Certain aspects of the outer world now stand out clearly before us. The universe is an order, a system, an organized whole, in which each being and thing bears some relation to all others. Everything is related, not alone through its dependence on its neighbors, but through the law of cause and effect, the one fundamental force, substance, and life, and the law by which all things come into being. The outer world seems to be composed of independent forms and hard substances. Yet all forms are transient. The dense material dissipates into invisible gases and ultimate particles; and we find nothing permanent until we turn to the realm of the invisible and persistent Power which underlies these shifting forms. Even the constant qualities of matter must have their basis in a more substantial Reality in order to be constant at all. Matter is eternal only so far as it inheres in this self-existent Reality. It is law-governed only because the One is unchangeable. And, finally, it has no satisfactory meaning for us until we view it as the very consciousness, the objectified life of God himself, of the God who is in his world, immanent in evolution and immanent in the soul.
The Reality of the outer and inner worlds, then, is one. Everything exists in God; and we, existing in him, contemplate and know his conscious manifestations, in part. We do not simply feel matter as so many distinct objects. We do not simply feel sensations of light, heat, and cold. An object, a blow, a sense of warmth, does not come directly to the soul. The object must be understood, the blow must be perceived and reported, the feeling of warmth must be translated into an idea. We feel, and also know that we feel, force or matter in some of its forms. The simple act of feeling and knowing implies the existence not only of an outer world from which our sensations come, but of a conscious being to whom that world is made known. These very words become intelligible to the reader only as they call up ideas; and back of these ideas, following one another in rapid succession in the reader's consciousness, is the reader himself contemplating, thinking over these ideas, and associating them with what reflective experience has already made clear.
Even the materialist must admit this; for, in affirming that matter alone exists, he is simply stating a product of his reason. He has put certain ideas together, and evolved them into a system. This system of ideas is to him all absorbing. It is his habitual mode of thought, and colors his entire conscious experience. As a natural consequence, he neglects one aspect of that experience. He forgets the real nature of his ideas, affirming that mind is a mere flame, a product or outgrowth of matter. But even in admitting this he surrenders the stronghold of materialism, since by his own admission this flame is conscious; and consciousness is the fundamental fact of existence. It involves all that we are, all that we know, desire, and feel, the whole universe, and the great Thinker himself.
State the case as strongly as we may for materialism, we are more certain that mind exists, for we know matter only through mind; and the materialist must account for this deepest aspect of life with all that it involves. In fact, it is futile to deny either the subjective or the objective aspects of life; for the two have evolved together. They are present in our first experience; and the infant, reaching for the picture on the distant wall, and trying to locate the objects about him, is making the first discrimination between them. He soon gets some idea of space, for he finds that he cannot reach the picture on the wall. He learns to know one person from another. He distinguishes between his body and himself; and, finally, he becomes conscious of himself as a being that can feel and will. Part of all that he sees, feels, hears, or in any way experiences is due to his understanding from the moment his discriminating consciousness is quickened. The world becomes comprehensible to him as fast as he himself develops to comprehend it. Gradually his emotions and his knowledge play a greater and greater part in his life, until he develops a personal atmosphere, which projects itself into the outer world. Impulse and imagination in time give place to reason, but the thought of the man is no less influential in its effect on his life, he is just as truly leading a life of mind; and every business transaction, every pain and pleasure, is largely dependent on the confidence or belief he puts into it.
But all this is apt to be forgotten. Man forgets that he is a soul with a body, that he is primarily a conscious being, contemplating ideas and influenced by thought. Some thought is always prominent with him. He is always devoted to something. He shapes and controls things by his thought. Yet, just because the influence of thought is constant and is a fact of the commonest experience, he is unmindful of its real power and the real nature of his life. He seems to be leading a material life, and accordingly permits himself to be overcome by that which is material. But even here it is belief which governs his conduct. As a conscious being, he could be governed by nothing else. Every act of conduct is due to a direction of mind; and the mind shapes the conduct, and draws to itself whatever corresponds to the thought, just as truly and in the same way as a magnet attracts particles of iron. As this may not be fully evident, it is well to consider the influence of thought at some length; for in this neglected factor of human experience we shall find the greatest help in the problems of health and happiness.
