Professor Marsh pointed out a most interesting fact in evolution. It is well known that the gigantic animal structures of the geological ages disappeared from the earth and have been succeeded by smaller organisms. It seems to be true that in such changes the brain of the succeeding type has ever been larger in comparison with the organism than that of the type displaced. And if we remember that more brain means a greater and more complex functioning of mind, we may draw a most important conclusion, namely, that in the evolution of life there has been a survival of the fittest mind.
But our inquiry here leads us far beyond this conclusion. We find that the manifestation of mind alone most fitted to overrun the earth is not that manifestation of mind which has been prominent in the-best thought and life of man of historic times. This has been a development of mind that natural selection acting through physical environment would hardly account for; that is, the evolution of morality, ethics, altruism, and esthetics. Thus we see that evolution must now follow the lines of higher mental states.
In the preceding paper there was a consideration of some mental states that constitute or induce the higher life. The question arises, Is there any method or art by which these may be attained; and if so, what? There is; and it is the mastery of the mind, and through it of the conditions and states of consciousness related to the objective life and impressed upon the subliminal states.
Mind has been said to be “the totality of the subconscious and conscious adaptive functions of the organism in interaction with the cosmos.” (Professor Elmer Gates) I would say it is the relation in entirety between the consciousness and the cosmos. We therefore see the reason for such proverbs as that of the Hindus: “The mind binds us and the mind sets us free.”
To master the mind is to master the relations with the cosmic environment. It is to select at will the character of the soul’s functioning and thereby become the creator of the bodily conditions on the one hand and the states of consciousness on the other. It is to become a powerful psychic factor for good. It is to gain control over the only instrument by which the personality may be purged of the dross that prevents progress and a realization of higher states in this body and hereafter.
“We must be careful how we choose our thoughts; the soul is dyed by its thoughts.” The mind is the spring of every conscious action, and it is the creator of the special aspect that the world wears to each individual soul. Says Emerson: “You have seen a skillful man read Virgil. Well, that author is a thousand books to a thousand persons. Take the book into your two hands and read your eyes out: you will never find what I find.” So does each soul live in a condition made by itself, and everything upon this plane is interpreted by the mind for itself. “We may make the world a palace or a prison,” says Sir John Lubbock. By the power of conscious creative mentation we may create a higher and purer world of thought into which we may retire at will, and into which no unlike or inharmonious elements can enter. We may be cheerful in the "midst of adversity, and render ourselves happy in the possession of that which change and opinion cannot touch.
This mastery does not come by haphazard thinking, nor by spasmodic effort, but by systematic mentation and purposeful concentration. As far as the purposes here are concerned, it may be said that this concentration must be upon the concepts connected with the higher life. It is constructive in that it creates higher states and intensifies higher aspirations, and it is eliminative in that it displaces lower and antagonistic ones. It fixes the desirable states as habitual ones by building up brain-cells through which the conscious functioning takes place, and upon the psychic side it habituates the soul to those higher conditions by the law of exercise and use. It leads to original thinking, and gives a stronger and truer mental grasp. When sufficient mastery is attained to inhibit all habitual lines of thought, the subliminal mentation becomes vivid and states not theretofore known become apparent.
The practice divides itself naturally into two branches— one the constructive and eliminating, by which new states may be purposefully created, and the other the revealing, by which the soul manifests its latent higher states. The rationale of these will be spoken of particularly in a future paper. For our present purpose we may ask what is the first requisite to successful introspection, aside from the preparation shadowed forth in foregoing pages. There must be some degree of temporary retirement or withdrawal from distracting environment. This is an obstacle to very many who have not accustomed themselves to look within, but who seek all their entertainment and diversion from without. Says Sir Thomas Browne: “Unthinking heads who have not learnt to be alone are a prison to themselves if they be not with others.” The advantages of solitude have been universally recognized, and many times unduly magnified. There are conspicuous examples of both. Petrarch retired from the allurements and fascinations of a luxurious court, where every material advantage was at his bidding, in order to be with himself and higher thoughts.
