ONE of the most strongly marked characteristics of the inner life is the play of moods, the duality of self. The pages of religious literature abound in accounts of ineffable visions wherein the seers have beheld God face to face, as it were. But almost invariably there follow descriptions of mental states which are anything but sublime. The highest and lowest moods are sometimes found in one individual. The more emotional the temperament the greater seems to be the contrast.
The majority of such people are creatures of moods.
It seldom occurs to them that it is possible to understand the psychology of moods, and that by the aid of this psychology one may master these emotional fluctuations and co-ordinate the self.
Co-ordination is intellectual and requires systematic thinking, and those who are the victims of contrasted emotions seldom possess the intellectual development that is required for such mastery, Nor does it usually occur even to those in whom the struggle is less intense to make a study of the conditions under which the higher visions come in order to know how to cultivate them.
The majority of us live in fragments. The mind is a chaos. The sublime and the ridiculous mingle. There is neither system nor beauty. We are not only prisoners of ideas but creatures of whims, fears, and sentiments. Today, under the influence of certain circumstances, we express a decided opinion.
Tomorrow, another mood succeeds and we wonder that we could have voiced yesterday’s sentiments. Now we are hopeful, now despondent. Yesterday we could accomplish nothing. Today everything is plastic before us. Now we doubt and now we believe. We are first credulous, then extremely cautious. One friend sways us, others have no power except to follow where we lead. Thus contrast pursues contrast from day to day, and inconsistency is ever a marked characteristic of our thoughts, words, and deeds.
But these are only the minor contrasts. There are greater inconsistencies which our lips seldom confess, though our actions constantly betray us. Each of us is at once an angel and a devil—in embryo at least. Upon occasion we may be extremely courteous, gracious, charitable, and forgiving.
We deny ourselves—if the sacrifice be not too great. We voice noble sentiments and sometimes approach genuine inspiration. But let a novel occasion arise, let someone attack a person who is dear as life itself, let it be a time of danger or a great threatening calamity, and we can be as fierce as a savage animal. And who that aspires after holy things has not faced a tendency within him which is as incongruous with and hostile to these holy desires as hate is hostile to love?
It is needless to dwell upon this contrast. Every man knows what it is to possess the two natures. Every honest person admits their conflict. Many a refined individual is weighed down with grief because the animal or devil is present, when only the angel is desired.
Nearly everyone is mystified by these persistent obsessions of the lower nature. And countless souls have cried out in despair, as the conflict has continued from year to year, “How long, O Lord, how long?”
The majority of men and women give more or less complete expression to one mood or the other when it arises, and their doctrines are such attempts at harmony between the moods as their incongruous character permits.
If the lower nature, or at least some fleshly or pathological condition, is largely dominant in a philosophic mind, the pessimistic mood is likely to colour the philosophy. If the higher nature is more frequently triumphant we may have an optimist. Thus our human doctrines are frequently mere reports of the discolourations of our moods.
This is of course a familiar thought and need not be considered at length. Nor need we emphasise the fact that in many cases the disconsolate mood merely points to a disordered stomach, liver, or brain. The essential idea for us is the possibility that a man may become so conscious of the deflections wrought by disease, by the power of other minds, by environment, and the like, that he can conquer these deflecting states and pass beyond them.
We have already acquired this art to some extent. We know from experience that emotion is apt to be ephemeral and temporarily disruptive, therefore we let the sun set on our wrath. We are aware of the subtleties of personal infatuation, and so we seek entire solitude when we wish to know what we truly think and whom we really love. When ill we know that life wears an entirely different aspect, that it is not a time to propound a philosophy of the universe.
Life seems almost incredibly different in the slums and in a society drawing-room. It matters much whether all our bills are paid, and we have a bank account or whether we know not where the next dollar is coming from. With all these deflecting tendencies we are more or less familiar, and we have learned to guard against them.