It is evident first of all that the impression made upon us by a given experience depends largely upon the opinion we put into it. Let a company of people of varied tastes, prejudices, and education read a thoughtful book, listen to a speaker of decided opinions, or attend an entertainment of considerable merit, and their comments will display a wonderful variety of opinion. Diametrically opposed opinions on political, religious, and philosophical questions have been maintained ever since man began to reflect. A slight or a very marked divergence of opinion separates mankind into little groups and sects the world over. Each sect offers its opinions as truth. Everywhere people accept and are influenced by opinions with surprising readiness. Thousands of people have been made miserable and thrown into a state of excitement because in their fear and ignorance they accepted the teachings of dogmatic theology about sin and a future state, to say nothing of the slavery to medical opinion and the untold suffering that has grown out of it. The credulity, the gullibility of human nature is one of its profoundest weaknesses; and I need only refer to it to suggest its bearing on our mental life. It is a guiding factor with the majority of people, and opens the door to the control of the weak by the clever, the strong, and the unprincipled. Everyone is deceived at times through this inherent eagerness to believe rather than to understand, and the influence of prejudice is so subtle that only the keenest and most discerning minds are able to eliminate it to any marked degree.
We are so accustomed to obey certain ideas that we are scarcely aware of their power over us, or how true it is that "the world is what we make it." We are born with a set of ideas, born members of sects and parties in which theory, practice, and prejudice have become one. Our religion, education, and even our fears are prepared for us by other minds. Every opportunity is given us to develop along traditional lines, and it is deemed almost a blasphemy to have ideas of our own. Even if in later life one be quickened in a new direction, it is almost impossible to overcome and cast aside these deeply rooted opinions and prejudices.
We do not stop to question our beliefs. Prejudice will not permit it. People, as a rule, prefer to accept opinion without attempting to prove or disprove it. They are bored—and it is a most lamentable fact—they are bored by reasons and proof. It seems never to have occurred to them that man is free, and sure of his own individuality and the truth, only so far as he has gone with a rational process of thought. The tendency to think for one's self—the most helpful and healthy tendency in man—is crushed out in its infancy; and our whole system of traditional education and religion tends to shape man's belief for him. It is only when some unusually original or self-reliant thinker breaks through the hard and fast lines of rut-bound thinking that any ideas of fundamental value are given to the world. The non-sectarian and unprejudiced man of science is a very late product of evolution; and even he is prejudiced against many religious questions, and as rigorously excludes all facts that lie without the boundaries of natural science as the most bigoted conservative rules out the doctrines of the radical. The love of truth is not yet strong enough to make us seek universal truth rather than particular opinion. We think we know. Preconception blinds our eyes on every hand. We give credit to this man or this sect, as though there could be a monopoly of truth, when a little reflection would show that truth is universal, and does not hold because any man enunciates it, or because any sect champions it, but because it is inherent in the nature of things and persons.
It is a revelation to most people to discover the power of fear in their own lives. It enters into their religion. It often inspires the prejudice which stifles unbiased inquiry. It enters into every detail of daily life. We are apprehensive, as a race. We picture calamities of every description, and dread the worst. The sensational press furnishes constant material for fear. We fear to eat this and that. We dread, anticipate, and really put ourselves in the best attitude to take certain diseases; and we live in constant fear of death. And fear is simply another form of opinion. It runs back to our willingness to believe rather than to think for ourselves. It is based on ignorance, increases in intensity with the degree of superstition, and vanishes when we understand the law of development, of cause and effect.
