IN one of the most secluded of Alpine valleys, where the steam whistle has never broken the native stillness, nor the progress of science intruded on the confines of medieval tradition, lies one of the most remarkable villages in the world.
As the traveller enters this unique town, he feels that he has suddenly stepped into another world; for the people inspire him with an unwonted reverence, and an atmosphere of Sabbath stillness rests over all the valley. One all-controlling idea pervades the town, and is alike absorbing to every man, woman, and child who lives there.
The village is Oberammergau; and here once in ten years representatives of all civilisation come to witness the renowned Passion Play. For hundreds of years this play has been given ten summers in a century by these simple peasants, and their entire lives are devoted to preparation for it. To take the part of the Christ is the summit of their ambition. They feel it a solemn duty to give the play, and from childhood their lives are shaped by this ambition.
In order to portray a certain character, they practise the most careful self-denial.
They try to mould their lives in accordance with the qualities of that character, they dwell on it and rehearse it year in and year out. And this is why they are so remarkable. They are shaped by an ideal. They have one object in view, and in their peasant simplicity and catholic faith they are willing to exclude every other. When they take part in the play, they make no affectation. They simply represent in actual life what they have so long dwelt upon as an ideal.
And this ideal has left its stamp on everything associated with the town and its people.
It is a rare privilege for the student of the human mind to be among these people for a time, and to witness the play; for there in actual practice and in striking simplicity is the ideal of all character-building, of all co-operation with evolution, of all adjustment to life, namely, to have an object in view which one never loses sight of, which one gradually realises, day by day and year by year.
Life for the most of us is vastly more complicated than for the peasant of Oberammergau; but the principle of character-building is the same, and might be made as simple and effective.
What this principle is we have been considering from the outset of our inquiry. We awaken into experience to find ourselves members of a great world-order. We live a twofold life, in part describable in mental terms, in part physical. When we awaken to consciousness of the vast process and begin to philosophise, we learn that we have made individual headway in so far as we have actively lived and thought.
More or less ignorant of the forces that play upon us, we have been the victims of our own folly. Now that we are awake at last, we may begin intelligently to live.
The same law that explains our past suffering makes clear the way to freedom. Whatever we have thought and done, we have been ever carried forward by the great organism of life. Now that we have learned this great fact, we may begin to move forward wisely and harmoniously. Whatever the nature of the experience, it matters greatly how we take it. Hence the future is largely in our hands.
In the light of the foregoing discussion, it is clear that at every step we must distinguish between the present conditions of our life and the ideal end towards which these conditions are apparently tending; between the lower self and the higher. In proportion as we make this discrimination and obey the higher self, are we free from conflict and suffering, adjusted to life.
If we abandon our fears, cease to complain and rebel; if we learn the economy of our situation in life, then this higher self meets no opposition. Its purpose is made known without suffering.
Then we begin to enjoy true freedom in co-operation with the omnipresent Helper, whom we once despised. Gradually, a simple system of conduct and of adjustment takes shape in our minds, until, like the peasant preparing to take part in the play, we know no other ideal. To suggest this ideal so far as one person may indicate it to another is the purpose of this chapter. In the first place, let us make sure that we understand how conduct is shaped by an idea.
When we leave home, for instance, to go to the business portion of the town or city in which we live, it is usually because we have some definite object in view. Our conduct for the time is guided by a transient desire; and, in order to carry out this desire, we adjust ourselves to a certain arrangement of natural phenomena, and make use of certain mechanisms invented by man. We take a car or carriage.
We are compelled to follow certain streets in order to reach our destination. We must avoid collision with other people, with electric cars and carriages. We must good-naturedly take the situation as we find it. And all these actions are governed, almost unconsciously, by a single desire; and we keep this end in view until we realise the desire.
Thus we might analyse the conduct of any day or any moment, and find that wish or desire is largely fundamental. When learning a language, we keep the object in view of reading and speaking it with fluency, and work for years until we attain the desired end. We make an invention because we need or desire it. The need or desire opens to us the means of fulfilling our wish. The artist has an ideal in view which he is ever striving to realise on canvas or in marble.
Literature takes such form as our desires give it, modified by the degree of cultivation we have attained. We change the character of our buildings, of our homes, of our institutions, our philosophy, our religion, our conceptions of the divine nature, as rapidly as we ourselves change, and to the degree that our ideals and circumstances are modified by these inner changes. We endeavour to understand nature, life, history, our entire surroundings better.
We then readjust ourselves in conformity with our better wisdom. And in every wise readjustment we are compelled to adopt nature’s sure and measured method of evolution.
Thus far we have considered the self largely in its voluntary forms. We turn now to the spontaneous and more intimately divine phases of consciousness and of our ideals. For in deepest truth our desires and ideals are only partly our own. What we will to be in our hearts is closely related to what God would have us be. Our psychology must include the divine.