But need we stop here? Is a man who in one mood believes all things spiritual and good, and who in the next knows not why he believes, yet a complete man? What if he should study to put himself into the creative mood, that he may conquer the unphilosophical? A daring suggestion you say, this proposal to master one’s genius, but let us pursue the hypothesis awhile.
Let us divide all moods into two general types, which we will for convenience classify as lower and higher. Let us say, figuratively speaking, that the soul dwells on two general levels on each of which there is a thought stream. The illustration closely conforms to the facts of our inconsistent moods.
The lower level of consciousness is life in sensation, in matter, mere facts; the higher is the plane of insight, the realm of ideals, values. On the lower level the soul is under the law and is painfully conscious of it; on the higher it is in the attitude of the victor. The lower states are characterised by a sense of limitation; there is a painful awareness of the process that is going on.
In the higher state one sees the goal toward which the process is tending. All that was so painfully apparent on the lower level is now seen, and far more. The attention is put upon the ideal of the soul as the master. Suffering is regarded in the light of its significance in the growth of character, Material possessions are valued only for what they are worth.
From the lower point of view, life is seen as a conflict, where there is constant hating and fighting. From above, strife is seen in the light of the peace which is its outcome. The lower is the plane of temptation, the higher is the domain of that quiet composure which overcometh.
The one is a closing-in, selfish attitude; the other is out-going, unselfish. The lower is the realm of judgment from the appearance, of physiological diagnosis; the higher is characterised by righteous judgment. The judgments that are based on the lower states may be perfectly true on their own level. But from the higher point of view they may be utterly reversed.
For example, take the readings of a person’s character that are based on phrenology, palmistry, graphology, and astrology. No doubt the character is written in the hand, marked upon the face, and indicated by the shape of the head; and physical man is of course related to the stars. Granted that the exponent of these systems of character-reading is able to read every sign correctly, many valuable facts may thus be learned.
But suppose an astrologist were able to read the future with strictest accuracy—and there is always room for the gravest doubt—would it follow that the prophecy would come true?
The prophecy might be mathematically exact on its own plane. It might be that if the man in question should keep down on the level of astrological influences, he would meet precisely the circumstances foretold. But if he chanced to be one who knows how to lift his activities to the spiritual level, the influences in question might pass as impotently by as a temptation to take intoxicating liquor passes by a virtuous man who is not for a moment prompted to respond.
For astrological influences undoubtedly touch only the surfaces of a man’s life. A man might indeed come in contact with such influences and conquer them. But he might as easily be entirely unaware of them. Thousands of influences pass impotently by because there is no point of contact in the individual.
A friend once wrote me a pitying letter because, as he said, there were many “malefics” round about, and I must be having “a trying time,” financially and otherwise. I answered that I was not aware of the presence of any “malefics,” that I was moving along contentedly, quite happy in my studies.
My friend at once replied that inadvertently he had neglected to take Jupiter’s influence into account; that Jupiter’s power overcame that of the “malefics.” But what if another planet were able to overcome Jupiter? To what lengths must one qualify in order to obtain astrological truth?
Now, whatever the truth in diagnoses, readings, and prophecies based on the study of external influences, the ultimate question is this: What is the highest influence? If the influences of the lower level are relative to that level, obviously one can place no ultimate reliance on them.
To the extent that one is aware of superior influences one may entirely neglect the lower order of forces. In general, the lower is the realm of fate, the higher the realm of freedom. Astrologists, palmists, and all similar “prophets” strenuously resist the reproach of fatalism. Yet it is practically impossible for them to avoid its subtle power.
Our little excursion into the region of the “pseudo-sciences” may serve as an illustration of the endless relativities that beset the lower level of consciousness. The great lesson is this: one cannot judge by sensation, given condition, present influence. A thousand things seem true, while one is immersed in sense, that prove utterly false when the vision is once more cleared.
Such judgments are like the opinions of the social settlement worker whose mind is utterly weighed down by thought of the dreadful situation of dwellers in the slums. It is one thing to know the facts; it is quite another to see their true bearing. It is doubtless well to become acquainted with man’s actual situation in life, but there is no help for us while we dwell solely upon the darker side.
