The preceding chapters in this volume have all led up in an unmistakable manner to the idea of man's eventual conquest over all limitations, and, among the most distressful of these, sickness is certainly the most depressing. How often do we hear it said by one who owns broad acres and estimates his fortune at several million dollars or even pounds sterling. "I would give all I possess in exchange for your health." The remark may be addressed to a servant in the employ of this multi-millionaire, or it may be made to some contented workman who in his humble capacity of day laborer earns just sufficient to meet the actual expenses of a very modest existence. The remark is not necessarily a thoughtless or impatient one; it may be the serious, well-digested outcome of deep thought and earnest meditation. Why should it not be? In that marvelous old epic poem, the book of Job, Satan is represented as saying to the Lord: "All that a man hath will he give for his health," for that is the obvious meaning of the word usually translated "life" in the passage referred to. The reasoning of the accuser or accusing angel is that a man may be bereft of all his possessions; houses, lands, cattle may all be destroyed by earthquake, fire or whirlwind, but so long as health remains he has something left to be truly thankful for; but let a loathsome disease affect his body, then, when the calamity is in his own flesh, Satan takes it for granted he will lose all confidence in divine benignity, and, yielding to despair, commit suicide or abandon himself to hopeless blasphemy. Though there is so much sublime optimism in the story of Job that Satan's prediction is not ultimately verified, the author of that rhythmic tragedy has shown us clearly enough how very hard it is to maintain integrity of thought when disease of a torturing nature is devouring the fleshly tabernacle which a wise spirit will never rashly leave.
The question here arises, how far are we led by science and general experience to regard physical suffering as a cause of mental distress, and to what extent are we justified in attributing physical disorders to a mental cause? That Job had not "sinned" is made very plain throughout the story of his life, but are we ever led by the logic of facts to maintain that, because a career may be an honorable one, therefore no mistakes are made during its entire length? Nothing can be harsher or more unkind, and nothing often further from truth, than the condemnatory assumption that all sickness is the result of sin. We know well enough what popular impression the word "sin" makes on the average listener, therefore it is cruel to apply so opprobrious an epithet as "sinner" to one who, though not guiltless of innocent mistakes, is in no sense of the term a willful transgressor or trespasser. To sin is to act contrary to one's own sense of right, and as we are not called upon to be keepers of our neighbors' consciences, we shall never attempt to sit in judgment on the motives of another life. But though we are not at liberty to condemn, we are free to teach, and though it is as unjust as it is ungracious to give way to censoriousness, it is clearly within the bounds of philanthropy to point out to all a more excellent way than the mistaken path in which many of our well-intentioned neighbors in common with our former selves have long been treading. Nowhere in or out of the Bible do we find a clearer discrimination between sin and weakness than in the account furnished in the gospel of a man born blind, receiving sight. Disciples ask their teacher: Who did sin; this man, or his parents ? The Master replies: Neither this man nor his parents. The disciples represent those who, while seeking enlightenment, are nevertheless still committed to certain erroneous theories in which they have been trained, or which they have unthinkingly picked up from their associates and adopted as their own without sober reflection. To the men of old as to the men of today, two aspects of life present themselves vividly. One aspect is covered by the Sanskrit word Karma, the other by the English word Heredity. A man may have sinned in a previous life and be now undergoing a punishment therefore—so say those who take the "Karmic" view of a present situation. "The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge," quote the advocates of the prevailing theory of heredity, which is only a modified version of original sin and our participation in Adam's transgression. A higher view of life than that taken by the advocates of either of the two theories just mentioned disposes of original sin altogether, both in one's self and in one's ancestors, and causes us to say, practically: "We are our own Adams; and if we sin, it is after the similitude of Adam's transgression, not in consequence of the fall of a progenitor or the vice of an ancestor." But sin aside, it is easy enough to observe that, situated as we are, in the midst of forces we must learn to govern, and material we must learn to control, we can readily bring temporary distress upon ourselves through simple ignorance, and "blindness from birth" is a figure of speech which exactly describes the actual condition. We are blind, i. e., we do not see before we have reached that point in our evolution of involved capability where we begin to see; then at first we see dimly or imperfectly as through a faulty mirror, till at length we come to behold things in their due relations and proportions and are ready to exclaim: "Whereas I was blind, now I see." Blindness from birth is negative; sight commencing at a period when inner consciousness is awakened is the starting-point of a positive condition.
