AS A MATTER OF COURSE
ANNIE PAYSON CALL
Author of "Power Through Repose," "The Freedom of Life,"
"Nerves and Common Sense," Etc.
THE aim of this book is to assist towards the removal of nervous
irritants, which are not only the cause of much physical disease,
but materially interfere with the best possibilities of usefulness
and pleasure in everyday life.
II. PHYSICAL CARE
IV. BRAIN IMPRESSIONS
V. THE TRIVIALITY OF TRIVIALITIES
X. ONE'S SELF
XIII. SENTIMENT VERSUS SENTIMENTALITY
AS A MATTER OF COURSE.
IN climbing a mountain, if we know the path and take it as a matter
of course, we are free to enjoy the beauties of the surrounding
country. If in the same journey we set a stone in the way and
recognize our ability to step over it, we do so at once, and save
ourselves from tripping or from useless waste of time and thought as
to how we might best go round it.
There are stones upon stones in every-day life which might be
stepped over with perfect ease, but which, curiously enough, are
considered from all sides and then tripped upon; and the result is a
stubbing of the moral toes, and a consequent irritation of the
nervous system. Or, if semi-occasionally one of these stones is
stepped over as a matter of course, the danger is that attention is
immediately called to the action by admiring friends, or by the
person himself, in a way so to tickle the nervous system that it
amounts to an irritation, and causes him to trip over the next
stone, and finally tumble on his nose. Then, if he is not wise
enough to pick himself up and walk on with the renewed ability of
stepping over future stones, he remains on his nose far longer than
is either necessary or advisable.
These various stones in the way do more towards keeping a nervous
system in a chronic state of irritation than is imagined. They are
what might perhaps be called the outside elements of life. These
once normally faced, cease to exist as impediments, dwindle away,
and finally disappear altogether.
Thus we are enabled to get nearer the kernel, and have a growing
realization of life itself.
Civilization may give a man new freedom, a freedom beyond any power
of description or conception, except to those who achieve it, or it
may so bind him body and soul that in moments when he recognizes his
nervous contractions he would willingly sell his hope of immortality
to be a wild horse or tiger for the rest of his days.
These stones in the way are the result of a perversion of
civilization, and the cause of much contraction and unnecessary
There is the physical stone. If the health of the body were attended
to as a matter of course, as its cleanliness is attended to by those
of us who are more civilized, how much easier life might be! Indeed,
the various trippings on, and endeavors to encircle, this physical
stone, raise many phantom stones, and the severity of the fall is
just as great when one trips over a stone that is not there. Don
Quixote was quite exhausted when he had been fighting the windmills.
One recognizes over and over the truth spoken by the little girl
who, when reprimanded by her father for being fretful, said: "It
isn't me, papa, it's that banana."
There is also the over-serious stone; and this, so far from being
stepped over or any effort made to encircle it, is often raised to
the undue dignity of a throne, and not rested upon. It seems to
produce an inability for any sort of recreation, and a scorn of the
necessity or the pleasure of being amused. Every one will admit that
recreation is one swing of life's pendulum; and in proportion to the
swing in that direction will be the strength of the swing in the
other direction, and vice versa.
One kind of stone which is not the least among the self-made
impediments is the microscopic faculty which most of us possess for
increasing small, inoffensive pebbles to good-sized rocks. A quiet
insistence on seeing these pebbles in their natural size would
reduce them shortly to a pile of sand which might be easily smoothed
to a level, and add to the comfort of the path. Moods are stones
which not only may be stepped over, but kicked right out of the path
with a good bold stroke. And the stones of intolerance may be
replaced by an open sympathy,--an ability to take the other's point
of view,--which will bring flowers in the path instead.
In dealing with ourselves and others there are stones innumerable,
if one chooses to regard them, and a steadily decreasing number as
one steps over and ignores. In our relations with illness and
poverty, so-called, the ghosts of stones multiply themselves as the
illness or the poverty is allowed to be a limit rather than a guide.
And there is nothing that exorcises all such ghosts more truly than
a free and open intercourse with little children.
If we take this business of slipping over our various nerve-stones
as a matter of course, and not as a matter of sentiment, we get a
powerful result just as surely as we get powerful results in
obedience to any other practical laws.
In bygone generations men used to fight and kill one another for the
most trivial cause. As civilization increased, self-control was
magnified into a virtue, and the man who governed himself and
allowed his neighbor to escape unslain was regarded as a hero.
Subsequently, general slashing was found to be incompatible with a
well-ordered community, and forbearance in killing or scratching or
any other unseemly manner of attacking an enemy was taken as a
matter of course.
Nowadays we do not know how often this old desire to kill is
repressed, a brain-impression of hatred thereby intensified, and a
nervous irritation caused which has its effect upon the entire
disposition. It would hardly be feasible to return to the killing to
save the irritation that follows repression; civilization has taken
us too far for that. But civilization does not necessarily mean
repression. There are many refinements of barbarity in our
civilization which might be dropped now, as the coarser expressions
of such states were dropped by our ancestors to enable them to reach
the present stage of knives and forks and napkins. And inasmuch as
we are farther on the way towards a true civilization, our progress
should be more rapid than that of our barbaric grandfathers. An
increasingly accelerated progress has proved possible in scientific
research and discovery; why not, then, in our practical dealings
with ourselves and one another?
Does it not seem likely that the various forms of nervous
irritation, excitement, or disease may result as much from the
repressed savage within us as from the complexity of civilization?
The remedy is, not to let the savage have his own way; with many of
us, indeed, this would be difficult, because of the generations of
repression behind us. It is to cast his skin, so to speak, and rise
to another order of living.
Certainly repression is only apparent progress. No good physician
would allow it in bodily disease, and, on careful observation, the
law seems to hold good in other phases of life.
There must be a practical way by which these stones, these survivals
of barbaric times, may be stepped over and made finally to
The first necessity is to take the practical way, and not the
sentimental. Thus true sentiment is found, not lost.
The second is to follow daily, even hourly, the process of stepping
over until it comes to be indeed a matter of course. So, little by
little, shall we emerge from this mass of abnormal nervous
irritation into what is more truly life itself.
REST, fresh air, exercise, and nourishment, enough of each in
proportion to the work done, are the material essentials to a
healthy physique. Indeed, so simple is the whole process of physical
care, it would seem absurd to write about it at all. The only excuse
for such writing is the constant disobedience to natural laws which
has resulted from the useless complexity of our civilization.
There is a current of physical order which, if one once gets into
it, gives an instinct as to what to do and what to leave undone, as
true as the instinct which leads a man to wash his hands when they
need it, and to wash them often enough so that they never remain
soiled for any length of time, simply because that state is
uncomfortable to their owner. Soap and water are not unpleasant to
most of us in their process of cleansing; we have to deny ourselves
nothing through their use. To keep the digestion in order, it is
often necessary to deny ourselves certain sensations of the palate
which are pleasant at the time. So by a gradual process of not
denying we are swung out of the instinctive nourishment-current, and
life is complicated for us either by an amount of thought as to what
we should or should not eat, or by irritations which arise from
having eaten the wrong food. It is not uncommon to find a mind taken
up for some hours in wondering whether that last piece of cake will
digest. We can easily see how from this there might be developed a
nervous sensitiveness about eating which would prevent the
individual from eating even the food that is nourishing. This last
is a not unusual form of dyspepsia,--a dyspepsia which keeps itself
alive on the patient's want of nourishment.
Fortunately the process of getting back into the true food-current
is not difficult if one will adopt it The trouble is in making the
bold plunge. If anything is eaten that is afterwards deemed to have
been imprudent, let it disagree. Take the full consequences and bear
them like a man, with whatever remedies are found to lighten the
painful result. Having made sure through bitter experience that a
particular food disagrees, simply do not take it again, and think
nothing about it. It does not exist for you. A nervous resistance to
any sort of indigestion prolongs the attack and leaves, a
brain-impression which not only makes the same trouble more liable
to recur, but increases the temptation to eat forbidden fruit. Of
course this is always preceded by a full persuasion that the food is
not likely to disagree with us now simply because it did before. And
to some extent, this is true. Food that will bring pain and
suffering when taken by a tired stomach, may prove entirely
nourishing when the stomach is rested and ready for it. In that
case, the owner of the stomach has learned once for all never to
give his digestive apparatus work to do when it is tired. Send a
warm drink as a messenger to say that food is coming later, give
yourself a little rest, and then eat your dinner. The fundamental
laws of health in eating are very simple; their variations for
individual needs must be discovered by each for himself.
"But," it may be objected, "why make all this fuss, why take so much
thought about what I eat or what I do not eat?" The special thought
is simply to be taken at first to get into the normal habit, and as
a means of forgetting our digestion just as we forget the washing of
our hands until we are reminded by some discomfort; whereupon we
wash them and forget again. Nature will not allow us to forget. When
we are not obeying her laws, she is constantly irritating us in one
way or another. It is when we obey, and obey as a matter of course,
that she shows herself to be a tender mother, and helps us to a real
companionship with her.
Nothing is more amusing, nothing could appeal more to Mother
Nature's sense of humor, than the various devices for exercise which
give us a complicated self-consciousness rather than a natural
development of our physical powers. Certain simple exercises are
most useful, and if the weather is so inclement that they cannot be
taken in the open air, it is good to have a well-ventilated hall.
Exercise with others, too, is stimulating, and more invigorating
when there is air enough and to spare. But there is nothing that
shows the subjective, self-conscious state of this generation more
than the subjective form which exercise takes. Instead of games and
play or a good vigorous walk in the country, there are endless
varieties of physical culture, most of it good and helpful if taken
as a means to an end, but almost useless as it is taken as an end in
itself; for it draws the attention to one's self and one's own
muscles in a way to make the owner serve the muscle instead of the
muscle being made to serve the owner. The more physical exercise can
be simplified and made objective, the more it serves its end. To
climb a high mountain is admirable exercise, for we have the summit
as an end, and the work of climbing is steadily objective, while we
get the delicious effect of a freer circulation and all that it
means. There might be similar exercises in gymnasiums, and there
are, indeed, many exercises where some objective achievement is the
end, and the training of a muscle follows as a matter of course.
There is the exercise-instinct; we all have it the more perfectly as
we obey it. If we have suffered from a series of disobediences, it
is a comparatively easy process to work back into obedience.
The fresh-air-instinct is abnormally developed with some of us, but
only with some. The popular fear of draughts is one cause of its
loss. The fear of a draught will cause a contraction, the
contraction will interfere with the circulation, and a cold is the
The effect of vitiated air is well known. The necessity, not only
for breathing fresh air when we are quiet, but for exercising in the
open, grows upon us as we see the result. To feel the need is to
take the remedy, as a matter of course.
The rest-instinct is most generally disobeyed, most widely needed,
and obedience to it would bring the most effective results. A
restful state of mind and body prepares one for the best effects
from exercise, fresh air, and nourishment. This instinct is the more
disobeyed because with the need for rest there seems to come an
inability to take it, so that not only is every impediment
magnified, but imaginary impediments are erected, and only a decided
and insistent use of the will in dropping everything that
interferes, whether real or imaginary, will bring a whiff of a
breeze from the true rest-current. Rest is not always silence, but
silence is always rest; and a real silence of the mind is known by
very few. Having gained that, or even approached it, we are taken by
the rest-wind itself, and it is strong enough to bear our full
weight as it swings us along to renewed life and new strength for
work to come.
The secret is to turn to silence at the first hint from nature; and
sleep should be the very essence of silence itself.
All this would be very well if we were free to take the right amount
of rest, fresh air, exercise, and nourishment; but many of us are
not. It will not be difficult for any one to call to mind half a
dozen persons who impede the good which might result from the use of
these four necessities simply by complaining that they cannot have
their full share of either. Indeed, some of us may find in ourselves
various stones of this sort stopping the way. To take what we can
and be thankful, not only enables us to gain more from every source
of health, but opens the way for us to see clearly how to get more.
This complaint, however, is less of an impediment than the whining
and fussing which come from those who are free to take all four in
abundance, and who have the necessity of their own especial physical
health so much at heart that there is room to think of little else.
These people crowd into the various schools of physical culture by
the hundred, pervade the rest-cures, and are ready for any new
physiological fad which may arise, with no result but more physical
culture, more rest-cure, and more fads. Nay, there is sometimes one
other result,--disease. That gives them something tangible to work
for or to work about. But all their eating and breathing and
exercising and resting does not bring lasting vigorous health,
simply because they work at it as an end, of which self is the
centre and circumference.
The sooner our health-instinct is developed, and then taken as a
matter of course, the sooner can the body become a perfect servant,
to be treated with true courtesy, and then forgotten. Here is an
instinct of our barbarous ancestry which may be kept and refined
through all future phases of civilization. This instinct is natural,
and the obedience to it enables us to gain more rapidly in other,
higher instincts which, if our ancestors had at all, were so
embryonic as not to have attained expression.