The moral of course is easily drawn: one should push through into the sunlight, live on the higher level as much as possible, hold to the ideal, dwell on the outcome, not on the details of the evolutionary process. Yet there is a lesson to be learned from both points of view. It is through the alternation of moods that one at last sees the law. Today, for example, I am conscious on the lower level.
Bodily conditions weigh upon me and a flood of thoughts expressive of my depressed condition rush into mind. Tomorrow, the weight lifts and I rise to the superior plane. All the world is transformed. I laugh at the follies and fears of yesterday. My vision carries me many times as far. I behold all that I saw yesterday and a vast extent of territory beyond. I must qualify or enlarge all my conclusions of yesterday. I now deem myself sane and rational. Never more can doubts assail me.
But no, in my zeal I have overleaped the mark. Tomorrow I am down again. Yet it is an enlarged tomorrow and I correct the enthusiasm of today.
The day following I rise again, bearing the memory of these instructive contrasts. By continuing to compare I gradually develop a well-poised mood which is larger than either the customary lower or the temporary higher state.
The more comprehensive mood is thus a product of experience tempered and developed by reflection. It is my servant, my instrument; whereas the other moods mastered me. It profits by the experiences of both and thus gradually achieves what men ordinarily deem impossible.
For note that those in whom the duality is most strongly marked are extremists. They are either decidedly happy or most miserable. In a thousand ways they veer from extreme to extreme. Observers of such people set them down as extremists and the people themselves suppose that they must accept the inevitable.
My proposition is that the greater the tendency towards extremes the more poised may the individual become. It is by lacking moderation and repose that the self-conscious extremist learns the need and value of poise. Thus the place and meaning of suffering are seen.
Thus pain is only understood when we pass beyond it. For remember that it is not so much what we are born with but what we attain, what we overcome, which teaches life’s lesson and gives us wisdom to contribute to the world.
This truth is seldom recognised, however. If one eulogises poise, moderation, and equanimity, people exclaim, ‘’Oh, you were born with it. Preach not to us of your gift.” They cannot believe that one who is now serene was once storm-tossed. Yet we have relatively little appreciation for the virtues with which we were born.
Those who thus ridicule the advocate of self-control and equanimity little suspect that this same serene preacher was once extremely excitable and has persistently laboured for a score of years to acquire the repose he now possesses. They do not remember that the mind learns by contrast and grows by mastering opposites.
It is no small task to master a mood which once swayed you. But this is the progressive possibility which awaits those who learn the meaning of their lower and higher mental states. At first one notes only the contrast.
Then the great discovery is made that excess on one plane means excess on the other. As surely as a reaction follows intemperate passion and all that makes us devils, so does ecstasy of spiritual emotion cause a descent to the animal plane. Everyone can testify to this who has yielded himself to undue emotional zeal.
Scepticism, agnosticism, self-condemnation morbid consciousness of sin, and a thousand other similar states, are simply excessive reactions from their opposites. If we do not believe too much we do not doubt. When we have not been immoderately negative in our thinking we do not become agnostics. Self-condemnation becomes morbid when we have dwelt too long on one idea. We believe ourselves “hopeless sinners” only while we are negligent of our nobler possibilities.
The mystery of our dual nature is half solved when we learn that these violent contrasts are due to excess on the one side or the other. The next step is to begin by daily practice to acquire a centre of equilibrium, apart from the domination of either lower or higher mood, where one may take one’s stand and call a halt every time the limit of moderation is reached.
There is no vicarious salvation in this kind of world. It is downright work and plenty of it that wins the prize. All the wisdom that other systems offer is useful. But now at last one must conquer self. Nine times out of ten, at first, we forget when immersed in the clouds that there is daylight above. When the bright sun shines we forget that night must come. Thus woefully short-sighted, we blunder along. It is no wonder that we cannot give a reason for the faith that is in us.