Now, there are many ailments brought upon us by our weakness and inexperience which are compatible with our blind or non-seeing condition. These ailments are not penalties, but they are necessary experiences connected with our education and are up to a certain point inevitable; just as we cannot avoid making unintentional mistakes when we are experimenting with some force or material which will come to obey us eventually, but which at present must appear rebellious or antagonistic because our experience in the art of subduing it has not yet been great enough to give us the victory over it.
Animals seem dowered with instinct while man boastfully arrogates to himself the exercise of reason instead of instinct. This is where we make our fatal mistake; we oppose reason to instinct when, if we were wiser, we should supplement instinct with reason. Animals are rarely sick in their native wilds, but in captivity they are subject to every ailment which afflicts distorted humanity.
Not understanding the true province of human reason, we have turned aside from the path of nature and taught or compelled many of our friends in fur or feathers to do the same, with the result that we have built up an artificial order of existence, diametrically opposed to sanitary law; therefore, though the devotees of what is called the highest culture and civilization loudly proclaim themselves hygienists, nowhere are the rules of hygeia so ridiculously contravened as in the haunts of fashion where culture is supposed to present its fairest efflorescence.
The rule of health is extremely simple, while our usual manner of life is highly complicated and intensely artificial. As the writer of these pages is constantly in receipt of confidential letters from people in all walks of life who would consider it a breach of trust were we to afford the public even the slightest clue to the identity of our correspondents, and, moreover, as these letters are often too valuable to be passed by in silence, we deal with them anonymously as far as possible in our lessons and writings. The following is a sample: "I am a physician. I am and always have been an agnostic. Lately I have become greatly interested in Idealism, Mental Science, Metaphysics, etc. I have read your work on Psychology and also on Concentration. Have read Henry Wood's works, Newcomb's book, 'All's Right with the World,' etc. I like their optimism and recognize their suggestive merit. I would like to believe in the theory of freedom they teach; in mental causation; in immortality, etc. I have been a close student of evolution, but cannot explain phenomena by any hypothesis whatever. I cannot settle on any belief whatever relative to origin or destiny. I know nothing even of the essence of mind itself—whether secondary to matter or primary; whether it has spontaneity and causal efficacy, or is the outgrowth of material changes so called. If disease is mental and of psychic origin, how does the plant become diseased? I wish to believe along your line. Have always so wished, but seem to be an agnostic from necessity, or what seems so to me. Regard this letter as private, and if you can direct me to anything written by yourself or others that will likely put me in another line of thought, I will truly thank you."
The foregoing epistle is one of many in similar strain; some from physicians, some from lawyers, some from ministers of religion and many from the rank and file of non-professional people, all of whom seem perplexed beyond measure at sight of the mysterious disorder and derangement everywhere prevalent, and seemingly quite unable to formulate any philosophy which satisfies them that there is a solid base for confidence in the optimism of others which they greatly admire but seem powerless to share. The herculean task of convincing these good, honest-hearted people of the truth of a higher system of thought than agnosticism seems quite beyond the power of any simple scribe, and when people ask us to recommend books, though whole libraries stare us in the face replete with the utterances of sages, we always feel some sort of misgiving lest anyone of the carefully selected volumes may have been already read by these very people and sorrowfully dismissed as unconvincing.
