Attention In Thinking
( Originally Published 1907 )
"SOMETHING more reliable than a mere impulse is needed to make a strong mind. Back of all must stand a strong Will, with the ability and disposition to use it. M. Marcel well says, ` The great secret of education lies in exciting and directing the Will.' In later mental acquirements we recognize the omnipotence of Will. Nothing takes its place until we discover that attention is under the control of the Will, and until, by perseverance, we acquire the power of thus controlling it." Popular Science Monthly.
THEORY OF CHAPTER
True thinking is a deliberative act of mind held fast to its task;
Such impelled action discovers the best use of mind, and develops and stores the whole man;
The mind thus improved throws itself into its operations with greater wisdom and increased energy; This action unfolds the Will.
The best thinker is the best reader. This is true even of " reciters," so far as their work is concerned. To recite, one must interpret; to interpret one must think.
Thinking, in its noblest sense, is largely a lost art among the people. They indulge in a vast deal of mental jargon, but genuine thought seems a scarce article. A single " straw " is the fact that new matter presented in the simplest language is often declared to be " too deep for us." The difficulty is not depth, but unfamiliarity; the limits of popular thinking are narrow; outside these limits, even sunlight is opaque, and diamonds are mere quartz pebbles.
People " think," as they say, to be sure, concerning homes, business, politics, social and state affairs, together with a smattering of religion; but in an elevated way, this " thinking" is a good deal like the " thinking" of animals ; vague, unconscious as thought, forced, disjointed, spasmodic, haphazard. Few seem to think out a great reality, build up a consistent theory, or elaborate a reasonable system. We have not here, altogether, it must be said, the pressure of dirt and moil. It is a case of mental laziness. One must work with muscles in order to exist; but one need not labor with the mind for assimilation of food and development of brawn. House-keepers and shop-tenders aver a great amount of thinking, "real and wearisome"; but we have here very largely the mechanics of mental routine. The world is flooded with "literature" every day, and the most of its readers relax in its enervating tide. Evidence : few "get on," few discover themselves and the universe about them infinite globe of dynamic influences for the elevation of the human soul.
Nothing affords greater satisfaction than to mine into a fact or truth and ramify its various connections. Here is a process that is keenest tonic, a result of which is bank of deposit paying compound interest.
All Values Yield to Concentration
The ability to think clean through a subject puts a man apart as one of the victors of life. This power may be developed. Whenever it is taken in hand, resolutely and persistently, one of its hugest products is a giant Will.
But remember, true thinking depends upon, (1) Attention, (2) Knowledge, (3) Memory, (4) Correct Perception of Relations.
The swiftness and value of the process will depend upon the determined attitude brought into it by the soul. According to your Will, so be it unto you. In the last analysis, faith is Will shouting, " I will not let thee go ! "
It is a mistake to suppose that one must be versed in all the rules of logic in order to become a good thinker. The mastery of logic is vastly helpful, to be sure; but after all, it is thinking that has produced logic, rather than logic thinking. A persistent effort to think correctly will in time develop a fair logical system, though its possessor may not be aware of the fact.
Be it remembered that good thinking may, and it may not, coincide with common sense. "Common sense is the exercise of the judgment unaided by art or system." Its only teacher is experience ; but the lessons of experience seldom repeat themselves the last has always some new element. The application of common sense is, therefore, a matter of inference, of reasoning. The best thinker ought to possess the greatest common sense.
Practiced thinking rather than common sense, governs the physician, the lawyer, the sailor, the en= gineer, the farmer, the business man, the statesman though these must bring common sense to bear in thinking. When so done it is distinctly thinking.
The power to think, consecutively and deeply and clearly, is an avowed and deadly enemy to mistakes and blunders, superstitions, unscientific theories, irrational beliefs, unbridled enthusiasm, crankiness, fanaticism.
