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. The traveler, as he enters this unique town, 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 that lives there. The village is Oberammergau; and here once in ten years representatives of all civilization come to witness the world-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 represent a certain character, they practice the most careful self-denial. They try to mould their lives in accordance with the qualities of that character, and 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 appear 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 cooperation with evolution, of all adjustment to life—namely, to have an object in view which we never lose sight of, and which we gradually realize, 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 just the same, and just as simple and effective.
What this principle is we have been considering from the very start; that is, to learn the real conditions of our progressive life, to gain some knowledge of the deepest law of our being, and then to conform our conduct to those conditions and that highest law. We find ourselves part of a great Reality, made known to us through internal and external sense, everything which reveals it being real. This simple act of consciousness, even though we know the Reality immediately, is immensely complicated; and our interpretation alike of its nature and of its meaning depends on temperament, education, mental and physical surroundings, and a hundred other conditions. Opinion, belief, fear, prejudice, hypnotic influences, and various subtle forces enter into and color our thought. We misinterpret sensation. We become the prey of our own fancies, and yield to the stronger minds about us. We are ignorant of the forces that play upon us, and consequently are not adjusted to them. We suffer, and we witness a vast amount of suffering which we seem powerless to prevent. But one law characterizes our conduct both in health and in disease. The central thought in consciousness for the moment or through habit, the direction of mind, shapes our lives, so that we really lead a life of mind. We live in a world partly of our own making, partly the product of all past evolution, both mental and physical, but a world which happily reveals a progressive order to which we can adjust ourselves in cooperation with the Spirit behind and within it, a world which has a purpose, a meaning with us, and with our individuality, which experience is trying to make plain.
It is evident, then, that at every step in our inquiry we must discriminate between the higher Self which never changes, which has a meaning in our lives, which possesses us, needs us, is sufficient for us, and the lower self which is constantly changing, obeying now this whim and now that. In proportion as we make this discrimination and obey the higher self are we free from conflict and suffering, and adjusted to life. If we abandon our fears, cease to complain, to rebel, and learn the real economy of our situation in life, then this higher Self has free access to us. It meets no opposition. Its purpose is made known without suffering. We enjoy the only true freedom in cooperation with the omnipresent Helper, whom we once despised. Gradually, a simple system of conduct and of adjustment to life 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 can indicate it for another is the purpose of this chapter.
But let us first be perfectly sure that we understand how conduct is shaped by an idea.
When we leave our 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 to us, by a single desire; and we keep this end in view until we attain it.
Thus we might analyze the conduct of any day or any moment, and find that wish or desire controls everywhere. In learning a language, we keep the object in view of reading and speaking it with fluency, and calmly work for years until we attain it. We make an invention because we need or desire it. The need or desire opens us to the means of fulfilling our wish. The artist has an ideal in view which he is ever striving to realize on canvass 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, just as rapidly as we ourselves change, and to the degree that our ideals and circumstances are modified by these inner changes. We endeavor to understand nature, life, history, our entire surroundings better. We then readjust ourselves in conformity to our better wisdom. And in every wise readjustment we are compelled to adopt nature's sure and measured method of evolution. We look for changes in and through the very conditions of politics and society, of moral and spiritual degenerateness, which we once sought to revolutionize from the outside.
All this seems simple and evident enough when one's attention is called to it. But do we follow this easiest and most natural of methods when we try to transform character and to secure better health by mental means? Are we not apt to say, This shall be so; to exert our wills, to forget the higher Self, to strain after ideals, to claim that which is not yet true and can only progressively become so, to expect to transform ourselves too quickly, to dwell in thought somewhere way off in the clouds or in the distant future, instead of wisely adjusting ourselves to the eternal now? Is the will really so powerful that it can abolish time? What is the will, and what is the nature of its power?
When I raise my arm and move my hand, the various motions which I am compelled to make seem to be controlled by my will. Yet I know very little about that apparently simple process. The hand and arm are moved by certain muscles, the muscles by a certain nervous discharge, which obeys definite laws utterly beyond the power of my will to control. I simply desire my hand to move in a particular way; and, lo! a wonderful mechanism, perfected by nature long ago, is set into activity. The complex motions by which I move my arm and hand are matters of habit rather than of will, and I use nature's mechanism almost unconsciously. The whole body responds to my thought in the same manner, and the great outside world goes on almost regardless of my will.