The truth has to be faced. You cannot get the spiritual knowledge of which you are in search out of books, no matter how good and helpful they may be. Do you not already begin to see that testimony is not first-hand evidence, and circumstantial proof is always less than thoroughly convincing? Books and teachers are valuable just to the point where they help you to follow clues and pursue the path of knowledge fearlessly and individually, but no further; therefore, those who are in any measure healed become the guides of others on the road of healing. Plants are diseased when placed in an unnatural environment or attacked by invasive foes which they are powerless to resist. But plant life is so much less conscious and so much more negative to its surroundings than human life should be that the very liability of a vegetable to attacks of disorder should be accepted by us as counsel not to vegetate. There is a vegetal system in man, but it needs to be dominated by the higher human principle, or if danger threatens it, it may easily succumb.
We have never knowingly deviated from the teaching which we have for several years consistently (though we hope progressively) given forth, teaching to the effect that liability to sickness is to be overcome in the process of our development. Looking backward can never take the place of looking forward; it is neither to the animal nor to the vegetable, but to the perfected human being that we must ever direct our eyes if we are to succeed in banishing infirmities which pertain to lower stages of growth, but find no continuing place in man's experience as advance is made toward the goal of ultimate perfection.
It would be a very grave error to suppose that vegetables and animals have attained the heights of exemption from liability to disorder which we are destined to win. Instinct certainly does accomplish for the healthy animal what misunderstood or perverted reason cannot accomplish for man, but, though bird and flower are subjects for study, they are by no means perfect models for imitation.
The Christ may say ''follow me I' but though he says consider, he does not counsel us to follow the lilies of the field or the birds of the air. If the phrase, Science of Health, is other than a misnomer, we must be conscious that the way to reach that ideal condition we call healthy (which is properly the equivalent of holy) is a path which we must find for ourselves and in which we must individually tread.
When we speak in positive terms of the influence of the mind upon the body, we are too apt oftentimes to overlook the actually existing state of affairs all about us and proceed to argue as though only one mind could possibly affect one body, and that the mind of the individual owning the body. Many people through lack of individuality are as surely victimized by the action of adverse thought around them as a dog may be poisoned by partaking of something cunningly or carelessly thrown in his way, of which he partakes ignorantly. We all run chances or risks as long as we are ignorant, and the more dependent and devoted we are to the mental state of those around us the less resisting power or even protective instinct have we to save us from disorder.
Many very curious systems of alleged hygiene thrive on the confidence reposed in them by their advocates, though as systems they have very little to commend them. Such a fact as this ought to make the masses pause and consider how it can be that opposing systems can accomplish equal good, which they certainly do accomplish in many indisputable instances.
"Lourdes," by Emile Zola, is an entertaining book, though it shocks the reverential sentiment in the course of many of its pages. The intensely realistic author of this highly rationalistic tale has paid a tribute to auto-suggestion as a factor in healing, but he has almost coarsely repudiated the action of those subtler spiritual forces in which the truly religious world devoutly believes. The commercial element at Lourdes has made a great impression upon Zola. The religion of the place is not sufficiently or exclusively religious to make a convert of the irreligious Frenchman. French realists in particular require to come in contact with unadulterated, unaffected, undiluted piety before they are impressed with it, and at no public healing shrine do we find the enterprising hotel-keeper or the vender of charms and bogus relics absent. Yet Lourdes has an atmosphere which heals a fair percentage of those who breathe it even on the say-so of those who refuse to submit their judgment to its central proposition—the vision of Bernadette and the patronage of Mary Immaculate. Though we believe more than Zola credits and less than some of the most fervid champions of the shrine are wont to vouch for, we cannot doubt that every place on earth which has a large reputation as a seat of the miraculous possesses an atmosphere so impregnated with a certain quality of thought and so alive with a certain type of belief that the air (being literally saturated with an unseen psychical medicament) is efficacious in suggesting to the mind of many a sensitive visitor exactly what is necessary to start that sufferer on the road to health. Everywhere the doctors tell us of nervous cases yielding to mental treatments of even the most fantastic and reasonless varieties; but the staid surgeon and the sober physician whose experience has been great in organic difficulties of long standing and grave import shake their