Difficulties Confronting Mental Tone
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
These difficulties we ought clearly to see, and the chief among them will now appear. Ever in opposition to a confident attitude of mind-health is
FIRST, THE DIFFICULTY OF FALSE IDEAS ABOUT ENVIRONMENT — How TO OVERCOME. Many of us assume that environment — or circumstances — make or defeat our mental life. The fact is,--what you do with environment is precisely one of the tests of your mind — rather, of the self which uses the mind. The real meaning of environment is Opportunity for Life-Building. You can make of anything in your right existence such an opportunity. On the other hand, there is nothing related to you of which you may not in some way fail to take advantage.
Environment is the True Work-Shop of the Soul. For to every person living there are two kinds of environment: that of the seen world or neighborhood, with all its varied circumstances, be these exactly what they are; and that of the world of thought-reality in which each individual actually lives. Neither of these environments need determine real life.
"Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage."
In multitudes of cases, imperious self, seeking its own better kingdoms, has succeeded in changing its visible environment, either by deliberate transfer to other fields or by creating a demand, through manifest ability, from higher levels, "Come thou up hither." Here we have the triumph of persistent mind-power.
An editor formerly pursued in succession three university courses, history, law, medicine,— and went into the hotel business. Then he wrote a book which the people wanted, and he is now assisting in the editorial chair a multitude of struggling men to find their right places in life.
A hack-driver in New York discovered himself and proceeded to work his way through college. He is now a master teacher in philosophy.
A coal miner found that he possessed a voice worth training. He threw himself into the task of attaining vocal perfection. No man to-day surpasses him in the field of the oratorio.
A boy purchased a lot of minerals from workmen engaged in cutting a bank for a railway track. He is now an expert on precious stones, a writer of scientific books and a fellow in several learned societies.
Such are examples, taken from real life and not found in print, of what you can do, according to your original endowment. And the only way in which you can discover your endowment is precisely — to discover what kind of environment you can conquer. The will to do so will constitute one important element in sound healthy-mindedness. To this end you are urged to saturate your very soul with this.
Inspiration-Resolution: Believing vigorously in myself, and confident of ultimate success, I resolve — To discipline and cultivate mind in every available way, to multiply my best powers into all things undertaken, to follow the inner voice of my sanest judgment, and to make my whole environment a splendid workshop for development and achievement of the best of which I am capable.
If you will practise such a resolution, you will find your mind coming more and more to strength and healthy tone, and your courage rounding out to symmetry and power.
But environment has another phase. It is also the world of thought in which the soul lives. This may be a mere reflection of the material environment, pleasing or otherwise, or it may be an independent product of the real self, good or evil, pervading and dominating, rather than reflecting, the physical surroundings. In the one case, the visible rules; in the other, the soul reigns. We create our worlds, either by simple copying, or by that divine ability to construct which is the privilege of all.
The healthy mind creates a psychic environment which throws a light upon the outer world and masters its so-called "evils" in the very act of such creation. If life's conditions are dark, the spirit illumines them; if they are bright, it transfigures their significance, and is thus enabled to stand serene, whatever betide. This is, indeed, an old truth, but so also is moss an old reality — and marvelously beautiful. Look into it with seeing eyes: it has starry wonders.
Peter, the wealthiest man in. Russia, is taken prisoner by the French, and suffers some hardships From his improvised gaol, a hut, he looks out upon a moon-flooded world and gazes up into the starlit dome of the sky.
"All that is mine!" exclaims the prisoner. "All that is in me, is me! And that is what they think they have taken prisoner! That is what they have shut up in a cabin!"
If you would come to such a real thought-world environment, several things must become the very surest realities of your life. Among these essential things, and perhaps the first that should be noted are Courageous Beliefs and the Valiant Will. The Universe appeals to every one of us, "Be not faithless, but believing." When you really believe for a goal, you will that goal, and you surely believe for it when you actually will it. The attitudes indicated compel the achievements. I shall not weaken that truth by any provisos. " Who gains promotions, boons, appointments, but the man in whose life they are seen to play the part of live hypotheses, who discounts them, sacrifices other things for their sake before they have come, and takes risks for them in advance? His faith acts on the powers above him as a claim, and creates its own verification." This does not mean, of course, a superstitious faith in miracles wrought for the favored individual because he affirms belief in a providence; it simply means work and plenty of work conducted in the entire confidence that the whole of a man gone into a system of effort shall surely bring out of it great things. The very fact of work thus carried on signifies the spirits of belief and will which conquer circumstances and arrest the attention of higher powers in any human field. Then comes enlargement of environment — opportunity. All the circumstances that exist are somewhere defeated by some soul. Every-where are people who are swamped by environment, and who remain mental nonentities in a perennial state of depressing ill-health of mind. But everywhere are other people who refuse to be swamped, who assert the right of the fullest mental life, who continue to grow and to conquer to the end.