What, then, is my will? Has it no power? Simply this, says the new psychology, as expounded by Professor James—attention. "Whatever determines attention determines action." The child ceases his play, and turns his whole activity in some new direction because his attention has been attracted. We thread our way among the obstructions of a busy thoroughfare because our thought is fixed on some distant object. The hypnotist shapes the conduct of his subject when he has gained control of the subject's attention.
Will is a direction of mind with a definite object in view. It is the mental or conscious side of physical conduct, and as such it wields great power. It is thought fixed in and calling force into a given channel. Will uses power. It gives definite shape to power. It opens one to power, so that "I will" is equivalent to "I am ready." A person with a strong will is one who persistently keeps a desired object in view. The human power lies in the desire, the divine or natural in that which fulfills it. Here is a very important distinction. By longing for an object we unconsciously put ourselves in an attitude to attain it. We gravitate toward it. We exclude everything else in our efforts to attain it. All else is merely overdoing the matter.
Again and again we forget that will is a directing power, and act as though it were a force which we must exert. But my will alone is powerless to move my arm. I will to move it, and at the same time cooperate with nature's mechanism and my own well-established habits. If I kept saying, "I will move it," "Now I will move it," it would remain motionless. By saying, "I will do this," "I will have things thus and so," we are apt to get into a nervous strain, to assert our own power, our own selfishness, as though the human will were all-powerful. Self-conceit and ignorance of the larger and diviner life accompanies such self-assertion, and closes the door to the higher power. The Spirit quietly withdraws at the approach of such assertion.
The little flower, bursting from the bud into the glad sunshine, lifts up and opens itself to the light and warmth. It is openness, readiness, receptivity that is demanded of us. The thought put into the mind at night which wakes one at a given hour in the morning has its effect if we trust, not if we are anxious lest we oversleep. New ideas and new power seldom come to us while we scrutinize our mental processes and try to catch and to control the inspiration as it comes. But ideas and wishes sown in the mind like seed seem to have a wonderful power of growth and possibility of fulfilling our desires. The wisely chosen ideal modifies our life by a scarcely discernible process when it is thus sown in confidence and expectation. We only know that in a thoughtful moment we saw our error, and concluded that it would be wiser to act thus and so, and then dismissed the thought quietly and trustfully.
The process is wonderfully simple when it is not overdone, as the little boy digs up his garden day after day to see if his seeds are growing. Some have mastered it sufficiently so that the night's rest depends largely on their last thoughts before losing consciousness in slumber, or have learned to control the thoughts of an entire day by giving them wise direction in the morning. There is a wonderful possibility here for those who learn how to cooperate with their own deepest evolution, through wise and trustful adjustment to it. It is probable, too, that a large part of our troubles and many a painful malady would be cured by the same simple means if we could once learn the art of patient, restful adjustment, if we would let nature heal us without resistance or interference. But we nerve ourselves to endure, and thereby resist nature's remedial power. We are impatient to get well, forgetting that there is a natural law of recovery, and that nature tends to restore the lost equilibrium as rapidly, and only as rapidly, as it can be done well.
There is 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 an omniscient God, is ever ready to do her utmost for us. We can go through almost any experience if we feel 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 destiny. It would be strange, indeed, if, granting that an infinitely intelligent Spirit sent us here for some purpose, this were not so. It would be strange, too, if any experience in the individual career were without its meaning in the divine economy. If, then, we can assume this, too; if, in place of the cruel fate which, as we thought, cheated us out of our just dues and defeated our hopes, there is a larger Fate that somehow needed for us just what we passed through, there is no room for regret, no cause for complaint, since in regretting and complaining we are finding fault with Omniscience itself. It is not for us to say that life is not worth living. Our life, such as it is, belongs to a grander Life, to which we must ever turn in order to see the meaning of our own. And experience becomes infinitely pleasanter the moment we realize the futility of all regret, complaint, and opposition.
It is equally 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 an alarm of fire, to wake them up. They do not grow. They are selfish, and lack even the rudiments of true 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 mental evolution. They are very well 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 sick, everyone must become a servant. Every sensation is watched and carefully nursed. Everything must give way to their wishes. Everybody must help the matter on by expressions of sympathy and devotion. But place such people on their own resources, put them where something does come to disturb them, 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, to meet it manfully, trustfully, and 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 for ourselves, 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 traveler in foreign lands is compelled to meet experience in just such a happy mood as this. He knows that each day is bound to bring its annoyances; and he determines to meet them philosophically, and, if possible, 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 journeying 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 say 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 realize 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 practice it. If they offend us or get 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 get angry, too. There is no quicker or more smarting rebuke than to receive an affront in silence or in perfect 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 own attitude.