This is the point of departure from the theorists who describe the universe in terms of mere thought, of personal affirmation and denial; and now we are in a position to emphasise the facts on which this departure is based.
As revealed in one’s individual life—which in turn becomes a clue to world-life— the decisive point is the fact of guidance. Now, whether one deems it the voice of excarnate spirits or angel guides, the presence of Jesus, the direct word of God, or merely intuition in an impersonal sense, the fact is that guidances come, and that by paying attention to them they grow in power and frequency.
These guidances relate to affairs of daily life, the leading into an occupation, friendships and other associations. For example, one is conscious of a desire to do a certain work; the way unexpectedly opens and one is led to the right associates in what seems like a providential way. Again and again the way opens in due course where all seemed dark. One comes out at the top where it seemed inevitable that one must sink exhausted at the bottom.
In numberless ways one’s fears prove groundless, all plans prove needless and all doubts absurd. The guidances come year by year and the memory of them is subconsciously cherished until there flows up from below a flood of evidence amounting to an irresistible conviction, namely, that all things are working together toward one high and noble end. In contrast with this deeper current of life, the whims, thoughts, desires, and plans of the personal self are now seen to be superficial.
It is no wonder that the passing finite moods are incongruous and fragmentary. The true unity is beyond the personal self; these passing whims and moods are inevitably disjointed.
Thus there is vouchsafed in due course a vision of the harmony of things where all that is of greatest value in life is beheld as one piece—not as a mosaic, but as a great rhythmic activity. I do not say that all our consciousness is beheld as one. He has slight acquaintance with the dualities of his inner life who has not discovered that he does not always obey the guidance, and that he sometimes mistakes the human and the divine.
Simultaneously, there exist both the inner rhythm which the soul may express in poetic adjustment, in harmonious hexameters; and the human activity which may lead to discordant side-issues.
The honest soul is so conscious of a lower tendency warring in the members so that when he would do good he does not or cannot, that he cries out, “How long must this conflict endure?” He knows that there are two wills, therefore he says, “Father, not my will, but Thine be done!”
To receive guidance is not then necessarily to obey it. Usually we find out what are guidances by retrospectively discovering the folly of not obeying them. Human experience would have no real value if we could do naught but obey.
There is a long range of differences between the animal man who is contented in his animality, the sinner who is ignorant and wilful enough to glory in his sin; and the enlightened man who is making the transition from human waywardness to adjustment with the divine and who is literally doing the best he knows.
The majority of us are too painfully conscious of our shortcomings to permit the fond delusion to creep in that everything we do is divinely inspired. We know well enough that there is a higher way and we are most eager to move in it. The more common error of really enlightened people is to make too hard work of it. The present discussion is specially designed to indicate the easier way, namely, by adjustment with evolution and reliance on the subconscious mind.
With the majority, the higher guidances are doubtless spontaneous at first. But by observing certain conditions one learns to prepare consciously for them. Mrs. Howe doubtless wrote The Battle Hymn because of a more or less conscious desire, which worked in her subconscious mind until, in the quietness of the night, the completed hymn welled into consciousness.
Having observed the conditions spontaneously, one may consciously impress desires on the mind with the prayer that may be first subconsciously, then consciously realised. One may confidently seek the same guidance on any subject, and as confidently expect light, or help, or a “hymn.”
For example, instead of painfully reasoning, seeking advice, and consulting theoretical treatises, one who desires the higher guidance should confidently ask, as of the great universe, how things are, what is right, whither to turn. The soul is thus opened more directly to know the divine tendency of things. It seeks knowledge by sight rather than by reasoning. It asks, What is? One can in this way even obtain guidance in advance of experience.
Now I do not mean that all that the soul is to do is already decided. But that there is a guidance which will lead us as directly as the bee-line instinct of an animal, if we become open to and implicitly follow it. Suppose I am contemplating a trip to Europe. I am eager to do what is right, therefore I try to rise above all merely personal desires and tendencies.
I try to put myself into the rhythmic current of things, I seek the eternal order, I endeavour to commit my plans to the subconscious realm. To attain this receptivity I therefore isolate myself as fully as possible from my external environment. It is as though I could rise above the clouds on a stormy day to a height from which it is possible to see hundreds of miles. From that point I can actually foresee certain changes in the weather before they come.
All the conditions are there to produce those conditions. I see much that is hidden from men on earth.
Likewise in the invisible world I look far ahead and behold myself crossing the ocean and travelling about in safety. The conviction comes to me that it is wise to go. The conviction harmonises with conscience, with my sense of the fitness of things. Therefore I feel confidently inclined to start.
