content to let the water quietly run down and find its own level.
It is not normal to be ill and to be kept from our everyday use, but it is still less normal for a healthy, intelligent mind to keep its body ill longer than is necessary by resisting the fact of illness. Every disease, though it is abnormal in itself, may frequently be kept within bounds by a certain normal course of conduct, and, if our suffering from the disease itself is unavoidable, by far our wisest course is to stand aside, so to speak, and let it take its own course, using all necessary remedies and precautions in order that the attack may be as mild as possible.
Many readers, although they see the common sense of such non-resistance, will find it difficult to practise it, because of their inheritances and personal habits.
The man who held the hot poker only needed to drop it with his fingers; the man who is taken ill only needs to be willing with his mind and to relax with his nerves in order to hasten his recovery.
A very useful practice is to talk to ourselves so quietly and earnestly as to convince our brains of the true helpfulness of being willing and of the impediment of our unwillingness. Tell the truth to yourself over and over, quietly and without emotion, and steadily and firmly contradict every temptation to think that it is impossible not to resist. If men could once be convinced of the very real and wonderful power they have of teaching their own brains, and exacting obedience from them, the resulting new life and ability for use would make the world much happier and stronger.
This power of separating the clear, quiet common sense in ourselves from the turbulent, willful rebellion and resistance, and so quieting our selfish natures and compelling them to normal behavior, is truly latent in us all. It may be difficult at first to use it, especially in cases of strong, perverted natures and fixed habits, because in such cases our resistances are harder and more interior, but if we keep steadily on, aiming in the right direction,—if we persist in the practice of keeping ourselves separate from our unproductive turbulences, and of teaching our brains what we know to be the truth, we shall finally find ourselves walking on level ground, instead of climbing painfully up hill. Then we shall be only grateful for all the hard work which was the means of bringing us into the clear air of freedom.
There could not be a better opportunity to begin our training in non-resistance than that which illness affords.
Hurry, Worry, and Irritability
PROBABLY most people have had the experience of hurrying to a train with the feeling that something held them back, but not many have observed that their muscles, under such conditions, actually do pull them back.
If any one wants to prove the correctness of this observation let him watch himself, especially if it is necessary for him to go downstairs to get to the station, while he is walking down the steps. The drawing back or contracting of the muscles, as if they were intelligently trying to prevent us from reaching the train on time, is most remarkable. Of course all that impeding contraction comes from resistance, and it seems at first sight very strange that we should resist the accomplishment of the very thing we want to do. Why should I resist the idea of catching a train, when at the same time I am most anxious to do so? Why should my muscles reflect that resistance by contracting, so that they directly impede my progress? It seems a most singular case of a house divided against itself for me to want to take a train, and for my own muscles, which are given me for my command, to refuse to take me there, so that I move toward the train with an involuntary effort away from it. But when the truth is recognized, all this muscular contraction is easily explained. What we are resisting is not the fact of taking the train, but the possibility of losing it. That resistance reflects itself upon our muscles and causes them to contract. Although this is a practical truth, it takes us some time to realize that the fear of losing the train is often the only thing that prevents our catching it. If we could once learn this fact thoroughly, and live from our clearer knowledge, it would be one of the greatest helps toward taking all things in life quietly and without necessary strain. For the fact holds good in all hurry. It is the fear of not accomplishing what is before us in time that holds us back from its accomplishment.
This is so helpful and so useful a truth that I feel it necessary to repeat it in many ways. Fear brings resistance, resistance impedes our progress. Our faculties are paralyzed by lack of confidence, and confidence is the result of a true consciousness of our powers when in harmony with law. Often the fear of not accomplishing what is before us is the only thing that stands in our way.
If we put all hurry, whether it be an immediate hurry to catch a train, or the hurry of years toward the accomplishment of the main objects of our lives,—if we put it all under the clear light of this truth, it will eventually relieve us of a strain which is robbing our vitality to no end.
First, the times that we must hurry should be minimized. In nine cases out of ten the necessity for hurry comes only from our own attitude of mind, and from no real need whatever. In the tenth case we must learn to hurry with our muscles, and not with our nerves, or, I might better say, we must hurry without excitement. To hurry quietly is to most people an unknown thing, but when hurry is a necessity, the process of successive effort in it should be pleasant and refreshing.
If in the act of needful hurry we are constantly teaching ourselves to stop resistance by saying over and over, through whatever we may be doing, "I am perfectly willing to lose that train, I am willing to lose it, I am willing to lose it," that will help to remove the resistance, and so help us to learn how to make haste quietly.
But the reader will say, "How can I make myself willing when I am not willing?"
The answer is that if you know that your unwillingness to lose the train is preventing you from catching it, you certainly will see the efficacy of being willing, and you will do all in your power toward yielding to common sense. Unwillingness is resistance,—resistance in the mind contracts the muscles, and such contraction prevents our using the muscles freely and easily. Therefore let us be willing.