The lack of thought-power creates financial panics and ruins business, unsettles politics and government, keeps the masses down, makes the rich intolerant and unwise, and renders religion non-progressive.
He who cannot think cannot will, in the highest sense.
He who cannot will strongly, cannot think long or deeply.
All labor in thought involves a measuring capacity for willing.
All willed thinking develops Will.
Exercise No. I. Take now, any simple and great truth. Concentrate attention upon this truth, absolutely excluding every other thought. Example : " Man is immortal." Think of man as immortal only. Think of man in every conceivable way as being immortal. Man is body ; what is body? Is body immortal? Is the body immortal? If not, in either case, why not? If so, in either case, why? And in what sense? Man has mind; what is mind? Is it immortal? If so, what in mind is immortal? Why do you believe as you do? If mind is immortal, for what purpose? Man, again, has moral consciousness. What is this? Is this immortal? In what sense? What in moral consciousness is immortal? Why do you so believe? For what purpose is man, as moral consciousness, immortal?
Now think of immortality. What is it? Think of immortality in every conceivable way as connected with man. How does it concern him? Has it various supposable or believable states in relation to him? Where is he, as you suppose, in immortality? What is he, according to your idea, to become in immortality? What is he to take with him at death? With whom is he to exist hereafter? What is he to do? What relation have his present states to any believable states of his future life? How does he get his idea of immortality? What purpose does the idea serve in his life? In your life? Why should man be immortal?
When thinking of man, always keep in mind the idea " immortal," and when thinking of immortality, always keep in mind the idea " man."
The above is merely an example. These exercises should be repeated every day, with a different sentence or thought, indefinitely. It will be well also to pre-serve dated records, and to make frequent comparisons in order to discover improvement in analysis, attention and power of persistent thought upon a single subject. In six months, profit and pleasure will be apparent. You will surely find, as the main result of a faithful compliance with all suggestions, a tremendous power of straightforward Will-action. There can be no failure with resolute practice.
Exercise No. 2. Take any simple matter of observation or experience. You are riding, let us suppose, along a country road. Now look well at the landscape. You pronounce it beautiful. But what is the beautiful? Think that question to an answer. Now bury your mind in deepest thought concerning the landscape before you. The landscape " what is a landscape?" Think that subject out carefully and distinctly. Proceeding, ask, " What is this landscape?" Observe the general outlines and salient features. What is there about the larger details which makes them beautiful? Observe the minor details. What is their beauty ? How do they contribute to the beauty of the whole? How might this landscape be improved in beauty? How would this or that change add to the effect of the beautiful? Have you discovered all elements before you of a beautiful nature? When you next ride over the road, remember that question. Are you familiar with this country? Was it ever more beautiful than it is to-day? Do other people declare it to be beautiful? If not, why not, in your opinion? Ah! But are you certain that your ideas of the beautiful are correct? Do you think that the elements of this landscape appeal in the same way to others who pronounce it beautiful as they appeal to you? Do you suppose that they observe just the same colors, outlines, proportions, contrasts and blendings as yourself ? Do you believe that the same feelings, thoughts, moods and desires are awakened in their minds by this landscape as in your own?
By such a process you may become absorbed in a de-liberate and controlled train of thought. Have a care that your horse doesn't go over the ditch. If you have followed these directions, you have had experience in perfect concentration.
Concentration is the secret of great thinking.
This exercise should be varied at every attempt, with different subjects, as opportunity may present.
It must be continued six months at least, and practised in some suggested way every day.
Exercise No. 3. Take any simple sentence, say, " Success in life depends upon nobility of purpose and persistence of effort." Write the sentence out in full. Now strip the statement to a mere skeleton : " Success depends purpose effort." Think clearly the meaning of each word. Then imagine the modifying words placed just above these. The sentence will read :
" Life nobility persistence."
" Success depends purpose effort."
