Autosuggestion - General Rules
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
WITH our knowledge of the powerful effect which an idea produces, we shall see the importance of exercising a more careful censorship over the thoughts which enter our minds. Thought is the legislative power in our lives, just as the will is the executive. We should not think it wise to permit the in-mates of prisons and asylums to occupy the legislative posts in the state, yet when we harbour ideas of passion and disease, we allow the criminals and lunatics of thought to usurp the governing power in the commonwealth of our being.
In future, then, we shall seek ideas of health, success, and goodness; we shall treat warily all depressing subjects of conversation, the daily list of crimes and disasters which fill the newspapers, and those novels, plays and films which harrow our feelings, without transmuting by the magic of art the sadness into beauty.
This does not mean that we should be always self-consciously studying ourselves, ready to nip the pernicious idea in the bud; nor yet that we should adopt the ostrich's policy of sticking our heads in the sand and declaring that disease and evil have no real existence. The one leads to egotism and the other to callousness. Duty sometimes requires us to give our attention to things in themselves evil and depressing. The demands of friendship and human sympathy are imperious, and we cannot ignore them without moral loss. But there is a positive and a negative way of approaching such subjects.
Sympathy is too often regarded as a passive process by which we allow ourselves to be infected by the gloom, the weakness, the mental ill-health of other people. This is sympathy perverted. If a friend is suffering from small-pox or scarlet fever you do not seek to prove your sympathy by infecting yourself with his disease. You would recognize this to be a crime against the community. Yet many people submit themselves to infection by unhealthy ideas as if it were an act of charity—part of their duty towards their neighbours. In the same way people deliver their minds to harrowing stories of famine and pestilence, as if the mental depression thus produced were of some value to the far-away victims. This is obviously false—the only result is to cause gloom and ill-health in the reader and so make him a burden to his family. That such disasters should be known is beyond question, but we should react to them in the manner indicated in the last chapter. We should replace the blank recognition of the evil by the quest of the means best suited to overcome it; then we can look forward to an inspiring end and place the powers of our will in the service of its attainment.
Oh, human soul, as long as thou canst so,
Autosuggestion, far from producing callousness, dictates the method and supplies the means by which-the truest sympathy can be practised. In every case our aim must be to remove the suffering as soon as possible, and this is facilitated by refusing acceptation to the bad ideas and maintaining our own mental and moral balance.
Whenever gloomy thoughts come to us, whether from without or within, we should quietly transfer our attention to something brighter. Even if we are afflicted by some actual malady, we should keep our thought from resting on it as far as we have the power to do so. An organic disease may be increased a hun dredfold by allowing the mind to brood on it, for in so doing we place at its disposal all the resources of our organism, and direct our life-force to our „ own destruction. On the other hand, by denying it our attention and opposing it with curative autosuggestions, we reduce its power to the minimum and should succeed in overcoming it entirely. Even in the most serious organic diseases the element contributed by wrong thought is infinitely greater than that which is purely physical.
There are times when temperamental failings, or the gravity of our affliction, places our imagination beyond our ordinary control. The suggestion operates in spite of us; we do not seem to possess the power to rid our minds of the adverse thought. Under these conditions we should never struggle to throw off the obsessing idea by force. Our exertions only bring into play the law of reversed effort, and we flounder deeper into the slough. Coué's technique, however, which will be outlined in succeeding chapters, will give us the means of mastering ourselves, even under the most trying conditions.
Of all the destructive suggestions we must learn to shun, none is more dangerous than fear. In fearing something the mind is not only dwelling on a negative idea, but it is establishing the closest personal connection between the idea and ourselves. Moreover, the idea is surrounded by an aura of emotion, which considérably intensifies its effect. Fear combines every element necessary to give to an autosuggestion its maximum power. But happily fear, too, is susceptible to the controlling power of autosuggestion. It is one of the first things which a person cognisant of the means to be applied should seek to eradicate from his mind.
For our own sakes, too, we should avoid dwelling on the faults and frailties of our neighbours. If ideas of selfishness, greed, vanity, are continually before our minds there is great danger that we shall subconsciously accept them, and so realise them in our own character. The petty gossip and backbiting, so common in a small town, produce the very faults they seem to condemn. But by allowing our minds to rest upon the virtues of our neighbours, we reproduce the same virtues in ourselves.