Moreover one’s conviction is strengthened by the remembrance of similar experiences all of which tend to prove that “all things work together for good for them that love the Lord.” To love the Lord, to consecrate the soul, to seek the life-current in the eternal order of things, to harmonise with the Father’s will—all these are one and the same act put in different terms. The same Power that grants the guidance gives help all along the line.
There is no other Power on this plane. There are no insuperable obstacles. And whether the stars be favourable or not one may confidently start forth. Experience shows, however, that the external life also tends to respond in due course to these prophecies of the spiritual vision. If we would only permit the word to become flesh in its own way, all would run smoothly, but here is where we are apt to forget, to grow impatient and doubtful.
If the present doctrine be the true one, this method of adjustment or realisation of ideals is very different from the one pursued by those who affirm that man is perfect now. Those who make this assertion condemn the present life and evolution as “appearance.” They assert that when man sees himself under the aspect of eternity he sees the true man, all else being illusion. Therefore they reach out in strained, ascetic fervour, and abstractly affirm their perfection.
We are viewing the entire subject from a different standpoint. The eternal vision is a picture of what may be. The prophetic forecast shows what may come to me if every day on my European journey I am faithful to the guidance of that day. I do not attain salvation once for all; I work it out daily. I must keep in constant touch with the Spirit, if I would always live by the Spirit. The working out of the eternal vision is in the world of time.
The vital question is, Granted the vision of myself as I may be, what shall I do with myself as I am?
We have noted that the fine, poetic rhythms are far within. The leaven is already here, in the heart of the lump. It works from within outwards. I am that ideal now, in a sense, but not objectively. It is resident in me, seeking to come forth. I must then view my outer life in the light of this modification from within. I need not affirm, I need not strain.
I ought rather to acquire a keener sense of the law of unfoldment, the “ups and downs,” the crests and the depths of the waves, the day and the night, all the details of gradual regeneration.
For example, there is a rhythm of the flesh—the subconscious functioning of all the organs. If I am moderate, poised; if I occasionally rest, learn how to work so as to husband my energy; acquire equanimity, my life becomes so adjusted that I enjoy good health. If I give wise expression to the head and the heart, the instinct for sociability, the prompting to service, I put myself in the divine current in all these respects.
For since I am a many-sided being it is rational to assume that many-sided adjustment is required, that there is guidance for each one of these phases of my nature. If my life is to become a divine poem, I must respond to the finer rhythms in each of these departments, I must consciously cultivate beauty.
Think of the divine life-current, then, as flowing out through you, in so far as you are at peace yet active, serving, loving, seeking truth, beauty, and goodness. In every detail, seek not your own ideal or will alone, but ask what the Father would make through you. Reduce all conduct, all life to co-operation with God; cut off all else, simplify life to the finest point.
Drop all anxiety, cease all effort to shape things in your own way, trust wholly, at large and in detail. Absorb your consciousness in thought of the ideals resident in all humanity, seeking expression. Dwell upon the positive side. Emphasise the outcome. Do not consider the conditions of evolution alone, but remember the creative rhythms ceaselessly flowing behind and within. Do not be imprisoned in thought of the process, live in joyous thought of its outcome.
Remember that this wonderful subconscious realm in which we dwell is a part of that divine unfolding. When you commit your thoughts and prayers to that realm, you are not delivering them to yourself alone, you are commending them to God. Forth from that realm shall come the guidance needed to lead you to the right environment and the right associates, the solution of the problem that perplexed you, the important letter you wanted to write, the decisive word you longed to utter.
The ideas you have read will come forth added to and transfigured. Your scattered thoughts shall be unified, and even your fragmentary doubts shall be turned into unified convictions. All this your subconscious life will do for you, if you trust it, if you give play to its rhythms, if you shape your life in reposeful ways, if you seek symmetry, poise, beauty; if you freely serve and faithfully do the best you know.
The true view of evolution then is from the standpoint of its ideals, and its resources. The universe is an order, a system, springing as a thing of life from the wisdom and love of God. It fulfils many ends, its life flows in many channels. True adjustment takes account of all these by seeking at once the true and the good, the beautiful and the wise, the individual and society; and by seeing all these in God.
Behold your own life in God if you would discover the true clue to its evolution. Return to intimate touch with God, that you may gain a new impetus. Each time you lose hold of your better self, return there again and go forth once more to action. Remember that the fundamental fact is the active presence of God in whose streams of creative tendency your life is immersed and from whom you can draw unlimited life and wisdom and power.
It is impossible to sunder the human mind from the divine life, for consciousness shades off into subconsciousness, and no one can draw a sharp line between the subconsciousness and the divine. Your thought of the true, the beautiful, and the good is not yours alone; it is part of the divine ideal. The less you live for self alone, the more does every thought tend to reflect the beauty of the divine order.