But the one who knows the law and obeys it without fear, the scientific man or the seer, just as truly as the savage, is building his own world from within. The world is just as large and just as intelligible as his own ability to interpret it. The artist discovers qualities in the outer world which actually do not exist for other people. He detects certain lights and shades, certain undulations of the landscape, and an endless variety of transformations during the four seasons of the year. A scientific man will discover evidences of glaciations and read a long and most interesting history from a rock which may be a worthless obstacle to the farmer. Even the beautiful Alps were once deemed so many obstructions to travel before the love of natural scenery was developed. The same scene viewed by the novelist, the historian, the warrior, the man of business, the savage, presents just so many different aspects, depending upon their training and the class of facts which serve their purpose. It may be comical, it may be tragical, it may inspire happiness, sorrow, comfort, dread, chagrin, pity, and suggest a thousand different ideas to the beholder. All these aspects may have some basis in fact, but they are not complete pictures of the outer world. They are individual phases of it. We see things as we are.
The difference, then, is deeper than education alone. There are natural tastes, likes and dislikes, affinities and sentiments, rendering the saying "What is one man's meat is another's poison" equally applicable to the inner world. Passion colors the world according to its nature and intensity. Experiences, dispositions, theories, differ, and project themselves into every fact of life. One thinker is persistently optimistic, despite all that life brings of pain and misery; another is no less strong in his pessimism; while a third is so bigoted that he cannot be urged to take a fair view of anything, not even of his own persistently biased nature.
The very fact that the world is so large, that the one Reality is only known to us in part, or so far as experience has made it known, shows that our interpretations must differ, and that the difference is in us. Indeed, one may seriously question if the limitations of temperament will ever be overcome, if one man can ever describe life except as he sees it, modified by the general knowledge of the race. Perhaps that very feeling of individuality is fundamental in the thought of God, is the divine consciousness focalized in a given direction. If so, it is each one's duty to cultivate this profoundest individuality, and discover just what God means through it, what aspect of life one is best able to interpret. This deeper life in mind must then take the place of the superficial world of opinion. The dogmas and influences of other people must be rigorously excluded until, in moments of silence and quiet reflection, one learns the divine point of view through the individual man.
Thus the individual thinker penetrates deeper and deeper in his analysis of our life in mind, until his consciousness seems to blend with the universal Thinker, of whose consciousness all life is a part. His means of knowing the outer world, and the influence of opinion, of prejudice, education, and temperament, prove to him that he lives in mind. But now he discovers a yet deeper reason, and once more happily makes his escape from the narrowing effects of mere self-consciousness into the greater consciousness of the Universal.
The difference between one person and another, then, is fundamental. One has only to try to put one's self in the mind of a friend in order to realize this wonderful difference. Let the friend be one's closest companion, one's mother or brother, whom one has known intimately from infancy; and even here the transition is impossible. There is something that we cannot grasp, because it is the friend's experience, and can never be ours. Personality—what is it, whence came it, and what does it mean? Your world and my world, how much alike, yet how utterly dissimilar! and how many and varied the aspects of a single personality as presented to different people, all equally true perhaps, all drawn out from a single source under ever-changing conditions! Self exists within self—the social self, the self of impulse and emotion, and the self of reason, the conscious self and the subconscious, wherein we turn over and view ideas in all their aspects until they become fixed habits of thought, the fleeting ephemeral self, which reveals itself in an endless variety of moods, opinions, and feelings, and the permanent self which we call soul, that deeper consciousness which blends with the Self of selves.
But some self is always uppermost. To this we are for the moment devoted, and it is this more superficial self or direction of mind that we are most concerned with in this chapter. One fact remains true of all personalities, however great the difference between them. They are all conscious beings. On the one hand come impressions from the world of matter. On the other come thoughts and influences in the sphere of mind. The two unite in consciousness, and form the world of mental life, or our interpretation of the great organized whole of which we are part. In the center exists man. Looking one way, all that he sees is apparently material. Looking in the other, all appears to be mind. When he seeks their unity, he finds it alone in the conscious self which underlies them both, which therefore makes his whole life mental, and which is to be explained only by reference to the one Self.
