Physical Disorders Having Mental Origin
( Originally Published 1908 )
"All good things are ours, nor soul helps flesh more than flesh helps soul." — BROWNING.
THE mind is the capital city where the consumers dwell, those law-makers and manufacturers of thought and nervous impulses. The body is the outlying country. If the country parts are well tilled and cared for by the farmers or makers of healthy physical conditions dwelling in this outlying country, the consumers in the capital city are able to secure what they need to satisfy the wear and tear incident to mental effort or nervous stress of whatever sort. A sound body waits on a sound mind, and the material for repair of the nervous system is furnished by the digestive tract. The converse of this statement has long been known to be almost equally true. The mind, acting through the sympathetic and vaso-motor nerves, affects the secretions of the internal organs, especially of the stomach and bowels, it acts on the kidneys and the heart, on respiration and perspiration, and influences the amount of blood flowing through the arteries. Digestion may be retarded or hastened by the condition of the mind; and the assimilation of food and the elimination of waste products may be disturbed, to the ex-tent, that if a state of unrest or unhappiness obtains, such as may be occasioned by worry, sorrow, anger, or depression, from whatever cause, a loss of balance between the mind and the body follows, even though the body is sound. All this results in unnatural and unhealthy conditions for both. In a word, an unhealthy mind reacts deleteriously upon an otherwise healthy body.
It has been the practice to regard the body as the part mainly at fault in chronic disorders, with the exception of a few classified diseases, and treatment for relief has been instituted usually from the standpoints of the physical. A great many people are unhealthy nevertheless because of their disturbed attitude mentally to-ward life and living. That these mental states have existed right along no one questions, but that they have not been fully appreciated, and treated with intelligence by those presumably qualified to do that work, is also equally true. The majority of all ailments are doubtless due to physical causes, and many to inheritance; but there have been an ever-increasing number of people whom physical measures have failed to relieve or have only partially restored. The physical and mental balance both must be cultivated and maintained if life is to go on well, and end happily. The head as well as the body parts must be considered, in cases of illness, for the chances are that both need patching up and not one end at a time. The physical and organic ailments of the body have been and are still the province of the physician and surgeon, and these ailments arise from physical causes, we will assume, for the greater part. Spiritual and ideal conditions have been and are still within the province of the clergy, broadly speaking. But we have a mental-habit field, below the spiritual and above the physical, an open field for both clergy and physicians. The mental attitude of people toward life and living is quite as susceptible of treatment, and is quite as important a subject, as the care of the body. How to deal successfully with this mental-habit field, is a question that it being threshed out industriously at the present time.
Young people are generally healthy, if born of healthy stock; and youth is optimistic. The bodily machine being new, it stands the wear and tear it is put to, as well as the abuse; and we hear little complaint from beginners who have but recently entered the world's arena; — at least for a term of years, unless circumstances have been such that the young life has had to shoulder the burdens of older years from the start and has been undone mentally and physically in consequence.
Although this statement is true in the main, we some-times see the worry habit in children, developed in connection with their lessons at school, or other tasks. Every child is an individual, and what one child can do in a given time should not be made the measure of ability for another child. Mental aptitude and physical endurance differ as much in children as in grown people. A highly organized child with over-sensitive nerve centers will soon acquire the habit of worry, if urged or criticised in regard to work. A child should be led to do as well as he is able in a given time, but he should never be nagged or allowed to worry because he works with less aptitude than another. The thing to measure is the effort on a child's part, and not the result attained.
Nervousness is essentially a mental state. But all nervousness has a cause that possibly may be understood and controlled. The temperament of children can be successfully influenced by training and example. A child abnormally sensitive, who is regarded as excitable or nervous, can be brought to exercise mental control, but it takes time and patience to do it, — to educate any mind into control of abnormally sensitive nerve cells, --not much longer, however, than it does to perfect any other attitude or mental attainment that is worthy of cultivation. The temperament of a nervous child becomes amiable and lovable if the child is handled rightly; and grown to manhood, this child is loved quite as much for his temperament as for his intellectual attainments. In fact, temperament in its influence upon people, as an element of success, is worth quite as much as a merely well-trained brain. More than one man in active life has come to realize that it is his defect in temperament and not his lack of ability or education that costs him the success of his life.
