In subsequent papers, where will be considered the subject of the subliminal consciousness, it will be seen that one of the most potent characteristics of the present nature of man is his responsiveness to external stimuli: in popular phrase, it has been known as susceptibility to suggestion. It has been this faculty of responding to the character of environment, together with the ability to adjust the self to those demands, that has played the main part in his past evolution.
I wish to note another but a strictly psychological effect that this has produced upon man—one as old and universal as the race; to show that notwithstanding its age and universality it rests upon a false interpretation of experience, and finally to suggest the true interpretation, a better understanding of which, I believe, will greatly assist in the higher thought and life. This universal characteristic of responsiveness to the external world—this necessity by which the ego is obliged to recognize the natures of different external objects and conditions, or perish from the body—has had the effect of impressing upon the consciousness the idea that all external things have placed themselves in a distinctively personal attitude toward it; that they are ever making some demands that must be met; that they bear a personal import of good or evil; that they have some particular message to deliver to the soul.
It is not surprising that the long ages of struggle to adjust the organism to the imperious demands of environment should have engendered this state of consciousness and impressed it with the idea that the whole of Nature was engaged in a conspiracy to help or harm the individual, nor that it should have invested all things with a personal aspect. Browning has expressed it thus:
… man, once descried, imprints forever
His presence on all lifeless things: the winds
Are henceforth voices, wailing or a shout—
A querulous mutter or a quick, gay laugh.
The herded pines commune and have deep thoughts:
A secret they assemble to discuss.
The morn has enterprise: deep quiet droops
With evening: triumph takes the sunset hour.”
By reason of this the ancients personified the elements and the aspects of Nature, which became deities—beneficent in the degree in which they affected favorably the immediate comfort and prosperity of the individual.
It may well be said that from it all there has arisen the thought that there may be an external effort to make a revelation to man. This conception is the result of a misinterpretation of experience. As a matter of fact the course of Nature is constant and invariable, but continually expressing its own purpose and evolving its own ends; and man as a part of it has been ever placing his own interpretation upon its phases, and changing that interpretation as a greater degree of wisdom dawned upon his mind. Yet there is a revelation; but not from without. There is an interpretation; but in conformity with truth, as well as error. That revelation and interpretation are the work of man himself, as we may learn.
All knowledge and all experience are subjective: the objective channels of sense are but the physical means of registering upon the organism different changes in the condition or state of his environment. Thus the eye and the optic nerve merely serve to register upon the brain the vibrations of the ether, and the consciousness of those vibrations we interpret as light. So the ear and nerves serve to register vibrations of the atmosphere, and the consciousness of those vibrations we interpret as sound. But this consciousness is wholly a subjective state of the ego. We do not see light or hear sound as we think we do; but our internal state, or consciousness, is changed by reason of the perception of a change in environment. Thus each ' soul perceives the world through the evolved avenues of perception, and interprets the whole of experience for itself. These interpretations bear an aspect for each one that is purely individual. No two see the simplest object just the same. Perception reveals a world of changing conditions to every one, but the interpretation of that perception is individual and may be independent of all others; hence, no world of one is entirely known to another. This must be true because all knowledge is wholly a subjective state of the self: it is consciousness within.
When one listens to the varying tones that result from breezes soughing through the pine woods, does he hear dirges? Is he in the presence of melancholy and decay? No; if he feels them they are wholly within himself, and not in the forest. By association of ideas, and perhaps by a deeper law that correlates certain characteristic tones with particular experiences, they awaken the consciousness of such states. The inner man is always enacting subjectively the drama of experience, using the external only as suggestion to fashion it upon. Thus may we understand some of the reasons for the differences between minds, and the causes for the infinite variety as well as similarity of opinion; why error is so universal and so lamentably confused with truth; why, though symbols are nothing in themselves, they are useful to some to enable them to raise a condition within themselves; and why Nature serves as a symbol to suggest to the mind its divine character. It is in this sense that the mystic sees there “the Father’s face.” The concept of the presence is within him, and the Nature- symbol enables him to reveal it to himself. And, as the mystic sees his subjective love of the divine thus externalized, the lover finds all Nature proclaiming his passion and sharing his secret—and the guilty sees his wrong frowned upon and condemned by sky and tree.