Of course there is a lazy, selfish indifference to catching a train, or accomplishing anything else, which leaves the tendency to hurry out of some temperaments altogether, but with that kind of a person we are not dealing now. And such indifference is the absolute opposite of the wholesome indifference in which there is no touch of laziness or selfishness.
If we want to avoid hurry we must get the habit of hurry out of our brains, and cut ourselves off, patiently and kindly, from the atmosphere of hurry about us. The habit gets so strong a hold of the nerves, and is impressed upon them so forcibly as a steady tendency, that it can be detected by a close observer even in a person who is lying on a lounge in the full belief that he is resting. It shows itself especially in the breathing. A wise athlete has said that our normal breathing should consist of six breaths to one minute. If the reader will try this rate of breathing, the slowness of it will surprise him. Six breaths to one minute seem to make the breathing unnecessarily slow, and just double that seems about the right number for ordinary people; and the habit of breathing at this slower rate is a great help, from a physical standpoint, toward erasing the tendency to hurry.
One of the most restful exercises any one can take is to lie at full length on a bed or lounge and to inhale and exhale, at a perfectly even, slow rate, for half an hour. It makes the exercise more restful if another person counts for the breathing, say, ten slowly and quickly to inhale, and ten to exhale, with a little pause to give time for a quiet change from one breath to another.
Resistance, which is the mental source of hurry, is equally at the root of that most harmful emotion—the habit of worrying. And the same truths which must be learned and practised to free ourselves of the one habit are applicable to the other.
Take the simple example of a child who worries over his lessons. Children illustrate the principle especially well, because they are so responsive that, if you meet them quietly with the truth in difficulties of this kind they recognize its value and apply it very quickly, and it takes them, comparatively, a very little time to get free.
If you think of telling a child that the moment he finds himself worrying about his lesson he should close his book and say:
"I do not care whether I get this lesson or not."
And then, when he has actually persuaded himself that he does not care, that he should open his book and study,—it would seem, at first sight, that he would find it difficult to understand you; but, on the contrary, a child understands more quickly than older people, for the child has not had time to establish himself so firmly in the evil habit.
I have in mind a little girl in whom the habit had begun of worrying lest she should fail in her lessons, especially in her Latin. Her mother sent her to be taught how not to worry. The teacher, after giving her some idea of the common sense of not worrying, taught her quieting exercises which she practised every day; and when one day, in the midst of one of her lessons, Margaret seemed very quiet and restful, the teacher asked:—
"Margaret, could you worry about your Latin now if you tried?"
"Yes," said Margaret, "I am afraid I could."
Nothing more was said, but she went on with her lessons, and several days after, during the same restful quiet time, the teacher ventured again.
"Now, Margaret, could you worry about your Latin if you tried?"
Then came the emphatic answer, "No, I could not."
After that the little girl would say:
"With the part of me that worries, I do not care whether I get my Latin or not; with the part of me that does not worry, I want to get my Latin very much; therefore I will stay in the part of me that does not worry, and get my Latin."
A childish argument, and one that may be entirely incomprehensible to many minds, but to those who do comprehend, it represents a very real and practical help.
It is, in most cases, a grave mistake to, reason with a worry. We must first drop the worry, and then do our reasoning. If to drop the worry seems impossible, we can separate ourselves from it enough to prevent it from interfering with our reasoning, very much as if it were neuralgia. There is never any real reason for a worry, because, as we all know, worry never helps us to gain, and often is the cause of our losing, the things which we so much desire.
Sometimes we worry because we are tired, and in that case, if we can recognize the real cause, we should use our wills to withdraw our attention from the object of worry, and to get all possible rest at once, in the confident belief that rest will make things clear, or at least more clear than they were when we were tired. It would be hard to compute the harm that has been done by kindly disposed people in reasoning with the worry of a friend, when the anxiety is increased by fatigue or illness. To reason with one who is tired or ill and worried, only increases the mental strain, and every effort that is made to reason him out of it aggravates the strain; until, finally, the poor brain, through kindly meant effort, has been worked into an extreme state of irritation or even inflammation. For the same reason, a worried mind should not be laughed at. Worries that are aroused by fatigue or illness are often most absurd, but they are not absurd to the mind that is suffering from them, and to make fun of them only brings more pain, and more worry. Gentle, loving attention, with kindly, truthful answers, will always help. By such attention we are really giving no importance to the worry, but only to our friend, with the hope of soothing and quieting him out of his worries, and when he is rested he may see the truth for himself.
We should deal with ourselves, in such cases, as gently as we would with a friend, excepting that we can tell the truth to ourselves more plainly than we can to most friends.