A child should be made especially happy at meal-times, because happy nervous impulses influence digestion favorably. This is accomplished by a good story, if it starts a laugh which ends in a blush or a nerve thrill that tingles in the toes. Laughter sets the digestive juices flowing as its effect upon the appetite goes to show, while the parent's look that blanches a child's cheeks stunts both his moral and physical growth. The laugh that causes a blush of pleasure has in it constructive physical and constructive nervous force. The growing nerve centers in a child should be fed on emotions that tone up and not upon those that depress, and upon influences that stimulate its entire being. It is a good plan to begin the day with a laugh started at the breakfast table. Nutrition, as well as tonic nervous impulses, — both constructive forces, — are carried in greater volume to every cell in the body under happy or stimulating atmospheres, and the whole system rings with applause as a result, just as a theatre is heard to ring, when a vast audience, raised to the point of enthusiasm over something well and beautifully done, clap their hands in approval.
A lad twelve years of age, a sensitive boy, because of his delicate inherited organization, was found to lie awake after he was put to bed. No cause could be found for this. He was given only a light supper and was sent to bed early, as all growing children should be. His mind evidently worked far into the first half of the night. One day his uncle, a physician, said to him, "When the sun goes down the day is done, and the night is yours in which to sleep. Don't carry to bed with you the thought of anything you may not have said or done well during the day. You are to get up every morning and make a fresh start. I love you all the more because you are imperfect. If you were perfect in the beginning you would have nothing to work for except money, and that does not always make happiness, and it is happiness, lad, you are after, — the distinctive qualities and mental poise that make happiness for you now, and especially as you grow older. Fire your sunset gun as the government does, when the day is done, and haul your flag. Next morning set it again. Go to bed to sleep." Some time afterwards, this boy said to his aunt, in an appreciative way: " Tante May, Tante May, since uncle said the day was over when the sun set, I can sleep like anything." This lad had evidently been reviewing the result of each day's work, and perhaps worrying over some part of what he had said or done or failed to do. When told that the day ended with the going down of the sun, and that each succeeding day he was to begin anew, and that he was loved all the more because of his present imperfections, which he would some day conquer, he quietly rested his head upon the pillow and fell asleep.
This life is man's school, — conditions, his tools. In his aim after perfectness he often fails from shortness of vision, from unripeness, and from weakness, which can only become strength by the exercise of just such faculties as are now his modes of expression. If those who "miss the mark," which is the most intelligent understanding of "sin" (another name for imperfection), would so construe it, and count instances of missing the mark as "target practice" which will result finally in a perfect aim, all that demoralization resultant upon an accusing con-science would disappear.
A mother having four children wore a heavy black dress and veil because of the loss of one of the children. She forgot that the living children were equally dear to her. One day her children begged her to wear bright colors, saying her "clothes hurt them," but she did not realize how much they meant by what they said, until on a later day one of them took a pink bow from a doll's dress, a poor faded affair, and pinned it quietly to her waist. Those who wear black because of the loss of dear ones forget the effect the black may have on others living, who are equally dear. Grief is only intensified by this custom, and the attention of thousands is drawn in this way to a person whose face and manner can but act de-pressingly upon all. A crape veil often works serious mischief to both the spirit and the body. People have been known to grow faint at the sight of the thing. " Why should we wear black for the guests of God"? The wearing of mourning may be a mark of respect or love for those who have departed, but it serves also to intensify grief, and draws the attention of others to our sorrow, to no good end; while it may cause suffering to many. It would certainly help the happiness of the world if this fashion of wearing black could be put aside. If it is worn for self-protection, as some assert, a more hopeful color might be selected and that would do quite as well, perhaps. The change that a funeral represents should be looked upon as the end of a beautiful life, and the beginning of another life even more beautiful. Since every one has to move on, wouldn't it be better, if we cannot rejoice, because of personal loss, to avoid intensifying, at least, a result that cannot be helped. Children are very susceptible to external impressions or influences. It is possible for habits of introspection, or worry, or fault-finding even, to be acquired in youth, by some children at least, if left to their own way of thinking, or because of what they see or hear their elders say or do. If the mother's voice is low-pitched the child's will become so. If the father is nervous and excitable and goes storming about the house because of disturbing trifles, his children are likely to become something more than disturbing trifles in time, and have their father to thank for it. Children are great imitators, as some of us know to our sorrow or amusement as the case may be. A child with a stick in her hand stood before her sawdust doll. She was heard to say, "If you don't mind you will get a damn-darn beating." I wonder which one of her parents this child was quoting or imitating.