Even your imagination may foreshadow coming events, and a score of years hence you may see in actual life that which you once imagined.
We therefore define the soul as precisely such that it can live ever in the current of divine life, yet be in an intimate sense itself. It is futile to try to define the soul apart from these its richest experiences. It is at the same time a resident of eternity and the temporal order, at once the possessor of a conscious and a subconscious mental life.
It is fully intelligible only to the degree that we take into account both its profoundest aspirations and its total environment; and the total environment of the soul is, its planes of consciousness, its subconscious life, its communion with God and the world.
The world and the soul —that is our life. The world is in part what we call nature, in part our social life, and in part our more direct union with God. The soul is related to nature, it is related to other souls, and it is related to God. Thus the divine order is the true organic unity of all that we experience, the divine will is its centre, the divine love its heart, the divine wisdom the method, and the divine beauty the ideal we seek to realise.
A young minister recently told me an incident in his inner life which admirably illustrates the power of ideals. For weeks he had been greatly overworked, and as a consequence he had been unable to sleep restfully. Among his parishioners there was a man for whom he was deeply concerned, one who was the victim of intemperance.
One night before commending his soul to sleep my informant breathed a sort of prayer for light, an earnest appeal for wisdom to aid him in this troublesome case. As he prayed, there occurred to him one of Jesus’ most striking sayings, and this Scripture passage was the last thought in his mind before he lost consciousness in sleep. The next morning he awoke feeling much refreshed, after the best sleep during these busy weeks.
In his mind, the first thought of the new day was that same Scripture passage, and with it there was still that peculiarly elevating consciousness which the passage suggested.
Aside from the wisdom which may have come from this night of rest in the ideal world, what possibilities of self-development are suggested by this incident! By lifting his thought upward in prayer, by feeling earnest longing, the minister put himself in an ideal attitude.
His consciousness was lifted above the level of physical sensation, so that it interposed the least obstacle to the restorative powers of nature. In this attitude he lost consciousness in sleep. The whole night was tempered by this attitude, and the next day was begun with it. The benefits were both physical and spiritual. New inspiration came for the day of service, and a new impetus came into the personal life of the worker.
This incident well illustrates the fact that the absorbing thought of our conscious life gives a dynamic turn to the life of our subconsciousness. Had the last thought been one of bondage to fatigue, the night would probably have been no more restful than those which went before. It does not follow that it is always the last thought which controls the night. But we may safely say that it is the most positive thought.
Moreover, there is something peculiarly effective in a thought which lifts the mind. One ascends, as it were, above the clouds, into the pure empyrean. One is detached for the time being from the sweeping tide of anxieties and struggles. If sleep comes at such a moment the entire individual is in the most favourable attitude for “nature’s sweet restorer” to do its best. We have barely begun to sound the possibilities in this direction.
Consider how much we might accomplish first for ourselves, then for others—when we are fit to labour in their behalf,—by consecrating ourselves afresh each night with some ideal of noble service in mind!
In the first place, this is undoubtedly the most direct way to gain that power which shall restore the tired organism, and put it in better health. For, as we have seen, it is nature that heals. All that any means of regaining health can accomplish, at the utmost, is to remove obstacles to nature’s resident power. It is not medicine that heals. Thought does not cure. Nature is competent.
Hence, there is every reason to learn how to co-operate with nature. Usually, we accomplish most when we put the mind into an ideal attitude. It is, therefore, of great consequence to know that the mind functions on two levels, that in the ideal region the mind not only interposes no obstacle to nature, but actually draws upon higher sources of power.
But it is not alone in regard to sleep and health that the ideal attitude is effective. It is equally important to put one’s self above the clouds for a little time, when the day begins. We may find ourselves immersed in the clouds many times during the day, but the day will be the better because it began well. If we form the habit of seeking the superior world, morning and night, after a time it will be very much easier to ascend to the realm of peace.
Possessed of the ability quickly to turn there where all is peaceful, we shall be able at will to transcend our lower mental states many times during the day. In due course we shall live more and more above the clouds in spirit, while working all the better in the lower world with our hands.
This is by no means a new principle. Those who are accustomed to pray night and morning will, perhaps, find what I have said so commonplace that they will wonder why I take space to indulge in truisms, and hence they will miss the point altogether.
The point is not the newness but the more detailed knowledge we are gaining in these days in regard to the law, the relation of ideals to the subconscious mind, and above all the relation to health. Many a person moves the lips in prayer who does not lift the soul. Many another prays with a, small segment of the great whole of life without filling the being with the spirit of prayer. Prayer is often restricted to what is called the religious life in a limited sense of the word.