Nourishment, fresh air, exercise, rest,--so far as these are not
taken simply and in obedience to the natural instinct, there arise
physical stones in the way, stones that form themselves into an
apparently insurmountable wall. There is a stile over that wall,
however, if we will but open our eyes to see it. This stile,
carefully climbed, will enable us to step over the few stones on the
other side, and follow the physical path quite clearly.
THE ability to be easily and heartily amused brings a wholesome
reaction from intense thought or hard work of any kind which does
more towards keeping the nervous system in a normal state than
almost anything else of an external kind.
As a Frenchman very aptly said: "This is all very well, all this
study and care to relieve one's nerves; but would it not be much
simpler and more effective to go and amuse one's self ?" The same
Frenchman could not realize that in many countries amusement is
almost a lost art. Fortunately, it is not entirely lost; and the
sooner it is regained, the nearer we shall be to health and
One of the chief impediments in the way of hearty amusement is
over-seriousness. There should be two words for "serious," as there
are literally two meanings. There is a certain intense form of
taking the care and responsibility of one's own individual
interests, or the interests of others which are selfishly made one's
own, which leads to a surface-seriousness that is not only a chronic
irritation of the nervous system, but a constant distress to those
who come under this serious care. This is taking life _au grand
serieux_. The superficiality of this attitude is striking, and would
be surprising could the sufferer from such seriousness once see
himself (or more often it is herself) in a clear light. It is quite
common to call such a person over-serious, when in reality he is not
serious enough. He or she is laboring under a sham seriousness, as
an actor might who had such a part to play and merged himself in the
character. These people are simply exaggerating their own importance
to life, instead of recognizing life's importance to them. An
example of this is the heroine of Mrs. Ward's "Robert Elsmere," who
refused to marry because the family could not get on without her;
and when finally she consented, the family lived more happily and
comfortably than when she considered herself their leader. If this
woman's seriousness, which blinded her judgment, had been real
instead of sham, the state of the case would have been quite clear
to her; but then, indeed, there would have been no case at all.
When seriousness is real, it is never intrusive and can never be
overdone. It is simply a quiet, steady obedience to recognized laws
followed as a matter of course, which must lead to a clearer
appreciation of such laws, and of our own freedom in obeying them.
Whereas with a sham seriousness we dwell upon the importance of our
own relation to the law, and our own responsibility in forcing
others to obey. With the real, it is the law first, and then my
obedience. With the sham, it is myself first, and then the laws; and
often a strained obedience to laws of my own making.
This sham seriousness, which is peculiarly a New England trait, but
may also be found in many other parts of the world, is often the
perversion of a strong, fine nature. It places many stones in the
way, most of them phantoms, which, once stepped over and then
ignored, brings to light a nature nobly expansive, and a source of
joy to all who come in contact with it. But so long as the
"seriousness "lasts, it is quite incompatible with any form of real
For the very essence of amusement is the child-spirit. The child
throws himself heartily and spontaneously into the game, or whatever
it may be, and forgets that there is anything else in the world, for
the time being. Children have nothing else to remember. We have the
advantage of them there, in the pleasure of forgetting and in the
renewed strength with which we can return to our work or care, in
consequence. Any one who cannot play children's games with children,
and with the same enjoyment that children have, does not know the
spirit of amusement. For this same spirit must be taken into all
forms of amusement, especially those that are beyond the childish
mind, to bring the delicious reaction which nature is ever ready to
bestow. This is almost a self-evident truth; and yet so confirmed is
man in his sham maturity that it is quite common to see one look
with contempt, and a sense of superiority which is ludicrous, upon
another who is enjoying a child's game like a child. The trouble is
that many of us are so contracted in and oppressed by our own
self-consciousness that open spontaneity is out of the question and
even inconceivable. The sooner we shake it off, the better. When the
great philosopher said, "Except ye become as little children," he
must have meant it all the way through in spirit, if not in the
letter. It certainly is the common-sense view, whichever way we look
at it, and proves as practical as walking upon one's feet.
With the spontaneity grows the ability to be amused, and with that
ability comes new power for better and really serious work.
To endeavor with all your might to win, and then if you fail, not to
care, relieves a game of an immense amount of unnecessary nervous
strain. A spirit of rivalry has so taken hold of us and become such
a large stone in the way, that it takes wellnigh a reversal of all
our ideas to realize that this same spirit is quite compatible with
a good healthy willingness that the other man should win--if he can.
Not from the goody-goody motive of wishing your neighbor to
beat,--no neighbor would thank you for playing with him in that
spirit,--but from a feeling that you have gone in to beat, you have
done your best, as far as you could see, and where you have not, you
have learned to do better. The fact of beating is not of paramount
importance. Every man should have his chance, and, from your
opponent's point of view, provided you were as severe on him as you
knew how to be at the time, it is well that he won. You will see
that it does not happen again.
Curious it is that the very men or women who would scorn to play a
child's game in a childlike spirit, will show the best known form of
childish fretfulness and sheer naughtiness in their way of taking a
game which is considered to be more on a level with the adult mind,
and so rasp their nerves and the nerves of their opponents that
recreation is simply out of the question.
Whilst one should certainly have the ability to enjoy a child's game
with a child and like a child, that not only does not exclude the
preference which many, perhaps most of us may have for more mature
games, it gives the power to play those games with a freedom and
ease which help to preserve a healthy nervous system.
If, however, amusement is taken for the sole purpose of preserving a
normal nervous system, or for returning to health, it loses its zest
just in proportion. If, as is often the case, one must force one's
self to it at first, the love of the fun will gradually come as one
ignores the first necessity of forcing; and the interest will come
sooner if a form of amusement is taken quite opposite to the daily
work, a form which will bring new faculties and muscles into action.
There is, of course, nothing that results in a more unpleasant state
of ennui than an excess of amusement. After a certain amount of
careless enjoyment, life comes to a deadly stupid standstill, or the
forms of amusement grow lower. In either case the effect upon the
nervous system is worse even than over-work.
The variety in sources of amusement is endless, and the ability to
get amusement out of almost anything is delightful, as long as it is
After all, our amusement depends upon the way in which we take our
work, and our work, again, depends upon the amusement; they play
back and forth into one another's hands.
The man or the woman who cannot get the holiday spirit, who cannot
enjoy pure fun for the sake of fun, who cannot be at one with a
little child, not only is missing much in life that is clear
happiness, but is draining his nervous system, and losing his better
power for work accordingly.
This anti-amusement stone once removed, the path before us is
entirely new and refreshing.
The power to be amused runs in nations. But each individual is in
himself a nation, and can govern himself as such; and if he has any
desire for the prosperity of his own kingdom, let him order a public
holiday at regular intervals, and see that the people enjoy it.
THE mere idea of a brain clear from false impressions gives a sense
of freedom which is refreshing.
In a comic journal, some years ago, there was a picture of a man in
a most self-important attitude, with two common mortals in the
background gazing at him. "What makes him stand like that?" said
one. "Because," answered the other, "that is his own idea of
himself." The truth suggested in that picture strikes one aghast;
for in looking about us we see constant examples of attitudinizing
in one's own idea of one's self. There is sometimes a feeling of
fright as to whether I am not quite as abnormal in my idea of myself
as are those about me.
If one could only get the relief of acknowledging ignorance of one's
self, light would be welcome, however given. In seeing the truth of
an unkind criticism one could forget to resent the spirit; and what
an amount of nerve-friction might be saved! Imagine the surprise of
a man who, in return for a volley of abuse, should receive thanks
for light thrown upon a false attitude. Whatever we are enabled to
see, relieves us of one mistaken brain-impression, which we can
replace by something more agreeable. And if, in the excitement of
feeling, the mistake was exaggerated, what is that to us? All we
wanted was to see it in quality. As to degree, that lessens in
proportion as the quality is bettered. Fortunately, in living our
own idea of ourselves, it is only ourselves we deceive, with
possible exceptions in the case of friends who are so used to us, or
so over-fond of us, as to lose the perspective.
There is the idea of humility,--an obstinate belief that we know we
are nothing at all, and deserve no credit; which, literally
translated, means we know we are everything, and deserve every
credit. There is the idea, too, of immense dignity, of freedom from
all self-seeking and from all vanity. But it is idle to attempt to
catalogue these various forms of private theatricals; they are
constantly to be seen about us.
It is with surprise unbounded that one hears another calmly assert
that he is so-and-so or so-and-so, and in his next action, or next
hundred actions, sees that same assertion entirely contradicted.
Daily familiarity with the manifestations of mistaken brain-
impressions does not lessen one's surprise at this curious personal
contradiction; it gives one an increasing desire to look to one's
self, and see how far these private theatricals extend in one's own
case, and to throw off the disguise, as far as it is seen, with a
full acknowledgment that there may be--probably is--an abundance
more of which to rid one's self in future. There are many ways in
which true openness in life, one with another, would be of immense
service; and not the least of these is the ability gained to erase
The self-condemnatory brain-impression is quite as pernicious as its
opposite. Singularly enough, it goes with it. One often finds
inordinate self-esteem combined with the most abject condemnation of
self. One can be played against the other as a counter-irritant;
but this only as a process of rousing, for the irritation of either
brings equal misery. I am not even sure that as a rousing process it
is ever really useful. To be clear of a mistaken brain-impression, a
man must recognize it himself; and this recognition can never be
brought about by an unasked attempt of help from another. It is
often cleared by help asked and given; and perhaps more often by
help which is quite involuntary and unconscious. One of the greatest
points in friendly diplomacy is to be open and absolutely frank so
far as we are asked, but never to go beyond. At least, in the
experience of many, that leads more surely to the point where no
diplomacy is needed, which is certainly the point to be aimed at in
friendship. It is trying to see a friend living his own idea of
himself, and to be obliged to wait until he has discovered that he
is only playing a part. But this very waiting may be of immense
assistance in reducing our own moral attitudinizing.
How often do we hear others or find ourselves complaining of a fault
over and over again! "I know that is a fault of mine, and has been
for years. I wish I could get over it." "I know that is a fault of
mine,"--one brain-impression; "it has been for years,"--a dozen or
more brain-impressions, according to the number of years; until we
have drilled the impression of that fault in, by emphasizing it over
and over, to an extent which daily increases the difficulty of
So, if we have the habit of unpunctuality, and emphasize it by
deploring it, it keeps us always behind time. If we are
sharp-tongued, and dwell with remorse on something said in the past,
it increases the tendency in the future.
The slavery to nerve habit is a well-known physiological fact; but
nerve habit may be strengthened negatively as well as positively.
When this is more widely recognized, and the negative practice
avoided, much will have been done towards freeing us from our
subservience to mistaken brain-impressions.
Let us take an instance: unpunctuality-for example, as that is a
common form of repetition. If we really want to rid ourselves of the
habit, suppose every time we are late we cease to deplore it; make a
vivid mental picture of ourselves as being on time at the next
appointment; then, with the how and the when clearly impressed upon
our minds, there should be an absolute refusal to imagine ourselves
anything but early. Surely that would be quite as effective as a
constant repetition of the regret we feel at being late, whether
this is repeated aloud to others, or only in our own minds. As we
place the two processes side by side, the latter certainly has the
advantage, and might be tried, until a better is found.
Of course we must beware of getting an impression of promptness
which has no ground in reality. It is quite possible for an
individual to be habitually and exasperatingly late, with all the
air and innocence of unusual punctuality.
It would strike us as absurd to see a man painting a house the color
he did not like, and go on painting it the same color, to show
others and himself that which he detested. Is it not equally absurd
for any of us, through the constant expression of regret for a
fault, to impress the tendency to it more and more upon the brain?
It is intensely sad when the consciousness of evil once committed
has so impressed a man with a sense of guilt as to make him steadily
undervalue himself and his own powers.
Here is a case where one's own idea of one's self is seventy-five
per cent below par; and a gentle and consistent encouragement in
raising that idea is most necessary before par is reached
And par, as I understand it, is simple freedom from any fixed idea
of one's self, either good or bad.