Some of the causes for mental unrest and wretchedness among maturer minds are apparent to the average observer. Altogether too rapidly people are losing sight of their capacity to enjoy little things. As the writer has said, "The south side of a red apple gave pleasure in childhood, now it takes the echoes of a Krupp gun to create an impression, such is the spirit of unrest and sensationalism." As children we play with toys, — the tin horse, the tin cart, the tin soldier, and the paper tent. As "grown-ups" we play with a real horse, a real cart, and live in a real house. Pray tell us why this change in the size of the toys should make so many of us miserable. This world was given us to work in and play in, it is a pretty place, but thousands of people under existing conditions seem to make a nightmare out of ordinary life and living. People find fault with the weather and make themselves miserable by doing so. Of what use is such fault-finding? Why not learn to like a rainy day? We have them. The flower by the roadside blooms a thing of beauty; perhaps it has just as hard a time as any of us getting along there in the dust and dirt where the soil is poor, the rocks are bare, and moisture scant. The poor horse gets only his board for his toil, and yet he never complains. Too many people are afraid they are going to be measured by the size of the roof they are under. The plane of life upon which people find themselves should be dignified by their attitude toward it. Imitation instead of emulation is the habit of too many people. The luxuries of life have become the necessities of life. False pride and vanity are too often in evidence while real pride seldom shows its head. With six days in the week devoted to competition and a little more than an hour in the one day that is left devoted to spirituality, delivered at arm's length, usually, is it any wonder that many lose sight of the great purpose for which life is worked out and lived through.
Under the stress of modem competition one-half of mankind overpowers the other half, and then has them to take care of as invalids. Women compete with men under the laws made for men, although women are rated but half as strong, physically, as men. Laborers will some day be classified, and every life will be preserved for whatever there is in it; every one, no matter what his limitations, can do something useful.
When men worked in the fields and women in the homes there was mutual dependence, and life went on more simply and steadily than it does now. The frugal, abstemious ways of living that obtained in earlier days were certainly more natural than is now the case, and the minds of the people were generally more at ease. Wealth was more evenly distributed then. With potatoes in the cellar and corn in the barn there was no such vital question as to where the next meal was coming from. A day's indisposition was not necessarily a nightmare. People are crowding into the cities, where there is rent to pay and where food costs money, instead of the labor necessary to plant it and get it out of the ground. If more beginners had the experience that world winnowing affords, they would stay on the land. Wages have advanced, but the cost of living has advanced, and existence, for those who have no resources except what their daily toil affords them, is much more exacting than it has ever been before. The man who happens to have a business mind, or has been trained in a business way, has by far the best chance at the "loaves and fishes" as the world of money is distributed today.
Aside from this question of daily necessity among the weak, and the working people generally, which is responsible for much of the unhappiness experienced, a lack of mental poise exists, quite as serious, though not as frequently met with, among the well-to-do and the rich.
It is not stress of life then, or actual want, that causes all the mental misery seen and felt, and so some of it must be accounted for on other grounds. The poor man's wolf is an ugly customer, but we see poor men at every turn in the road who are not afraid to face that customer. Perhaps, after all, lives lived through have much in common, whether they be lives of the rich or of the poor. There may be the same amount of character, or lack of it, to contend with, the same weariness attending endless festivities, that might be expected to follow years of toil, the same amount of care or sorrow, and finally the same amount of pain. Who knows? Or the causes may lie deeper still, for happiness must come from within. We get back what we give out. Browning says, "Man is not yet; he is becoming." In the evolution of the world, the work is done both by those who are struggling at the bottom of all creation, and by those who fall on the firing-line, — who are pushed on from behind. Man is on the up-trend all along the line the world over.
