Autosuggestion - Thought Is A Force
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
AUTOSUGGESTION is not a pseudo-religion like Christian Science or " New Thought." It is a scientific method based on the discoveries of psychology. The traditional psychology was regarded by the layman, not without some cause, as a dull and seemingly use-less classification of our conscious faculties. But within the past twenty-five years the science has undergone a great change. A revolution has taken place in it which seems likely to provoke a revolution equally profound in the wider limits of our common life. From a preoccupation with the conscious it has turned to the Unconscious (or subconscious), to the vast area of mental activity which exists outside the circle of our awareness. In doing so it has grasped at the very roots of life itself, has groped down to the depths where the " life-force," the élan vital, touches our individual being. What this may entail in the future we can only dimly guess. Just as the discovery of America altered the balance of the Old World, shifting it westward to the shores of the Atlantic, so the discovery and investigation of the Unconscious seems destined to shift the balance of human life.
Obviously, this is no place to embark on the discussion of a subject of such extreme complexity. The investigation of the Unconscious is a science in itself, in which different schools of thought are seeking to disengage a basis of fact from conflicting and daily changing theories. But there is a certain body of fact, experimentally proven, on which the authorities agree, and of this we quote a few features which directly interest us as students of autosuggestion.
The Unconscious is the storehouse of memory, where every impression we receive from earliest in-fancy to the last hour of life is recorded with the minutest accuracy. These memories, however, are not inert and quiescent, like the marks on the vulcanite records of a gramophone ; they are vitally active, each one forming a thread in the texture of our personality. The sum of all these impressions is the man himself, the ego, the form through which the general life is individualised. The outer man is but a mask; the real self dwells behind the veil of the Unconscious.
The Unconscious is also a power-house. It is dominated by feeling, and feeling is the force which impels our lives. It provides the energy for conscious thought and action, and for the performance of the vital processes of the body.
Finally the Unconscious plays the part of supervisor over our physical processes. Digestion, assimilation, the circulation of the blood, the action of the lungs, the kidneys and all the vital organs are controlled by its agency. Our organism is not a clockwork machine which once wound up will run of itself. Its processes in all their complexity are supervised by mind. It is not the intellect, however, which does this work, but the Unconscious. The intellect still stands aghast be-fore the problem of the human body, lost like Pascal in the profundities of analysis, each discovery only revealing new depths of mystery. But the Unconscious seems to be familiar with it in every detail.
It may be added that the Unconscious never sleeps ;during the sleep of the conscious it seems to be more vigilant than during our waking hours.
In comparison with these, the powers of the conscious mind seem almost insignificant. Derived from the Unconscious during the process of evolution, the conscious is, as it were, the antechamber where the crude energies of the Unconscious are selected and adapted for action on the world outside us. In the past we have unduly exaggerated the importance of the conscious intellect. To claim for it the discoveries of civilisation is to confuse the instrument with the agent, to attribute sight to the field-glass instead of to the eye behind it. The value of the conscious mind must not be underrated, however. It is a machine of the greatest value, the seat of reason, the social instincts and moral concepts. But it is a machine and not the engine, nor yet the engineer. It provides neither material nor power. These are furnished by the Unconscious.
These two strata of mental life are in perpetual interaction one with the other. Just as everything conscious has its preliminary step in the Unconscious, so every conscious thought passes down into the lower stratum and there becomes an element in our being, partaking of the Unconscious energy, and playing its part in supervising and determining our mental and bodily states. If it is a healthful thought we are so much the better; if it is a diseased one we are so much the worse. It is this transformation of a thought into an element of our life that we call Autosuggestion. Since this is a normal part of the mind's action we shall have no difficulty in finding evidence of it in our daily experiences.
Walking down the street in a gloomy frame of mind you meet a buoyant, cheery acquaintance. The mere sight of his genial smile acts on you like a tonic, and when you have chatted with him for a few minutes your gloom has disappeared, giving place to cheerfulness and confidence. What has effected this change? Nothing other than the idea in your own mind. As you watched his face, listened to his good-natured voice, noticed the play of his smile, your conscious mind was occupied by the idea of cheerfulness. This idea on being transferred to the Unconscious became a reality, so that without any logical grounds you became cheerful.