Worrying is resistance, resistance is unwillingness. Unwillingness interferes with whatever we may want to accomplish. To be willing that this, that, or the other should happen seems most difficult, when to our minds, this, that, or the other would bring disaster. And yet if we can once see clearly that worrying resistance tends toward disaster rather than away from it, or, at the very least, takes away our strength and endurance, it is only a matter of time before we become able to drop our resistance altogether. But it is a matter of time; and, when once we are faced toward freedom, we must be patient and steady, and not expect to gain very rapidly. Theirs is indeed a hard lot who have acquired this habit of worry, and persist in doing nothing to gain their freedom.
"Now I have got something to worry about for the rest of my life," remarked a poor woman once. Her face was set toward worrying; nothing but her own will could have turned it the other way, and yet she deliberately chose not to use it, and so she was fixed and settled in prison for the rest of her life.
To worry is wicked; it is wickedness of a kind that people often do not recognize as such, and they are not fully responsible until they do; but to prove it to be wicked is an easy matter, when once we are faced toward freedom; and, to get over it, as I have said, is a matter of steady, persistent patience.
As for irritability, that is also resistance; but there are two kinds of irritability,—physical and moral.
There is an irritability that comes when we are hungry, if we have eaten something that disagrees with us, if we are cold or tired or uncomfortable from some other physical cause. When we feel that kind of irritability we should ignore it, as we would ignore a little snapping dog across the street, while at the same time removing its cause as quickly as we can. There is nothing that delights the devil more than to scratch a man with the irritability of hunger, and have him respond to it at once by being ugly and rude to a friend; for then the irritation immediately becomes moral, and every bit of selfishness rushes up to join it, and to arouse whatever there may be of evil in the man. It is simple to recognize this merely physical form of irritability, and we should no more allow ourselves to speak, or act, or even think from it, than we should allow ourselves to walk directly into foul air, when the good fresh air is close to us on the other side.
But moral irritability is more serious; that comes from the soul, and is the result of our wanting our own way. The immediate cause may be some physical disturbance, such as noise, or it may be aroused by other petty annoyances, like that of being obliged to wait for some one who is unpunctual, or by disagreement in an argument. There are very many causes for irritability, and we each have our own individual sensitiveness or antipathy, but, whatever the secondary cause, the primary cause is always the same,—resistance or unwillingness to accept our circumstances.
If we are fully willing to be disturbed, we cease to be troubled by the disturbance; if we are willing to wait, we are not annoyed by being kept waiting, and we are in a better, more quiet humor to help our friend to the habit of promptness. If we are willing that another should differ from us in opinion, we can see more clearly either to convince our friend, if he is wrong,—or to admit that he is right, and that we are wrong. The essential condition of good argument is freedom from personal feeling, with the desire only for the truth,—whether it comes from one party or the other.
Hurry, worry, and irritability all come from selfish resistance to the facts of life, and the only permanent cure for the waste of force and the exhausting distress which they entail, is a willingness to accept those facts, whatever they may be, in a spirit of cheerful and reverent obedience to law.
TO argue with nervous anxiety, either in ourselves or in others, is never helpful. Indeed it is never helpful to argue with "nerves" at all. Arguing with nervous excitement of any kind is like rubbing a sore. It only irritates it. It does not take long to argue excited or tired nerves into inflammation, but it is a long and difficult process to allay the inflammation when it has once been aroused. It is a sad fact that many people have been argued into long nervous illnesses by would-be kind friends whose only intention was to argue them out of illness. Even the kindest and most disinterested friends are apt to lose patience when they argue, and that, to the tired brain which they are trying to relieve, is a greater irritant than they realize. The radical cure for nervous fears is to drop resistance to painful circumstances or conditions. Resistance is unwillingness to endure, and to drop the resistance is to be strongly willing. This vigorous "willingness" is so absolutely certain in its happy effect, and is so impossible that it should fail, that the resistant impulses seem to oppose themselves to it with extreme energy. It is as if the resistances were conscious imps, and as if their certainty of defeat—in the case of their victim's entire "willingness "—roused them to do their worst, and to hold on to their only possible means of power with all the more determination. Indeed, when a man is working through a hard state, in gaining his freedom from nervous fears, these imps seem to hold councils of war, and to devise new plans of attack in order to take him by surprise and overwhelm him in an emergency. But every sharp attack, if met with quiet "willingness," brings a defeat for the assailants, until finally the resistant imps are conquered and disappear. Occasionally a stray imp will return, and try to arouse resistance on what he feels is old familiar ground, but he is quickly driven off, and the experience only makes a man more quietly vigilant and more persistently "willing."