If fixed impressions of one's self are stones in the way, the same
certainly holds good with fixed impressions of others. Unpleasant
brain-impressions of others are great weights, and greater
impediments in the way of clearing our own brains. Suppose So-
and-so had such a fault yesterday; it does not follow that he has
not rid himself of at least part of it to-day. Why should we hold
the brain-impression of his mistake, so that every time we look at
him we make it stronger? He is not the gainer thereby, and we
certainly are the losers. Repeated brain-impressions of another's
faults prevent our discerning his virtues. We are constantly
attributing to him disagreeable motives, which arise solely from our
idea of him, and of which he is quite innocent. Not only so, but our
mistaken impressions increase his difficulty in rising to the best
of himself. For any one whose temperament is in the least sensitive
is oppressed by what he feels to be another's idea of him, until he
learns to clear himself of that as well as of other
It is not uncommon to hear one go over and over a supposed injury,
or even small annoyances from others, with the reiterated assertion
that he fervently desires to forget such injury or annoyances. This
fervent desire to forgive and forget expresses itself by a repeated
brain-impression of that which is to be forgiven; and if this is so
often repeated in words, how many times more must it be repeated
mentally! Thus, the brain-impression is increased until at last
forgetting seems out of the question. And forgiving is impossible
unless one can at the same time so entirely forget the ill-feeling
roused as to place it beyond recall.
Surely, if we realized the force and influence of unpleasant
brain-impressions, it would be a simple matter to relax and let them
escape, to be replaced by others that are only pleasant It cannot be
that we enjoy the discomfort of the disagreeable impressions.
And yet, so curiously perverted is human nature that we often hear a
revolting story told with the preface, "Oh, I can't bear to think of
it! "And the whole story is given, with a careful attention to
detail which is quite unnecessary, even if there were any reason for
telling the story at all, and generally concluded with a repetition
of the prefatory exclamation. How many pathetic sights are told of,
to no end but the repetition of an unpleasant brain-impression. How
many past experiences, past illnesses, are gone over and over, which
serve the same worse than useless purpose,--that of repeating and
emphasizing the brain-impression.
A little pain is made a big one by persistent dwelling upon it; what
might have been a short pain is sometimes lengthened for a lifetime.
Similarly, an old pain is brought back by recalling a
The law of association is well known. We all know how familiar
places and happenings will recall old feelings; we can realize this
at any time by mentally reviving the association. By dwelling on the
pain we had yesterday we are encouraging it to return to-morrow. By
emphasizing the impression of an annoyance of to-day we are making
it possible to suffer beyond expression from annoyances to come; and
the annoyances, the pains, the disagreeable feelings will find their
old brain-grooves with remarkable rapidity when given the ghost of a
I have known more than one case where a woman kept herself ill by
the constant repetition, to others and to herself, of a nervous
shock. A woman who had once been frightened by burglars refused to
sleep for fear of being awakened by more burglars, thus increasing
her impression of fear; and of course, if she slept at all, she was
liable at any time to wake with a nervous start. The process of
working herself into nervous prostration through this constant,
useless repetition was not slow.
The fixed impressions of preconceived ideas in any direction are
strangely in the way of real freedom. It is difficult to catch new
harmonies with old ones ringing in our ears; still more difficult
when we persist in listening at the same time to discords.
The experience of arguing with another whose preconceived idea is so
firmly fixed that the argument is nothing but a series of circles,
might be funny if it were not sad; and it often is funny, in spite
of the sadness.
Suppose we should insist upon retaining an unpleasant
brain-impression, only when and so long as it seemed necessary in
order to bring a remedy. That accomplished, suppose we dropped it on
the instant. Suppose, further, that we should continue this process,
and never allow ourselves to repeat a disagreeable brain-impression
aloud or mentally. Imagine the result. Nature abhors a vacuum;
something must come in place of the unpleasantness; therefore way is
made for feelings more comfortable to one's self and to others.
Bad feelings cause contraction, good ones expansion. Relax the
muscular contraction; take a long, free breath of fresh air, and
expansion follows as a matter of course. Drop the brain-contraction,
take a good inhalation of whatever pleasant feeling is nearest, and
the expansion is a necessary consequence.
As we expand mentally, disagreeable brain-impressions, that in
former contracted states were eclipsed by greater ones, will be
keenly felt, and dropped at once, for the mere relief thus obtained.
The healthier the brain, the more sensitive it is to false
impressions, and the more easily are they dropped.
One word by way of warning. We never can rid ourselves of an
uncomfortable brain-impression by saying, "I will try to think
something pleasant of that disagreeable man." The temptation, too,
is very common to say to ourselves clearly, "I will try to think
something pleasant," and then leave "of that disagreeable man" a
subtle feeling in the background. The feeling in the background,
however unconscious we may be of it, is a strong
brain-impression,--all the stronger because we fail to recognize
it,--and the result of our "something pleasant" is an insidious
complacency at our own magnanimous disposition. Thus we get the
disagreeable brain-impression of another, backed up by our agreeable
brain-impression of ourselves, both mistaken. Unless we keep a sharp
look-out, we may here get into a snarl from which extrication is
slow work. Neither is it possible to counteract an unpleasant
brain-impression by something pleasant but false. We must call a
spade a spade, but not consider it a component part of the man who
handles it, nor yet associate the man with the spade, or the spade
with the man. When we drop it, so long as we drop it for what it is
worth, which is nothing in the case of the spade in question, we
have dropped it entirely. If we try to improve our brain-impression
by insisting that a spade is something better and pleasanter, we are
transforming a disagreeable impression to a mongrel state which
again brings anything but a happy result.
Simply to refuse all unpleasant brain-impressions, with no effort or
desire to recast them into something that they are not, seems to be
the only clear process to freedom. Not only so, but whatever there
might have been pleasant in what seemed entirely unpleasant can more
truly return as we drop the unpleasantness completely. It is a good
thing that most of us can approach the freedom of such a change in
imagination before we reach it in reality. So we can learn more
rapidly not to hamper ourselves or others by retaining disagreeable
brain-impressions of the present, or by recalling others of the past.
THE TRIVIALITY OF TRIVIALITIES.
LIFE is clearer, happier, and easier for us as things assume their
true proportions. I might better say, as they come nearer in
appearance to their true proportions; for it seems doubtful whether
any one ever reaches the place in this world where the sense of
proportion is absolutely normal. Some come much nearer than others;
and part of the interest of living is the growing realization of
better proportion, and the relief from the abnormal state in which
circumstances seem quite out of proportion in their relation to one
Imagine a landscape-painter who made his cows as large as the
houses, his blades of grass waving above the tops of the trees, and
all things similarly disproportionate. Or, worse, imagine a disease
of the retina which caused a like curious change in the landscape
itself wherein a mountain appeared to be a mole-hill, and a
mole-hill a mountain.
It seems absurd to think of. And, yet, is not the want of a true
sense of proportion in the circumstances and relations of life quite
as extreme with many of us? It is well that our physical sense
remains intact. If we lost that too, there would seem to be but
little hope indeed. Now, almost the only thing needed for a rapid
approach to a more normal mental sense of proportion is a keener
recognition of the want. But this want must be found first in
ourselves, not in others. There is the inclination to regard our own
life as bigger and more important than the life of any one about us;
or the reverse attitude of bewailing its lack of importance, which
is quite the same. In either case our own life is dwelt upon first.
Then there is the immediate family, after that our own especial
friends,--all assuming a gigantic size which puts quite out of the
question an occasional bird's-eye view of the world in general. Even
objects which might be in the middle distance of a less extended
view are quite screened by the exaggerated size of those which seem
to concern us most immediately.
One's own life is important; one's own family and friends are
important, very, when taken in their true proportion. One should
surely be able to look upon one's own brothers and sisters as if
they were the brothers and sisters of another, and to regard the
brothers and sisters of another as one's own. Singularly, too, real
appreciation of and sympathy with one's own grows with this broader
sense of relationship. In no way is this sense shown more clearly
than by a mother who has the breadth and the strength to look upon
her own children as if they belonged to some one else, and upon the
children of others as if they belonged to her. But the triviality of
magnifying one's own out of all proportion has not yet been
recognized by many.
So every trivial happening in our own lives or the lives of those
connected with us is exaggerated, and we keep ourselves and others
in a chronic state of contraction accordingly.
Think of the many trifles which, by being magnified and kept in the
foreground, obstruct the way to all possible sight or appreciation
of things that really hold a more important place. The cook, the
waitress, various other annoyances of housekeeping; a gown that does
not suit, the annoyances of travel, whether we said the right thing
to so-and-so, whether so-and-so likes us or does not like
us,--indeed, there is an immense army of trivial imps, and the
breadth of capacity for entertaining these imps is so large in some
of us as to be truly encouraging; for if the domain were once
deserted by the imps, there remains the breadth, which must have the
same capacity for holding something better. Unfortunately, a long
occupancy by these miserable little offenders means eventually the
saddest sort of contraction. What a picture for a new Gulliver!--a
human being overwhelmed by the imps of triviality, and bound fast to
the ground by manifold windings of their cobweb-sized thread.
This exaggeration of trifles is one form of nervous disease. It
would be exceedingly interesting and profitable to study the various
phases of nervous disease as exaggerated expressions of perverted
character. They can be traced directly and easily in many cases. If
a woman fusses about trivialities, she fusses more when she is
tired. The more fatigue, the more fussing; and with a persistent
tendency to fatigue and fussing it does not take long to work up or
down to nervous prostration. From this form of nervous excitement
one never really recovers, except by a hearty acknowledgment of the
trivialities as trivialities, when, with growing health, there is a
growing sense of true proportion.
I have seen a woman spend more attention, time, and nerve-power on
emphasizing the fact that her hands were all stained from the dye on
her dress than a normal woman would take for a good hour's work. As
she grew better, this emphasizing of trivialities decreased, but, of
course, might have returned with any over-fatigue, unless it had
been recognized, taken at its worth, and simply dropped. Any one can
think of example after example in his own individual experience,
when he has suffered unnecessary tortures through the regarding of
trifling things, either by himself or by some one near him. With
many, the first instance will probably be to insist, with emphasis
and some feeling, that they are _not_ trivialities.
Trivialities have their importance _when given their true proportion_.
The size of a triviality is often exaggerated as much by neglect as
by an undue amount of attention. When we do what we can to amend an
annoyance, and then think no more about it until there appears
something further to do, the saving of nervous force is very great.
Yet, so successful have these imps of triviality come to be in their
rule of human nature that the trivialities of the past are
oftentimes dwelt upon with as much earnestness as if they belonged
to the present.
The past itself is a triviality, except in its results. Yet what an
immense screen it is sometimes to any clear understanding or
appreciation of the present! How many of us have listened over and
over to the same tale of past annoyances, until we wonder how it can
be possible that the constant repetition is not recognized by the
narrator! How many of us have been over and over in our minds past
troubles, little and big, so that we have no right whatever to feel
impatient when listening to such repetitions by others! Here again
we have, in nervous disease, the extreme of a common trait in
humanity. With increased nervous fatigue there is always an increase
of the tendency to repetition. Best drop it before it gets to the
fatigue stage, if possible.
Then again there are the common things of life, such as dressing and
undressing, and the numberless every-day duties. It is possible to
distort them to perfect monstrosities by the manner of dwelling upon
them. Taken as a matter of course, they are the very triviality of
trivialities, and assume their place without second thought.
When life seems to get into such a snarl that we despair of
disentangling it, a long journey and change of human surroundings
enable us to take a distant view, which not uncommonly shows the
tangle to be no tangle at all. Although we cannot always go upon a
material journey, we can change the mental perspective, and it is
this adjustment of the focus which brings our perspective into truer
proportions. Having once found what appears to be the true focus,
let us be true to it. The temptations to lose one's focus are many,
and sometimes severe. When temporarily thrown off our balance, the
best help is to return at once, without dwelling on the fact that we
have lost the focus longer than is necessary to find it again. After
that, our focus is better adjusted and the range steadily expanded.
It is impossible for us to widen the range by thinking about it;
holding the best focus we know in our daily experience does that
Thus the proportions arrange themselves; we cannot arrange the
proportions. Or, what is more nearly the truth, the proportions are
in reality true, to begin with. As with the imaginary eye-disease,
which transformed the relative sizes of the component parts of a
landscape, the fault is in the eye, not in the landscape; so, when
the circumstances of life are quite in the wrong proportion to one
another, in our own minds, the trouble is in the mental sight, not
in the circumstances.
There are many ways of getting a better focus, and ridding one's
self of trivial annoyances. One is, to be quiet; get at a good
mental distance. Be sure that you have a clear view, and then hold
it. Always keep your distance; never return to the old stand-point
if you can manage to keep away.
We may be thankful if trivialities annoy us as trivialities. It is
with those who have the constant habit of dwelling on them without
feeling the discomfort that a return to freedom seems impossible.
As one comes to realize, even in a slight degree, the triviality of
trivialities, and then forget them entirely in a better idea of true
proportion, the sense of freedom gained is well worth working for.
It certainly brings the possibility of a normal nervous system much
RELIEF from the mastery of an evil mood is like fresh air after
having been several hours in a close room.