But our mental life is not made up of perceptions, emotions, and other conscious ideas alone. There is a more subtle form of thought influence than any we have yet considered. The rapid development of hypnotism has opened up a phase of this influence which throws much light on the nature of mind. The mind is even more susceptible to the power of suggestion than to the power of opinion. Opinion itself often comes in the form of suggestion, and carries a hypnotic influence with it. Indeed, the influence, the so-called magnetism, that accompanies the spoken or written word, is often more effective than a strong argument. The strong sway the weak in this way; and positive minds draw negative minds about them, which merely reflect the thought of the leader. Auto-suggestion is also a powerful factor in our mental life, and is often used, greatly to the benefit of the health. People emulate each other through unconscious suggestion. People are drawn into all sorts of fashions, fads, and influences through these silent suggestions. Every one, in fact, has some strange experience to relate nowadays, illustrative of occult influence, hidden and unsuspected communications between mind and mind, and the remarkable effect of thought upon the body in the cause and cure of disease.
Every sensitive person is also aware of mental atmospheres surrounding persons and places, just as the odor emanates from and surrounds a rose. This is especially noticeable in a church or in some great cathedral where for ages men have bowed in worship in accordance with their particular form of religion, and have left their influence behind them. Every household, town, or city has its peculiar mentality, the analysis of which reveals the characteristics of the minds that produce it. A wonderfully stimulating atmosphere pervades a great university, causing a marked change in the thought, the manners, and even the dress of the novice, who, if he be especially susceptible, is often over-stimulated by it. Wherever man has lived and thought, these atmospheres have been left behind him. They are associated with chairs where people have sat for some length of time. They are associated with clothing, and a change of clothing is therefore sufficient at times to change the state of mind. They come with books and letters sometimes revealing more of the personality that sends them forth than the person would wish. They draw people together, and cause them to think alike. There is an atmosphere about some people that warns one not to come too close, while in other cases there is instant affinity and sympathy. One occasionally meets people whose very presence is a lasting stimulus and an inspiration. One seems to take away something besides the mere memory of a noteworthy interview; and some people forget their troubles, lose their aches and pains, and are immensely benefited by simply talking with a helpful friend. Some people compel attention or obedience by their presence, and exact a surprising amount of service and homage from other people.
Character, then, is not only written in the face, expressed in conduct and language, but is sent forth as a thought atmosphere. Atmospheres impinge and leave their impressions on each other, revealing the nature, thought, and feeling of the personality which gives rise to them. This is evidently the reason why first impressions are usually correct, and why depression and other states of feeling are passed from mind to mind. Some delicately organized people find it inadvisable to go into society except at rare intervals; for they get entangled in these atmospheres, and do not know how to throw them off. Others seem to have the happy art of leaving a part of themselves behind, of making everyone else happy, yet never yielding their own personality to any contaminating influence.
But thought communications are not limited by time or space. One sometimes feels that a friend is about to call or write just before the actual visit is made or the letter received. People in different parts of the world working along parallel lines of thought sometimes make the same invention or discovery at the same time. The phenomena of thought transference are too well authenticated to need proof here, although I have the exact data of many experiences in my own life, and thought communication has long been a matter of common occurrence. The evidence in favor of a constant stream of mental influences passing from mind to mind is in fact overwhelming, and the mere data are not as important as the principle implied in their occurrence.
Some still dismiss such experiences as mere coincidences, or deem them of little value when the communication takes place between friends; but those who, like the writer, have taken note of the exact words, of time and place in which the message came, and have immediately received a letter from the distant friend containing precisely the same data, know beyond all doubt that the experience was no mere happening, and the very fact that such communications are common between those who are in sympathy is a proof of their occurrence. We recognize our friends' communications because we know their mental atmosphere. Other messages may come and produce no conscious impression on us, because we are ignorant of their source. They are mere impersonal thoughts, that slip into the consciousness almost as our own; and oftentimes we learn that these supposed original thoughts are common to the intellectual life of our time, and are "in the air." Whereas telepathic communications with a friend, like the sound of a familiar voice, have some meaning for us, and put us in touch with the friend's personality. It is not necessary, then, that certain words be transmitted and recorded in order to prove telepathy; for the mere directing of one's thought toward another is sufficient to make one's self known. In writing a letter, one naturally thinks of the person to whom it is to be sent; and this alone is sufficient to open up thought communication, and perhaps reveal the contents of the letter. The communication is its own evidence, and suggests a principle far more important than any experiential attempts to repeat it under exact conditions.