heads and tell you that you must sharply draw the line between nervous or "neurotic" cases which are healed and the pronounced organic troubles which only the surgeon's knife can cure. We certainly do not feel prepared to testify of broken bones healed by thought without surgical assistance, therefore we are not insolent to those who are careful to fix limits to the scope of psychic healing. Indeed we often contend that when the higher thought of life becomes universal, no bones will get broken and no such conditions will exist as now require serious operations to relieve or extirpate, A moderate position is always far stronger than a blindly extreme one, but though a moderate statement is not apt to arouse any great amount of immediate enthusiasm, it appeals radically to thoughtful people and wears well with them, while sensational rhapsodies please the ear and tickle emotion, but are soon forgotten or repudiated when difficulties have to be met and mastered. Disorders of children are a fruitful source of comment, and even of adverse criticism, when mental healing is on the tapis, and why? Simply because nine at least out of every ten persons one meets are sure vainly to imagine that if you say you believe that mind affects body you mean that you endorse sharply and exclusively the unwarrantable dogma that my mind alone affects my body, while your body is alone affected by j^w;' thought, and so on universally. When we transfer the thought of how diseases are produced and how they can be cured from the objective or physical to the subjective or psychical plane of action, we are not called upon to do violence to analogy. If you grant that physical distempers are physically carried through the air and reach one person from another wherever susceptibility obtains, you are equally logical if you are considering mental states when you make allowance for psychical contagion where psychical susceptibility exists, and in the case of children and all susceptible persons of both sexes and all ages it exists very largely. The following excerpt from ''The Realm," an excellent monthly paper issued in Toronto, Canada (June, 1898), is full of suggestive teachings: ''When a hungry man thinks of food, his mouth waters because Nature supplies saliva not only to food but to the very thought of food. Nothing is more curious than this response of the physical system to the operations of the mind. Dr. Matthew Woods, in an admirable pamphlet upon Mimetic Diseases, speaks of the familiar fact that at the close of many discourses delivered from the chair of the Practice of Medicine, the professor is privately consulted by students suffering from all the symptoms described. This imitative peculiarity is not limited to such ailments as disease of the heart, consumption, Basedow's disease, gall stone, cancer of the pancreas, or appendicitis, but some have been known to become hemiplegic—viz., incapable of motion and sensation in the right or left half of the body—during a realistic lecture on cerebral apoplexy. Others have been seized with violent pain in the knee during an elucidation of the symptoms and pathology of Pott's disease, while there are reports of students acquiring all the subjective symptoms of dislocation or fracture, because of the impression made upon their minds by the lecturer while discussing these surgical states.
"Physicians and philosophers perfectly understand the effect of * expectant attention^ which has been the cause not only of individual diseases but of marvelous epidemics in various parts of the world. Witness the disease of tarantism, so called because of its supposed origin in the bite of the tarantula, a species of spider. Its victims were sometimes subjected to treatment of the most painful sort, but it could be effectually cured by nothing but music. A bishop, who believed the whole thing to be imaginary, allowed himself to be bitten by the tarantula, and presently fell to dancing with all the delirious grotesquerie of the peasant. By-and-by, when people ceased to think much about the tarantula, tarantism ceased, and at the present day Italian peasants may be bitten again and again by the tarantula with no serious effect whatever. In other words, 'expectant attention' being absent, the phenomena, which are no longer expected, do not occur."
Though the foregoing extract covers very wide ground and deals more with ailments of adults than of infants, it shows plainly enough "how a receptive mental state causes phenomena to appear for which no adequate physical cause can possibly be assigned. Among the most easily communicable of mental states stands worry or anxiety, which is the prolific parent of innumerable sufferings. Sensitive children are so affected by the nervous, anxious, mental states of those around them that fevers and convulsions frequently issue from no other cause than the intense nervous derangement of parents, nurses, or any person upon whom children are specially dependent or between whom and themselves there exists any strong sympathy. The quarrels (suppressed rather than active) between married people have very much to do with the afflictions of childhood, and a very strong case for psychics rather than for physics can be made out, if we carefully observe the superior healthfulness of the children of the "vulgar," who do not dissemble or cloak their emotions, but blurt out their angry feelings when they have any, and thus get rid of them far sooner than though they nursed them secretly.