Few people, especially young people, are unacquainted with the effects produced by hearing or reading ghost-stories. You have spent the evening, let us say, at a friend's house, listening to terrifying tales of apparitions. At a late hour you leave the fireside circle to make your way home. The states of fear imaged before your mind have realised themselves in your Unconscious. You tread gingerly in the dark places, hurry past the churchyard and feel a distinct relief when the lights of home come into view. It is the old road you have so often traversed with perfect equanimity, but its cheerful associations are over-looked and the commonest objects tinged with the colour of your subjective states. Autosuggestion can-not change a, post into a spectre, but if you are very impressionable it will so distort your sensory impressions that common sounds seem charged with super-natural significance and every-day objects take on terrifying shapes.
In each of the above examples the idea of a mental state—cheerfulness or fear—was presented to the mind. The idea on reaching the Unconscious became a reality; that is to say, you actually became cheerful or frightened.
The same process is much easier to recognise where the resultant is not a mental but a bodily state.
One often meets people who take a delight in de-scribing with a wealth of detail the disorders with which they or their friends are afflicted. A sensitive person is condemned by social usage to listen to a harrowing account of some grave malady. As detail succeeds detail the listener feels a chilly discomfort stealing over him. He turns pale, breaks into a cold perspiration, and is aware of an unpleasant sensation at the pit of the stomach. Sometimes, generally where the listener is a child, actual vomiting or a fainting fit may ensue. These effects are undeniably physical ; to produce them the organic processes must have been sensibly disturbed. Yet their cause lies entirely in the idea of illness, which, ruthlessly impressed upon the mind, realises itself in the Unconscious.
This effect may be so precise as to reproduce the actual symptoms of the disease described. Medical students engaged in the study of some particular malady frequently develop its characteristic symptoms.
Everyone is acquainted with the experiénce known as " stage fright." The victim may be a normal per-son, healthy both in mind and body. He may possess in private life a good voice, a mind fertile in ideas and a gift of fluent expression. He may know quite surely that his audience is friendly and sympathetic to the ideas he wishes to unfold. But let him mount the steps of a platform. Immediately his knees begin to tremble and his heart to palpitate; his mind becomes a blank or a chaos, his tongue and lips refuse to frame coherent sounds, and after a few stammerings he is forced to make a ludicrous withdrawal. The cause of this baffling experience lay in the thoughts which occupied the subject's mind before his public appearance. He was afraid of making himself ridiculous. He expected to feel uncomfortable, feared that he would forget his speech or be unable to express himself. These negative ideas, penetrating to the Unconscious, realised themselves and precisely what he feared took place.
If you live in a town you have probably seen people who, in carelessly crossing the street, find themselves in danger of being run down by a vehicle. In this position they sometimes stand for an appreciable time " rooted," as we say, " to the spot." This is because the danger seems so close that they imagine themselves powerless to elude it. As soon as this idea gives place to that of escape they get out of the way as fast as they can. If their first idea persisted, however, the actual powerlessness resulting from it would likewise persist, and unless the vehicle stopped or turned aside they would infallibly be run over.
One occasionally meets people suffering from a nervous complaint known as St. Vitus' Dance. They have a disconcerting habit of contorting their faces, screwing round their necks or twitching their shoulders. It is a well known fact that those who come into close contact with them, living in the same house or working in the same office, are liable to contract the same habit, often performing the action without themselves being aware of it. This is due to the operation of the same law. The idea of the habit, being repeatedly presented to their minds, realises itself, and they begin to perform a similar movement in their own persons.
Examples of this law present themselves at every turn. ; Have you ever asked yourself why some people faint at the sight of blood, or why most of us turn giddy when we look down from a great height?
If we turn to the sufferers from neurosis we find some who have lost their powers of speech or of vision; some, like the blacksmith we saw in Coué's clinic, who have lost the use of their limbs ; others suffering from a functional disturbance of one of the vital organs. The cause in each case is nothing more tangible than an idea which has become realised in the Unconscious mind.
