When one says that he numbers among his acquaintances some who are as old at sixty as some others are at eighty, he but gives expression to a fact that has become the common possession of many. I have known those who at fifty-five and sixty were to all intents and purposes really older, more decrepit, and rapidly growing still more decrepit both in mind and body, than many another at seventy and seventy-five and even at eighty.
History, then, is replete with instances, memorable instances, of people, both men and women, who have accomplished things at an age—who have even begun and carried through to successful completion things at an age that would seem to thousands of others, in the captivity of age, with their backs to the future, ridiculous even to think of accomplishing, much less of beginning. On account of a certain law that has always seemed to me to exist and that I am now firmly convinced is very exact in its workings, I have been interested in talking with various ones and in getting together various facts relative to this great discrepancy in the ages of these two classes of "old" people.
Within the year I called upon a friend whom, on account of living in a different portion of the country, I hadn't seen for nearly ten years. Conversation revealed to me the fact that he was then in his eighty-eighth year. I could notice scarcely a change in his appearance, walk, voice, and spirit. We talked at length upon the various, so-called, periods of life. He told me that about the only difference that he noticed in himself as compared with his middle life was that now when he goes out to work in his garden, and among his trees, bushes, and vines—and he has had many for many years—he finds that he is quite ready to quit and to come in at the end of about two hours, and sometimes a little sooner, when formerly he could work regularly without fatigue for the entire half day. In other words, he has not the same degree of endurance that he once had.
Among others, there comes to mind in this connection another who is a little under seventy. It chances to be a woman. She is bent and decrepit and growing more so by very fixed stages each twelvemonth. I have known her for over a dozen years. At the time when I first knew her she was scarcely fifty-eight, she was already bent and walked with an uncertain, almost faltering tread. The dominant note of her personality was then as now, but more so now, fear for the present, fear for the future, a dwelling continually on her ills, her misfortunes, her symptoms, her approaching and increasing helplessness.
Such cases I have observed again and again; so have all who are at all interested in life and in its forces and its problems. What is the cause of this almost world-wide difference in these two lives? In this case it is as clear as day—the mental characteristics and the mental habits of each.
In the first case, here was one who early got a little philosophy into his life and then more as the years passed. He early realized that in himself his good or his ill fortune lay; that the mental attitude we take toward anything determines to a great extent our power in connection with it, as well as its effects upon us. He grew to love his work and he did it daily, but never under high pressure. He was therefore benefited by it. His face was always to the future, even as it is today. This he made one of the fundamental rules of his life. He was helped in this, he told me in substance, by an early faith which with the passing of the years has ripened with him into a demonstrable conviction—that there is a Spirit of Infinite Life back of all, working in love in and through the lives of all, and that in the degree that we realize it as the one Supreme Source of our lives, and when through desire and will, which is through the channel of our thoughts, we open our lives so that this Higher Power can work definitely in and through us, and then go about and do our daily work without fears or forebodings, the passing of the years sees only the highest good entering into our lives.
In the case of the other one whom we have mentioned, a repetition seems scarcely necessary. Suffice it to say that the common expression on the part of those who know her—I have heard it numbers of times—is: "What a blessing it will be to herself and to others when she has gone!"
A very general rule with but few exceptions can be laid down as follows: The body ordinarily looks as old as the mind thinks and feels.
Shakespeare anticipated by many years the best psychology of the times when he said: "It is the mind that makes the body rich."
It seems to me that our great problem, or rather our chief concern, should not be so much how to stay young in the sense of possessing all the attributes of youth, for the passing of the years does bring changes, but how to pass gracefully, and even magnificently, and with undiminished vigor from youth to middle age, and then how to carry that middle age into approaching old age, with a great deal more of the vigor and the outlook of middle life than we ordinarily do.
The mental as well as the physical helps that are now in the possession of this our generation, are capable of working a revolution in the lives of many who are or who may become sufficiently awake to them, so that with them there will not be that—shall we say—immature passing from middle life into a broken, purposeless, decrepit, and sunless, and one might almost say, soulless old age.