Perhaps one of the most prevalent and one of the hardest fears to meet, is that of insanity,—especially when it is known to be a probable or possible inheritance. When such fear is oppressing a man,—to tell him that he not only can get free from the fear, but free from any possibility of insanity, through a perfect willingness to be insane, must seem to him at first a monstrous mockery; and, if you cannot persuade him of the truth, but find that you are only frightening him more, there is nothing to do then but to be willing that he should not be persuaded, and to wait for a better opportunity. You can show him that no such inheritance can become an actuality, unless we permit it, and that the very knowledge of an hereditary tendency, when wholesomely used, makes it possible for us to take every precaution and to use every true safeguard against it. The presence of danger is a source of strength to the brave; and the source of abiding courage is not in the nerves, but in the spirit and the will behind them. It is the clear statement of this fact that will persuade him The fact may have to be stated many times, but it should never be argued. And the more quietly and gently and earnestly it is stated, the sooner it will convince, for it is the truth that makes us free.
Fear keeps the brain in a state of excitement. Even when it is not consciously felt, it is felt sub-consciously, and we ought to be glad to have it aroused, in order that we may see it and free ourselves, not only from the particular fear for the time being, but from the subconscious impression of fear in general.
Is seems curious to speak of grappling with the fear of insanity, and conquering it by being perfectly willing to be insane, but it is no more curious than the relation of the centrifugal and the centripetal forces to each other. We need our utmost power of concentration to enable us to yield truly, and to be fully willing to submit to whatever the law of our being may require. Fear contracts the brain and the nerves, and interrupts the circulation, and want of free circulation is a breeder of disease. Dropping resistance relaxes the tension of the brain and nerves, and opens the channels for free circulation, and free circulation helps to carry off the tendency to disease. If a man is wholesomely willing to be insane, should such an affliction overtake him, he has dropped all resistance to the idea of insanity, and thus also to all the mental and physical contractions that would foster insanity. He has dropped a strain which was draining his brain of its proper strength, and the result is new vigor to mind and body. To drop an inherited strain produces a great and wonderful change, and all we need to bring it about is to thoroughly understand how possible and how beneficial it is. If we once realize the benefit of dropping the strain, our will is there to accomplish the rest, as surely as it is there to take our hand out of the fire when it burns.
Then there is the fear of contagion. Some people are haunted with the fear of catching disease, and the contraction which such resistance brings induces a physical state most favorable to contagion. There was once a little child whose parents were so full of anxious fears that they attempted to protect him from disease in ways that were extreme and ridiculous. All his toys were boiled, everything he ate or drank was sterilized, and many other precautions were taken,—but along with all the precautions, the parents were in constant fear; and it is not unreasonable to feel that the reflection upon the child of the chronic resistance to possible danger with which he was surrounded, had something to do with the fact that the dreaded disease was finally caught, and that, moreover, the child did not recover. If reasonably healthy conditions had been insisted upon, and the parents had felt a wholesome trust in the general order of things, it would have been likely to make the child more vigorous, and would have tended to increase his capacity for throwing off contagion.
Children are very sensitive, and it is not unusual to see a child crying because its mother is out of humor, even though she may not have spoken a cross word. It is not unusual to see a child contract its little brain and body in response to the fears and contractions of its parents, and such contraction keeps the child in a state in which it may be more difficult to throw off disease.
If you hold your fist as tight as you can hold it for fifteen minutes, the fatigue you will feel when it relaxes is a clear proof of the energy you have been wasting. The waste of nervous energy would be much increased if the fist were held tightly for hours; and if the waste is so great in the useless tightening of a fist, it is still greater in the extended and continuous contraction of brain and nerves in useless fears; and the energy saved through dropping the fears and their accompanying tension can bring in the same proportion a vigor unknown before, and at the same time afford protection against the very things we feared.
The fear of taking cold is so strong in many people that a draught of fresh air becomes a bugaboo to their contracted, sensitive nerves. Draughts are imagined as existing everywhere, and the contraction which immediately follows the sensation of a draught is the best means of preparing to catch a cold.
Fear of accident keeps one in a constant state of unnecessary terror. To be willing that an accident should happen does not make it more likely to happen, but it prevents our wasting energy by resistance, and keeps us quiet and free, so that if an emergency of any kind arises, we are prepared to act promptly and calmly for the best. If the amount of human energy wasted in the strain of nervous fear could be measured in pounds of pressure, the figures would be astonishing. Many people who have the habit of nervous fear in one form or another do not throw it off merely because they do not know how. There are big and little nervous fears, and each and all can be met and conquered,—thus bringing a freedom of life which cannot even be imagined by those carrying the burden of fear, more or less, throughout their lives.
The fear of what people will think of us is a very common cause of slavery, and the nervous anxiety as to whether we do or do not please is a strain which wastes the energy of the greater part of mankind. It seems curious to measure the force wasted in sensitiveness to public opinion as you would measure the waste of power in an engine, and yet it is a wholesome and impersonal way to think of it,—until we find a better way. It relieves us of the morbid element in the sensitiveness to say, "I cannot mind what so-and-so thinks of me, for I have not the nervous energy to spare." It relieves us still more of the tendency to morbid feeling, if we are wholesomely interested in what others think of us, in order to profit by it, and do better. There is nothing morbid or nervous about our sensitiveness to opinion, when it is derived from a love of criticism for the sake of its usefulness. Such a rightful and wise regard for the opinion of others results in a saving of energy, for on the one hand, it saves us from the mistakes of false and shallow independence, and, on the other, from the wasteful strain of servile fear.