It is to be remembered that this chapter deals not in methods of educational work for the mind, however, but merely in suggestions for mental health. Right living is, therefore, of the utmost importance. What-ever your mental attainments, if your life is wrong, you cannot be possessed of true health of mind. In some instances, the will, while successful in unfolding a kind of right living, does not always maintain the real tone of a healthy mind. Marcus Aurelius was probably the greatest Emperor as a man that Rome produced, yet he was the most melancholy pagan of antiquity. He lived rightly, so far as he knew, but his thought-life was eminently unhealthy, at least at times. Splendidly he said : " Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it;" and he also declared : "Such as bathing appears to thee, oil, sweat, dirt, filthy water, all things disgusting — so is every part of life and every thing." Socrates was the most healthy-minded of all the Greeks, and the happiest, the freest, the most courageous. This man's personality shines across the ages like a pillar of white marble. His was the white life so far as conceived by his Greek thought. It is really the white life which makes soundness and buoyancy natural to mental health, so that environment really becomes the work-shop of the soul.
But the mastery of environment is not a matter of sheer will and mere pushing and crowding for better things. Here, then, appears a further obstacle to healthy-mindedness —
SECONDLY, THE DIFFICULTY OF FALSE IDEAS OF THE SUCCESS-SPIRIT — How TO CORRECT. Life is not a game of foot-ball, in which hard-fisted will and brutal push must win ; it is the greatest of sciences and the art of all arts, wherein will must rise to faith and push must give place to affirmation. Along with belief and resolution, then, should go an element of even a higher nature, in which the idea is not so much " I can and I will," as "It is surely mine to acquire all strength and health of mind essential to my life." Such is our remedy for false notions of the success-spirit. The true idea may be called the spirit of
Self-Inspiration. You are not required to live on the hard, stony plane of utter driving slavery. That feeling of blended must and hurry and gripping determination is one of the greatest enemies of man. When the self inspires the self, on the other hand, we have one of the most attractive and beneficent, as well as practical, elements at man's command. The one attitude should go out of your life ; the other attitude should become permanent and constantly more vital therein. In order to such substitution kindly observe the following invitations.
(1). You are invited to put forever away the idea, "I must achieve mental development," and to replace it by the affirmation, "It is given me to make the most of a wholesome mind."
(2). You are urged to banish completely all feeling of hurry,— that inner distress which drives, drives, senselessly and always,— remembering that however swiftly muscles or powers may move at times, the unhasting spirit is in the long run the most efficient.
(3). You are also urged to loosen your deadly grip on the mind, and to give its free, deeper consciousness Iarger opportunities. You do not wrest facts, truths, beauties, laws, from Nature or life; you receive them. Attention is not boring into a subject; it is permitting the subject to unfold in the mind. It is not the mind that thinks; it is the self — and Heaven only knows just what that thinking self really is. You grow, not by robbing a Universe, but by accepting its gifts. Not hard determination to have, but eagerness to accept, is the spirit of the healthy mind. It is better still to say: "It is given me to unfold, and in the unfolding, to receive buoyancy and freedom and knowledge and wholesomeness of soul. So, now, will I receive."
(4). You are invited to cultivate a constantly present due sense of personal worth. There is neither virtue nor power in self-belittlement. When man first stood forth from the animal kingdom and con-fronted the world with the deep-breathed assertion, "I am!" spiritual power swept across the field of life — virtue was born in the earth.
(5). You are invited to insist upon your mental rights and to hold a fair valuation of your work among men.
It is this way with me:
(6). You are invited freely to engage in creating high thoughts concerning yourself, your fellows and the whole world. You may overdo in this matter, and you may be deceived by other people, but better the excess of faith and honor than the lack, and if you come truly to admire man, taken by and large, and to believe in the White Universe, the reflex influence of this high-mindedness cannot fail of the greatest good in both your mental health and your personal courage.
(7). You are invited to find in Nature your greatest library and school for development and health. To this end the idea that Nature is a mere surface, or a kind of thin garment, so that, if you could only pierce through it, nothing would remain, should be cast entirely out of thought. This is one of the most prevalent errors, and it is a destroyer of our true relations with the material world. Nature has, we say, three dimensions — length, breadth and thickness. But we imagine that thickness exhausts depth. Thus we miss the real teachings of Nature, open to all. Nature is always and everywhere an infinite reality! Infinity lies below all her realities. Nature is a body expressing the truth of Infinite Reality. Nature is the Infinite Soul manifest to man. It is for this reason that you are again invited to refer to the Nature-Thoughts given in the last chapter, and to endeavor to realize their stupendous character and influence for good in your mental life. This and the following suggestion is of very great importance.
(8). And you are invited to add to such a regime, which will uncover many things in the world around you, this final effort — to realize the words below as standing, in all your mental constitution for
Freedom, Openness, Friendliness, Appreciation,
If you will cultivate these master qualities of the mental life, you will inevitably come to a degree of healthy-mindedness, and so, to a phase of that courage which is far above any mere physical bravery, for you will infallibly have discovered the white life. The white life need fear nothing, either on the earth below or in the heavens above.