If one should go to work deliberately to break up another's nervous
system, and if one were perfectly free in methods of procedure, the
best way would be to throw upon the victim in rapid sequence a long
series of the most extreme moods. The disastrous result could be
hastened by insisting that each mood should be resisted as it
manifested itself, for then there would be the double strain,--the
strain of the mood, and the strain of resistance. It is better to
let a mood have its way than to suppress it. The story of the man
who suffered from varicose veins and was cured by the waters of
Lourdes, only to die a little later from an affection of the heart
which arose from the suppression of the former disease, is a good
illustration of the effect of mood-suppression. In the case cited,
death followed at once; but death from repeated impressions of moods
resisted is long drawn out, and the suffering intense, both for the
patient and for his friends.
The only way to drop a mood is to look it in the face and call it by
its right name; then by persistent ignoring, sometimes in one way,
sometimes in another, finally drop it altogether. It takes a looser
hold next time, and eventually slides off entirely. To be sure,
over-fatigue, an attack of indigestion, or some unexpected contact
with the same phase in another, may bring back the ghost of former
moods. These ghosts may even materialize, unless the practice of
ignoring is at once referred to; but they can ultimately be routed
A great help in gaining freedom from moods is to realize clearly
their superficiality. Moods are deadly, desperately serious things
when taken seriously and indulged in to the full extent of their
power. They are like a tiny spot directly in front of the eye. We
see that, and that only. It blurs and shuts out everything else. We
groan and suffer and are unhappy and wretched, still persistently
keeping our eye on the spot, until finally we forget that there is
anything else in the world. In mind and body we are impressed by
that and that alone. Thus the difficulty of moving off a little
distance is greatly increased, and liberation is impossible until we
do move away, and, by a change of perspective, see the spot for what
it really is.
Let any one who is ruled by moods, in a moment when he is absolutely
free from them, take a good look at all past moody states, and he
will see that they come from nothing, go to nothing, and, are
nothing. Indeed, that has been and is often done by the moody
person, with at the same time an unhappy realization that when the
moods are on him, they are as real as they are unreal when he is
free. To treat a mood as a good joke when you are in its clutches,
is simply out of the question. But to say, "This now is a mood. Come
on, do your worst; I can stand it as long as you can," takes away
all nerve-resistance, until the thing has nothing to clutch, and
dissolves for want of nourishment. If it proves too much for one at
times, and breaks out in a bad expression of some sort, a quick
acknowledgment that you are under the spell of a bad mood, and a
further invitation to come on if it wants to, will loosen the hold
If the mood is a melancholy one, speak as little as possible under
its influence; go on and do whatever there is to be done, not
resisting it in any way, but keep busy.
This non-resistance can, perhaps, be better illustrated by taking,
instead of a mood, a person who teases. It is well known that the
more we are annoyed, the more our opponent teases; and that the
surest and quickest way of freeing ourselves is not to be teased. We
can ignore the teaser externally with an internal irritation which
he sees as clearly as if we expressed it. We can laugh in such a way
that every sound of our own voice proclaims the annoyance we are
trying to hide. It is when we take his words for what they are
worth, and go with him, that the wind is taken out of his sails, and
he stops because there is no fun in it. The experience with a mood
is quite parallel, though rather more difficult at first, for there
is no enemy like the enemies in one's self, no teasing like the
teasing from one's self. It takes a little longer, a little heartier
and more persistent process of non-resistance to cure the teasing
from one's own nature. But the process is just as certain, and the
freedom greater in result.
Why is it not clear to us that to set our teeth, clench our hands,
or hold any form of extreme tension and mistaken control, doubles,
trebles, quadruples the impression of the feeling controlled, and
increases by many degrees its power for attacking us another time?
Persistent control of this kind gives a certain sort of strength. It
might be called sham strength, for it takes it out of one in other
ways. But the control that comes from non-resistance brings a
natural strength, which not only steadily increases, but spreads on
all sides, as the growth of a tree is even in its development.
"If a man takes your cloak, give him your coat also; if one compel
you to go a mile, go with him twain." "Love your enemies, do good to
them that hurt you, and pray for them that despitefully use you."
Why have we been so long in realizing the practical, I might say the
physiological, truth of this great philosophy? Possibly because in
forgiving our enemies we have been so impressed with the idea that
it was our enemies we were forgiving. If we realized that following
this philosophy would bring us real freedom, it would be followed
steadily as a matter of course, and with no more sense that we
deserved credit for doing a good thing than a man might have in
walking out of prison when his jailer opened the door. So it is with
our enemies the moods.
I have written heretofore of bad moods only. But there are moods and
moods. In a degree, certainly, one should respect one's moods. Those
who are subject to bad moods are equally subject to good ones, and
the superficiality of the happier modes is just as much to be
recognized as that of the wretched ones. In fact, in recognizing the
shallowness of our happy moods, we are storing ammunition for a
healthy openness and freedom from the opposite forms. With the full
realization that a mood is a mood, we can respect it, and so
gradually reach a truer evenness of life. Moods are phases that we
are all subject to whilst in the process of finding our balance; the
more sensitive and finer the temperament, the more moods. The rhythm
of moods is most interesting, and there is a spice about the change
which we need to give relish to these first steps towards the art of
It is when their seriousness is exaggerated that they lose their
power for good and make slaves of us. The seriousness may be equally
exaggerated in succumbing to them and in resisting them. In either
case they are our masters, and not our slaves. They are steady
consumers of the nervous system in their ups and downs when they
master us; and of course retain no jot of that fascination which is
a good part of their very shallowness, and brings new life as we
take them as a matter of course. Then we are swung in their rhythm,
never once losing sight of the point that it is the mood that is to
serve us, and not we the mood.
As we gain freedom from our own moods, we are enabled to respect
those of others and give up any endeavor to force a friend out of
his moods, or even to lead him out, unless he shows a desire to be
led. Nor do we rejoice fully in the extreme of his happy moods,
knowing the certain reaction.
Respect for the moods of others is necessary to a perfect freedom
from our own. In one sense no man is alone in the world; in another
sense every man is alone; and with moods especially, a man must be
left to work out his own salvation, unless he asks for help. So, as
he understands his moods, and frees himself from their mastery, he
will find that moods are in reality one of Nature's gifts, a sort of
melody which strengthens the harmony of life and gives it fuller
Freedom from moods does not mean the loss of them, any more than
non-resistance means allowing them to master you. It is
non-resistance, with the full recognition of what they are, that
clears the way.
WHEN we are tolerant as a matter of course, the nervous system is
relieved of almost the worst form of persistent irritation it could
The freedom of tolerance can only be appreciated by those who have
known the suffering of intolerance and gained relief.
A certain perspective is necessary to a recognition of the full
absurdity of intolerance. One of the greatest absurdities of it is
evident when we are annoyed and caused intense suffering by our
intolerance of others, and, as a consequence, blame others for the
fatigue or illness which follows. However mistaken or blind other
people may be in their habits or their ideas, it is entirely our
fault if we are annoyed by them. The slightest blame given to
another in such a case, on account of our suffering, is quite out of
Our intolerance is often unconscious. It is disguised under one form
of annoyance or another, but when looked full in the face, it can
only be recognized as intolerance.
Of course, the most severe form is when the belief, the action, or
habit of another interferes directly with our own selfish aims. That
brings the double annoyance of being thwarted and of rousing more
Where our selfish desires are directly interfered with, or even
where an action which we know to be entirely right is prevented,
intolerance only makes matters worse. If expressed, it probably
rouses bitter feelings in another. Whether we express it openly or
not, it keeps us in a state of nervous irritation which is often
most painful in its results. Such irritation, if not extreme in its
effect, is strong enough to keep any amount of pure enjoyment out of
There may be some one who rouses our intolerant feelings, and who
may have many good points which might give us real pleasure and
profit; but they all go for nothing before our blind, restless
It is often the case that this imaginary enemy is found to be a
friend and ally in reality, if we once drop the wretched state of
intolerance long enough to see him clearly.
Yet the promptest answer to such an assertion will probably be,
"That may be so in some cases, but not with the man or woman who
rouses my intolerance."
It is a powerful temptation, this one of intolerance, and takes hold
of strong natures; it frequently rouses tremendous tempests before
it can be recognized and ignored. And with the tempest comes an
obstinate refusal to call it by its right name, and a resentment
towards others for rousing in us what should not have been there to
So long as a tendency to anything evil is in us, it is a good thing
to have it roused, recognized, and shaken off; and we might as
reasonably blame a rock, over which we stumble, for the bruises
received, as blame the person who rouses our intolerance for the
suffering we endure.
This intolerance, which is so useless, seems strangely absurd when
it is roused through some interference with our own plans; but it is
stranger when we are rampant against a belief which does not in any
way interfere with us.
This last form is more prevalent in antagonistic religious beliefs
than in anything else. The excuse given would be an earnest desire
for the salvation of our opponent. But who ever saved a soul through
an ungracious intolerance of that soul's chosen way of believing or
living? The danger of loss would seem to be all on the other side.
One's sense of humor is touched, in spite of one's self, to hear a
war of words and feeling between two Christians whose belief is
supposed to be founded on the axiom, "Judge not, that ye be not
Without this intolerance, argument is interesting, and often
profitable. With it, the disputants gain each a more obstinate
belief in his own doctrines; and the excitement is steadily
destructive to the best health of the nervous system.
Again, there is the intolerance felt from various little ways and
habits of others,--habits which are comparatively nothing in
themselves, but which are monstrous in their effect upon a person
who is intolerant of them.
One might almost think we enjoyed irritated nerves, so persistently
do we dwell upon the personal peculiarities of others. Indeed, there
is no better example of biting off one's own nose than the habit of
intolerance. It might more truly be called the habit of irritating
one's own nervous system.
Having recognized intolerance as intolerance, having estimated it at
its true worth, the next question is, how to get rid of it. The
habit has, not infrequently, made such a strong brain-impression
that, in spite of an earnest desire to shake it off, it persistently
Of course, the soil about the obnoxious growth is loosened the
moment we recognize its true quality. That is a beginning, and the
rest is easier than might be imagined by those who have not tried
Intolerance is an unwillingness that others should live in their own
way, believe as they prefer to, hold personal habits which they
enjoy or are unconscious of, or interfere in any degree with our
ways, beliefs, or habits.
That very sense of unwillingness causes a contraction of the nerves
which is wasteful and disagreeable. The feeling rouses the
contraction, the contraction more feeling; and so the Intolerance is
increased in cause and in effect. The immediate effect of being
willing, on the contrary, is, of course, the relaxation of such
contraction, and a healthy expansion of the nerves.
Try the experiment on some small pet form of intolerance. Try to
realize what it is to feel quite willing. Say over and over to
yourself that you are quite willing So-and-so should make that
curious noise with his mouth. Do not hesitate at the simplicity of
saying the words to yourself; that brings a much quicker effect at
first. By and by we get accustomed to the sensation of willingness,
and can recall it with less repetition of words, or without words at
all. When the feeling of nervous annoyance is roused by the other,
counteract it on the instant by repeating silently: "I am quite
willing you should do that,--do it again." The man or woman,
whoever he or she may be, is quite certain to oblige you! There will
be any number of opportunities to be willing, until by and by the
willingness is a matter of course, and it would not be surprising if
the habit passed entirely unnoticed, as far as you are concerned.
This experiment tried successfully on small things can be carried to
greater. If steadily persisted in, a good fifty per cent of wasted
nervous force can be saved for better things; and this saving of
nervous force is the least gain which comes from a thorough riddance
of every form of intolerance.
"But," it will be objected, "how can I say I am willing when I am
Surely you can see no good from the irritation of unwillingness;
there can be no real gain from it, and there is every reason for
giving it up. A clear realization of the necessity for willingness,
both for our own comfort and for that of others, helps us to its
repetition in words. The words said with sincere purpose, help us to
the feeling, and so we come steadily into clearer light.
Our very willingness that a friend should go the wrong way, if he
chooses, gives us new power to help him towards the right. If we are
moved by intolerance, that is selfishness; with it will come the
desire to force our friend into the way which we consider right.
Such forcing, if even apparently successful, invariably produces a
reaction on the friend's part, and disappointment and chagrin on our
The fact that most great reformers were and are actuated by the very
spirit of intolerance, makes that scorning of the ways of others
seem to us essential as the root of all great reform. Amidst the
necessity for and strength in the reform, the petty spirit of
intolerance intrudes unnoticed. But if any one wants to see it in
full-fledged power, let him study the family of a reformer who have
inherited the intolerance of his nature without the work to which it
This intolerant spirit is not indispensable to great reforms; but it
sometimes goes with them, and is made use of, as intense selfishness
may often be used, for higher ends. The ends might have been
accomplished more rapidly and more effectually with less selfish
instruments. But man must be left free, and if he will not offer
himself as an open channel to his highest impulses, he is used to
the best advantage possible without them.