But suppose we begin a series of observations, precisely as the chemist observes the behaviour of certain liquids to discover their laws. Let us note the conditions when, or immediately after, the higher mood is on. Then let us remember that those conditions will come again, even though a lower mood ensues.
If you observe serenely when the flood time of spiritual life comes you will find that you do not sink so low. If you face it calmly, when your lower self presents a temptation, you will husband energy and acquire power to overcome it. Every time you consciously rise from the lower to the higher plane you make headway in the development of a new habit—the art of self-control, of spiritual self-mastery.
Thus little by little you will transmute your energy, until victories which once seemed discouragingly impossible will become easy. After a time when a pessimistic, fleshly, or selfish tendency arises you will instantly know it, and will turn the tide then and there. You will marvel that you once permitted yourself to be a slave of moods and tendencies over which you now possess great power. You will look back upon your moody years as years of infancy.
What is the secret of the turning from lower to higher? The foregoing discussions show that it is voluntary attention, not the attention that is compelled by a mental or physical state, but the attention which breaks loose from the state that would hold it and actively concentrates itself upon a mental picture, ideal, or recollected experience which centralises the consciousness upon the higher plane.
How or when is it possible thus voluntarily to shift attention? When there is sufficient repose in the self to become poised, to take hold of one’s self and turn the tide. Thus cultivation of inner poise, peace, is the prime essential. Remember that repose begins to come with knowledge of these contrasted mental states, and that actual headway is made when one actively begins to pause, to hold still, to gather momentum and husband energy.
Then an undesirable mental state arises one is able to shift attention from the state to the remembered higher experience. To shift the attention is to transfer the balance of power to the higher plane where all the forces of that life-stream come forward to aid. To shift the attention is to give a new direction to action or conduct.
But how shall one invite the higher states denoted “spiritual,” the sources of inspiration, for the development of poise? By the formulation and constant renewing of ideals which, if confidently held, give new tendencies to the subconscious mind. Where man’s desires are concentrated there his activities congregate. If a man longs for that which is spiritual his very desire will tend to bring it. The subconscious mind will be shaped by this the strongest conscious desire.
Thus the balance of power is once more transferred from lower to higher.
At first life is disintegrated. We are loosely put together. Our thought is chaotic. Therefore the world seems chaotic. But note how systematic, orderly, that man finds the world who is well-knit, precise, methodical. He has a place for everything and all of his facts are classified; when he delivers philosophic discourses his thought is subdivided into books, chapters, sections, heads, and subheads. He may not inspire you as does the more erratic man of genius.
But his thought is immensely instructive, owing to the fact that he finds the world what he is, what his life is—a system.
Our ideal synthesis would be no less systematic, but it would leave an entire section for data even now getting themselves reported, and another section for possible coming events which have not yet cast the dimmest shadow before. Thus there are possibilities of ever broader and broader co-ordinations.
The essential is this: become co-ordinated. Remedy the defect in yourself that you may more truly contemplate the world. If the world seems sound and sweet, become sweet and sound that you may know the world. If your bias is towards one pole, study the lives and the philosophy of those who gravitate to the other. The perfect whole we must have. At any rate we must try that hypothesis, we must become as nearly sane as our organic limitations permit.
If we learn that they really are limitations we shall see beyond them.
The theory of life which we are here advocating is an organic view as compared with the output of a single mood such as optimism or pessimism. We are declaring that such a view is impossible without co-ordination of life. This is tantamount to saying that a man shall know truth only so far as he practises virtue, the many-sided virtue of beauty, symmetry. If a philosopher would solve his speculative problems, let him then take a step in advance in his life.
If he would know how to take this step let him test this proposition: A spiritual or philosophical state of mind has an unconscious or subconscious dynamic value. To regain this higher state one may either put one’s self in a spiritually receptive mood, or gradually think one’s self there by philosophising. With the exalted thought comes an exalted feeling.