The little nervous fears are countless. The fear of not being exact. The fear of not having turned off the gas entirely. The fear of not having done a little daily duty which we find again and again we have done. These fears are often increased, and sometimes are aroused, by our being tired, and it is well to realize that, and to attend at once carefully to whatever our particular duty may be, and then, when the fear of not having done it attacks us, we should think of it as if it were a physical pain, and turn our attention quietly to something else. In this way such little nagging fears are relieved; whereas, if we allowed ourselves to be driven by them, we might bring on nervous states that would take weeks or months to overcome. These nervous fears attack us again and again in subtle ways, if we allow ourselves to be influenced by them. They are all forms of unwillingness or resistance, and may all be removed by dropping the resistance and yielding,—not to the fear, but to a willingness that the fear should be there.
One of the small fears that often makes life seem unbearable is the fear of a dentist. A woman who had suffered from this fear for a lifetime, and who had been learning to drop resistances in other ways, was once brought face to face with the necessity for going to the dentist, and the old fear was at once aroused,—something like the feeling one might have in preparing for the guillotine,—and she suffered from it a day or two before she remembered her new principles. Then, when the new ideas came back to her mind, she at once applied them and said, "Yes, I am afraid, I am awfully afraid. I am perfectly willing to be afraid," and the ease with which the fear disappeared was a surprise,—even to herself.
Another woman who was suffering intensely from fear as to the after-effects of an operation, had begun to tremble with great nervous intensity. The trembling itself frightened her, and when a friend told her quietly to be willing to tremble, her quick, intelligence responded at once. "Yes," she said, "I will, I will make myself tremble," and, by not only being willing to tremble, but by making herself tremble, she got quiet mental relief in a very short time, and the trembling disappeared.
The fear of death is, with its derivatives, of course, the greatest of all; and to remove our resistance to the idea of death, by being perfectly willingly to die is to remove the foundation of all the physical cowardice in life, and to open the way for the growth of a courage which is strength and freedom itself. He who yields gladly to the ordinary facts of life, will also yield gladly to the supreme fact of physical death, for a brave and happy willingness is the characteristic habit of his heart:—
Under the wide and starry sky, Dig the grave and let me lie. Glad did I live and gladly die, And I laid me down with a will."
There is a legend of the Arabs in which a man puts his head out of his tent and says, "I will loose my camel and commit him to God," and a neighbor who hears him says, in his turn, "I will tie my camel and commit him to God." The true helpfulness from non-resistance does not come from neglecting to take proper precautions against the objects of fear, but from yielding with entire willingness to the necessary facts of life, and a sane confidence that, whatever comes, we shall be provided with the means of meeting it. This confidence is, in itself, one of the greatest sources of intelligent endurance.
SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS may be truly defined as a person's inability to get out of his own way. There are, however, some people who are so entirely and absolutely self-conscious that everything they do, even though it may appear spontaneous and ingenuous, is observed and admired and approved of by themselves,—indeed they are supported and sustained by their self-consciousness. They are so completely in bondage to themselves that they have no glimpse of the possibility of freedom, and therefore this bondage is pleasant to them.
With these people we have, at present, nothing to do; it is only those who have begun to realize their bondage as such, or who suffer from it, that can take any steps toward freedom. The self-satisfied slaves must stay in prison until they see where they are—and it is curious and sad to see them rejoicing in bondage and miscalling it freedom. It makes one long to see them struck by an emergency, bringing a flash of inner light which is often the beginning of an entire change of state. Sometimes the enlightenment comes through one kind of circumstance, sometimes through another; but, if the glimpse of clearer sight it brings is taken advantage of, it will be followed by a time of groping in the dark, and always by more or less suffering. When, however, we know that we are in the dark, there is hope of our coming to the light; and suffering is nothing whatever after it is over and has brought its good results.
If we were to take away the prop of self-approval entirely and immediately from any one of the habitually self-satisfied people, the probable result would be an entire nervous collapse, or even a painful form of insanity; and, in all changes of state from bondage to freedom, the process is and must be exceedingly slow. No one ever strengthened his character with a wrench of impatience, although we are often given the opportunity for a firm and immediate use of the will which leaves lasting strength behind it. For the main growth of our lives, however, we must be steadily patient, content to aim in the true direction day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. If we fall, we must pick ourselves up and go right on,—not stop to be discouraged for one instant after we have recognized our state as a temptation. Whatever the stone may be that we have tripped over, we have learned that it is there, and, while we may trip over the same stone many times, if we learn our lesson each time, it decreases the possible number of stumbles, and smooths our paths more than we know.