There is no finer type of a great reformer than Jesus Christ; in his
life there was no shadow of intolerance. From first to last, he
showed willingness in spirit and in action. In upbraiding the
Scribes and Pharisees he evinced no feeling of antagonism; he merely
stated the facts. The same firm calm truth of assertion, carried out
in action, characterized his expulsion of the money-changers from
the temple. When he was arrested, and throughout his trial and
execution, it was his accusers who showed the intolerance; they sent
out with swords and staves to take him, with a show of antagonism
which failed to affect him in the slightest degree.
Who cannot see that, with the irritated feeling of intolerance, we
put ourselves on the plane of the very habit or action we are so
vigorously condemning? We are inviting greater mistakes on our part.
For often the rouser of our selfish antagonism is quite blind to his
deficiencies, and unless he is broader in his way than we are in
ours, any show of intolerance simply blinds him the more.
Intolerance, through its indulgence, has come to assume a monstrous
form. It interferes with all pleasure in life; it makes clear, open
intercourse with others impossible; it interferes with any form of
use into which it is permitted to intrude. In its indulgence it is a
monstrosity,--in itself it is mean, petty, and absurd.
Let us then work with all possible rapidity to relax from
contractions of unwillingness, and become tolerant as a matter of
Whatever is the plan of creation, we cannot improve it through any
antagonistic feeling of our own against creatures or circumstances.
Through a quiet, gentle tolerance we leave ourselves free to be
carried by the laws. Truth is greater than we are, and if we can be
the means of righting any wrong, it is by giving up the presumption
that we can carry truth, and by standing free and ready to let truth
The same willingness that is practised in relation to persons will
be found equally effective in relation to the circumstances of life,
from the losing of a train to matters far greater and more
important. There is as much intolerance to be dropped in our
relations to various happenings as in our relations to persons; and
the relief to our nerves is just as great, perhaps even greater.
It seems to be clear that heretofore we have not realized either the
relief or the strength of an entire willingness that people and
things should progress in their own way. How can we ever gain
freedom whilst we are entangled in the contractions of intolerance?
Freedom and a healthy nervous system are synonymous; we cannot have
one without the other.
SYMPATHY, in its best sense, is the ability to take another's point
of view. Not to mourn because he mourns; not to feel injured because
he feels injured. There are times when we cannot agree with a friend
in the necessity for mourning or feeling injured; but we can
understand the cause of his disturbance, and see clearly that his
suffering is quite reasonable, _from his own point of view_. One
cannot blame a man for being color-blind; but by thoroughly
understanding and sympathizing with the fact that red _must_ be green
as he sees it, one can help him to bring his mental retina to a more
normal state, until every color is taken at its proper value.
This broader sort of sympathy enables us to serve others much more
If we feel at one with a man who is suffering from a supposed injury
which may be entirely his own fault, we are doing all in our power
to confirm him in his mistake, and his impression of martyrdom is
increased and protracted in proportion. But if, with a genuine
comprehension of his point of view, however unreal it may be in
itself, we do our best to see his trouble in an unprejudiced light,
that is sympathy indeed; for our real sympathy is with the man
himself, cleared from his selfish fog. What is called our sympathy
with his point of view is more a matter of understanding. The
sympathy which takes the man for all in all, and includes the
comprehension of his prejudices, will enable us to hold our tongues
with regard to his prejudiced view until he sees for himself or
comes to us for advice.
It is interesting to notice how this sympathy with another enables
us to understand and forgive one from whom we have received an
injury. His point of view taken, his animosity against us seems to
follow as a matter of course; then no time or force need be wasted
Again, you cannot blame a man for being blind, even though his
blindness may be absolutely and entirely selfish, and you the
sufferer in consequence.
It often follows that the endeavor to get a clear understanding of
another's view brings to notice many mistaken ideas of our own, and
thus enables us to gain a better standpoint It certainly helps us to
enduring patience; whereas a positive refusal to regard the
prejudices of another is rasping to our own nerves, and helps to fix
him in whatever contraction may have possessed him.
There can be no doubt that this open sympathy is one of the better
phases of our human intercourse most to be desired. It requires a
clear head and a warm heart to understand the prejudices of a friend
or an enemy, and to sympathize with his capabilities enough to help
him to clearer mental vision.
Often, to be sure, there are two points of view, both equally true.
But they generally converge into one, and that one is more easily
found through not disputing our own with another's. Through sympathy
with him we are enabled to see the right on both sides, and reach
the central point.
It is singular that it takes us so long to recognize this breadth of
sympathy and practise it. Its practice would relieve us of an
immense amount of unnecessary nerve-strain. But the nerve-relief is
the mere beginning of gain to come. It steadily opens a clearer
knowledge and a heartier appreciation of human nature. We see in
individuals traits of character, good and bad, that we never could
have recognized whilst blinded by our own personal prejudices. By
becoming alive to various little sensitive spots in others, we are
enabled to avoid them, and save an endless amount of petty suffering
which might increase to suffering that was really severe.
One good illustration of this want of sympathy, in a small way, is
the waiting-room of a well-known nerve-doctor. The room is in such a
state of confusion, it is such a mixture of colors and forms, that
it would be fatiguing even for a person in tolerable health to stay
there for an hour. Yet the doctor keeps his sensitive, nervously
excited patients sitting in this heterogeneous mass of discordant
objects hour after hour. Surely it is no psychological subtlety of
insight that gives a man of this type his name and fame: it must be
the feeding and resting process alone; for a man of sensitive
sympathy would study to save his patients by taking their point of
view, as well as to bring them to a better physical state through
nourishment and rest
The ability to take a nervous sufferer's point of view is greatly
needed. There can be no doubt that with that effort on the part of
friends and relatives, many cases of severe nervous prostration
might be saved, certainly much nervous suffering could be prevented.
A woman who is suffering from a nervous conscience writes a note
which shows that she is worrying over this or that supposed mistake,
or as to what your attitude is towards her. A prompt, kind, and
direct answer will save her at once from further nervous suffering
of that sort. To keep an anxious person, whether he be sick or well,
watching the mails, is a want of sympathy which is also shown in
many other ways, unimportant, perhaps, to us, but important if we
are broad enough to take the other's point of view.
There are many foolish little troubles from which men and women
suffer that come only from tired nerves. A wise patience with such
anxieties will help greatly towards removing their cause. A wise
patience is not indulgence. An elaborate nervous letter of great
length is better answered by a short but very kind note.
The sympathy which enables us to understand the point of view of
tired nerves gives us the power to be lovingly brief in our response
to them, and at the same time more satisfying than if we responded
Most of us take human nature as a great whole, and judge individuals
from our idea in general. Or, worse, we judge it all from our own
personal prejudices. There is a grossness about this which we wonder
at not having seen before, when we compare the finer sensitiveness
which is surely developed by the steady effort to understand
another's point of view. We know a whole more perfectly as a whole
if we have a distinct knowledge of the component parts. We can only
understand human nature en masse through a daily clearer knowledge
of and sympathy with its individuals. Every one of us knows the
happiness of having at least one friend whom he is perfectly sure
will neither undervalue him nor give him undeserved praise, and
whose friendship and help he can count upon, no matter how great a
wrong he has done, as securely as he could count upon his loving
thought and attention in physical illness. Surely it is possible for
each of us to approach such friendship in our feeling and attitude
towards every one who comes in touch with us.
It is comparatively easy to think of this open sympathy, or even
practise it in big ways; it is in the little matters of everyday
life that the difficulty arises. Of course the big ways count for
less if they come through a brain clogged with little prejudices,
although to some extent one must help the other.
It cannot be that a man has a real open sympathy who limits it to
his own family and friends; indeed, the very limit would make the
open sympathy impossible. One is just as far from a clear
comprehension of human nature when he limits himself by his
prejudices for his immediate relatives as when he makes himself
alone the boundary.
Once having gained even the beginning of this broader sympathy with
others, there follows the pleasure of freedom from antagonisms,
keener delight in understanding others, individually and
collectively, and greater ability to serve others; and all these
must give an impetus which takes us steadily on to greater freedom,
to clearer understanding, and to more power to serve and to be
Others have many experiences which we have never even touched upon.
In that case, our ability to understand is necessarily limited. The
only thing to do is to acknowledge that we cannot see the point of
view, that we have no experience to start from, and to wait with an
open mind until we are able to understand.
Curiously enough, it is precisely these persons of limited
experience who are most prone to prejudice. I have heard a man
assert with emphasis that it was every one's _duty_ to be happy, who
had apparently not a single thing in life to interfere with his own
happiness. The duty may be clear enough, but he certainly was not in
a position to recognize its difficulty. And just in proportion with
his inability to take another's point of view in such difficulty did
he miss his power to lead others to this agreeable duty.
There are, of course, innumerable things, little and big, which we
shall be enabled to give to others and to receive from others as the
true sympathy grows.
The common-sense of it all appeals to us forcibly.
Who wants to carry about a mass of personal prejudices when he can
replace them by the warm, healthy feeling of sympathetic friendship?
Who wants his nerves to be steadily irritated by various forms of
intolerance when, by understanding the other's point of view, he can
replace these by better forms of patience?
This lower relief is little compared with the higher power gained,
but it is the first step up, and the steps beyond go ever upward.
Human nature is worth knowing and worth loving, and it can never be
known or loved without open sympathy.
Why, we ourselves are human nature!
Many of us would be glad to give sympathy to others, especially in
little ways, but we do not know how to go to work about it; we seem
always to be doing the wrong thing, when our desire is to do the
right. This comes, of course, from the same inability to take the
other's point of view; and the ability is gained as we are quiet and
watch for it.
Practice, here as in everything else, is what helps. And the object
is well worth working for.
HOW to live at peace with others is a problem which, if practically
solved, would relieve the nervous system of a great weight, and give
to living a lightness and ease that might for a time seem weirdly
unnatural. It would certainly decrease the income of the
nerve-specialists to the extent of depriving those gentlemen of many
luxuries they now enjoy.
Peace does not mean an outside civility with an inside dislike or
annoyance. In that case, the repressed antagonism not only increases
the brain-impression and wears upon the nervous system, but it is
sure to manifest itself some time, in one form or another; and the
longer it is repressed, the worse will be the effect. It may be a
volcanic eruption that is produced after long repression, which
simmers down to a chronic interior grumble; or it may be that the
repression has caused such steadily increasing contraction that an
eruption is impossible. In this case, life grows heavier and
heavier, burdened with the shackles of one's own dislikes.
If we can only recognize two truths in our relations with others,
and let these truths become to us a matter of course, the worst
difficulties are removed. Indeed, with these two simple bits of
rationality well in hand, we may safely expect to walk amicably side
by side with our dearest foe.
The first is, that dislike, nine times out often, is simply a
"cutaneous disorder." That is, it is merely an irritation excited by
the friction of one nervous system upon another. The tiny tempests
in the tiny teapots which are caused by this nervous friction, the
great weight attached to the most trivial matters of dispute, would
touch one's sense of humor keenly if it were not that in so many
cases these tiny tempests develop into real hurricanes. Take, for
example, two dear and intimate friends who have lived happily
together for years. Neither has a disposition which is perfect; but
that fact has never interfered with their friendship. Both get
over-tired. Words are spoken which sound intensely disagreeable,
even cruel. They really express nothing in the world but tired
nerves. They are received and misinterpreted by tired nerves on the
other side. So these two sets of nerves act and react upon one
another, and from nothing at all is evolved an ill-feeling which, if
allowed to grow, separates the friends. Each is fully persuaded that
his cutaneous trouble has profound depth. By a persistent refusal of
all healing salves it sometimes sinks in until the disease becomes
really deep seated. All this is so unnecessary. Through the same
mistake many of us carry minor dislikes which, on account of their
number and their very pettiness, are wearing upon the nerves, and
keep us from our best in whatever direction we may be working.
The remedy for all these seems very clear when once we find it.
Recognize the shallow-ness of the disorder, acknowledge that it is
a mere matter of nerves, and avoid the friction. Keep your distance.
It is perfectly possible and very comfortable to keep your distance
from the irritating peculiarities of another, while having daily and
familiar relations with him or her. The difficulty is in getting to
a distance when we have allowed ourselves to be over-near; but that,
too, can be accomplished with patience. And by keeping a nervous
distance, so to speak, we are not only relieved from irritation, but
we find a much more delightful friendship; we see and enjoy the
qualities in another which the petty irritations had entirely
obscured from our view. If we do not allow ourselves to be touched
by the personal peculiarities, we get nearer the individual himself.