It is desirable to approach the whole subject in a fresh light. The best way to do this is by study of actual life. One incident like the above is worth more than all the arguments in the world. When you have had evidence of the power of ideals, study that evidence to see what it teaches.
Call it prayer, suggestion, practical idealism, or what you will, but investigate. You are not half awake to your own resources. A miracle is taking place within you all the time. You are in possession of all the resources you could ever have reason to ask for. Yet you complain of the universe because, as you allege, it has left you helpless.
There is obviously a difference, then, between ignoring a trouble, between neglecting to take proper care of ourselves, and that wise direction of thought which in no way hinders while it most surely helps to remedy our ills. There is strong reason for believing that there is a simple, natural way out of every trouble, that kind Nature, which is another name for the omniscient God, is ever ready to do her utmost for us.
We may pass through almost any experience if we realise that the power residing within is equal to the occasion. When we cease to look upon any experience as “too hard,” we have made a decided step in wise adjustment to life. Life itself becomes easier and happier when we make this grand discovery, that within each human soul there is a sufficient resource for every need along the line of the individual career. We can conquer anything that lies between us and our individual destiny.
It is also necessary to note the difference between wise adjustment to circumstances which for the time being we cannot alter, and that utter contentment and ease in our surroundings which leads to inactivity and invalidism. Some people are too well adjusted to their environment. They need a sudden stirring, like that sometimes caused by an alarm of fire. They do not grow. They are selfish, and lack even the rudiments of self-denial—as though the world existed for their own benefit.
Or, perhaps they are self-satisfied, and fail to see the need of further evolution.
They are contented, polite and agreeable, so long as nothing comes to disturb them; and they take care that nothing shall disturb them, so far as their power extends. If they are ill, everyone must become a servant. Every sensation is watched and carefully nursed. Everything must give way to their wishes. Everybody must help by expressions of sympathy and devotion. But place such people on their own resources, put them where something does disturb, and they are utterly helpless.
Progress brings conflict. We need to be stirred once in a while, and put where we must show what we are really worth. Then comes the real test. If we are adjusted, not to some transient set of circumstances which we personally try to maintain undisturbed, but to life as a whole so far as we understand it, we shall be able to meet any emergency, meet it manfully, trustfully, contentedly.
There is no better test of one’s philosophy than at these times, when we are called upon to act as if we believed it true. There is no better way to prepare for such emergencies than to meet the circumstances of daily life as though we were superior to them.
It is a matter of economy, it is a source of happiness to ourselves and our friends, if we habitually look for the good wherever we go, and in this way show our superiority to all that is belittling and mean. We shall soon find no time left for complaint and discouragement if we undertake this happy task with a will.
We shall discover new traits of character in our friends, new sources of enjoyment in trivial things, and new pleasures even in the weather—that potent cause of useless complaint and regret. New beauties will reveal themselves in nature and in human life. We shall gradually learn to see life through the artist’s eyes, to look for its poetry, its harmony, its divine meaning.
The traveller in foreign lands is compelled to meet experience in such a philosophical mood. He knows that each day is bound to bring its annoyances; and he determines to see their comical side. In a foreign land one makes it an occupation to hunt up all that is curious and interesting.
The spirits are quickened, enthusiasm is aroused; and one notices a hundred little effects, changes, and beauties in sky and landscape, on the street and in people, that are passed unnoticed at home. We make note of them in order to describe them to our friends. Imagination lends its charm even to the most disagreeable experiences, and all our journeyings stand out in the vistas of memory painted in golden hues.
Such experiences should give us the cue in looking for the good at home. It is well, too, in matters of disagreement with friends, to preserve the same large spirit and breadth of view, remembering that we have more points of agreement than of disagreement with them, that we all belong to the same infinite Love, and all mean the same great truth; but we cannot quite express it.
It is rather better to be tolerant, to have a large charity for people, than to expect them to be like ourselves. One person of a kind is usually enough. God apparently needs us all. Those who have learned to think, especially those who realise the meaning of evolution, are usually aware of their faults; and encouragement is what they most need. People do nearly as well as they can under the circumstances and with their scant wisdom.
If we know a better way, it will become evident to them if we practise it. If they offend us or become angry, we have all the more cause for charity and good feeling. We need not suffer in such a case unless we put ourselves on the same plane, and become angry, too.
There is no quicker or more smarting rebuke than to receive an affront in silence or in good feeling. There is no better evidence of a large and generous nature than immediately to forgive and to forget every injury, and thereby to be superior to the petty feelings of resentment, pride, and unforgiveness, which work mischief alike to the one who holds them and to the one who has done the injury. We are surely to blame if we suffer, since everything depends on our active attitude.