It is probable that we are living related lives, that we are not only members of one another through the all-encompassing Spirit, but that we are bound each to each by ties of thought. Mental man, then, is not an isolated creature any more than is physical man, but is part of a psychical organism, in which every thought plays its part and has its effect just as truly as the events in the physical world or in the social organism; or, better, that for conscious man there is but one organism, of which we contemplate now its physical, now its social, its mental, its ethical and spiritual phases, according to the line of thought or the self which chances to be uppermost. If this be so, and if the events of this purely mental phase of life be law-governed, correlated, and causally connected with its other phases, there can be no real chasm between mind and matter or between thought and soul or spirit. There must be some means of communicating between mind and mind, between thought and matter; and, while it is not possible to supply all the steps in the transition at this early stage of the inquiry, certain facts have already been ascertained which are of the greatest importance in the present discussion.
Many students of thought transference and of other facts of our mental life have found it necessary to postulate the existence of a subtle substance, which, like the luminiferous ether, conveys thought vibrations from mind to mind, precisely as the sun's energy is brought to our earth. It is far more probable that the communication takes place in this way than through the journeying of the soul from place to place; for, although some people have the ability to discover and describe things at a distance, there is little reason to believe that the soul ever leaves the body until the change called death occurs. Nor is it probable that the soul or spirit projects itself at any great distance. The thought wave probably passes through this finest form of ether, just as waves of sound are transmitted through the air, setting up vibrations in the recipient corresponding to those in the sender. Sound, light, heat, color, and the motion caused by wind on the surface of water are transmitted in this way; and one would naturally look for the same law in the realm of thought. In nature, then, it is the energy, the wave-motion, that is transferred, and not the object which gives rise to it. Every sound makes an impression on the atmosphere capable of setting up a corresponding vibration in the ears of all who are within a certain distance. In a similar manner each thought is probably registered on this subtle ether; and those who are open to it through sympathy or some common interest become aware of it or unconsciously receive the benefit of it. Minds of a like order are thus enabled to think together. The new thoughts of one stimulate those who are ready to respond, while thoughts that do not concern us pass off like sound in a desert, where there is no one to hear. Sympathy, receptivity, is the prime requisite in conscious thought communication. Yet, if there be an intermental substance, all minds must be open to it in some degree, and the most potent influences may be received unconsciously.
This ethereal substance in which our minds seem to be bathed is probably molecular in structure; yet it is obviously finer than electricity or the luminiferous ether, and is capable of penetrating the most minute spaces, just as the coarser gases interpenetrate the molecules of liquids and solids. It is evidently the finest grade of matter, and is immediately responsive to the slightest possible thought activity. On the one hand, it is probably like thought, or thought sent forth and condensed, just as the breath is condensed on a frosty morning, and on the other, like matter in its more ethereal forms. It may therefore be called thought matter or spiritual matter, since it apparently supplies the connection between spirit and matter, and partakes of both. In addition to the general intermediary between mind and mind there must then be a personal mentality, which gives shape to individual thought. This has already been in part described as mental atmosphere, and evidently proceeds from the personality, just as heat is seen rising from the ground on a warm day. It may be conceived as a wonderfully sensitive impression plate, jelly-like in texture, responding to the slightest possible change of thought, and performing an office similar to that of the earth's atmosphere, the minute particles of which catch the solar rays, and radiate them to the earth's surface in the form of heat and light. From it the transition is probably made directly to thought on the one hand and to bodily changes on the other, for it evidently penetrates the finest spaces in every portion of the physical body. Its existence therefore explains why thought can mould the body in causing and curing disease, and gives a reason for the supremacy of mind. In recent literature it is described as an up rush from the subliminal or subjective self; and it is probably in this surrounding atmosphere or up rush that faces, forms, and other shapes are seen, as well as a large class of phenomena known as hallucinations.