You have now two skeletons which may be filled out at your liking, almost, and yet give you the same idea in essentials. " The value of life consists in its nobility and its persistence." This sentence suggests the meaning of true success. That is not success which has no nobility or persistence. So, the lower skeleton may be filled out to read : " The quality of success depends upon the quality and abiding nature of its purpose and its effort." Low purpose and effort, low grade of success. Thus, the " value of life consists in its nobility of purpose and its persistence of effort."
Continue this exercise with different sentences for six months.
Exercise No. 4. Write the sentence used in the preceding exercise, as an example. " Success in life depends upon nobility of purpose and persistence of effort." Now ask the first part of this sentence closing with " purpose," a series of questions in which the words " how," " why," " which," "when," " where," " whose," are employed. "How does success depend upon nobility of purpose?" "Why does success in life depend upon nobility of purpose?" "What success depends upon nobility of purpose? " "Where does success depend upon nobility of purpose? " And so on until all the words are used. Write each answer in full. Then substitute "persistence of effort" for " nobility of purpose," and bombard the statement again with the same questions. Write each answer in the latter case in full. Then ask the entire sentence a question containing the word " whose." Finally, note carefully all that you have written upon the statement, arrange in logical form, and proceed to write a simple essay with the material thus gathered. You will find this to be an excellent way in which to bore into any subject. Continue six months, at least.
This is merely an example, and it is not a very full one. Every word and proposition of a sentence or subject thus may be compelled to give up its contents. In time, too, the mind will have acquired great facility and power in such analysis, so that whatever of value is read will come to offer its secrets to you almost as a free gift. This alone is worth all labor expended upon the exercise.
Exercise No. 5. The results of attention and concentration will very nearly approach composition. Every one who thinks can write, at least after a fashion. Writing is one of the best of aids to thinking. When you attempt to write, you discover, very likely, that what you supposed you knew has been apprehended in the vaguest manner.
Take, therefore, any object, fact, truth, law or proposition. Example: the law or force of gravitation. Now ask as many questions as possible concerning this fact. Bombard it with " what," " whose," " why," " where," " when," " how," " with what conditions," " how long," and the like. Thus : what is it? whose is it? where is it? when is it? how is it? etc., until you have exhausted your power of thought upon it. Turn it about. Look at it from every side. Examine it under all conditions. Find its nature, its operation, its source, its purpose, its bearing upon other natural forces. Ravel it out. Tear it into pieces. Write all answers in full. Then proceed to arrange all answers in groups after some logical order. Now read the material thus arranged, and you will discover new thought springing up, which will necessitate a rearrangement. Write this in full. Then fill out your synopsis in the best manner possible. Continue this exercise frequently for six months.
Meanwhile, study the cleanest and clearest writers for details of expression and correctness of statement and form. Review your work occasionally, and note improvement, both in composition and ability to get into a subject. Keep the ideal of straightforward simplicity always in mind. Declare war upon superlatives, and reduce your adjectives two-thirds. In all cases use the fewest words consistent with clean statements and full expression.
Exercise No. 6. Proceed as in former exercise to completion of synopsis. Now think this out, fully and clearly, as written. Memorize the thoughts, but never the words, section by section, taking several days if necessary, until the entire subject lies in your mind ready to be spoken or written in full. In doing this, you must think in words. Let the purpose in mind be to speak the thoughts as if to an audience. When you are master of the subject, speak all your thoughts in order to an imaginary gathering of people. Have the audience before you. Be in earnest. Get excited. Over the law of gravity? Certainly. Over anything under the heavens! Make gestures. Fear nothing. Never mind mistakes. Be keenly alive to this piece of work. Forget every other reality in the world. You believe certain things in connection with the law ; deliver your soul on that matter as if to an audience of people who never have heard of it or do not think as you do.
This exercise should be continued for many months. A few moments devoted to it each day will prove of incalculable value. Almost any real subject will answer for a topic. Business, Politics, Farming, Magazines. After some experience, it will be well to avoid general topics and to select those of a narrower range, as, The Tides, The Party, The Raising of Celery, The Liquefaction of Air, etc.