To give a simple example which would perhaps seem absurd if it had
not been proved true so many times: A man was so annoyed by his
friend's state of nervous excitability that in taking a regular
morning walk with him, which he might have enjoyed heartily, he
always returned fagged out He tried whilst walking beside his friend
to put himself in imagination on the other side of the street The
nervous irritation lessened, and finally ceased; the walk was
delightful, and the friend--never suspected!
A Japanese crowd is so well-bred that no one person touches another;
one need never jostle, but, with an occasional "I beg your pardon,"
can circulate with perfect ease. In such a crowd there can be no
There is a certain good-breeding which leads us to avoid friction
with another's nervous system. It must, however, be an avoidance
inside as well as outside. The subterfuge of holding one's tongue
never works in the end. There is a subtle communication from one
nervous system to another which is more insinuating than any verbal
intercourse. Those nearest us, and whom we really love best, are
often the very persons by whom we are most annoyed. As we learn to
keep a courteous distance from their personal peculiarities our love
grows stronger and more real; and an open frankness in our relation
is more nearly possible. Strangely enough, too, the personal
peculiarities sometimes disappear. It is possible, and quite as
necessary, to treat one's own nervous system with this distant
This brings us to the second simple truth. In nine cases out of ten
the cause of this nervous irritation is in ourselves. If a man loses
his temper and rouses us to a return attack, how can we blame him?
Are we not quite as bad in hitting back? To be sure, he began it.
But did he? How do we know what roused him? Then, too, he might have
poured volleys of abuse upon us, and not provoked an angry retort,
if the temper had not been latent within us, to begin with. So it is
with minor matters. In direct proportion to our freedom from others
is our power for appreciating their good points; just in proportion
to our slavery to their tricks and their habits are we blinded to
their good points and open to increased irritation from their bad
ones. It is curious that it should work that way, but it does. If
there is nothing in us to be roused, we are all free; if we are not
free, it is because there is something in us akin to that which
rouses us. This is hard to acknowledge. But it puts our attitude to
others on a good clean basis, and brings us into reality and out of
private theatricals; not to mention a clearing of the nervous system
which gives us new power.
There is one trouble in dealing with people which does not affect
all of us, but which causes enough pain and suffering to those who
are under its influence to make up for the immunity of the rest.
That is, the strong feeling that many of us have that it is our duty
to reform those about us whose life and ways are not according to
our ideas of right.
No one ever forced another to reform, against that other's will. It
may have appeared so; but there is sure to be a reaction sooner or
later. The number of nervous systems, however, that have been
overwrought by this effort to turn others to better ways, is sad
indeed. And in many instances the owners of these nervous systems
will pose to themselves as martyrs; and they are quite sincere in
such posing. They are living their own impressions of themselves,
and wearing themselves out in consequence. If they really wanted
right for the sake of right, they would do all in their power
without intruding, would recognize the other as a free agent, and
wait. But they want right because it is their way; consequently they
are crushed by useless anxiety, and suffer superfluously. This is
true of those who feel themselves under the necessity of reforming
all who come in touch with them. It is more sadly true of those
whose near friends seem steadily to be working out their own
destruction. To stand aside and be patient in this last case
requires strength indeed. But such patience clears one's mind to
see, and gives power to act when action can prove effective. Indeed,
as the ability to leave others free grows in us, our power really to
The relief to the nervous system of dropping mistaken responsibility
cannot be computed. For it is by means of the nervous system that we
deal with others; it is the medium of our expression and of our
impression. And as it is cleared of its false contractions, does it
not seem probable that we might be opened to an exquisite delight in
companionship that we never knew before, and that our appreciation
of human nature would increase indefinitely?
Suppose when we find another whose ways are quite different from
ours, we immediately contract, and draw away with the feeling that
there is nothing in him for us. Or suppose, instead, that we look
into his ways with real interest in having found a new phase of
human nature. Which would be the more broadening process on the
whole, or the more delightful? Frequently the contraction takes more
time and attention than would an effort to understand the strange
ways. We are almost always sure to find something in others to which
we can respond, and which awakens a new power in us, if only a new
power of sympathy.
To sum it all up, the best way to deal with others seems to be to
avoid nervous friction of any sort, inside or out; to harbor no
ill-will towards another for selfishness roused in one's self; to be
urged by no presumptive sense of responsibility; and to remember
that we are all in the same world and under the same laws. A loving
sympathy with human nature in general, leads us first to obey the
laws ourselves, and gives us a fellow-feeling with individuals which
means new strength on both sides.
To take this as a matter of course does not seem impossible. It is
simply casting the skin of the savage and rising to another plane,
where there will doubtless be new problems better worth attention.
TO be truly at peace with one's self means rest indeed.
There is a quiet complacency, though, which passes for peace, and is
like the remarkably clear red-and-white complexion which indicates
disease. It will be noticed that the sufferers from this complacent
spirit of so-called peace shrink from openness of any sort, from
others or to others. They will put a disagreeable feeling out of
sight with a rapidity which would seem to come from sheer fright
lest they should see and acknowledge themselves in their true guise.
Or they will acknowledge it to a certain extent, with a pleasure in
their own humility which increases the complacency in proportion.
This peace is not to be desired. With those who enjoy it, a true
knowledge of or friendship with others is as much out of the
question as a knowledge of themselves. And when it is broken or
interfered with in any way, the pain is as intense and real as the
peace was false.
The first step towards amicable relations with ourselves is to
acknowledge that we are living with a stranger. Then it sometimes
happens that through being annoyed by some one else we are enabled
to recognize similar disagreeable tendencies in ourselves of which
we were totally ignorant before.
As honest dealing with others always pays best in the end, so it is
in all relations with one's self. There are many times when to be
quite open with a friend we must wait to be asked. With ourselves no
such courtesy is needed. We can speak out and done with it, and the
franker we are, the sooner we are free. For, unlike other
companions, we can enjoy ourselves best when we are conspicuous only
by our own absence!
It is this constant persistence in clinging to ourselves that is
most in the way; it increases that crown of nervous troubles,
self-consciousness, and makes it quite impossible that we should
ever really know ourselves. If by all this, we are not ineffable
bores to ourselves, we certainly become so to other people.
It is surprising, when once we come to recognize it, how we are in
an almost chronic state of posing to ourselves. Fortunately, a clear
recognition of the fact is most effectual in stopping the poses. But
they must be recognized, pose by pose, individually and separately
stopped, _and then ignored_, if we want to free ourselves from
The interior posing-habit makes one a slave to brain-impressions
which puts all freedom out of the question. To cease from such
posing opens one of the most interesting gates to natural life. We
wonder how we could have obscured the outside view for so long.
To find that we cannot, or do not, let ourselves alone for an hour
in the day seems the more surprising when we remember that there is
so much to enjoy outside. Egotism is immensely magnified in nervous
disorders; but that it is the positive cause of much nervous trouble
has not been generally admitted.
Let any one of us take a good look at the amount of attention given
by ourselves to ourselves. Then acknowledge, without flinching, what
amount of that attention is unnecessary; and it will clear the air
delightfully, for a moment at any rate.
The tendency to refer everything, in some way or another, to one's
self; the touchiness and suspicion aroused by nothing but petty
jealousy as to one's own place; the imagined slights from others;
the want of consideration given us,--all these and many more
senseless irritations are in this over-attention to self. The
worries about our own moral state take up so great a place with many
of us as to leave no room for any other thought. Indeed, it is not
uncommon to see a woman worrying so over her faults that she has no
time to correct them. Self-condemnation is as great a vanity as its
opposite. Either in one way or another there is the steady
temptation to attend to one's self, and along with it an irritation
of the nerves which keeps us from any sense of real freedom.
With most of us there is no great depth to the self-disease if it is
only stopped in time. When once we are well started in the wholesome
practice of getting rid of ourselves, the process is rapid. A
thorough freedom from self once gained, we find ourselves quite
companionable, which, though paradoxical, is without doubt a truth.
"That freedom of the soul," writes Fenelon, "which looks straight
onward in its path, losing no time to reason upon its steps, to
study them, or to dwell upon those already taken, is true
simplicity." We recognize a mistake, correct it, go on and forget.
If it appears again, correct it again. Irritation at the second or
at any number of reappearances only increases the brain-impression
of the mistake, and makes the tendency to future error greater.
If opportunity arises to do a good action, take advantage of it, and
silently decline the disadvantage of having your attention riveted
to it by the praise of others.
A man who is constantly analyzing his physical state is called a
hypochondriac. What shall we call the man who is constantly
analyzing his moral state? As the hypochondriac loses all sense of
health in holding the impression of disease, so the other gradually
loses the sense of wholesome relation to himself and to others.
If a man obeyed the laws of health as a matter of course, and turned
back every time Nature convicted him of disobedience, he would never
feel the need of self-analysis so far as his physical state was
concerned. Just so far as a man obeys higher laws as a matter of
course, and uses every mistake to enable him to know the laws
better, is morbid introspection out of the question with him.
"Man, know thyself!" but, being sure of the desire to know thyself,
do not be impatient at slow progress; pay little attention to the
process, and forget thyself, except when remembering is necessary to
a better forgetting.
To live at real peace with ourselves, we must surely let every
little evil imp of selfishness show himself, and not have any
skulking around corners. Recognize him for his full worthless-ness,
call him by his right name, and move off. Having called him by his
right name, our severity with ourselves for harboring him is
unnecessary. To be gentle with ourselves is quite as important as to
be gentle with others. Great nervous suffering is caused by this
over-severity to one's self, and freedom is never accomplished by
that means. Many of us are not severe enough, but very many are too
severe. One mistake is quite as bad as the other, and as disastrous
in its effects.
If we would regard our own state less, or careless whether we were
happy or unhappy, our freedom from self would be gained more
As a man intensely interested in some special work does not notice
the weather, so we, if we once get hold of the immense interest
there may be in living, are not moved to any depth by changes in the
clouds of our personal state. We take our moods as a matter of
course, and look beyond to interests that are greater. Self may be a
great burden if we allow it. It is only a clear window through which
we see and are seen, if we are free. And the repose of such freedom
must be beyond our conception until we have found it. To be
absolutely certain that we know ourselves at any time is one great
impediment to reaching such rest. Every bit of self-knowledge gained
makes us more doubtful as to knowledge to come. It would surprise
most of us to see how really unimportant we are. As a part of the
universe, our importance increases just in proportion to the laws
that work through us; but this self-importance is lost to us
entirely in our greater recognition of the laws. As we gain in the
sensitive recognition of universal laws, every petty bit of
self-contraction disappears as darkness before the rising of the
WORK for the better progress of the human race is most effective
when it is done through the children; for children are future
generations. The freedom in mature life gained by a training that
would enable the child to avoid nervous irritants is, of course,
greatly in advance of most individual freedom to-day. This real
freedom is the spirit of the kindergarten; but Frobel's method, as
practised to-day, does not attack and put to rout all those various
nervous irritants which are the enemies of our civilization. To be
sure, the teaching of his philosophy develops such a nature that
much pettiness is thrown off without even being noticed as a snare;
and Frobel helps one to recognize all pettiness more rapidly. There
are, however, many forms of nervous irritation which one is not
warned against in the kindergarten, and the absence of which, if the
child is taught as a matter of course to avoid them, will give him a
freedom that his elders and betters (?) lack. The essential fact of
this training is that it is only truly effectual when coming from
example rather than precept.
A child is exquisitely sensitive to the shortcomings of others, and
very keen, as well as correct, in his criticism, whether expressed
or unexpressed. In so far as a man consents to be taught by
children, does he not only remain young, but he frees himself from
the habit of impeding his own progress. This is a great impediment,
this unwillingness to be taught by those whom we consider more
ignorant than ourselves because they have not been in the world so
long. Did no one ever take into account the possibility of our eyes
being blinded just because they had been exposed to the dust longer?
Certainly one possible way of clearing this dust and avoiding it is
to learn from observing those who have had less of it to contend
with. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that no training of any
child could be effectual to a lasting degree unless the education
was mutual. When Frobel says, "Come, let us live with our children,"
he does not mean, Come, let us stoop to our children; he means, Let
us be at one with them. Surely a more perfect harmony in these two
great phases of human nature--the child and the man--would be
greatly to the advantage of the latter.
Yet, to begin at the beginning, who ever feels the necessity of
treating a baby with respect? How quickly the baby would resent
intrusive attentions, if it knew how. Indeed, I have seen a baby not
a year old resent being transferred from one person to another, with
an expression of the face that was most eloquent. Women seem so full
of their sense of possession of a baby that this eloquence is not
even observed, and the poor child's nervous irritants begin at a
very early age. There is so much to be gained by keeping at a
respectful nervous distance from a baby, that one has only to be
quiet enough to perceive the new pleasure once, to lose the
temptation to interfere; and imagine the relief to the baby! It is,
after all, the sense of possession that makes the trouble; and this
sense is so strong that there are babies, all the way from twenty to
forty, whose individuality is intruded upon so grossly that they
have never known what freedom is; and when they venture to struggle
for it, their suffering is intense. This is a steadily increasing
nervous contraction, both in the case of the possessed and the
possessor, and perfect nervous health is not possible on either
side. To begin by respecting the individuality of the baby would put
this last abnormal attitude of parent and child out of the question.