Whatever be the nature of this ethereal substance, it is evident, then, that it gives shape to thought. Dr. Quimby1, who, so far as I am aware, was the first to discover and describe this aspect of it, called it spiritual matter, since it possesses qualities characteristic of both matter and spirit. Into it, according to his description, are sown all sorts of ideas and erroneous opinions, fear, and beliefs about disease, which condense and germinate like seeds in the ground, producing changes in the body corresponding to the states of spiritual matter. He therefore distinguished between the mind which can be changed by thought and the mind which cannot change, which he called Wisdom. His own researches led him to make this distinction, and with him the existence of spiritual matter was no hypothesis, but a fact of experience. It was an object of perception with him. He could describe its changes, and was himself conscious of changing it when he explained some error to a person in trouble or sickness. His discovery therefore supplied the connecting link in the mental cause and cure of disease, which has been the means of relieving so much suffering during the past half-century.
It is evident, then, that this spiritual matter is also in close connection, if not partly synonymous, with the unconscious or, more properly, the subconscious mind, the physiological aspect of which is known as unconscious cerebration. The conscious thought evidently descends to the plane of the subconscious when it is dismissed by the will or the attention. It may then take form as spiritual matter, and be reflected in the body, or it may simply be turned over in the mind until the idea becomes a permanent factor in our mental life. It is a well-known fact that during this subconscious process new light is thrown on difficult questions, and the perplexing problem which we dismiss from consciousness at night is often solved for us in the morning. Whence came the new solution? Have we not arrived once more at the general conclusion of this book; namely, that "we lie open on one side to the deeps of spiritual nature, to the attributes of God"?2 This openness is greater during sleep; and it is probably then that the mind gets many of its new ideas from the very source of wisdom, the mind that cannot change, the All-knowledge.
One mind is thus revealed within another, like organism within organism in nature. The problem becomes more complicated as we proceed; and in this great question—namely, the origin of our ideas—is involved the very mystery of life itself. But, not to complicate our present discussion, it is sufficient to say that this intermediary shades off into all the aspects of our life in mind. As it approaches the finest forms of matter in the physical body, it gives rise to physical sensation, causing density, contraction, or expansion, according to the nature of the thought. As it vibrates or extends to other minds, it becomes thought transference, or, more accurately, the medium of thought transmission. Descending to the realm of the partly conscious, it becomes the subconscious mind, and is connected with the subjective or deepest self. Rising to the plane of definite thought, it blends with the conscious mind, by which it can be molded like clay in the hands of the potter. At death it is probably separated forever from physical sensation, leaving the ability to communicate through its more spiritual aspect an indestructible quality of the soul.
Now that we have made the transition from matter to mind as well as our imperfect knowledge would permit, it becomes evident that the thought which changes matter is of far more importance than the actual process. There must then be some fundamental law which governs alike in our transitory and permanent mental states, and gives unity to the aspects of the inner life which we have passed in hasty review. As this law is of great practical importance, it is necessary to approach a definition of it by degrees.
If we observe a little child at play, we notice that it turns from this sport to that, from one plaything to another, as rapidly as its attention is attracted. The first indication of definite growth in the baby's mind is this fixing of its baby eyes and its blossoming consciousness on some attractive object. The observant mother early learns to govern the child largely through its interested and skillfully directed attention. A little later she discovers that it is far better both for the present and the permanent good of the child never to call it naughty, and thereby to call more attention to its unruliness, but to interest it in some new play, or carefully and persistently to point out the better way, until it shall have become all-absorbing. Later still, when the child develops ways of its own, its persistence or willfulness is still attention fixed on some cherished plan. The student so absorbed in his book that he is oblivious of the conversation going on about him illustrates the same power of a fixed direction of mind. The performance of skilled labor consists largely in the cultivation and concentration of the attention, together with the necessary manual accompaniment. The art of remembering well depends largely on the attention one gives to a speaker or book. That speaker or book is interesting which wins and holds our attention. That thought or event influences us which makes an impression, and becomes part of our mental life through the attention. We learn a language, grasp some profound philosophy, or experience the beneficial effect of elevating thought, rid ourselves of morbid, unhealthy, or dispiriting states of mind with their bodily expressions, in proportion as we dwell on some ideal or keep before us some fixed purpose, until by persistent effort the goal be won.