There is no exception to the necessity for this patient, steady plodding in the work required to gain our freedom from self-consciousness. It is when we are aware of our bondage that our opportunity to gain our freedom from it really begins. This bondage brings very real suffering, and we may often, without exaggeration, call it torture. It is sometimes even extreme torture, but may have to be endured for a lifetime unless the sufferer has the clear light by which to find his freedom; and, unfortunately, many who might have the light will not use it because they are unwilling to recognize the selfishness that is at the root of their trouble. Some women like to call it "shyness," because the name sounds well, and seems to exonerate them from any responsibility with regard to their defect. Men will rarely speak of their self-consciousness, but, when they do, they are apt to speak of it with more or less indignation and self-pity, as if they were in the clutches of something extraneous to themselves, and over which they can never gain control. If, when a man is complaining of self-consciousness and of its interference with his work in life, you tell him in all kindness that all his suffering has its root in downright selfishness, he will, in most cases, appear not to hear, or he will beg the question, and, having avoided acknowledging the truth, will continue to complain and ask for help, and perhaps wonder whether hypnotism may not help him, or some other form of "cure." Anything rather than look the truth in the face and do the work in himself which, is the only possible road to lasting, freedom. Self-pity, and what may be called spiritual laziness, is at the root of most of the self-torment in the world.
How ridiculous it would seem if a man tried to produce an electric burner according to laws of his own devising, and then sat down and pitied himself because the light would not burn, instead of searching about until he had found the true laws of electricity whose application would make the light shine successfully. How ridiculous it would seem if a man tried to make water run up hill without providing that it should do so by reaching its own level, and then got indignant because he did not succeed, and wondered if there were not some "cure" by means of which his object might be accomplished. And yet it is no more strange for a man to disobey habitually the laws of character, and then to suffer for his disobedience, and wonder why he suffers.
There is an external necessity for obeying social laws which must be respected, or society would go to pieces; and there is just as great an internal necessity for obeying spiritual laws to gain our proper self-control and power for use; but we do not recognize that necessity because, while disregarding the laws of character, we can still live without the appearance of doing harm to the community. Social laws can be respected in the letter but not in the spirit, whereas spiritual laws must be accepted by the individual heart and practiced by the individual will in order to produce any useful result. Each one of us must do the required work in himself. There is no "cure," no help from outside which can bring one to a lasting freedom.
If self-consciousness makes us blush, the more we are troubled the more it increases, until the blushing may become so unbearable that we are tempted to keep away from people altogether; and thus life, so far as human fellowship goes, would become more and more limited. But, when such a limitation is allowed to remain within us, and we make no effort of our own to find its root and to exterminate it, it warps us through and through. If self-consciousness excites us to talk, and we talk on and on to no end, simply allowing the selfish suffering to goad us, the habit weakens our brains so that in time they lose the power of strong consecutive thought and helpful brevity.
If self-consciousness causes us to wriggle, and strain, and stammer, and we do not recognize the root of the trouble and shun it, and learn to yield and quietly relax our nerves and muscles, of course the strain becomes worse. Then, rather than suffer from it any longer, we keep away from people, just as the blushing man is tempted to do. In that case, the strain is still in us, in the back of our brains, so to speak—because we have not faced and overcome it.
Stage fright is an intense form of self-consciousness, but the man who is incapable of stage fright lacks the sensitive temperament required to achieve great power as an artist. The man who overcomes stage fright by getting out of his own way, and by letting the character he is playing, or the music he is interpreting, work through him as a clear, unselfish channel receives new power for his work in the proportion that he shuns his own interfering selfishness.
But it is with the self-consciousness of everyday life that we have especially to do now, and with the practical wisdom necessary to gain freedom from all its various discomforts; and, even more than that, to gain the new power for useful service which comes from the possession of that freedom.
The remedy is to be found in obedience to the law of unselfishness, carried out into the field of nervous suffering.
Whatever one may think, however one may try to dodge the truth by this excuse or that, the conditions to be fulfilled in order to gain freedom from self-consciousness are absolutely within the individual who suffers. When we once understand this, and are faced toward the truth, we are sure to find our way out, with more or less rapidity, according to the strength with which we use our wills in true obedience.
First, we must be willing to accept the effects of self-consciousness. The more we resist these effects the more they force themselves upon us, and the more we suffer from them. We must be willing to blush, be willing to realize that we have talked too much, and perhaps made ourselves ridiculous. We must be willing to feel the discomforts of self-consciousness in whatever form they may appear. Then—the central point of all—we must know and understand, and not dodge in the very least the truth that the root of self-consciousness is selfishly caring what other people think of us,—and wanting to appear well before them.