If we thus give our attention to building character, broad, charitable, and true, the wrong thoughts will disappear through mere lack of attention. Psychology once more helps us here, and shows that we can attend to but one object at a time. Science tells us, too, that in the evolution of the animal world organs which remain unused ultimately disappear, while the development and perfection of an organ accompanies its use. We need not then reason our erroneous thoughts away.
Usually, it is sufficient to see that we are in error, to learn that all these fears, resentments, morbid thoughts, and complaints affect our health and happiness. “The explanation is the cure.”
Nor is it necessary to analyse sensation or try to discover the various moods that cause our trouble. No one who has passed through the torments of self-consciousness, to find only one’s own insignificant self looming up through the introspective mist, like a repellent spectre from which one would fain be free, will ever advise another to brave these torments. The human self with the divine Self as a background is the only picture of the inner life which one can bear to look at long.
This picture will paint itself. The other is of our own vain contriving. In those moments of calm reflection when one ceases to analyse self, and puts aside the cares of the busy world, the deeper consciousness will be quickened. One falls into a gentle revery. pleasant memories and past experiences come before the mind. One sees wherein one has failed to practise one’s truest wisdom, or sees the meaning of an experience that seemed hard and inexplicable at the time.
Then, as one gradually turns in thought from personal experience to the larger experience of humanity in its relation to the great Over-soul, all these varied events and personalities will be regarded in relations unsuspected before. One will have new glimpses of truth,—of the deeper truth which is ever ready to make itself known when one is intuitively awake and receptive.
A synthesis of these spontaneous reflections will give more genuine knowledge of self than any purely introspective process. And likewise in any moment of trouble or sickness, when we need help, it is better to open out like the flower, receptively, quietly, expectantly, conscious of the nearness of the divine Helper, than to pursue our own thought, and try to solve the difficulty. We are too active as a rule, too sure of our own way, too much absorbed in our own plans and fears.
The Spirit demands but little of us—quiet, lowly listening—but it does ask this much. Here is the real power and value of silence. All that we perceive in these moments of quiet reflection has a lasting effect upon us. It is then that we grow. It is then that ideals take shape, and become permanent directions of mind. It is then that we become newly adjusted to life; for, after all, this task is never completed.
Something new and perplexing is ever coming to test us; and always there is this one resource, to find our inward centre, and there to stand firm and contented.
It is also in these more deeply reflective moments that we learn our own limitations and possibilities. We become aware of that deepest tendency which lies at the basis of temperament and personality, through which the Great Spirit speaks. We learn a deeper and truer self-reliance, which ultimately means trust in God. We learn through experience when to obey this inner moving and when the impulse is merely our own personal desire.
In a word, conduct reduces itself to one simple rule: Study to know when you are moving along the lines of your own deepest nature, your own keenest sense of what is wise and right, and when you are off the track.
It is right and necessary to have certain standards by which conduct may be judged, to have a philosophy which teaches one to look on all sides of an issue and to reason carefully. It is well to look to friends, to public teachers and books, for help in all humility and willingness to learn. But standards vary. The conscience of a people changes from age to age. Even intuition must be empirically verified; it must find support in reason, and undergo the test of experience.
The surest and simplest method, for those who have become aware of such guidance, is to await the divine emphasis, to act when the whole being speaks, to move along those lines in which no faculty of one’s being interposes an obstacle. All ultimate questions of right and duty should obviously be settled within the sacred limits of one’s own personality, where the great God speaketh, if He speaks at all. “The soul’s emphasis is always right,” says Emerson.
To some this doctrine may seem like mere individualism, urging one, as it does, to find a resource for all trouble in one’s own nature. Yet, rightly interpreted, it is by no means selfish; it seeks to give the individual mental freedom and opportunity for development within the limits of what is required of him as a member of society. We have thus far considered the problem of adjustment in its simplest form.
All that has been said in the foregoing chapters properly enters into the question—the nature and relationship of the immanent God to His manifestations, and all that we know about those manifestations.
Society is, ideally at least, an organism. Human minds as well as human customs and social institutions are evolving together. One by one, and individual by individual, we are related in one great mental, social, and universal experience. Each need, each aspect of the organism, the adjustment of part to part and of means to ends, demands special consideration,
We must, for example, consider and preserve our physical well-being. In this endeavour we are aided by all that science has discovered concerning the human body, its evolution, its care, and the need of exercise. We have duties to our fellow-men in regard to the well-being of society. Duty enters into every department of human life.
We owe it to our neighbour, to the universal brotherhood or the divine fatherhood, to be doing something in particular all the time, to choose this line of conduct and reject that. And this knowledge of duty should rest on a scientific interpretation of the universe, on a study of life in its total relations.