What is hypnotism but an induced direction of mind suggested by the hypnotist? When the subject is under control, and hypnotized, for example, to see a picture on the wall where there is none, the whole mind of the subject is absorbed in seeing the supposed picture, and there is no time nor power left to detect the deception. Many self-hypnotized people are equally at the mercy of some idea which is the pure invention of their fears. Insanity best of all illustrates the nature of a direction of mind pure and simple, with the wonderful physical strength which sometimes accompanies the domination of a single idea. All strongly opinionated people, those whom we call cranks, the narrow-minded, the creed-bound, the strongly superstitious, illustrate the same principle, and from one point of view are insane—insane so far as they allow a fixed state of mind to control their lives and draw the stream of intelligence into a single channel: whereas the wisely rounded-out character, the true philosopher, is one who, while understanding that conduct is molded by thought, never allows himself to dwell too long on one object, but seeks all-round development.
The point for emphasis, then, is this: that in every experience possible to a human being the direction of mind is the controlling factor. In health, in disease, in business, in play, in religion, education, art, science, in all that has been suggested in the foregoing, the principle is the same. The directing of the mind, the fixing of the attention or will, lies at the basis of all conduct. The motive, the intent, the impulse or emotion, gives shape to the entire life; for conscious man is always devoted to something. Let the reader analyze any act whatever, and he will prove this beyond all question.
The whole process, the law that as is our direction of mind so is our conduct, seems wonderfully simple and effective when we stop to consider it. Yet we are barely conscious of the great power we exercise in every moment of life. We are not aware that, in the fact that the mind can fully attend to but one object at a time, lies the explanation of a vast amount of trouble, and that by the same process in which we make our trouble we can get out of it.
Yet we know from experience that our painful sensations increase when we dwell on them, and that we recover most rapidly when we are ill if we live above and out of our trouble. On the other hand, we know that a wise direction of thought persisted in, or the pursuit of an ideal without becoming insanely attached to it and impatient to realize it, marks a successful career. Without the generally hopeful attitudes of mind embodied by our best churches, and expressed in our beliefs about the world, we should hardly know how to live in a universe where there is so much that is wicked and discouraging, and so much that is beyond our ken.
We are ever choosing and rejecting certain ideas and lines of conduct to the exclusion of certain others, and into our choice is thrown all that constitutes us men and women. The present attitude of the reader is just such a direction of mind; and this book, like the world at large, means just as much or as little as the reader is large and wise in experience. In the same way this book, or any other, reveals the life and limitations of its author. It cannot transcend them, it cannot conceal them; for in some way, through the written or spoken word or through thought atmosphere, personality ever makes itself known. The law of direction of mind is evidently no less exact than any which science has formulated. The world is what we make it, because only so much of it is revealed as we can grasp. In whatever direction we turn our mental searchlight, those objects on which it falls are thrown into sudden prominence for the time. The world is dark and full of gloom only so long as we dwell upon its darkest aspects, and do not look beyond them. There are endless sources of trouble about us. On the other hand, there are innumerable reasons to be glad if we will look at them. We can enter into trouble, complaint, worry, make ourselves and our friends miserable, so that we never enjoy the weather or anything else. Or we can be kind, charitable, forgiving, contented, ever on the alert to turn from unpleasant thoughts, and thereby live in a larger and happier world; for the choice is ours. If we fear, we open ourselves to all sorts of fancies, which correspond to our thought, and cause them to take shape. If we communicate our fears to friends, their thought helps ours. If we get angry, jealous, act impetuously, we suffer just in proportion to our thought. If we pause to reflect, to wait a moment in silence, until we are sure of our duty, we experience the benefit of quiet meditation.