But if we should avoid negative ideas for our own sakes, much more should we do so for the sake of other people. Gloomy and despondent men and women are centres of mental contagion, damaging all with whom they come in contact. Sometimes such people seem involuntarily to exert themselves to quench the cheerfulness of brighter natures, as if their Unconscious strove to reduce all others to its own low level. But even healthy, well-intentioned people scat-ter evil suggestions broadcast, without the least suspicion of the harm they do. Every time we remark to an acquaintance that he is looking ill, we actually damage his health; the effect may be extremely slight, but by repetition it grows powerful. A man who accepts in the course of a day fifteen or twenty suggestions that he is ill, has gone a considerable part of the way towards actual illness. Similarly,-when we thoughtlessly commiserate with a friend on the difficulty of his daily work, or represent it as irksome and uncongenial, we make it a little harder for him to accomplish, and thereby slightly diminish his chances of success.
If we must supervise our speech in contact with adults, with children we should exercise still greater foresight. The child's Unconscious is far more accessible than that of the adult; the selective power exercised by the conscious mind is much feebler, and consequently the impressions received realise themselves with greater power. These impressions are the material from which the child's growing life is constructed, and if we supply faulty material the resultant structure will be unstable. Yet the most attentive and well-meaning mothers are engaged daily in sowing the seeds of weakness in their children's minds. The little ones are constantly told they will take cold, will be sick, will fall down, or will suffer some other misfortune. The more delicate the child's health, the more likely it is to be subjected to adverse suggestions. It is too often saturated with the idea of bad health, and comes to look on disease as the normal state of existence and health as exceptional. The same is equally true of the child's mental and moral upbringing. How often do foolish parents tell their children that they are naughty, disobedient, stupid, idle or vicious? If these suggestions were accepted, which, thank Heaven, is not always the case, the little ones would in very fact develop just these qualities. But even when no word is spoken, a look or a gesture can initiate an undesirable autosuggestion. The same child, visited by two strangers, will immediately make friends with the one and avoid the other. Why is this?-Because the one carries with him a healthful atmosphere, while the other sends out waves of irritability or gloom.
" Men 'imagine," says Emerson, " that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue and vice emit a breath every moment."
With children, above all, it is not sufficient to refrain from the expression of negative ideas; we must avoid harbouring them altogether. Unless we possess a bright positive mind the suggestions derived from us. will be of little value.
The idea is gaining ground that a great deal of what is called hereditary disease is transmitted from parent to child, not physically but mentally—that is to say, by means of adverse suggestions continually renewed in the child's mind. Thus if one of the parents has a tendency to tuberculosis, the child often. lives in an atmosphere laden with tuberculous thoughts. The little one is continually advised to take care of its lungs, to keep its chest warm, to beware of colds, etc., etc. In other words, the idea is repeatedly presented to its mind that it possesses second-rate lungs. The realisation of these ideas, the actual production of pulmonary tuberculosis is thus almost assured.
But all this is no more than crystallised common-sense. Everyone knows that a cheerful mind suffuses health, while a gloomy one produces conditions favourable to disease. " A merry heart doeth good like a medicine," says the writer of the Book of Proverbs, "but a broken spirit drieth the bones." But this knowledge, since it lacked a scientific basis, has never been systematically applied. We have regarded our feelings far too much as effects and not sufficiently as causes. We are happy because we are well; we do not recognise that the process will work equally well in the reverse direction—that we shall be well because we are happy. Happiness is not only the result of our conditions of life; it is also the creator of those conditions. Autosuggestion lays weight upon this latter view. Happiness must come first. It is only when the mind is ordered, balanced, filled with the light of sweet and joyous thought, that it can work with its maximum efficiency. When we are habitually happy our powers and capabilities come to their full blossom, and we are able to work with the utmost effect on the shaping of what lies without.
Happiness, you say, cannot be ordered like a chop in a restaurant. Like love, its very essence is freedom. This is true ; but like love, it can be wooed and won. It is a condition which everyone experiences at some time in life. It is native to the mind. By the systematic practice of Induced Autosuggestion we can make it, not a fleeting visitant, but a regular tenant of the mind, which storms and stresses from without cannot dislodge. This idea of the indwelling happiness, inwardly conditioned, is as ancient as thought. By autosuggestion we can realise it in our own lives.