Exercise No. 7. Study unceasingly to detect errors in your own thinking. Are your main propositions correct? Do you employ right words in stating them? Are the conclusions really deducible from your propositions? Why do you believe certain things? Are they based on actual facts? Are the facts sufficiently numerous to form a basis for belief ? Are you biased in examination of facts? Do you think as you do be-cause of desire, or ignorance, or prejudice? Make sure of your facts! Make sure that the facts prove one thing, and none other !
Exercise No. 8. Follow the above suggestions as to the thinking of other people. They are swearing by a host of things which are not necessarily so. Do not become a bore, nor a judge. But make sure that arguments actually prove matters as asserted.
This chapter may well close with a quotation, taken from the author's published work, "The Culture of Courage," concerning mental health.
When the mental attitude concerns truth, the mind is sanely intelligent, and, in the long run, will exhibit reasonableness.
" Any illustration of the attitude will be more or less incomplete, because the process unfolded uncovers so much of life. It should, therefore, be remembered that the following are merely specimen leaves from the vast forest of experience.
"Illustration No. I. A man sees a ghost in the highway. Our invitation requires that he see the fact as it is. It is some fact; what is that fact? It is a tall stump with two or three naked branches, various lights and shadows moving upon them. The fact thing has now become a fact group. It is an appearance a fact suggesting a supposed truth. What was the real truth? The ghostly body was a stump, the arms were branches, the movements were due to flickering shadows and varying degrees of light. The supposed truth was a ghost. The real truth was a mental deception; back of that a stump under certain conditions.
" Ten thousand applications are possible. I take one only cures of all sorts of disease attributed to all sorts of remedies. We need not deny the cures; there are millions of cures, blessed be Nature ! But is the agency of cure in any given case precisely what it is said to be? Is this the ghost fact of Christian Science, Mental Healing, drugs, or prayer? All the things named contain values for us. I simply suggest that when you attribute your cure to one agency or an-other, you strip all claims down to naked fact. That is the one sane test of the question whether a thing is a ghost or a fact.
"Illustration No. 2. Witchcraft had its facts, its supposed truth, and its real truth. When men insisted on seeing the real facts, many of the fictitious facts disappeared, the supposed truth vanished, and the real truth awaited discovery. After science had. adopted the above methods, instead of the old shout, ` superstition ' contentment in which has hurt science more than it has hurt any other department of our life the backlying facts began to emerge, and the truths, clairvoyance, clairaudience, hypnotism, fear, imagination, etc., etc., came slowly into light. We are now trying to find out why science should say, ' all bosh' to ' mesmerism," occultism,' spiritualism, religion, or any other thing under the heavens."
The conclusion is this : Make sure of the facts ; get at the real truth ; keep open house to every proposition claiming to be real, but accept nothing not clearly demonstrated to sane but inspired reason.
The purpose of these studies on attention in thinking is to train you to establish the habit of knowing all sides of any question that confronts you; to observe all possibilities and consequences attendant upon your decision to "do this" or " do that." " Those who have not early been trained to see all sides of a question are apt to be extremely narrow, and undesirable to live with."
However, the ferreting out and discovering all possible phases of any matter before you is but one part of the complete circle. Having " attended in thinking," and seeing the proper course to pursue then must be brought forward the great jewel of ACTION in the line of best interest. " The world demands for success not only plenty of thought, but quickness of thought. More than half the world thinks after it is too late."
Become accustomed to deep, attentive thinking. Always try to " think all around a subject."
Try and do the required thinking before you go " into the game."
Once clear thinking is done, swiftly carry it into ACTION.
In every part of the work of this chapter, keep in mind the sentence: " I am conscious of the sense of Will." You will not be distracted, but rather helped by that recollection.
ONLY WILL ! ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE TO HIM THAT WILLS.