If we thus give our attention to building up character, broad, charitable, and true, the wrong thoughts will disappear through mere lack of attention. Psychology once more helps us here, and says 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 analyze sensation and 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 specter 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 analyze self, and lays aside the cares of the busy world, the deeper consciousness will be quickened. One falls into a gentle reverie. Pleasant memories and mysterious experiences come before the thought. One sees wherein one has failed to practice one's truest wisdom, or sees the meaning of some 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 knit together in relations unsuspected before. One will have new glimpses of truth—that deeper truth which comes unbidden, but which is ever ready to make itself known when one is intuitively awake and receptive.
A synthesis of these spontaneous reflections will give one 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 happy moments spent in 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 get 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 center, 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 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 the essence of individualism, urging one, as it does, to find a ready resource for all trouble in one's own nature. Yet, rightly interpreted, it is by no means selfishly exclusive, any more than that ideal of human society towards which, in the opinion of many thinkers, the present evolution of the social order has all the while been tending; that is, it seeks to give the individual mental freedom and free 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. The world is an organism. Society is an organism. Human minds as well as human customs and social institutions are evolving together. One by one, and individual by individual, we are knit together in one great mental, social, and universal fabric. Each need, each aspect of the organism, the adjustment of part to part and of means to ends, demands special consideration. We owe certain duties to ourselves in order to preserve our physical well-being, in the fulfillment of which we are aided by all that science has discovered concerning the human body, its evolution, its care, and the need of exercise. We owe other duties to our fellow men in order to preserve the well-being of society; and in this we receive greater aid each year through the rapidly advancing theories of moral conduct, of universal religion and sociology. We need and long to know what is right in all cases, to know what is our duty. Ethics enters into every act and thought of human life. We owe it to ourselves, to our neighbor, 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, including the discovery, so far as we can make it, of whither events are tending.
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 can pay our large debt to society. One cannot develop very 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 just, 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 wiser habit of looking for the good, of getting encouragement out of 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, and 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 can 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 we owe ourselves and other people to be supremely happy, forever young in spirit? We have all met those whose very being seems to thrill from some unseen source of happiness, who seem to know by instinct that all is good. 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 good, 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 one 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 leaves room for doubt. Pessimism and despair are ready to follow, if we do not check them by some happy thought. The greatest assurance, the one that never fails, is this indefinable somewhat, this happy restfulness, which no doubt can shake, this feeling that we are right, this sublime faith, this unfathomable intuition, which leaves 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 expands the soul. 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 as serious as possible. Once more, there is something wrong in our philosophy if it sanctions melancholy and pessimistic thoughts. We have not yet looked deep enough into life. We have never got beyond being impressed by the sadder and gloomier side of 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 eons of cosmic time it revolved in space ere 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 guideposts, indicating the will of the Most High.
Progress is just as measured in human life. We cannot hasten matters. 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 conditioned by it. My intuition tells me of grander experiences to come. It furnishes ideals. But I cannot enjoy those experiences now, I cannot realize the ideals now, 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 nor get 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 eternal now, and to understand my experience in the light of cause and effect. I must build my new future by gradual modification of the shifting 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 can not only choose between accepting life's conditions trustfully, contentedly, making the most that is good out of them, and rebelliously complaining at them all, I can not only make of the world what I put into it, and thus regulate my own happiness and misery, but I can cause infinite misery to other people. I can sin, I can degrade myself lower than the animals, I can be thoroughly wicked and mean—all within certain limits—I can 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 thinking and 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 build my own truer and better world from within. As surely as the great world of human thought comes round to the position of one man, so surely does the whole fabric of personal thought and action respond to our will. We have only to wait, to be patient, to renew our ideals day by day, to remember that ideas have life, regenerative life, and a natural law of growth. Nature and our own subconscious mind will do the work for us.
Here, then, is evidently 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 realize in our own way the truth of Chapter II., that there is but one Reality, or God; that we live in 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 that great Reality is all there is. It is all power. 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 cooperation 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. Conduct is thus the conscious adjustment of our acts to the purpose of the deeper Self so far as we know that purpose.
But can we practice all this? If we could, our doctrine would be of little value. We must have ideals—ideals which we can begin to realize 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 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 gets 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.
Other writings by Horatio W. Dresser
- Born on January 15th, 1866 in Yarmouth, Maine and died March 30th, 1954 in Boston, Massachusetts
- Authored many books, including The Power of Silence, and published several magazines.
- Earned his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1907