Much of the old orthodox religions no longer satisfies the modern mind or supplies the mental needs of the present. There are rare preachers whose sermons are messages of uplift; whose statements are hopeful and helpful spiritually and through them the perplexing and rough places in daily life are smoothed and blessed. Scaring a man to death, as the ministers used to do forty years ago, doesn't work today. The writer distinctly re-members the effect Thursday evening prayer-meeting had on him. It resulted in a hole, big enough to get into, back of his father's barn. When the Angel Gabriel blew that trumpet of "hisen," he and his brother knew where they could be found.
The depression concerning "sin," depression amounting often to anguish, calls for treatment; either through enlightened views concerning the moral government of God, or through psycho-therapeutical treatment, that will displace the hobgoblins of a crude theology, — a theology which forgot to include the Fatherhood of God and His absolutely benevolent plan concerning the rise (not fall) of man. The church conducted as an ethical culture society cannot altogether fulfil its mission. The church must be brought to the people through the power which it demonstrates, and this will also bring the people to the church.
Certain mental habits are among the mental causes for physical disturbance, in maturer minds especially. Worry stands first, and then follow, fear, anger, over-sensitiveness, introspection, retrospection, looking forward (fear of the future), irritability, pessimism, depression, melancholia, hysteria, epilepsy, and many others depending upon the individual, and the circumstances that promote these disorders. These harpies of the mind play havoc with the mental machine, they interfere with rational thinking, and in extreme cases have been known to jar and fret the brain cells until they become worn out with their own friction. This is what is meant by the expression "Worried to death." Nerve cells are over-sensitive or stable in proportion to the size of their nucleus or center. The excitability or inhibition of a nerve depends upon the power it has of responding to a stimulus or withstanding a shock. This varies with the individual. Two boys are born of the same father and mother. They go through a railroad accident; one comes out whole, the other comes out nervously unstable, because of mental shock. , His nerve centers, the storehouses of energy, spill their force on the slightest provocation, instead of discharging it only as needed and in the amount required, as when one moves an arm. Both boys saw the same sights, and neither one was physically hurt. Both have the same "ingrediences" in their make-up; they are two-thirds of what has been and are one-third of what is, but no one can tell just how the "cake" is coming out in the baking. The vaso-motor spasm due to "shock " produced but little change in one of them, while for the other, the un-stable condition resulting, is prolonged, and if not strengthened by mental-moral training, may prove constant. Physical courage, or a stable nervous system, is a great invigorator, while timidity tends to destroy the energy of the nervous system. Shocks may be either mental or physical. Both mental and physical shock produce the same results which differ only in degree and duration. A blow on the head produces a vaso-motor spasm, or a contraction of the nerves that regulate the flow of blood through the arteries. This is how the physiologists explain shock. If the blow is severe enough, we get concussion of the brain or even contusion of the brain, and unconsciousness. Mental shocks produce vasomotor spasm in the same way, the degree and duration depending upon the cause. Fear and worry acting through the vaso-motor nerves affect the caliber of the blood-vessels. Under fear, the person afflicted turns pale, as those nerves contract, and if the depressing influence persists, as for example a sense of guilt, the irritated nerves continue to hold their grip. And that grip may never let go until the shock that produced it is released. Under the stimulation of hope and expectation or praise, the vaso-motor nerves relax, the color returns, and the blood and lymph flow freely. The same result follows play, laughter, music, or the sight of color such as the sunset affords, when the sun, with a blush of pleasure, bids us "good night," because of what he has seen the good people of the world accomplish, while the earth is turning around once. Worry and fear, acting through the