“Let me not know the change
O’er Nature thrown by guilt;—the boding sky,
The hollow leaf-sounds ominous and strange,
The weight wherewith the dark tree-shadows lie!”
It is all within the consciousness, and the same landscape that serves to show the mystic “the Father’s face” will awe the guilty with a sense of ominous condemnation.
When will we fully realize that we are making the revelations to ourselves in all that we experience, and that the revelation or interpretation may be of the truth, of the divine nature of things, in the degree that the soul is free from the disturbing and obscuring thoughts and methods of life? We reveal all things to ourselves. There is no other revelation. It is a mistaken interpretation of experience to think of it as otherwise. No revelation ever comes to man except through himself—from the divine nature within him. There is no external, overt act needed. All things stand eternally uncovered, disclosed, declared; and it requires only understanding on the part of man to reveal them to himself. You can have facts disclosed to you, but not Truth. If an angel should attempt to reveal Wisdom to man, it would be impossible unless the man could come in complete rapport with the nature of the angel; and if he could do that, no revelation from the angel would be necessary, for the man would reveal the same state to himself. It would not be a revelation from the angel, but a participation by both in the same state.
This is true not only of the extraordinary, but of the commonest experiences of life. What do we find engaging in other people but the discovery or expected discovery in them of all the good that is latent in ourselves ? Suppose that we knew nothing of love ourselves: could we ever understand it in another? If we were totally devoid of the sense of veracity, that virtue in others would be an eternal enigma. We continually hold ourselves up—to self inspection, knowledge, and criticism—in the lives and thoughts of others. We carefully (whether we know it or not) check off all similarities and note dissimilarities—it may be hoped for our betterment always— and still seek after the sublime, the unknown, the divine in others. We do not find it. Why? Because we have not evolved the realization of it—we have not fully known it in ourselves. When we do we will interpret or reveal it to ourselves again in all things. This is why a philosopher has said that when’ people learn your limitations they are done with you. The truth is they may be done with you because they have reached their own limitations, not necessarily yours alone.
Again, take the study of history, which passes from the individual to the complex problem. What does the student see there but his own nature in the lives and thoughts and acts of other men? He reveals himself as a possible history of progress or retrogression, of virtue or vice, of attainment or decay. All history is a history of every soul, and we may learn our position in the race of progress very well by observing what characteristics in history, or class of individuals or acts, as portrayed in history or fiction, most interest us.
Let it be said here that the harm that comes from reading, of whatever character, is this self-revelation, or the awakening of tendencies and habit's that as individuals and as a race we have outgrown and risen above. So there may be here what the naturalists call a “reversion to original type;” and in reading of robber barons, of crime and perfidy, or needlessly reviewing the pageant of sensuality and brutality, unless we read for the philosophy of history alone we reveal in ourselves, ever so faintly it may be, that like nature which, like old and begrimed clothes, we have long ago cast away—a relic of a past evolutionary stage, which, if we are careful not to revive and foster, will gradually lose all power to hold us from the higher life.
It is the same with literature. Why does one find a world with all its people in Shakespeare, while another finds little to interest him? Because the one is accustomed to reveal to himself the depths and shoals of human emotion. What does Romeo and Juliet mean to one who himself does not love humanly; or Macbeth to one who does not recognize the terror of pursuing remorse; or Falstaff to one who is not himself familiar with the harmless vagabond nature? The page is dead and without meaning, but the symbols we call letters and words at once summon into our consciousness from ourselves a world peopled with thinking and acting beings. One reads “The Loves of the Angels” to revel in a sensual imagination; another finds in it an expression of something transcendently beautiful within himself. One reads Omar Khayyam for his agnosticism; another for his philosophy and veiled spiritualism. One admires art for its realism; another for its symbolism of the ideal.
But most persons fail to reveal to themselves much of the divine. They content themselves with the passing phenomena of the world—the transient thoughts connected with temporary conditions of things and people. The world thus revealed is an unreal and transitory one: it will pass away; in fact, while these lines are written it has passed away, and another temporary one has come, and in turn has gone as soon. Thus they continually die because there is nothing worthy of living, nothing really true. Such of the true as is revealed, however, lives through every vicissitude, above and beyond and independent of every change. It was Ruskin who said he was not so much surprised at what men are as at what they miss. It is what they fail to reveal to themselves that may be surprising.
