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The Beauty of Poise

In meeting successfully the issues of life as they present themselves, it is incumbent upon all men to defer to the principles which underlie their being and the spiritual laws which constitute the framework of the great structure of life, and to live so in accordance therewith that the demands of a true life are complied with. There is a penalty attached to all incompleteness; ignore the claim of the Spirit and life becomes dry and barren; spurn the intellect and it becomes besotted; condemn the body and the consciousness of matter becomes morbid, and impedes the healthy growth of the mind.

Life is not a riddle without an answer, nor is it a cipher whose key is lost. The elements of life are writ in every soul; the fundamental laws may be apprehended by every mind, or rather by that state of mind attainable to mankind through growth and enlightenment. Given these elements and the will to parallel the direction of law and life resolves itself into lines which are grandly simple. We shall concern ourselves with neither past nor future, but we are required to do justice to the present. The uncertainties and complexities of existence are not due to qualities inherent in life, but to the error of minds yet undeveloped, which heeding not the laws of spirit are lost in the maze of the pseudo-laws of matter. Man is primarily spirit, and he may essay his departure from a material basis only at the expense of his higher faculties and to the detriment of moral stability and mental serenity. It is decreed we shall live wisely or attest the discrepancy in mind and body, and in the environment, condition and circumstance which we thereby attract; and that attestation is made sadly enough by the hosts of the criminals and the insane, by every form of mental aberration and disease, by all intemperance and excess, and by all inability to cope with the exigencies of daily life and retain the sweetness and serenity of a normal existence.

Poise is a perception of what is real and what unreal; it is breadth and scope and a due regard for all right aspects of Me. We shall give and receive, both hear and speak, think and act; we shall court the inspiration of solitude no less than the invigoration of society. It supplies a compensating quality to genius that shall prevent that too great energy in one direction which results in general unfitness; working always toward general efficiency it takes genius as the nucleus around which to build a symmetrical character. It is in no sense physical and temperamental but rather intuitive and perceptive; it is a spiritual attribute arising from the recognition of inner forces—a self-trust based on self-knowledge, which illumines the understanding and gives to its possessor that grasp of life which marks him always a center around which lesser minds shall gravitate. And it proclaims itself in that nice adjustment of the mental machinery that eliminates friction, in that breadth of intellect that gives a just appreciation of reason and imagination, of theory and practice—a robust faith in possibility as well as a calm judgment of fact; in that belief in the good heart of mankind that makes one tolerant and kind, that perception of the Soul within all men that makes one hopeful and serene; and by that generalship of the forces within that admits of no surprises from without. To the poised mind there are no happenings.

He who has found the Soul has found God. Thenceforth he builds on the rock of truth and no gale shall overthrow his house. He looks from within outward, from cause to effect; is not disturbed by the passing show but views it calmly from the vantage-ground of being. He sees in phenomena but the fleeting shadows of the mind, and devoted to truth and the substance of things is not deeply concerned with the shadow.

Being implies love and truth and joy; it implies unity and is the refutation of duality, of evil and death. Spirit is the essence of every individual life. It stands back of every mind, and would speak through all men—in harmony and melody, in poetry and prose, in marble and bronze, and in iron and steel. Poetry, art, music—and the beautiful which is all of these—are not ends in themselves but are phases of being, and every mind that lies open to the influx of the divine mind shall show forth these things; shall reflect the glory of God in harmony, in rhythm and in color. It shall attest its allegiance to divine law in spiritual insight which is wisdom, in mental equilibrium which is sanity, in bodily poise which is health.

Poise implies self-reliance, and the true self-reliance is a reliance upon the divinity within. In our zeal for truth we run hither and thither—must listen to the exponent of every new creed, read every new book, and look here and there and everywhere for that which lies within our own selves. But the kingdom of heaven is within, not without; never for us in another's mind, never to be seen through another's vision. The utmost that sage or seer can do is to lead us to ourselves; to be the clear pool wherein we shall behold our own true image, that seeing we may go on our way rejoicing, henceforth to see with our own eyes and to walk with our own feet. We reverence the perception of such minds as Plato's and Emerson's, but fail to perceive that their greatness lay, not in heeding what other men said, but in giving ear to the oracle within themselves. They looked within; we gape at the emptiness without. They are lenses which reveal to us the suns and systems of our being; and this because they but focus the rays to which they give free passage. Witness, then, the lesson of every life truly great—it is the Spirit which availeth, and its communications are sufficient unto every soul. We may not measure our growth by the theories and opinions to which we assent, but by the realization of God within us.

And so it is with books. We stand like instruments, awaiting the right touch and ready to respond in the majesty of harmony to the master hand. We are the sensitive strings that shall resound joyously in myriad overtones to the dominant chord of a true and ringing thought. This is the value of a book, that its thought shall make us vibrate; and not to read is to become unresponsive like a neglected instrument—to lose the feeling and sympathetic quality of tone. Such is the purpose of reading, to strike a true note, that the overtones shall respond, and within us may resound a higher octave than ever before, perchance a deeper one; the spiritual range is extended, the gamut of heart and intellect increased, and impelled to search the deeps within; new visions of truth and beauty arise before us, and life assumes noble and majestic proportions; we are in touch with the One Mind, and we too shall utter truths.