No one can think deeply about life without considering these larger issues. But, even in approaching the problem of adjustment in its simpler and more individual aspects, we discover many ways in which we may pay our large debt to society. One cannot develop far beyond the less thoughtful masses without leading them on; and, since man is an imitative creature, there is no surer way of helping him than by setting him a nobler example.
Our uncharitable, our fault-finding and fear-carrying words and thoughts are sometimes as harmful to others as to ourselves. When we overcome these wrong habits of thought, our friends will not be slow in noticing the change. With the advent of a habit of looking for the good, of deriving encouragement from everything, and of disposing of our troubles in a quiet way ourselves, instead of burdening others with them, the reaction on our associates will prove wonderfully helpful.
This doctrine, then, says in a word, Be unselfish; have an ideal outlook; see yourself as you would like to be, healthy, happy, well-adjusted to life, helpful, wisely sympathetic, ever ready with an encouraging word, looking for the good, growing strong in wisdom and power; patiently awaiting occasions, yet always sufficiently occupied, so that you will have no time to be annoyed, fearful, restless, or morbid.
It points out new ways in which we may be of service to our fellow-men. It makes us aware of our own responsibility, and shows us that life is an individual problem. It warns us never to look upon that problem as too difficult to solve, if we approach it moderately, hopefully, and full of cheer.
Is it not a duty to be supremely happy, forever young in spirit? We have all met people whose very being seems to thrill from some unseen source of happiness. What influence can resist such a power, and what trouble can long weigh down such a bounding spirit? It is like the glad song of the birds, which will not let us be melancholy, or the feeling of worship for the Source of all life, which wells up in the presence of some beautiful landscape. It is health.
It opens one to the renewing, the indwelling energy, by which we exist, whereas fear contracts, and causes one to shut out that energy.
There is something profoundly unhealthy in our thought if any trouble whatever leads us to suppress this happy tendency. Its source is eternal, its spirit perennial. Its power in counteracting the selfish and morbid tendencies in life is boundless. It is not to be sought for its own sake alone. It is not the end of life. It is rather the spontaneous accompaniment of the highest usefulness, the deepest worship, the truest love, the greatest thankfulness, the profoundest repose and trust in God.
It is the truest sanity. It marks a well-balanced mind.
Science and philosophy do not always satisfy the soul. Reason sometimes leaves room for doubt. Pessimism and despair often rush in, if we do not check them by some happy thought. The greatest assurance, the one that never fails, is this happy restfulness, which no doubt can shake, this feeling that we are right, this sublime faith which sees no barrier between the soul and its perennial source.
A sense of trust and thankfulness wells up with this deep assurance, a feeling of joy in the blessing of existence, which defies the subtlest scrutiny, which unites the simplicity of childhood with the profoundest reaches of manhood’s thought.
It is well to take note of its conditions when it comes, to observe what a range of thought and sentiment is opened up by genuine happiness, and then, when the spirit of depression weighs heavily upon us, to recall these conditions, to let the morbid thought languish for mere want of attention, to stir one’s self, to arouse a forced happiness if one cannot shake off the heavy spirit in any other way.
It is a matter of economy to be happy, to view life and all its conditions from the brightest angle. It enables one to seize life at its best. It calls power to do our bidding. It renews. It awakens. It is a far truer form of sympathy than that mistaken sense of communion with grief and suffering which holds our friends in misery instead of helping them out of it. It is a far nobler religion than that creed which causes one to put on a long face, and look serious.
Once more, there is something wrong in our philosophy if it sanctions melancholy and pessimistic thoughts. We have not yet looked deeply enough into life. We are still thinking and acting contrary to, not in harmony with, the happy world of nature by which we are surrounded. By maintaining this mournful attitude, we show our want of faith in the goodness of things as much as when we fear.
A deep, unquenchable spirit of joy is at once the truest evidence that we believe in the beneficence of the Father, and that we have penetrated deep enough into life’s mystery to see how best, most economically, most courageously and helpfully to take it.
Patience, too, is a word that suggests much that is needful in the adjustment to life. Hard, indeed, is it for some to abide nature’s time, hard to eliminate the idea that creation was completed long ago.
Consider for a moment the vast age of our fair earth, how many aeons of cosmic time it revolved in space before vegetation appeared, and then pass in imagination down through the long cycles of struggle and development which led the way to the production of the first man, a creature with whom we would not own kinship.
History is still young. It is made today with unwonted rapidity, and one can hardly keep pace with the advancing times. Yet nature is just as moderate as ever, and our century is but the bursting bud of ages of measured preparation. Long ago the ancient Greeks spoke for beauty of form. Long ago Jesus spoke for the beauty of service. Not so long ago Luther spoke for freedom of conscience and reason.
Slowly the great world is brought round to the perception of these great prophets, who stand like guide-posts, indicating the will of the Most High.