It seems too bad that so many among us just at the time that they have become of most use to themselves, their families, and to the world, should suddenly halt and then continue in broken health, and in so many cases lie down and die. Increasing numbers of thinking people the world over are now, as never before, finding that this is not necessary, that something is at fault, that that fault is in ourselves. If so, then reversely, the remedy lies in ourselves, in our own hands, so to speak.
In order to actualize and to live this better type of life we have got to live better from both sides, both the mental and the physical, this with all due respect to Shakespeare and to all modern mental scientists.
The body itself, what we term the physical body, whatever may be the facts regarding a finer spiritual body within it all the time giving form to and animating and directing all its movements, is of material origin, and derives its sustenance from the food we take, from the air we breathe, the water we drink. In this sense it is from the earth, and when we are through with it, it will go back to the earth.
The body, however, is not the Life; it is merely the material agency that enables the Life to manifest in a material universe for a certain, though not necessarily a given, period of time. It is the Life, or the Soul, or the Personality that uses, and that in using shapes and molds, the body and that also determines its strength or its weakness. When this is separated from the body, the body at once becomes a cold, inert mass, commencing immediately to decompose into the constituent material elements that composed it—literally going back to the earth and the elements whence it came.
It is through the instrumentality or the agency of thought that the Life, the Self, uses, and manifests through, the body. Again, while it is true that the food that is taken and assimilated nourishes, sustains and builds the body, it is also true that the condition and the operation of the mind through the avenue of thought determines into what shape or form the body is so builded. So in this sense it is true that mind builds body; it is the agency, the force that determines the shaping of the material elements.
Here is a wall being built. Bricks are the material used in its construction. We do not say that the bricks are building the wall; we say that the mason is building it, as is the case. He is using the material that is supplied him, in this case bricks, giving form and structure in a definite, methodical manner. Again, back of the mason is his mind, acting through the channel of his thought, that is directing his hands and all his movements. Without this guiding, directing force no wall could take shape, even if millions of bricks were delivered upon the scene.
So it is with the body. We take the food, the water, we breathe the air; but this is all and always acted upon by a higher force. Thus it is that mind builds body, the same as in every department of our being it is the great builder. Our thoughts shape and determine our features, our walk, the posture of our bodies, our voices; they determine the effectiveness of our mental and our physical activities, as well as all our relations with and influence or effects upon others.
You say: "I admit the operation of and even in certain cases the power of thought, also that at times it has an influence upon our general feelings, but I do not admit that it can have any direct influence upon the body." Here is one who has allowed herself to be long given to grief, abnormally so—notice her lowered physical condition, her lack of vitality. The New York papers within the past twelve months recorded the case of a young lady in New Jersey who, from constant grieving over the death of her mother, died, fell dead, within a week.
A man is handed a telegram. He is eating and enjoying his dinner. He reads the contents of the message. Almost immediately afterward, his body is a-tremble, his face either reddens or grows "ashy white," his appetite is gone; such is the effect of the mind upon the stomach that it literally refuses the food; if forced upon it, it may reject it entirely.
A message is delivered to a lady. She is in a genial, happy mood. Her face whitens; she trembles and her body falls to the ground in a faint, temporarily helpless, apparently lifeless. Such are the intimate relations between the mind and the body. Raise a cry of fire in a crowded theatre. It may be a false alarm. There are among the audience those who become seemingly palsied, powerless to move. It is the state of the mind, and within several seconds, that has determined the state of these bodies. Such are examples of the wonderfully quick influence of the mind on the body.
Great stress, or anxiety, or fear, may in two weeks' or even in two days' time so work its ravages that the person looks ten years or even twenty years older. A person has been long given to worry, or perhaps to worry in extreme form though not so long—a well-defined case of indigestion and general stomach trouble, with a generally lowered and sluggish vitality, has become pronounced and fixed.