We are not admiring or advocating violent outbursts of ungoverned temper by any means, but we do dare to teach, in the name of hygiene, that it is far less poisonous to vent forth ill-will, if one is cursed with unkind feeling toward another, than it is to permit it to prey upon your vitals and eat out the very heart of inward peace and contentment. The truly wise mother is one who makes the only acceptable sacrifice on behalf of her child, and that is the perfect controlling of her own inward emotions.
It is truly said that love gives giant strength and no love can be stronger than a mother's; therefore, let no one make the weak excuse that she cannot help feeling bad inwardly, however much she may control her speech and conduct. It is exactly here that refined people do worse than those who make no boast of refinement, and for this cause the peasantry of any nation is apt to enjoy better health than the so-called upper classes. It is useless to talk of mental healing and discuss the mysteries of psychic science unless you are ready to take the great initial step by which alone you can enter the path which leads finally to adepthood, which is nothing other than a state of freedom from the long-time belief that our thoughts are our masters, when by right of reason we are theirs. It is of course needless to add, when discoursing upon the salutary effects of a mother's rightful thought upon her child, that she receives at first hand the inestimable benefits accruing from mental self-mastery which she psychically transmits to her receptive offspring. There are no one-sided blessings; as we bless others we bless ourselves, and every time we pursue a course beneficial to our own interests we are putting ourselves in condition to radiate blessings to all who are in any degree susceptible to our influence.
Self-healing and the work of healing others are not two distinct phases of work so entirely separate that one can be successfully accomplished without the other. So gregarious are our natural instincts and so impossible is it for any of us to get fully rid of social obligations, that though we often talk of treating ourselves and then of treating others as though there were little, if any, connection between the two processes, a little logical reasoning on the matter will suffice to convince even the most skeptical that as we persistently determine to encourage only such thoughts as we feel to be consistent with our own and others' highest welfare, our lives will truly become transfigured, and, as a result, transfiguring in their influence upon all with whom we are psychically en rapport.
It is not wise to dwell actively on bodily conditions and seek to change them in any direct sense by mental action; a far more excellent way is simply to encourage those mental states which we know to be desirable, and quietly permit their influence to extend to the circumference of our existence and thence shed radiant light upon the path of others. When once the habit of thinking only harmonious thoughts has taken deep root within us, we shall find bodily conditions and worldly affairs transformed as if by magic, and all who are in contact with us will share in the benediction. The following lines exactly express the true thought concerning self-healing and helping others to health:
Live true to your noblest ideals!
You cannot make them too high;
The longer the struggle, the harder the fight,
The grander the by and by.
There's never a high ideal
But will be the Real some day,
If we follow with patience the Path of Love,
As the true and only way.
The perfect life will come at last
To every human soul;
In living our best we shall find the way
By which we can make life whole.
It's only because we live but a part
Of the Life we all can live,
That we have but a part of the wonderful gift
That the Perfect Life will give.
So live to your highest Ideals now,
And ye shall be as leaven,
And make for men God's kingdom here
On earth as it is in Heaven.
More from William Juvenal Colville
- The Destructive Influence of Fear and Worry—The Bodybuilding, Success-Compelling Influence of Faith and Courage
- The Attractive Power of Thought—How We May Use It Most Effectively—The Influence of the Mind in Molding the Everyday Conditions of Life
- Mental Suggestion—The Human Aura—How We May Attract the Highest Influences From Both the Seen and Unseen Sides of Life
- Sleep, Dreams, and Visions—How We May Gain the Most From Them
- Conscience, Intuition, and Interior Illumination