Progress is as measured in human life. We cannot hasten events. We may as well accept the conditions of progress as we find them, and not postpone our lesson. My experience of today is the outcome of my experience of yesterday, of my past life, and is largely conditioned by it. My intuition tells me of grander experiences to come. It gives ideals. But I cannot enjoy those experiences now, I cannot yet realise the ideals, because I cannot omit one step in my progress.
I am ready, in the full sense of the word, only for the step which logically follows the one I am just now taking. I must not overreach or work myself into a nervous strain.
I must not let my thoughts dwell on the future. I must not be anxious nor assert my own will, for I do so at the peril of my health and happiness. I ought rather to live in the living present, understand my experience in the light of immediate cause and effect. I must build my new future by gradual modification of the changing present. I must select and reject, choose and neglect.
For, despite the fact that this endless chain of causes and effects, whereof my fleeting experience is a part, is law-governed and fate-driven, I have a wonderful amount of freedom. I am able not only to choose between accepting life’s conditions trustfully, contentedly, making the most that is good out of them, or rebelliously complaining at them all. I not only make of the world what I put into it, and thus regulate my own happiness and misery; but I cause infinite misery to other people.
I may sin, I may degrade myself lower than the animals, I may be thoroughly wicked and mean,—all within certain limits,—I may make of myself what I will; but I can never escape the torments, the inevitable results of my own acts. Not all the creeds, not all the good men, not all the prayers and sacrifices in the world, can ever change natural law, or save me from the heaven or the hell which I am preparing for myself by my daily conduct.
What I am doing day by day is resistlessly shaping my future—a future in which there is no expiation except through my own better conduct. No one can save me.
No one can live my life for me. It is mine for better or for worse. If I am wise, I shall begin today by the simplest and most natural of all processes to readjust my conduct. As surely as the great world of human thought comes round to the position of one wise man, so surely does the whole fabric of personal thought and action respond to our will. We have only to wait, be patient, renew our ideals day by day, remember that ideas have regenerative life and a natural law of growth, then act.
Here, then, is the secret of the whole matter. To look persistently toward the light, toward the good, toward what we would rather be, and as we would rather feel when we are suffering, with some happy prospect in view if we are morbid, with some deed of kindness in mind if we are idle and in need of something which shall absorb and fix the attention. Such will-power as this is irresistible. It is the God and one that make a majority.
Adjustment to life, then, is an individual problem, and varies with temperament, surroundings, and habits of thought. Its principles are universal. First, to realise in our own way the truth of Chapter II.,
that we live with God; that God lives in us; that He is completing us, moving upon us through the forces, the events, the world in which He resides, through our weaker nature, through our faults, through the conflicts which we have so long misinterpreted, through pain, through happiness, and all that constitutes experience; that we have no power wholly our own, but that we use and are used by divine power; that we are equal to any task, any emergency, any struggle, for God is here.
Help is near. We need not go anywhere for it. It is omnipresent. It abounds. It comes to us in proportion to our receptivity to it, our faith in it, our happiness, our hope, our patience.
Then to choose wisely what we wish to be in co-operation with the immanent Life, since “whatever determines attention determines action”; to see one’s self not in the introspective, but in the divine light; to be practical in the choice of ideals; to be ever happy, ever young, ever hopeful, and never discouraged.
But can we practise all this? If we could apply the entire doctrine at once, it would be of little value. We must have ideals—ideals which we may begin to realise today; and our discussion has been of some use, if it has shown the necessity of moderation, of quiet, trustful imitation of the methods whereby the great world of nature has come into being.
Everyone who has dwelt for a season in that joyous world of the larger hope, where one is lifted above self, above the thought of space and time, so that one seems related to the revolving orbs of space and to the limitless forces of the universe, knows that there is a sudden, almost painful descent to the realities of everyday life. Life is a constant readjustment.
It requires a daily renewal of one’s faith, and then a return to the tasks, the struggles, which at times well-nigh weigh us down. It means repeated failure. It means a thorough test of all that is in us. It often means trouble and discouragement whenever one receives new light and regenerative ideas, since a period of darkness similar to the decay of the seed in the ground follows every incoming of greater power. But it is priceless knowledge to know that we are equal to the occasion.
It is a long step toward self-understanding when we learn to see in facts that once caused discouragement profound reasons for hope and cheer.
It is a decided step toward self-mastery when we learn to meet these “ups and downs,” these regenerative periods, in a broadly philosophical spirit, at once superior to our circumstances and to the thoughts and fears which once held us in their power.
It is fortunate, indeed, if we no longer deem life’s task too hard, if our faith be sufficiently strong to sustain us through the severest tests, thereby proving our fitness to be made better, our willingness to persist, though all be dark, with an iron determination to succeed.