Any type of thought that prevails in our mental lives will in time produce its correspondences in our physical lives. As we understand better these laws of correspondences, we will be more careful as to the types of thoughts and emotions we consciously, or unwittingly, entertain and live with. The great bulk of all diseases, we will find, as we are continually finding more and more, are in the mind before being in the body, or are generated in the body through certain states and conditions of mind.
The present state and condition of the body have been produced primarily by the thoughts that have been taken by the conscious mind into the subconscious, that is so intimately related to and that directs all the subconscious and involuntary functions of the body. Says one: It may be true that the mind has had certain effects upon the body; but to be able consciously to affect the body through the mind is impossible and even unthinkable, for the body is a solid, fixed, material form.
We must get over the idea, as we quickly will, if we study into the matter, that the body, in fact anything that we call material and solid, is really solid. Even in the case of a piece of material as "solid" as a bar of steel, the atoms forming the molecules are in continual action each in conjunction with its neighbor. In the last analysis the body is composed of cells—cells of bone, vital organ, flesh, sinew. In the body the cells are continually changing, forming and reforming. Death would quickly take place were this not true. Nature is giving us a new body practically every year.
There are very few elements, cells, in the body of today that were there a year ago. The rapidity with which a cut or wound on the body is replaced by healthy tissue, the rapidity with which it heals, is an illustration of this. One "touches" himself in shaving. In a week, sometimes in less than a week, if the blood and the cell structure be particularly healthy, there is no trace of the cut, the formation of new cell tissue has completely repaired it. Through the formation of new cell structure the life-force within, acting through the blood, is able to rebuild and repair, if not too much interfered with, very rapidly. The reason, we may say almost the sole reason, that surgery has made such great advances during the past few years, so much greater correspondingly than medicine, is on account of a knowledge of the importance of and the use of antiseptics—keeping the wound clean and entirely free from all extraneous matter.
So then, the greater portion of the body is really new, therefore young, in that it is almost entirely this year's growth. Newness of form is continually being produced in the body by virtue of this process of perpetual renewal that is continually going on, and the new cells and tissues are just as new as is the new leaf that comes forth in the springtime to take the place of and to perform the same functions as the one that was thrown off by the tree last autumn.
The skin renews itself through the casting off of used cells (those that have already performed their functions) most rapidly, taking but a few weeks. The muscles, the vital organs, the entire arterial system, the brain and the nervous system all take longer, but all are practically renewed within a year, some in much less time. Then comes the bony structure, taking the longest, varying, we are told, from seven and eight months to a year, in unusual cases fourteen months and longer.
It is, then, through this process of cell formation that the physical body has been built up, and through the same process that it is continually renewing itself. It is not therefore at any time or at any age a solid fixed mass or material, but a structure in a continually changing fluid form. It is therefore easy to see how we have it in our power, when we are once awake to the relations between the conscious mind and the subconscious—and it in turn in its relations to the various involuntary and vital functions of the body—to determine to a great extent how the body shall be built or how it shall be rebuilt.
Mentally to live in any state or attitude of mind is to take that state or condition into the subconscious. The subconscious mind does and always will produce in the body after its own kind. It is through this law that we externalize and become in body what we live in our minds. If we have predominating visions of and harbor thoughts of old age and weakness, this state, with all its attendant circumstances, will become externalized in our bodies far more quickly than if we entertain thoughts and visions of a different type. Said Archdeacon Wilberforce in a notable address in Westminster Abbey some time ago: "The recent researches of scientific men, endorsed by experiments in the Salpetriere in Paris, have drawn attention to the intensely creative power of suggestions made by the conscious mind to the subconscious mind."
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More from Ralph Waldo Trine
- Lived from September 6th, 1866 to February, 22nd 1958
- Born in Mt. Morris, Illinois
- Most popular book is In Tune With the Infinite
- Was an early leader in the New Thought movement.