Many readers of this article who suffer from self-consciousness will want to deny this; others will acknowledge it, but will declare their inability to live according to the truth; some,—perhaps more than a few,—will recognize the truth and set to work with a will to obey it, and how happily we may look forward to the freedom which will eventually be theirs!
A wise man has said that when people do not think well of us, the first thing to do is to look and see whether they are right. In most cases, even though they way have unkind feelings mingled with their criticism, there is an element of truth in it from which we may profit. In such cases we are much indebted to our critics, for, by taking their suggestions, we are helped toward strength of character and power for use. If there is no truth in the criticism, we need not think of it at all, but live steadily on, knowing that the truth will take care of itself.
We should be willing that any one should think anything of us, so long as we have the strength of a good conscience. We should be willing to appear in any light if that appearance will enhance our use, or is a necessity of growth. If an awkward appearance is necessary in the process of our journey toward freedom, we must not resist the fact of its existence, and should only dwell on it long enough to shun its cause in so far as we can, and gain the good result of the greater freedom which will follow.
It is because the suffering from self-consciousness is often so intense that freedom from it brings, by contrast, so happy and so strong a sense of power.
There is a school for the treatment of stammerers in this country in which the pupils are initiated into the process of cure by being required to keep silence for a week. This would be a most helpful beginning in a training to overcome self-consciousness. We should recognize first that we must be willing to endure the effects of self-consciousness without resistance. Secondly, we should admit that the root of self-consciousness lies entirely in a selfish desire to appear well before others. If, while recognizing these two essential truths and confirming them until they are thoroughly implanted in our brains, we should quietly persist in going among people, the practice of silent attention to others would be of the greatest value in gaining real freedom. The practice of attentive and sympathetic silence might well be followed by people in general far more than it is. The protection of a loving, unselfish silence is very great: a silence which is the result of shunning all selfish, self-assertive, vain, or affected speech; a silence which is never broken for the sake of "making conversation," "showing off," or covering selfish embarrassment; a silence which is full of sympathy and interest,—the power of such a silence cannot be overestimated.
If we have the evil habit of talking for the sake of winning approval, we should practise this silence; or if we talk for the sake of calling attention to ourselves, for the sake of winning sympathy for our selfish pains and sorrows, or for the sake of indulging in selfish emotions, nothing can help us more than the habit of loving and attentive silence.
Only when we know how to practise this—in an impersonal, free and quiet spirit, one which is not due to outward repression of any kind—are we able to talk with quiet, loving, helpful speech. Then may we tell the clean truth without giving unnecessary offence, and then may we soothe and rest, as well as stimulate in, wholesome ways; then, also, will our minds open to receive the good that may come to us through the words and actions of others.
The Circumstances of Life
IT is not the circumstances of life that trouble or weigh upon us, it is the way we take them. If a man is playing a difficult game of chess, the more intricate the moves the more thoughtfully he looks over his own and his opponent's men, and the more fully he is aroused to make the right move toward a checkmate. If, when the game became difficult, the player stopped to be depressed and disheartened, his opponent would probably always checkmate him; whereas, in most cases, the more difficult the game the more thoroughly the players are aroused to do their best, and a difficult game is invariably a good one,—the winner and the loser both feel it to be so,—even though the loser may regret his loss. But—the reader will say—a game of chess is a game only,—neither one's bread and butter nor one's life depend upon winning or losing it. If, however, we need to be cool and quiet and trustful for a game, which is merely an amusement, and if we play the game better for being cool and quiet and trustful, why is not a quiet steadiness in wrestling with the circumstances of life itself just as necessary, not only that we may meet the particular problem of the moment truly, but that we may gain all the experience which may be helpful in meeting other difficult circumstances as they present themselves.
We must first convince ourselves thoroughly of the truth that CIRCUMSTANCES, HOWEVER DIFFICULT, ARE ALWAYS—WITHOUT EXCEPTION, OPPORTUNITIES, AND NOT LIMITATIONS.
They are not by any means opportunities for taking us in the direction that our own selfishness would have us go; they are opportunities which are meant to guide us in the direction we most need to follow,—in the ways that will lead us to the greatest strength in the end.
The most unbelieving of us will admit that "there is a destiny which shapes our ends, rough hew them as we may," and it is in the stupid resistance to having our ends shaped for us that we stop and groan at what we call the limitations of circumstances.
If we were quickly alert to see where circumstances had placed the gate of opportunity, and then steadily persisted in going through it, it would save the loss of energy and happiness which results from obstinately beating our heads against a stone wall where there is no gate, and where there never can be a gate.
Probably there is hardly a reader who will not recall a number of cases in which circumstances appear to have been only limitations to him or to his friends; but if he will try with a willing mind to find the gate of opportunity which was not used, he will be surprised to learn that it was wide open all the time, and might have led him into a new and better country.