That which is true of books is true of all education, which should aim to lead out rather than to pour in—to unfold the possibilities of the mind, to develop capacity to act, to work, and to think originally. To this end, and as a means only, the study of another's thought serves as a discipline, a training, a suggestion—it may be an incentive and an inspiration; as a means it is a stepping-stone to self-development, but considered as an end it proves a stumbling block to original thought. And hence the not rare anomaly of men of much learning and but little wisdom, and of unlettered men of profound insight; of polished men of shallow views, and of men of rough exterior and deep, rugged thoughts. Life is a school of self-development where progress is proportionate to the tithe paid in thought or deed to the general good. Genius is the evidence of true education in some direction, and always creates and gives of itself. Pseudo-education takes in much and contributes little, like those Nevada lakes which perpetually absorb, but from which no cooling stream ever flows to refresh the parched and arid land.

We yet live in a somewhat scholastic age. Alma Mater lays her injunction upon every little mind, that it shall not deviate from the course she has prescribed, nor depart from the traditions and superstitions of the institution. She is under that fatality which inheres in conservatism of conserving error as well as truth; and she threatens loss of caste to every true Liberal. She demands of the physician that he wear the badge of some school of medicine and close his ears to all innovation; of the clergyman that he renounce freedom of thought and speak in accordance with specific creed and dogma; and she places her restriction upon the scholar that deference to literary form and style shall blind him to the expression of truth in homely garb, and upon the scientist that the tyrant intellect should mask the heart of the man.

It is an indication of true education to have renounced allegiance to the institution and the servile deference to the authority of men and names; it is another to have outgrown prejudice and to accord a welcome to truth wherever it may be found, and it is significant of much that passes for education that the awakened mind must set itself industriously to unlearn the once prized knowledge of the world. Self-unfoldment is the path to wisdom and the destined way of human life; all other paths are nugatory and fraught with obstruction, this only lies free and open to the mind. We live sanely or insanely, wisely or unwisely; there is no choice but wisdom, there is no choice but the Spirit; and a true ideal, a right direction, a sincerity of purpose are essential to that equipoise which is an honor to men and the token of their divine descent. The human mind is no constant and fixed quantity, but a variable, the resultant of lines of thought, and a right mental economy permits no disorganizing process of thought but such only as are positive, upbuilding and beneficent. Sense perversion leads to mental disintegration. The senses are the anomalous highways that lead forward or backward in obedience to the will, and an adequate insight into their nature and functions is the first step toward a freedom which is more than nominal. It is a precept of spiritual prudence that the carnal mind leads to dissolution, that the spiritual mind ever brings peace. Starve the higher nature, and the lower makes its insidious demands in the vain hope of stilling the inner longing and unrest.

We live every man at the center of a hollow sphere wherein our thoughts are echoed back to us—antagonism for antagonism, indifference for indifference, good-will for good-will; and so is made and unmade what we term environment, which is the projection of the mind—for man orders his own environment and gives to his world its apparent hue—daubs it black or paints it in rose color. Well for us when we learn to apply our correction to the inner condition rather than the outer circumstance. Over the inner world we have control; but open the door to one annoyance and a score rush in. There is a category of grating noises, of unsavory smells, of seeming annoyances; and to recognize one is to accept the whole family—and the most distant connections are summoned to take up their abode with us.

The mind that has not found its center is liable to all distraction; but the wise perceive that the Soul is the substance, and things are naught in themselves. We are asleep to that which most concerns us and awake to all that distracts; we hear the huckster in the street and are deaf to the intoning organ within the temple. Among the carvings on the shrines of the Shoguns is one representing three monkeys, one covering his eyes, another his ears and a third his mouth; and they point a maxim of Shinto ethics. Close the ears and eyes to what is not good to hear and see; we shall choose food for the mind no less than for the stomach; we shall reject unwholesome sights and sounds, and thoughts, as we would unsavory dishes.

The majestic base upon which are erected the loftiest characters is that spiritual poise which arises from the inner controlling conviction that love is the finest fruit of life as well as its governing principle; that it is the essence of all nobleness, all majesty, all sublimity whatsoever; that it is the only possible point from which to project real character and aims, the only lasting foundation upon which to build a true civilization and a true society. Where this conviction becomes supreme it points the goal of human attainment in the evolution from egotism to altruism, and marks the ground where the human shall become merged in the Divine. It leads to that personal abnegation from whence springs the supreme assertion of the individual, wherein so tranquil, so divinely assured is the man that he rests invulnerable to all influences that savor not of love. In that perfect balance of the love and the understanding is preserved the integrity to truth in the face of all error; loyalty to all that is generous and magnanimous in spite of what is paltry and ignoble, for love is the one defense against all that aims at man's integrity to himself. It is never off its guard, it is never betrayed to self-interest, it never descends to retaliation; and this is its concern—that it shall deal in equity and kindness with all men irrespective of the conduct of others, deeming it sufficient to be true to itself. Whatsoever it receives, counterfeit, copper, or silver—it pays always in gold.

Self-knowledge, then, is the secret of poise—self-knowledge and that perception of divine order that insures faith in the guidance of the Spirit. Behold now the poised mind—the man stands like Ajax and shall defy the lightning. The goods of the world come and go and are to him as a summer shower; he does not pine nor is he elated; he is not shamed by the nobly spreading tree that welcomes its leaves to see them fall in due season without repining—resting assured in the advent of a new spring. Thus with senses stilled and mind unlifted he stands already on the threshold and feels the pulsation of the Great Heart within him—his presence a benediction.

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Stanton Davis Kirkham

  • Born on December 7th, 1868 in Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, France and died on January 6th, 1944 in New York City.
  • Graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Quoted in As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

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