The scope of material hygiene, though important in itself, is essentially partial and incomplete. There is another great causative domain which is both higher and complementary, and it is unwise to ignore it.
As compared with any former period, modern investigation is inclined to delve deeply in order to discover hidden principles, and to reach inward to primary causation; or, in other words, to get at the soul of things. The science of sanitation naturally feels the general stimulus above noted. It is becoming increasingly evident that a mere external observance of hygienic regulation does not necessarily make everything clean within. Great progress has been made from a blind reliance upon drugs as an antidote for human ills, toward a prevention of them through physical hygiene; and this important step is creditable and profitable. But progress never ceases, and a further extension of hygienic effort is clearly in order. Attention is being more and more directed from the objective towards the subjective, from the seen towards the unseen, and from things towards thoughts.
The effects of the application of material remedies for physical ills, as variously utilized, have been exhaustively studied, and endless experiments made, without marked or radical success. Theories and methods in materia medica are still largely experimental and tentative.
It has been practically assumed that the human constitution is to be dealt with as a fixed quantity and quality; and investigation has almost entirely spent itself upon supposed remedies from without, rather than upon prevention, and in combating symptoms rather than in finding causes. The question has been, as to just the effect of this or that drug, and more recently this or that temperature, humidity, exercise, climate, and physical habit, upon the assumed human fixture. That the conditions just named are important may be admitted; but the question is: Can that supposed fixture or human ego be so modified in itself, that it will come into different relations with its environment? Every accomplishment is a growth, and it is found that the individual can become increasingly independent of external conditions, so as not to always be "under the circumstances." Man is not a material mechanism, but a living entity working from within.
The principle that deserves recognition is, that the order of causation is from the mental and spiritual internal, toward the correspondential and expressive physical external.
It has been abundantly proved that anger changes the secretions; that fear deranges the circulation and deteriorates the blood; that anxiety wastes the nervous energy; and that selfishness, pessimism, and immoral thought drain and impoverish the vitality. These things and many others make it evident that nothing in man is fixed, but rather that the subjective realm is the promising field for new observation and effort.
Outward occasions of human ills have been mistakenly regarded as their primary causes. A more correct estimate is that physical characteristics are only the visible index or exponent of the living, molding internal forces. And further, it is increasingly evident that cultivated thought, emotion, and consciousness modify physical expression and condition. Mere occasions may offer us ills, but it is susceptibility that takes them in and succumbs to them.
Hygiene, to be truly scientific, must begin to concern itself with the cleanness of mind as well as body, and with the ventilation of the thought-atmosphere as well as with that of the apartment. Bad mental pictures must be classed with sewer-gas, and pessimism rated as malaria. Idealism and spiritual optimism must take their place among sanitarian agencies, and man utilize his hitherto slumbering resources and focalize his thought-forces. The vitality can be invigorated and stimulated from within.
A thorough mental hygiene means more than an outward formal conformity to respectable ethical standards. The thought-habits and resting-places must be intelligently chosen. Ideals that we are to gain an intimacy with must be selected with the same, and even greater care than we exercise in the choice of personal associates. What one thinks most about, he either becomes or grows like, and it is the tendency and function of the physical organism to mirror it forth. Let us, then, train our minds to focalize themselves upon those qualities and things that we wish to manifest, rather than upon what we would like to avoid.
We should build a thought-realm of ideals of harmony, health, soundness, and sanity now, and not put them off to a hoped-for future. If at present the body is not expressing such conditions, the inner perfect reality must be firmly held until, at length, it is projected into outward expression. We are souls having bodies, and not bodies having souls. Man is above his visible instrument, or embodiment, and should continually affirm his rule of it. The reverse is slavery. "As a man thinketh in his heart so is he." By an understanding of the law of mental concentration he may gradually change his consciousness concerning himself. Thereby he increasingly dominates physical sensation, and by degrees frees himself from its tyranny. Mental hygiene, therefore, includes the intelligent cultivation of a new and higher self-consciousness. Such a compliance with higher law is thoroughly normal, wholesome, and in accord with man's constitution. As he lifts himself into the calm occupation of the higher selfhood, things that have been adverse and rebellious fall into friendly and harmonious service. He thereby grasps the reins of objective relationship, and comes into possession of his legal and rightful heritage.