The other day a little urchin playing in the street got in the way of a horse, and just saved himself from being run over by a quick jump; he threw up his arms and in a most cheerful voice called out, "It's all right, only different!" If the horse had run over him, he might have said the same thing and found his opportunity to more that was good and useful in life through steady patience on his bed. The trouble is that we are not willing to call it "all right" unless it is the same,—the same in this case meaning whatever may be identical with our own personal ideas of what is "all right." That expressive little bit of slang is full of humor and full of common sense.
If, for instance, when we expect something and are disappointed, we could at once yield out of our resistance and heartily exclaim, "it is all right, only different," how much sooner we should discover the good use in its being different, and how soon we should settle into the sense of its being "all right!" When a circumstance that has seemed to us all wrong can be made, through our quiet way of meeting it, to appear all right, only different, it very soon leads to a wholesome content in the new state of affairs or to a change of circumstances to which we can more readily and happily adjust ourselves.
A strong sense of something's being "all right" means a strong sense of willingness that it should be just as it is. With that clear willingness in our hearts in general, we can adjust ourselves to anything in particular,—even to very sudden and unexpected changes. It is carrying along with us a background of powerful non-resistance which we can bring to the front and use actively at a moment's notice.
It seems odd to think of actively using non-resistance, and yet the expression is not as contradictory as it would appear, for the strength of will it takes to attain an habitual attitude of wholesome non-resistance is far beyond the strength of will required to resist unwholesomely. The stronger, the more fixed and immovable the centre, the more free and adaptable are the circumferences of action; and, even though our central principle is fixed and immovable, it must be elastic enough to enable us to change our point of view whenever we find that by so doing we can gain a broader outlook and greater power for use.
To acquire the strength of will for this habitual non-resistance is sometimes a matter of years of practice. We have to compel ourselves to be "willing," over and over again, at each new opportunity; sometimes the opportunities seem to throng us; and this, truly considered, is only a cause for gratitude.
In life the truest winning often comes first under the guise of failure, and it is willingness to accept failure, and intelligence in understanding its causes, and using the acquired knowledge as a means to a higher end, that ultimately brings true success. If we choose, a failure can always be used as a means to an end rather than as a result in itself.
How often do we hear the complaint, "I could do so well if it were not for my circumstances." How many people are held down for a lifetime by the habitual belief in circumstances as limitations, and by ignoring the opportunities which they afford.
"So long as I must live with these people I can never amount to anything." If this complaint could be changed to the resolve: "I will live with these people until I have so adjusted myself to them as to be contented," a source of weakness would be changed into a source of strength. The quiet activity of mind required to adjust ourselves to difficult surroundings gives a zest and interest to life which we can find in no other way, and adds a certain strength to the character which cannot be found elsewhere. It is interesting to observe, too, how often it happens that, when we have adjusted ourselves to difficult circumstances, we are removed to other circumstances which are more in sympathy with our own, thoughts and ways: and sometimes to circumstances which are more difficult still, and require all the strength and wisdom which our previous discipline has taught us.
If we are alive to our own true freedom, we should have an active interest in the necessary warfare of life. For life is a warfare—not of persons, but of principles—and every man who loves his freedom loves to be in the midst of the battle. Our tendencies to selfish discontent are constantly warring against our love of usefulness and service, and he who wishes to enjoy the full activity of freedom must learn to fight and to destroy the tendencies within himself which stand in the way of his own obedience to law. But he needs, for this, the truthful and open spirit which leads to wise self-knowledge; a quiet and a willing spirit, to make the necessary sacrifice of selfish pride. His quiet earnestness will give him the strength to carry out what his clear vision will reveal to him in the light of truth He will keep his head lifted up above his enemies round about him, so that he may steadily watch and clearly see how best to act. After periods of hard fighting the intervals of rest will be full of refreshment, and will always bring new strength for further activity. If, in the battle with difficult circumstances, we are thrown down, we must pick ourselves up with quick decision, and not waste a moment in complaint or discouragement. We should emphasize to ourselves the necessity for picking ourselves up immediately, and going directly on, over and over again,—both for our own benefit, and the benefit of those whom we have the privilege of helping.
In the Japanese training of "Jiu Jitsu," the idea seems to be to drop all subjective resistance, and to continue to drop it, until, through the calmness and clearness of sight that comes from quiet nerves and a free mind, the wrestler can see where to make the fatal stroke. When the right time has arrived, the only effort which is necessary is quick, sharp and conclusive. This wonderful principle is often misused for selfish ends, and in such cases it leads eventually to bondage because, by the successful satisfaction of selfish motives, it strengthens the hold of our selfishness upon us; but, when used in an unselfish spirit, it is an ever-increasing source of strength. In the case of difficult circumstances,—if we cease to resist,—if we accept the facts of life,—if we are willing to be poor, or ill, or disappointed, or to live with people we do not like,—we gain a quietness of nerve and a freedom of mind which clears off the mists around us, so that our eyes may see and recognize the gate of opportunity,—open before us.