We invite what we expect. We attract what we are like. Let one understand this, and one need never fear. The law is perfect, and the protection sure. Our safety lies in wisdom; and, were we wise enough, we should probably have no fears at all. It is the explanation of our actual situation in this well-ordered world, dwelling near the heart of an omnipotent Father, that sets us free, and makes us masters of our own conduct. It should not therefore be a new source of terror to learn that we are beset by all sorts of subtle influences and hypnotic forces, or to be told that our own thought directions are largely instrumental in causing misery, disease, and trouble of all sorts. These wrong influences cannot touch us. Our own mental atmosphere, our whole being, is a protection against them, if we have reached a higher plane. There must be a point of contact in order for one mind to affect another, some channel left open, some sympathy, just as there must be a certain affinity in order for two persons to form a mutual friendship. Our safety, our strength, lies in knowing our weakness, in discovering that the law of direction of mind is fundamental in every moment of human life. If after that we go on in the same old way, complaining, fearing, thinking along narrow lines, and submissively accepting the teaching of others, it will not be because we do not understand the law.
Out of the mass of impressions and opinions which for the most people constitute mental life, we can weed out those that bring harm, and develop those that are helpful. The economy of cultivating right thoughts is thus at once apparent. Matter is obviously just as much of a weight and a prison as we make it by our habitual thought. Looking one way, we enter into matter, or density. Looking in the other, we attract that which is spiritual, or quickening. Ideas have power over us in proportion as we dwell on them exclusively. It is a matter, then, of real economy, of necessity, to view ourselves and our habitual ideas from as many directions as possible, just as one goes away from home in order to break out of the ruts into which one inevitably falls by living constantly in one atmosphere.
Man leads a life of mind, then, because he is a conscious being, because the stream of consciousness is turned now into this channel, now into that, and can only take cognizance of a relatively large aspect of the world by the broadest, least prejudiced, and most open-minded turning from one phase of it to another. He has a distinct individuality, for which he is personally responsible, which it is his duty to preserve and to develop. It is through this, if he think for himself, that the keenest light is cast upon things; for it is the fundamental direction of consciousness, and ultimately blends with the Self who knows all directions. Next in order comes daily experience, shaped by education, inherited beliefs and tendencies and whatever leads it into a given channel. After these fixed directions of mind come the mere Meeting influences—mental pictures, fears, atmospheres, perplexities, and troubles, affecting the thought superficially, yet possessing a tendency to strike deeper into the being, and become fixed habits through subconscious mental activity. The law is everywhere the same; namely, that the conscious direction of mind, supported by the whole personality, is all-controlling for the time, since the mind can fully attend to but one object at once. Its application to daily life is at once apparent.
There is one consideration, however, which it is well to bear constantly in mind. The fundamental or ultimate direction of mind and the states of consciousness caused by the outer world are not of our own making: they are founded on the one Reality. We cannot wholly build the world from within. Science is trying to dispel all illusions, so that we may see it nearer as it really is. Our world is not a mere fleeting show. We cannot change it by an act of will or a simple caprice. It only yields within certain limits. Our world experience has a fixed and natural order. It is a system, both in its subjective and its objective aspects, a growth. Man is a progressive being. He is not yet completed, and the law of his growth is evolution. He may hinder that growth in a thousand different ways; and much depends on his attitude toward it, as we shall see in the next chapter. But he only changes the world as it appears to him, not as it exists in reality. Co-operation with it, with evolution, is his one greatest lesson. To learn how to adjust himself to the organism of which he forms a part is his great task, and the law of aspiration by which all evolution is guided is the direction of mind which is for him the one essential. His follies and fears will die of inanition. His harmful states of mind will cease to trouble him if he refuses them the attention which is their life. The source of the mental organism, in which he is a factor, is just as truly the immanent Life as the outer order of nature. It has a certain tendency, which he can follow if he will; and, if he follows it consciously and reflectively, his thought will constantly lead him back to the great Originator, in whom the worlds of nature and of our mental life become one.
- See Preface
- Emerson, "The Over-Soul"
More Articles by This Author 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