Curiously enough, there is in some of the worst phases of this
parent-child contraction an external appearance of freedom which
only enhances the internal slavery. When a man, who has never known
what it was in reality to give up a strong will, prides himself upon
the freedom he gives to his child, he is entangling himself in the
meshes of self-deception, and either depriving another of his own,
or ripening him for a good hearty hatred which may at any time mean
volcanoes and earthquakes to both.
This forcible resentment of and resistance to the strong will of
another is a cause of great nervous suffering, the greater as the
expression of such feeling is repressed. Severe illness may easily
be the result.
To train a child to gain freedom from the various nervous irritants,
one must not only be gaining the same freedom one's self, but must
practise meeting the child in the way he is counselled to meet
others. One must refuse to be in any way a nervous irritant to the
child. In that case quite as much instruction is received as given.
A child, too, is doubly sensitive; he not only feels the intrusion
on his own individuality, but the irritable or self-willed attitude
of another in expressing such intrusion.
Similarly, in keeping a respectful distance, a teacher grows
sensitive to the child, and again the help is mutual, with sometimes
a balance in favor of the child.
This mistaken, parent-child attitude is often the cause of severe
nervous suffering in those whose only relation is that of
friendship, when one mind is stronger than the other. Sometimes
there is not any real superior strength on the one side; it is
simply by the greater gross-ness of the will that the other is
overcome. This very grossness blinds one completely to the
individuality of a finer strength; the finer individual succumbs
because he cannot compete with crowbars, and the parent-child
contraction is the disastrous result. To preserve for a child a
normal nervous system, one must guide but not limit him. It is a sad
sight to see a mother impressing upon a little brain that its owner
is a naughty, naughty boy, especially when such impression is
increased by the irritability of the mother. One hardly dares to
think how many more grooves are made in a child's brain which simply
give him contractions to take into mature life with him; how many
trivial happenings are made to assume a monstrous form through being
misrepresented. It is worth while to think of such dangers, such
warping influences, only long enough to avoid them.
A child's imagination is so exquisitely alive, his whole little
being is so responsive, that the guidance which can be given him
through happy brain-impressions is eminently practicable. To test
this responsiveness, and feel it more keenly, just tell a child a
dramatic story, and watch his face respond; or even recite a
Mother-Goose rhyme with all the expression at your command. The
little face changes in rapid succession, as one event after another
is related, in a way to put a modern actor to shame. If the response
is so quick on the outside, it must be at least equally active
One might as well try to make a white rose red by rouging its petals
as to mould a child according to one's own idea of what he should
be; and as the beauty and delicacy of the rose would be spoiled by
the application of the pigment, so is the baby's nervous system
twisted and contracted by the limiting force of a grosser will.
Water the rose, put it in the sun, keep the insect enemies away, and
then enjoy it for itself. Give the child everything that is
consistent with its best growth, but neither force the growth nor
limit it; and stand far enough off to see the individuality, to
enjoy it and profit by it. Use the child's imagination to calm and
strengthen it; give it happy channels for its activity; guide it
physically to the rhythm of fresh air, nourishment, and rest; then
do not interfere.
If the man never turns to thank you for such guidance, because it
all came as a matter of course, a wholesome, powerful nervous system
will speak thanks daily with more eloquence than any words could
AS far as we make circumstances guides and not limitations, they
serve us. Otherwise, we serve them, and suffer accordingly. Just in
proportion, too, to our allowing circumstances to be limits do we
resist them. Such resistance is a nervous strain which disables us
physically, and of course puts us more in the clutches of what
appears to be our misfortune. The moment we begin to regard every
circumstance as an opportunity, the tables are turned on Fate, and
we have the upper hand of her.
When we come to think of it, how much common-sense there is in
making the best of every "opportunity," and what a lack of sense in
chafing at that which we choose to call our limitations! The former
way is sure to bring a good result of some sort, be it ever so
small; the latter wears upon our nerves, blinds our mental vision,
and certainly does not cultivate the spirit of freedom in us.
How absurd it would seem if a wounded man were to expose his wound
to unnecessary friction, and then complain that it did not heal! Yet
that is what many of us have done at one time or another, when
prevented by illness from carrying out our plans in life just as we
had arranged. It matters not whether those plans were for ourselves
or for others; chafing and fretting at their interruption is just as
absurd and quite as sure to delay our recovery. "I know," with tears
in our eyes, "I ought not to complain, but it is so hard," To which
common-sense may truly answer: "If it is hard, you want to get well,
don't you? Then why do you not take every means to get well, instead
of indulging first in the very process that will most tend to keep
you ill?" Besides this, there is a dogged resistance which remains
silent, refuses to complain aloud, and yet holds a state of rigidity
that is even worse than the external expression. There are many
individual ways of resisting. Each of us knows his own, and knows,
too, the futility of it; we do not need to multiply examples.
The patients who resist recovery are quite as numerous as those who
keep themselves ill by resisting illness. A person of this sort
seems to be fascinated by his own body and its disorders. So far
from resisting illness, he may be said to be indulging in it He will
talk about himself and his physical state for hours. He will locate
each separate disease in a way to surprise the listener by his
knowledge of his own anatomy. Not infrequently he will preface a
long account of himself by informing you that he has a hearty
detestation of talking about himself, and never could understand why
people wanted to talk of their diseases. Then in minute detail he
will reveal to you his brain-impression of his own case, and look
for sympathetic response. These people might recover a hundred times
over, and they would never know it, so occupied are they in living
their own idea of themselves and in resisting Nature.
When Nature has knocked us down because of disobedience to her laws,
we resist her if we attempt at once to rise, or complain of the
punishment. When the dear lady would hasten our recovery to the best
of her ability, we resist her if we delay progress by dwelling on
the punishment or chafing at its necessity.
Nature always tends towards health. It is to prevent further
ill-health that she allows us to suffer for our disobedience to her
laws. It is to lead us back to health that she is giving the best of
her powers, having dealt the deserved punishment. The truest help we
can give Nature is not to think of our bodies, well or ill, more
than is necessary for their best health.
I knew a woman who was, to all appearances, remarkably well; in
fact, her health was her profession. She was supposed to be a
Priestess of Health. She talked about and dwelt upon the health of
her body until one would have thought there was nothing in the world
worth thinking of but a body. She displayed her fine points in the
way of health, and enjoyed being questioned with regard to them.
This woman was taken ill. She exhibited the same interest, the same
pleasure, in talking over and dwelling upon her various forms of
illness; in fact, more. She counted her diseases. I am not aware
that she ever counted her strong points of health.
This illustration is perhaps clear enough to give a new sense of the
necessity for forgetting our bodies. When ill use every necessary
remedy; do all that is best to bring renewed health. Having made
sure you are doing all you can, forget; don't follow the process.
When, as is often the case, pain or other suffering puts forgetting
out of the question, use no unnecessary resistance, and forget as
soon as the pain is past Don't strengthen the impression by talking
about it or telling it over to no purpose. Better forego a little
sympathy, and forget the pain sooner.
It is with our nerves that we resist when Nature has punished us. It
is nervous strain that we put into a useless attention to and
repetition of the details of our illness. Nature wants all this
nerve-force to get us well the faster; we can save it for her by not
resisting and by a healthy forgetting. By taking an illness as
comfortably as possible, and turning our attention to something
pleasant outside of ourselves, recovery is made more rapidly.
Many illnesses are accompanied by more or less nervous strain, and
its natural control will assist nature and enable medicines to work
more quickly. The slowest process of recovery, and that which most
needs the relief of a wholesome non-resistance, is when the illness
is the result entirely of over-worked nerves. Nature allows herself
to be tried to the utmost before she permits nervous prostration.
She insists upon being paid in full, principal and interest, before
she heals such illness. So severe is she in this case that a patient
may appear in every way physically well and strong weeks, nay,
months, before he really is so. It was the nerves that broke down
last, and the nerves are the last to be restored. It is, however,
wonderful to see how much more rapid and certain recovery is if the
patient will only separate himself from his nervous system, and
refuse all useless strain.
Here are some simple directions which may help nervous patients, if
considered in regular order. They can hardly be read too often if
the man or woman is in for a long siege; and if simply and steadily
obeyed, they will shorten the siege by many days, nay, by many weeks
or months, in some cases.
Remember that Nature tends towards health. All you want is
nourishment, fresh air, exercise, rest, and patience.
All your worries and anxieties now are tired nerves.
When a worry appears, drop it. If it appears again, drop it again.
And so continue to drop it if it appears fifty or a hundred times a
day or more.
If you feel like crying, cry; but know that it is the tired nerves
that are crying, and don't wonder why you are so foolish,--don't
feel ashamed of yourself.
If you cannot sleep, don't care. Get all the rest you can without
sleeping. That will bring sleep when it is ready to come, or you are
ready to have it.
Don't wonder whether you are going to sleep or not. Go to bed to
rest, and let sleep come when it pleases.
Think about everything in Nature. Follow the growing of the trees
and flowers. Remember all the beauties in Nature you have ever seen.
Say Mother-Goose rhymes over and over, trying how many you can
Read bright stories for children, and quiet novels, especially Jane
Sometimes it helps to work on arithmetic.
Keep aloof from emotions.
Think of other people.
Never think of yourself. Bear in mind that nerves always get well in
waves; and if you thought yourself so much better,--almost well,
indeed,--and then have a bad time of suffering, don't wonder why it
is, or what could have brought it on. Know that it is part of the
recovery-process; take it as easily as you can, and then ignore it.
Don't try to do any number of things to get yourself well; don't
change doctors any number of times, or take countless medicines.
Every doctor knows he cannot hurry your recovery, whatever he may
say, and you only retard it by being over-anxious to get strong.
Drop every bit of unnecessary muscular tension.
When you walk, feel your feet heavy, as if your shoes were full of
lead, and think in your feet.
Be as much like a child as possible. Play with children as one of
them, and think with them when you can.
As you begin to recover, find something every day to do for others.
Best let it be in the way of house-work, or gardening, or something
to do with your hands.
Take care of yourself every day as a matter of course, as you would
dress or undress; and be sure that health is coming. Say over and
over to yourself: Nourishment, fresh air, exercise, rest, PATIENCE.
When you are well, and resume your former life, if old associations
recall the unhappy nervous feelings, know that it is only the
associations; pay no attention to the suffering, and work right on.
Only be careful to take life very quietly until you are quite used
to being well again.
An illness that is merely nervous is an immense opportunity, if one
will only realize it as such. It not only makes one more genuinely
appreciative of the best health, and the way to keep it, it opens
the sympathies and gives a feeling for one's fellow-creatures which,
having once found, we cannot prize too highly.
It would seem hard to believe that all must suffer to find a
delicate sympathy; it can hardly be so. To be always strong, and at
the same time full of warm sympathy, is possible, with more thought.
When illness or adverse circumstances bring it, the gate has been
opened for us.
If illness is taken as an opportunity to better health, not to more
illness, our mental attitude will put complaint out of the question;
and as the practice spreads it will as surely decrease the tendency
to illness in others as it will shorten its duration in ourselves.
SENTIMENT _versus_ SENTIMENTALITY.
FREEDOM from sentimentality opens the way for true sentiment.
An immense amount of time, thought, and nervous force is wasted in
sentimentalizing about "being good." With many, the amount of talk
about their evils and their desire to overcome them is a thermometer
which indicates about five times that amount of thought Neither the
talk nor the thought is of assistance in leading to any greater
strength or to a more useful life; because the talk is all talk, and
the essence of both talk and thought is a selfish, morbid pleasure
in dwelling upon one's self. I remember the remark of a young girl
who had been several times to prayer-meeting where she heard the
same woman say every time that she "longed for the true spirit of
religion in her life." With all simplicity, this child said: "If she
longs for it, why doesn't she work and find it, instead of coming
every week and telling us that she longs?" In all probability the
woman returned from every prayer-meeting with the full conviction
that, having told her aspirations, she had reached the height
desired, and was worthy of all praise.
Prayer-meetings in the old, orthodox sense are not so numerous as
they were fifty years ago; but the same morbid love of telling one's
own experiences and expressing in words one's own desires for a
better life is as common as ever.
Many who would express horror at these public forms of
sentimentalizing do not hesitate to indulge in it privately to any
extent. Nor do they realize for a moment that it is the same morbid
spirit that moves them. It might not be so pernicious a practice if
it were not so steadily weakening.