But to attain the result of which I speak it is not necessary to retire into seclusion. The healthful practice requires only a regular effort each day for the training of the soul’s faculties by a rational system of thought and meditation. At first the student finds himself ran away with by his desultory, capricious thoughts. He realizes that he is not master in his own mental house. Gradually he begins to gain control; and, by the inhibition of special lines of thought and the concentration upon others that are desirable, he may engage in conscious, systematic character-building. He knows that he has the key to attainment, and the future to a vastly increased extent lies within his conscious control. No doubt most prefer to say:
“Keep Thou my feet. I do not ask to see
The distant scene: one step enough for me;”
—yet they must admit that they are not mere automata, and that it is the part of divinity to know and to become.
The details of the art of meditation and concentration are many, and cannot be entered upon here. But even a slight practice of controlling mentation—of the systematic inhibition of harmful thoughts and the holding of beneficial ones—will bring ample reward for the effort; and those who wish to go beyond will find the way. It is well, however, to state here a fundamental rule that will be of benefit at any stage of practice, and one absolutely necessary to observe in the effort to eradicate existing undesirable thought or character. It is a simple one, but must be strictly followed. It is this—that a state of consciousness or a thought cannot be overcome by fighting it. When you only contest it, you intensify it because you hold it in consciousness—the very thing you wish to avoid. You must replace it by another thought of a different and perhaps opposite character, recurring again and again to it until it becomes dominant.
But it must always be remembered that these stages of concentration are but the instruments by which you may master. The mastery must be of the right character; the life must be true, and the aspiration high. If, for instance, one be grossly prejudiced or far from free, the probability is that his concentration (unless done under the immediate direction of one more competent) might tend to emphasize his errors. In short, all is accessory to the life.
While I speak of mastery and the building of character and the attainment of higher states of consciousness, I do not thereby depreciate the beauty and value of unostentatious living: in truth, I hold it to be the best preparation for higher attainment. Emerson says of the poet: “His cheerfulness should be the gift of the sunlight; the air should suffice for his inspiration, and he should be tipsy on water.” This simplicity and spontaneity should mark the life of all.
Nor do I desire to import into life the austerities of asceticism. Along the lines of advancement I would have the soul express its keenest appreciation of the lofty, the beautiful, and the true. This expression naturally seeks a formulation in music, art, symmetry, and proportion and harmony in all relations. I would encourage original thinking and expression rather than imitation, and the spontaneous rather than the labored and artificial; yet they all have their uses. I would have him who has a poet’s instinct write or sing his own thoughts, however crude they might be, and he whose soul is tuned to harmony to compose and give forth his own conceptions. I would have all men thus look within themselves, and then write or sing or act accordingly, for the love simply of being what they express, and with no idea of merchandizing their talents, or of vanity, or of fame or applause; for then the virtue of the life actuated by the latter withers as the Dead-Sea fruit turns to ashes on the lip.
I would have men cease to regard living as an evil out of which they propose to extract the greatest amount of what is usually called pleasure, or as a patrimony to be lightly valued and spent. They should realize that life is a great privilege, the value of which is to be realized in the now of every soul. The past lives only in the present; the future is yet unborn, but must come out of the present. We must realize the truth of the poet’s words:
“Would you be happy? Hearken, then, the way.
Heed not tomorrow; heed not yesterday:
The magic words of life are Here and Now;”
—and regard them as expressing the philosophy of living most truly in each moment, but in no wise as a limitation upon attainment.
I have used the word esoteric, not to imply that the methods mentioned are necessarily confined to the few, but that the science of the mind’s power and the art of using it for the ennobling of life are little known and appreciated; that the fact that man is an unconscious creator and may become a conscious creator for himself is not generally regarded; that the commonest aspects of life have a deeper meaning than we think; that the familiar proverbs, which like unlaid ghosts haunt the intellectual life, are alive with significance; and that the consensus of philosophic thought is founded in profound truth.
We are only upon the threshold of true living. Let us learn these higher laws of Being, and, knowing them, so live that we may become more beautiful within and evolve a higher state of consciousness—thus uniting our immediate destinies with sublimer spheres of Being both here and in the next state.