All this, of course, suggests a considerable amount of labor, and precisely such labor indicates a further difficulty in the way of mental health.
THIRDLY, THE DIFFICULTY OF FALSE IDEAS OF DISCIPLINE — How TO REMEDY. If the last regimes have a distasteful look to you, the fact shows that discipline is wrongly conceived. When you feel that life is really inspired by such high ideals, the element of discipline almost loses its distinctive character. The effort to correct or improve your personality because the work is regarded as a mere duty or a necessity is very naturally more or less unpleasant. The attempt to make the most of self for the sake of a larger life in full health and courage, on the other hand, becomes a spontaneous expression of desire by so much as the goal is idealized in thought. A real inspiration calls exuberantly for
Confident Self-Discipline. It is a rank error to feel that discipline of self is inconsistent with the highest satisfaction in the work required. Precisely the opposite will appear if you come to hold —
"My mynde to me a kingdom is,
Mere mental grubbing is not a phase of mental health. A wholesome mind enjoys itself in its most strenuous activity. That the difficulty which now con-fronts us may disappear, you are invited to observe the suggestions following:
(1). You are urged to cultivate the mood of intellectual happiness by repeating again and again the lines just above quoted from the old English poet, Byrd.
(2). You are urged to refuse admittance to all unworthy and depressing thoughts and realities. Why should a human being turn the mind into a charnel-house, a graveyard, a prison, or a hell?
(3). You are urged to banish all intellectual brooding and worry, and every form of pessimism and cynicism. Before my desk hang two printed sentiments, one from Robert Louis Stevenson, one from Robert Browning. Stevenson begins a prayer with: "The day returns and brings us the petty round of irritating concerns and duties. Help us to play the man, etc." Browning begins a little poem with; "The year 's at the spring, And day 's at the morn," mentions a number of bright things that flash up to his view, and closes with the shout: "God 's in his Heaven — All 's right with the world!" In the one sentiment you see the heroic spirit fighting illness of mind; in the other you see perfect mental health.
(4). You are invited to apply the following statement to your own life: It has been estimated that every person whose career measures fifty years, say, from the age of twenty to that of seventy, has had four solid years of time as a treasure to be disposed of for whatever the soul may have chosen to purchase, however busy the life may have been. That amount of time, if properly used, would bring the equivalent of a college education. And this is true, not in the sense that one needs be a slave to personal improvement, but taken in the most reasonable manner.
(5.) You are invited to maintain in your mental kingdom as large a variety of action as may be consistent with steadfastness and balance. If your mind is not a gad-about, neither is it a mere galley-slave. In the average human brain there are millions of cells which are capable of activity representing thought. Not one of these cells do we ever create by conscious effort; we merely use and develop. Your mental life, then, may be as narrow and monotonous, or as broad and varied, as you will.
(6). You are urged to study your own mind for discovery of weaknessess and unhealthy peculiarities, as, for example: scant power of observation, poor memory, imagination, judgment; lack of concentration, and of analyzing ability, of persistence and force; prejudices, "mental squint," abnormal fondness for abnormal things; antipathies, likes, propensities, unwholesome tendencies; shortsightedness, lack of dignity, of poise; flippancy, mysticism, undue matter-of factness, over-criticalness, excessive credulity, etc., etc. Of course such phases of unhealthy-mindedness should be corrected. There is no reason whatever for any discouragement in the effort. "Be not faithless, but believing," No weakness is there which you may not improve, no fault you may not obviate, if only belief and will be held buoyantly to the work of personal improvement.
(7.) For you are now invited, on the other hand, to set about discovering your best points, and to "let yourself out" in every line indicated by the revelation. The trouble with most people who really ought to address themselves to this enjoyment of securing the best mental tone, is just here: they dwell forever on the wrong side of the question. I talked with a man who declared that he had lost opportunities in life because of timidity. I said: "You ought to overcome this weakness." "Oh, yes," he replied; "I know; but it 's in the blood before me." This man had suggested to himself an impossibility, and stood limp before his master, a mere notion. I believe that all slavery to "blood" and training is itself mental ill-health. You are in the world to be master of these factors. That is exactly the significance of human life. Man develops by so much as he makes his own blood over and better.
(8.) And you are urged to remember that healthy mindedness no less than health of body demands rest and recreation. "Unclamp your intellectual and practical machinery and let it run free; and the service it will do you will be twice as good."
We have thus seen that some of the difficulties confronting mind-health are false ideas of environment, of the success-spirit, and of self-discipline, and that our corrections are right beliefs, self-inspiration, and confident self-discipline, In. order, now, to obviate a tendency which some one calls "uncritical optimism," — a vague assumption of good whether or no,— we must remember that a growing mind requires a very healthy dealing with reality. The trouble here presented may be called,