If one has a spark of real desire for better ways of living,
sentimentalizing about it is a sure extinguisher if practised for
any length of time.
A woman will sometimes pour forth an amount of gush about wishing to
be better, broader, nobler, stronger, in a manner that would lead
you, for a moment, perhaps, to believe in her sincerity. But when,
in the next hour, you see her neglecting little duties that a woman
who was really broad, strong, and noble would attend to as a matter
of course, and not give a second thought to; when you see that
although she must realize that attention to these smaller duties
should come first, to open the way to her higher aspirations, she
continues to neglect them and continues to aspire,--you are surely
right in concluding that she is using up her nervous system in
sentimentalizing about a better life; and by that means is doing all
in her power to hinder the achievement of it.
It is curious and very sad to see what might be a really strong
nature weakening itself steadily with this philosophy and water. Of
course it reaches a maudlin state if it continues.
His Satanic Majesty must offer this dose, sweetened with the sugar
of self-love, with intense satisfaction. And if we may personify
that gentleman for the sake of illustration, what a fine sarcastic
smile must dwell upon his countenance as he sees it swallowed and
enjoyed, and knows that he did not even have to waste spice as an
ingredient! The sugar would have drowned the taste of any spice he
There is not even the appearance of strength in sentimentalizing.
Besides the sentimentalizing about ourselves in our desire to live a
better life, there is the same morbid practice in our love for
others; and this is quite as weakening. It contains, of course, no
jot of real affection. What wholesome love there is lives in spite
of the sentimentalizing, and fortunately is sometimes strong enough
on one side or the other to crowd it out and finally exterminate it.
It is curious to notice how often this sham sentiment for others is
merely a matter of nerves. As an instance we can take an example,
which is quite true, of a woman who fancied herself desperately fond
of another, when, much to her surprise, an acute attack of toothache
and dentist-fright put the "affection" quite out of her head. In
this case the "love" was a nervous irritant, and the toothache a
counter-irritant. Of course the sooner such superficial feeling is
recognized and shaken off, the nearer we are to real sentiment.
"But," some one will say, "how are we to know what is real and what
is not? I would much rather live my life and get more or less
unreality than have this everlasting analyzing." There need be no
abnormal analyzing; that is as morbid as the other state. Indulge to
your heart's content in whatever seems to you real, in what you
believe to be wholesome sentiment. But be ready to recognize it as
sham at the first hint you get to that effect, and to drop it
A perfectly healthy body will shed germs of disease without ever
feeling their presence. So a perfectly healthy mind will shed the
germs of sentimentality. Few of us are so healthy in mind but that
we have to recognize a germ or two and apply a disinfectant before
we can reach the freedom that will enable us to shed the germs
unconsciously. A good disinfectant is, to refuse to talk of our own
feelings or desires or affections, unless for some end which we know
may help us to more light and better strength. Talking, however, is
mild in its weakening effect compared with thinking. It is better to
dribble sham sentiment in words over and over than to think it, and
repress the desire to talk. The only clear way is to drop it from
our minds the moment it appears; to let go of it as we would loosen
our fingers and drop something disagreeable from our hands.
A good amount of exercise and fresh air helps one out of
sentimentalizing. This morbid mental habit is often the result of a
body ill in some way or another. Frequently it is simply the effect
of tired nerves. We help others and ourselves out of it more rapidly
by not mentioning the sentimentalizing habit, but by taking some
immediate means towards rest, fresh air, vigorous exercise, and
Mistakes are often made and ourselves or others kept an unnecessary
length of time in mental suffering because we fail to attribute a
morbid mental state to its physical cause. We blame ourselves or
others for behavior that we call wicked or silly, and increase the
suffering, when all that is required is a little thoughtful care of
the body to cause the silly wickedness to disappear entirely.
We are supposed to be indulging in sickly sentiment when we are
really suffering from sickly nerves. An open sympathy will detect
this mistake very soon, and save intense suffering by an early
Sentiment is as strengthening as sentimentality is weakening. It is
as strong, as clear, and as fine in flavor as the other is sickly
sweet. No one who has tasted the wholesome vigor of the one could
ever care again for the weakening sweetness of the other, however
much he might have to suffer in getting rid of it. True sentiment
seeks us; we do not seek it. It not only seeks us, it possesses us,
and runs in our blood like the new life which comes from fresh air
on top of a mountain. With that true sentiment we can feel a desire
to know better things and to live them. We can feel a hearty love
for others; and a love that is, in its essence, the strongest of all
human loves. We can give and receive a healthy sympathy which we
could never have known otherwise. We can enjoy talking about
ourselves and about" being good," because every word we say will be
spontaneous and direct, with more thought of law than of self. This
true sentiment seeks and finds us as we recognize the sham and shake
it off, and as we refuse to dwell upon our actions and thoughts in
the past or to look back at all except when it is a necessity to
gain a better result.
We are like Orpheus, and true sentiment is our Eurydice with her
touch on our shoulder; the spirits that follow are the
sham-sentiments, the temptations to look back and pose. The music of
our lyre is the love and thought we bring to our every-day life. Let
us keep steadily on with the music, and lead our Eurydice right
through Hades until we have her safely over the Lethe, and we know
sentimentality only as a name.
THERE are very few persons who have not I had the experience of
giving up a problem in mathematics late in the evening, and waking
in the morning with the solution clear in their minds. That has been
the experience of many, too, in real-life problems. If it were more
common, a great amount of nervous strain might be saved.
There are big problems and little, real and imaginary; and some that
are merely tired nerves. In problems, the useless nervous element
often plays a large part. If the "problems" were dropped out of mind
with sufferers from nervous prostration, their progress towards
renewed health might be just twice as rapid. If they were met
normally, many nervous men and women might be entirely saved from
even a bowing acquaintance with nervous prostration. It is not a
difficult matter, that of meeting a problem normally,--simply let
it solve itself. In nine cases out of ten, if we leave it alone and
live as if it were not, it will solve itself. It is at first a
matter of continual surprise to see how surely this self-solution is
the result of a wholesome ignoring both of little problems and big
In the tenth case, where the problem must be faced at once, to face
it and decide to the best of our ability is, of course, the only
thing to do. But having decided, be sure that it ceases to be a
problem. If we have made a mistake, it is simply a circumstance to
guide us for similar problems to come.
All this is obvious; we know it, and have probably said it to
ourselves dozens of times. If we are sufferers from nervous
problems, we may have said it dozens upon dozens of times. The
trouble is that we have said it and not acted upon it. When a
problem will persist in worrying us, in pulling and dragging upon
our nerves, an invitation to continue the worrying until it has
worked itself out is a great help towards its solution or
I remember once hearing a bright woman say that when there was
anything difficult to decide in her life she stepped aside and let
the opposing elements fight it out within her. Presumably she
herself threw in a little help on one side or the other which really
decided the battle. But the help was given from a clear standpoint,
not from a brain entirely befogged in the thick of the fight
Whatever form problems may take, however important they may seem,
when they attack tired nerves they must be let alone. A good way is
to go out into the open air and so identify one's self with Nature
that one is drawn away in spite of one's self. A big wind will
sometimes blow a brain clear of nervous problems in a very little
while if we let it have its will. Another way out is to interest
one's self in some game or other amusement, or to get a healthy
interest in other people's affairs, and help where we can.
Each individual can find his own favorite escape. Of course we
should never shirk a problem that must be decided, but let us always
wait a reasonable time for it to decide itself first. The solving
that is done for us is invariably better and clearer than any we
could do for ourselves.
It will be curious, too, to see how many apparently serious
problems, relieved of the importance given them by a strained
nervous system, are recognized to be nothing at all. They fairly
dissolve themselves and disappear.
THE line has not been clearly drawn, either in general or by
individuals, between true civilization and the various perversions
of the civilizing process. This is mainly because we do not fairly
face the fact that the process of civilization is entirely according
to Nature, and that the perversions which purport to be a direct
outcome of civilization are, in point of fact, contradictions or
artificialities which are simply a going-over into barbarism, just
as too far east is west.
If you suggest "Nature" in habits and customs to most men nowadays,
they at once interpret you to mean "beastly," although they would
never use the word.
It is natural to a beast to be beastly: he could not be anything
else; and the true order of his life as a beast is to be respected.
It is natural to a man to govern himself, as he possesses the power
of distinguishing and choosing, With all the senses and passions
much keener, and in their possibilities many degrees finer, than the
beasts, he has this governing power, which makes his whole nervous
system his servant just in so far as through this servant he loyally
obeys his own natural laws. A man in building a bridge could never
complain when he recognized that it was his obedience to the laws of
mechanics which enabled him to build the bridge, and that he never
could have arbitrarily arranged laws that would make the bridge
stand. In the same way, one who has come to even a slight
recognition of the laws that enable him to be naturally civilized
and not barbarously so, steadily gains, not only a realization of
the absolute futility of resisting the laws, but a growing respect
and affection for them.
It is this sham civilization, this selfish refinement of barbarous
propensities, this clashing of nervous systems instead of the
clashing of weapons, which has been largely, if not entirely, the
cause of such a variety and extent of nervous trouble throughout the
so-called civilized world. It is not confined to nervous
prostration; if there is a defective spot organically, an inherited
tendency to weakness, the nervous irritation is almost certain to
concentrate upon it instead of developing into a general nervous
With regard to a cure for all this, no superficial remedy, such as
resting and feeding, is going to prove of lasting benefit; any more
than a healing salve will suffice to do away with a blood disease
which manifests itself by sores on the surface of the skin. No
physician would for a moment inveigle himself into the belief that
the use of external means alone would cure a skin disease that was
caused by some internal disorder. Such skin irritation may be easily
cured by the right remedy, whereas an external salve would only be a
means of repression, and would result in much greater trouble
Imagine a man superficially cured of an illness, and then exposed
while yet barely convalescent to influences which produce a relapse.
That is what is done in many cases when a patient is rested, and
fattened like a prize pig, and then sent home into all the old
conditions, with nothing to help him to elude them but a well-fed,
well-rested body. That, undeniably, means a great deal for a short
period; but the old conditions discover the scars of old wounds, and
the process of reopening is merely a matter of time. From all sides
complaints are heard of the disastrous results of civilization;
while with even a slight recognition of the fact that the trouble
was caused by the rudiments of barbarism, and that the higher
civilization is the life which is most truly natural, remedies for
our nervous disorders would be more easily found.
It is the perversions of the natural process of civilization that do
the harm; just as with so-called domesticated flowers there arise
coarse abnormal growths, and even diseases, which the wholesome,
delicate organism of a wild flower makes impossible.
The trouble is that we do not know our own best powers at all; the
way is stopped so effectually by this persistent nervous irritation.
With all its superficiality, it is enough to impede the way to the
clear, nervous strength which is certainly our inheritance.
After all, what has been said in the foregoing chapters is simply
illustrative of a prevalent mental skin-disorder.
If the whole world were suffering from a physical cutaneous
irritation, the minds of individuals would be so concentrated on
their sensations that no one could know of various wonderful powers
in his own body which are now taken as a matter of course. There
would be self-consciousness in every physical action, because it
must come through, and in spite of, external irritation. Just in so
far as each individual one of us found and used the right remedy for
our skin-trouble should we be free to discover physical powers that
were unknown to our fellow-sufferers, and free to help them to a
similar remedy when they were willing to be helped.
This mental skin-disorder is far more irritating and more
destructive, and not only leads to, but actually is, in all its
forms, a sort of self-consciousness through which we work with real
To discover its shallowness and the simplicity of its cure is a boon
we can hardly realize until, by steady application, we have found
the relief. The discovery and cure do not lead to a millennium any
more than the cure of any skin disease guarantees permanent health.
For deeper personal troubles there are other remedies. Each will
recognize and find his own; but freedom, through and through, can
never be found, or even looked for clearly, while the irritation
from the skin disease is withdrawing our attention.
Truth is within ourselves: it takes no rise
From outward things; whatever you may believe,
There is an inmost centre in us all
Where truth abides in fulness; and around,
Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
This perfect clear perception which is truth.
A baffling and perverting carnal mesh
Blinds it, and makes all error; and TO KNOW
Rather consists in opening out a way
Whence the imprisoned splendor may escape,
Than in effecting entry for a light
Supposed to be without."
Browning's "baffling and perverting carnal mesh" might be truly
interpreted as a nervous tangle which is nothing at all except as we
make it with our own perverted sight.
To help us to move a little distance from the phantom tangle, that
it may disappear before our eyes, has been the aim of this book. So
by curing our mental skin-disease as a matter of course, and then
forgetting that it ever existed, we may come to real life. This no
one can find for another, but each has within himself the way.