sympathetic nervous system, affect the secretions of the mouth, stomach, liver, pancreas, and intestines. So the digestive secretions are diminished, the appetite fails, and the stomach nerves, because of the indigestion induced, become irritated. A sore feeling stomach results with nausea, or vomiting even may cap the climax. The appetite will frequently improve if meals are eaten under congenial conditions, when every one is having a good time. Worry and fear are banished for that hour because of our enjoyment and the sight of generous hospitality. Bilious attacks, which evidence irritation of the stomach mucosa, may follow mental disturbances, or it may be that the secretion of bile becomes affected. Constipation, either spastic, — due to spasm of the intestines, — or due to diminished intestinal secretion, is often a concomitant of mental disorder. A faulty assimilation of food and a deficient elimination of waste products are factors in ill health. Chronic rheumatism, a result of these two disturbances in part, at least, is nothing more or less than an exhibition of waste material floating in the blood cur-rent; something that dieting and a decent frame of mind will cure. By dieting 1 do not mean starvation, but thorough munching and the adaptation of food to fit the physical condition and occupation of the patient. If the normal capillaries (smallest blood-vessels above one-fiftieth of an inch in diameter under normal mental and physical conditions) cannot pass along morbid material floating in the blood current, they certainly cannot do so when the vaso-motor nerves, under negative mental influences, contract the blood-vessels. Things get into our bodies in but two ways, either through our minds or our mouths. There are but five ways by which they get out, — by the bowels, kidneys, breath, sweat, or through mental processes that liberate. The pessimist is generally sallow-skinned and constipated. He is under constant negative mental influences, because he allows himself to imagine that nothing in this world is quite as it should be. He probably thinks everything is going to the devil, but happily for the rest of us there are some who doubt this.
"The difference betwixt the optimist
Cold, damp hands and feet are often due to mental depression, which causes a relaxation of the vaso-motor nerves. Anger frequently brings on headaches. Anger floods the brain with blood, and if the arteries are brittle, as they often are in old age, — for a man is just as old as his arteries are old, — the rise in the arterial tension may result in rupture of the vessel, when apoplexy follows, due to hemorrhage. Attacks of anger hasten the deterioration of the arteries. Anger brings on attacks of hysteria and epilepsy. In this way anger, discharging the pent-up nervous force, has been known to cause death. Out-breaks of anger are comparable to a severe thunderstorm, with destructive, blinding flashes of lightning. The shock resulting from an attack of anger may last two or three weeks.
There is a cyclical recurrence in many forms of mental disturbance, showing that the nervous system is periodically aroused by some unseen cause. The exciting cause of a nerve storm may be either physical or mental. The "blues," so-called, are the outcome of periodical poisoning, due to indigestion probably, and the indigestion may have sprung from over-excitement, or other morbid mental condition, such, for instance, as worrying over fancied sins. Epilepsy in some cases can be controlled by mental training especially when mental disturbances precede the attacks. Hysteria is essentially a mental state, and in its effect upon the body, acting through the sympathetic nervous system, has been known to produce a condition closely simulating tuberculosis. A woman, a teacher by profession, had been vomiting almost daily for a year. She had lost twenty pounds in weight, and she coughed throughout much of each night. She had a daily rise in temperature, but no increase in the pulse rate. She re-signed her position and returned home to enter a hospital. The vomiting had begun when she was given an order by her superior officer with which she did not wish to comply. The case was diagnosticated as one of chronic hysteria. Hysterical persons see the world through irrational lenses — their point of view is wrong. The best and most effectual treatment is by direct suggestion. After receiving some wholesome advice, that was neither coddling nor criticising, this woman regained her health and strength, and has worked regularly.