The great masterpieces that have been preserved as the work of unfolded minds pass on down the ages with but a handful of understanding readers, while the multitude pass them by. Still, they are handed on; and those who read understandingly live in the thought, which is ever the same and which they reveal to themselves. The intervening ages vanish as by magic, and the writer and the reader are one in spirit and understanding.
This self-revelation of the divine finds a great development in relation to Nature, because Nature is an open book always before us. He that loves the whispering pines, the solemn quietness of the forest, the song of waving seas of grass, the gladness of day and the pensiveness of night, the grandeur of the storm and the beauty of sunset skies, has revealed to himself enough of the divine to make his life one long poem and joined himself to a mighty throng of like souls. Thus it is ever of Truth; no one can reveal it to another. He can put him in the way of perceiving it, but the soul must perceive it for itself.
If we will cease to live in trifles, this self-revelation of the diviner world will at once make life worth the living.
You will recall the beautiful lines of James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier poet: ‘‘There is ever a song somewhere, my dear.” It expresses the esoteric side of this idea of revelation, in which all Nature is full of song for us. To express the esoteric view, I would add these lines:
That song, O friend, is the song of love,
And the words of the song are the thoughts we breathe;
The tones are life’s grand harmonies
Between the soul and the life that Nature weaves.
There’s ever a song somewhere, ’tis true,
But the song is one we sing ere we hear;
For my soul is deaf to the song in you
Till it sings the song in its heart, my dear.
Then all the world is a songster gay;
The zephyr’s sigh, the pale star’s ray,
The joy of birds, the budding flowers,
The north wind’s plaint through ivied towers,
The rippling waves—Life’s mighty throng
All sing to the heart that is full of song.
While this self-revelation of the divine is an ever-present factor in life, contributing all that makes life truly noble, and, like the gathering of many streams to make the river, is contributing to build up a permanent consciousness of a higher state, yet there are what may be termed arts whereby the unfoldment or revelation may become more certain and forceful. All arts, whether of this character or another, are simply modes of expression—methods of work; and, whatever glamour of mystery may be thrown around them, they are after all only a way of living. We will find it so here.
What, then, should we first do to arrive at a fuller revelation within ourselves? We must seek conformity with the perfect state. We must do the conforming: perfection will not conform to us. The trouble here is that most persons pay little attention to any effort in this direction. They plead in extenuation the average life. They live the ordinary life, which is neither better nor worse than the average, and, being what the world calls the normal life, they are eminently satisfied with it. That life is a tissue of continual falsehood from day to day. It is permeated with a lack of sincerity and honesty in daily intercourse. The mind is habitually engaged with trifles, with unnecessary and harmful thoughts, with fashions and gossip, with the office, the club, and the latest piece of fiction. As a rule their domination over the mind covers over and smothers the possibility of a higher manifestation of life.
By these conventionalities spontaneity and freshness of expression are lost. Original thought, except within a narrow field, becomes unknown, and men expect to get their mental food second-hand. In this state people fall easy victims to fads of every kind. It has been said that “men descend to meet.” Is it not very true if they meet upon such a plane? The thing to do is to clean out the temple in order that there may be a higher consciousness. Cease the waste of thought upon the trifling in life and turn the attention devotedly to the highest. The divine in man is forceful and persistent, and all it asks is a fair chance. If we cease the trifling thought connected with the passing phenomena, and turn the desire continually to the higher ideals, then the subliminal nature begins to make itself known in the life.
There are many phases of this self-revelation, from the direct perception of truth to genius and the frequent states of consciousness that make the life happier and truer. If this systematic effort be made to rise out of the transitory life, and to live and think in the permanent, then what the mystics called recollection and we term meditation will become of value to us. But it will be of little use if all the while the mind be wedded to the frivolous phase of life. Indeed, meditation under such conditions may increase the folly. And one who thinks he seeks the higher life and all the while sacrifices his best efforts to the world in the sense I have spoken—like the lady who never lighted a taper to St. Michael the Archangel that she did not also light one to the devil, because she did not know which she would have occasion to call upon first—will never get a great deal out of the effort.