Gently, moderately, enter into and possess this sentiment and rest there. Do not merely think about eternity, about peace, and beauty, and love. But feel yourself one with love at peace, in eternity—a beautiful soul. Do not underestimate yourself. Do not condemn or despise yourself. Think not now of the weight of years and the burdens of inheritance. These higher thoughts of yours are actual intimations of immortality. “My words are spirit and are life.”
Peace and joy be with you—the peace of God, and the joy that knows no reaction.
This is all very well as a statement of religious mood, the student may reply, but this does not show that there is a mood large enough to embrace all the contrasts, contradictions, and incongruities of our dual nature. No, I reply, but it is a long step in advance. I am outlining a method of advance: the argument is not yet complete. We have seen that the conflicts of the lower and higher moods are the chief sources of doubt that any mood is universal.
Now, in so far as we understand these contrasts within ourselves and learn to conquer them, we make a great gain. By becoming more moderate, better balanced in our lives, we acquire that insight by which the apparently incongruous is unified. We understand more and more clearly the reason for the faith that is in us. Our moods believe in each other more and more. For we rise above their limitations and see far beyond them to their common background.
Thus we are less and less subject to moods and better able to create desirable mental states, by giving our thoughts and feelings a timely turn. The philosophical co-ordination which thus results is superior in value even to the mood of unconscious inspiration where one dwells on supernal heights. Even this highest spiritual state comes more under the will, for although one cannot always invite it directly, one can at least prepare the mind subconsciously for its coming.
We have found that the starting-point is acuter knowledge of self; and that the next step is the development of poise, inner peace, tranquillity. Obviously one’s daily life must be adapted with this end in view. Then we have found that the poised inner centre becomes the basis of self-control, that self-mastery means the triumph over moods, the adjustment of lower and higher tendencies, and finally that this prepares the way for greater triumphs over the flesh.
The meaning of life for each of us is thus clearly seen. Each of us is an individual with an experience in some sense unique. We exist, at least in this life, for the discovery, development, and value of that experience. The mere facts of life at any one time, however trying, however severely we may suffer, are not true signs of what we are or why we are here.
We should not judge by our pathological condition. We should not measure the world by our despair or pain. The true self is the possessor of all these moods, the true significance of our experience is their total meaning, and these moods are one and all means to ends in the process of self-development.
Your life then has a meaning. There is a reason why you are here. You are needed. Know yourself, then, that you may learn what you stand for in relation to other men. Develop your individuality, then contribute its organic wisdom to the philosophy of humanity. Remember that the respects in which you are negative, weak, undeveloped, are as likely, if not more likely, to afford opportunity for growth, and hence for addition to your wisdom.
Your passion shall instruct you. Even the devil in you shall lift you on his shoulders to a higher level. Do not therefore condemn yourself. Regard everything as an advantage, that is, derive advantage from everything.
What then has been regarded as a basis of doubt is here taken to be reason for faith. That is, the limitations of temperament have been deemed such that each of us could never obtain more than a temperamental view of truth. Thus philosophers have discarded the most valuable means and have arrived at negative results. But the art of philosophy should precede the fuller science. We should first conquer and help others to conquer, then rationalise our victories.
We must so master the moods in us which discolour the world for us that we shall be able as it were to stand in front of our coloured glasses. In this way only are we ever likely to see the full meaning of our aches and pains, our wilfulness and deviltry.20 For we must truly be in order truly to know. If we would really know God we must practise the presence of God. If we would know the reasons for the faith that is in us, we must persistently study ourselves in the act of faith.
Thus shall we gradually grow in power, and power shall lead to wisdom.
 The psychological study of religion is important in connection with the problems of this chapter. Among the best books are: “The Psychology of Religion,” E. D. Starbuck, Scribners, 1900; “The Spiritual Life,” Prof. Coe, Eaton & Mains, 1900; “The Soul of a Christian,” Prof. F. Granger, Macmillan, 1900; and Prof. William James’s “Varieties of Religious Experience,” Longmans, Green & Co., 1902.