During the recent financial crisis a prominent financier lost twenty pounds in weight, although eating regularly but with perhaps less zest than formerly. He was examined by his physician and pronounced physically sound. The week following this examination he gained three pounds in weight and has since improved rapidly. His was an instance of loss of weight due to depression, resulting from anxiety connected with money matters. The depression was maintained by solicitude because of his rapid loss in weight without assignable physical cause. When told by his physician that he was sound, his depression was relieved, and his digestion improved. The vasomotor spasm, due to mental shock, no longer checked the flow of his gastric secretions, or blood current. His case illustrates the effect of negative auto-suggestion, followed by the beneficial 'effect of a direct statement, optimistic in character. But auto-suggestion works affirmatively as well as negatively. A well-known American general, whose arm had been shot away below the shoulder years ago, appealed to his physician for relief from nervous irritation and discomfort in the stump of the amputated limb. It had become irritated by the jostling of people at receptions. The general was known to believe in God. He was told that whenever any one hit his arm, he was to say to himself, and mean it in good faith, — " God bless you." His adviser was convinced that the stimulating effect of praise passing over the nerves to the point of irritation would have a soothing, healing influence upon the nerve tissues. The general was told to direct his thoughts toward the injured member whenever he made his affirmation. He did so, and in less than four months' time he is reported to have said he wished some one would knock against that arm, he wanted to bless him.
A woman afflicted with constipation consulted her physician. She was one of the over-sensitive kind. Her father desired her to attend church with him but she did not enjoy doing so. Every Sunday morning the church question was an issue. She always became nauseated at these times. Later, when advised by her physician to attend the church of her choice, and to keep out of the room where her father was accustomed to sit, whenever the "injured innocence" atmosphere he created there by his mental attitude depressed her, she promptly recovered from her constipation. This was a case of spastic constipation (?) brought on by the young woman's mental state under certain circumstances. While still afflicted she had been treated for a year by a physician who did not understand the cause of her trouble. His failure was not to his discredit, for she made no statement to him in regard to her home life. Another young woman, a doctor's daughter in good health, and physically well except for constipation, was referred to a specialist in stomach and intestinal disorders. He treated her without success. She did not tell him that she had lost her lover. Finally she espoused the idea of harmony as taught by the church, when promptly she recovered from her constipation. Mental disturbance had been the cause of it. We must not infer from these citations that constipation can be cured ordinarily by mental treatment alone, but it is fair to conclude that the mind as well as the body must be considered when one is dealing with chronic disorders. Incompatibility of persons is nothing but inharmony. A person who has mental poise can soon strike the note that harmonizes with the note of another person, and it does not matter whether or not the effort is a conscious one on the part of both. When both parties are aware of a difference between them, and are willing to make the effort to get in tune, they can quickly succeed. A party of five traveling together were found to have inharmonious relations. It was agreed they should not speak of anything that disturbed them at the time it happened, but wait for twenty-four hours. At first they all covered sheets of paper filing exceptions and making notes. In-side of five days they were all laughing at each other, the exceptions were never argued, and from that time on they got along famously.
Worry belongs to the mental-habit field. It is neither a physical condition to be treated with drugs, nor one to be relieved by spiritual teachings, unless the person afflicted can overcome the habit by faith and prayer. Worry is a form of nervousness, and nervousness is a mental state. A person may have attained the spiritual level and yet be a worrier to the extent that renders life miserable, not alone for the person afflicted but for all intimately associated with him.
A railroad conductor consulted a physician. He had been discharged from the railroad on account of nervousness. On the physician's examination he was found to. be physically sound. When asked what he was "fussing" over, he replied, — "I suppose I have been worrying for fear some one getting on or off my train would get hurt." When asked if any one ever had been injured in this way, in connection with any train he had charge of, he replied in the negative. He was told that his nervousness was due to worry, that worry was a mental condition and not a physical state, and that there were no drugs for nervousness of this kind. He was told he must learn to dismiss worry from his mind, as he would stop any other habit, mental or physical, that detracted from his usefulness or happiness. He was given one hundred yellow-eyed beans, and was told to put one, every morning, in a little box in the corner of his bed-room, and then say, "Worry is in the bean and the bean is in the box." He was not to forget where he left the worry, in the bean, any more than he would be expected to forget where he left his hat. He was to walk away with the feeling that the worry was not in his head, but out of it. Before the hundred beans were exhausted he was free from his nervousness or worry and had been restored to his place on the road. Another good way to eliminate these habits from the mind is to have a regular place where they can be left. An old chair bottom in the corner of the room will serve the purpose. The person afflicted is to go to that place and deliberately deposit his worries there as he would boxes or bundles. This practice persisted in becomes a useful resource. The funny side to the procedure helps solve the trouble.