These instances show clearly enough that the thoughts we think do actually become realities in the Unconscious. But is this a universal law, operating in every life, or merely something contingent and occasional? Sometimes irrelevant cheerfulness seems only to make despondency more deep. Certain types of individual are only irritated by the performance of a stage comedy. Physicians listen to the circumstantial accounts of their patients' ailments without being in the least upset. These facts seem at first sight at variance with the rule. But they are only apparent exceptions which serve to test and verify it. The physical or mental effect invariably corresponds with the idea present in the mind, but this need not be identical with the thought communicated from without. Sometimes a judgment interposes itself, or it may be that the idea calls up an associated idea which possesses greater vitality and therefore dislodges it. A gloomy person who meets a cheerful acquaintance may mentally contrast himself with the latter, setting his own troubles beside the other's good fortune, his own grounds for sadness beside the other's grounds for satisfaction. Thus the idea of his own unhappiness is strengthened and sinking into the Unconscious makes still deeper the despondency he experienced before. In the same way the doctor, listening to the symptoms of a patient, does not allow these distressful ideas to dwell in his conscious mind. His thought passes on immediately to the remedy, to the idea of the help he must give. Not only does he manifest this helpfulness in reasoned action, but also, by Unconscious realisation, in his very bearing and manner. Or his mind may be concentrated on the scientific bearings of the case, so that he will involuntarily treat the patient as a specimen on which to pursue his researches. The steeplejack experiences no giddiness or fear in scaling a church spire because the thought of danger is immediately replaced by the knowledge of his own clear head and sure foot.
This brings us to a point which is of great practical importance in the performance of curative auto-suggestion. No idea presented to the mind can realise itself unless the mind accepts it.
Most of the errors made hitherto in this field have been due to the neglect of this fundamental fact. If a patient is suffering from severe toothache it is not of the slightest use to say to him : " You have no pain." The statement is so grossly opposed to the fact that " acceptation " is impossible. The patient will reject the suggestion, affirm the fact of his suffering, and so, by allowing his conscious mind to dwell on it, probably make it more intense.
We are now in a position to formulate the basic law of autosuggestion as follows :
Every idea which enters the conscious mind, if it is accepted by the Unconscious, is transformed by it into a reality and forms henceforth a permanent element to our life.
This is the process called " Spontaneous Autosuggestion." It is a law by which the mind of man has always worked, and by which all our minds are working daily.
The reader will see from the examples cited and from others which he will constantly meet that the thoughts we think determine not only our mental states, our sentiments and emotions, but the delicate actions and adjustments of our physical bodies. Trembling, palpitation, stammering, blushing—not to speak of the pathological states which occur in neurosis—are due to modifications and changes in the blood-flow, in muscular action and in the working of the vital organs. These changes are not voluntary and conscious ones, they are determined by the Unconscious and come to us often with a shock of surprise.
It must be evident that if we fill our conscious minds with ideas of health, joy, goodness, efficiency, and can ensure their acceptation by the Unconscious, these ideas too will become realities, capable of lifting us on to a new plane of being. The difficulty which has hitherto so frequently brought these hopes to naught is that of ensuring acceptation. This will be treated in the next chapter.
To sum up, the whole process of Autosuggestion consists of two steps : (1) The acceptation of an idea. (2) Its transformation into a reality. Both these operations are performed by the Unconscious, Whether the idea is originated in the mind of the subject or is presented from without by the agency of another person is a matter of indifference. In both cases it undergoes the same process : it is submitted to the Unconscious, accepted or rejected, and so either realised or ignored. Thus the distinction between Autosuggestion and Heterosuggestion is seen to be both arbitrary and superficial. In essentials all suggestion is Autosuggestion. The only distinction we need make is between Spontaneous Autosuggestion, which takes place independently of our will and choice, and Induced Autosuggestion, in which we consciously select the ideas we wish to realise and purposely convey them to the Unconscious.