It may not be necessary to cultivate a substitute-habit in the strong man, for dismissal will suffice. In others, it is only by patient practice that the mind can be freed from worry; and the attempt must be kept up until the brain recognizes and yields to the newer impulse. One does not learn to play the piano by sitting down before it once. We go down, to be sure, before new shocks, and for a limited time we are more or less influenced by them, but if our powers of resistance have been strengthened by training, we promptly rally, when the better impulses and better feelings hold sway. It is possible to train the mind to a point at which one's inside nature simply refuses to get "on edge," or if it does, like a stove cover it can be turned down, no matter what the provocation. The mind can be discharged from the consideration of any vexatious subject, and the attention given to the enjoyment of any other. Mind cure is simply the acquiring of control over impulses, emotions, or habits that demoralize. It substitutes other habits, if necessary. The person gains mental poise, and leans towards optimism. The mind liberates the nervous mechanism and vital fluids of the body so that all the functions, both physical and mental, are performed normally. Whether the condition recognized as a chronic disorder or disease is due to mental or physical causes, one cannot always easily determine. If the person suffering is willing to cultivate one or two new habits for the old ones he suspects, although he may not be able to see that they are the cause of his trouble, he will often be surprised at the outcome. He may find that this is all that is required to cure him of the chronic ailment from which he has been seeking re-lief by the usual methods, in vain. It is useless to expect permanent results from one habit taken up with, if the old bad habit is still indulged. The first essential of cure in cases of bad mental habits is a willing mind.
The best time for training the mind to control itself is in childhood, but few of the middle-aged people of today were fortunate enough to have had mental discipline of this sort; most of us were not trained at all, but were left to battle with our habits, or with the "old adversary" as Deacon White used to say. He is reported to have taken a fall out of this old wrestler more than once when out in the pasture with his oxen, hauling wood. Confronting a bad habit often intensifies it. It is better perhaps to turn away and leave the adversary behind, in spite of Deacon White's experience. A good way to banish habits that detract from happiness is to discuss with our neighbors and friends the questions of conquering them, and the best way to do it. By such discussion one strengthens his own powers of resistance and at the same time helps his friend. Even if one does not believe in all his friend may say, or in all one hears, it pays to preach and listen, if the preaching points to something better than the thing one is doing. They who keep themselves occupied with wholesome mental and physical activities keep their spirits steady, — only empty vessels rattle.
Many people live to mature life without any earnest spiritual effort, or any expectation of developing the spirit. They lay claim to belief in eternal life, and look for the gradual development of the divine spark in themselves, but they so crowd their daily lives with superficialities that they have little time or room for the consideration of spiritual truths. They depend entirely for happiness upon what they can get out of material things, and upon the purchasing power of money. The man who makes material things the end of life, instead of a means to an end, makes a miss of it.
Every man is the gardener of his own life. In the first years youth untrained rushes on and on, leaving half his fields untilled. These waste fields grow up to weeds, — worry, fear, anger, over-sensitiveness, hysteria, introspection, depression. Later, if he is wise, he turns back and ploughs and plants again, that all life's garden may be seen a thing of beauty, — a completed garden in full bloom when life draws near to its close. Appreciation, responsiveness, good temper, mental poise, optimism, frugality, dignity, faith, — these are the virtues he forgot in the first planting of the garden. When our fields have been reclaimed, the men and women who come to us or care for us, those who pass through our garden, can always gather a buttonhole bouquet, at least, and the memory of the meeting and the passing will always remain delightful, as the memory of some beautiful landscape, viewed in the fall of the year when the trees are full of color.
As we grow older, it becomes us to grow graceful in spirit, and this can be done by bringing our minds to the point at which the inner self must not become irritated. One who learns the art of self-control, or mental poise, remains calm and lovable under all conditions. His presence and his influence are desired by all during his declining years. To grow old with a distressed spirit that creates an atmosphere of unrest in one's life, which is in turn imparted to those about us, is to make a failure of the last years of life.