By W. H. Gill
It is the duty of every man to study the laws of his own spiritual evolution and, as becometh an earnest investigator, to record the result of his observations and experiments—a duty, it may be added, which he owes not only to himself but also to his fellow creatures, for he may be likened to the explorer of a new country upon whom involves the double task of ascertaining all about it, and of recording his experiences for the benefit of any who may wish to profit by his research. "Know thyself " is a universal command which no man dare shirk. Others may try to know us and think they do; and, indeed, in some ways their knowledge of us is better than our own, but they can only know one-half of us—the better half as we fondly imagine. Hence the poet's exclamation:—
"Oh would some power the giftie gie us
To see ourselves as others see us."
But, for purposes of study, we need to see , both sides—to look on this picture and on this; to compare our own estimate of ourselves with that of our neighbors; our own valuation with theirs. What a glaring discrepancy and inconsistency! Two faces—one turned to oneself, the other to the world. Strange that two such different faces can belong to one and the same man! Or is it a mask, of which we see only the inside, our neighbors only the outside? But do we see the inside? Only very dimly and partially. We think we do, but really we don’t, for indeed to see ourselves truly and as we really are is the most difficult thing in the world, and that is why the ancient philosophers kept on dinning into the ears of their disciples that monotonous "Know thyself," until by sheer familiarity the magic words have well nigh lost their power in the world and have to be galvanized into new life. No, it is a fact—a lamentable fact•—that we do not know ourselves; and, that being so, our first and most urgent duty is to set about at once and make a searching and systematic study, each man for himself, each woman for herself, and note down in writing, so that there may be no mistake, the result of the examination day by day. This is exactly what Darwin did when he set himself to study Nature. He did not start with the idea of discovering a great Theory. Indeed, he was not what one would call a man of Theory, but a man of stern practical Fact, and so he resolved simply to note down in writing every little bit and fact of Nature that came under his eye. Nor was there any particular plan or method in his work. Every observed fact was noted down without any view to writing a book or constructing a theory; but, as he went on patiently observing, without prejudice or preference, every little detail of Nature, however trivial or unimportant it might appear, he gradually began to see that through these innumerable and apparently heterogeneous details of observed facts there was a definite plan or design which, like a golden thread, runs through the works of Nature and connects all together into one consistent whole. In short, out of practice there grew theory and the building up of that great doctrine of Science—the doctrine of Evolution which has immortalized the name of Darwin as the greatest light in the world of physical science.
The lesson of Darwin’s life is threefold, namely, (1) Study what you see, (2) Record faithfully, (3) Think for yourself. Everyone who will apply this lesson to his own life’s experience as regards motives, modes of thought and conduct, will reap an incalculably rich harvest for himself; and may, for aught he can tell, furnish some missing link in the great Theory of Human Life as it is slowly and gradually unfolding itself under the search-light of modern thought. Life--i.e. Spiritual Life—has a meaning which lies concealed in the bosom of the great Unknown. It is the inscrutable riddle symbolized by the Sphinx in the Egyptian desert. Each man must solve his own life’s riddle for himself. It is only by individual study that mankind is enlightened; by individual improvement that the race is developed; by individual strenuous effort that the tone of society is raised. Man’s one enemy is Self. Upon this monster he must concentrate all the powers of his mind with a view to vanquish him utterly. When the animal self is slain, and not till then, the spiritual self is set free. In the accomplishment of this consists the Battle of Life, or rather the Fight, for it is an individual hand-to-hand contest. The evil to be resisted is not in others, but in yourself; your enemy is not in his own camp, but in yours; he is your very Self. Begin operations here and at once. Be always scheming how best to accomplish this end, and leave no stone unturned until, in the emancipation of your soul from the tyranny of your body, you find the solution of the Riddle. But that commandment against the forcible resistance of evil in others seems to puzzle everybody as if it were some new and unreasonable doctrine, and yet the reason of it is not far to seek. Why we must not resist evil in others is because evil in others is to us a relative thing and not positive. What in others appears to us evil may be good, and by resisting it we run one or other of two risks, namely, (1) that of resisting what is actually a good thing, or (2) that of inducing and setting up a greater evil in the place of a lesser. We are strictly enjoined not to judge other people because we cannot see their motives. This alone ought to carry general conviction, and yet Tolstoy has for years been expending all the resources of his brilliant genius in writing tracts and stories and treatises innumerable to try to get people to see the force and the reason of Christ’s plain teaching on this point. But as regards the resistance of evil in one’s self there can be no difficulty in understanding our duty. Other people cannot judge our motives, but we can, and with us the question between good and evil motives, between right and wrong motives, is simply: Are they selfish or unselfish? The natural man is born with a selfish nature. As Swedenborg says, "He is born an animal and becomes a man." As an animal it is right and natural, because necessary, that he should be selfish, and so, like all other animals, he is endowed with a strong instinct of self-preservation which makes him think of nothing but himself. But as his reasoning powers awaken within him he discovers that now he must think about the welfare of others as well as his own; and later on, when his highest or spiritual powers begin to unfold, he learns that now he must love others not only as himself but more than himself. These are the three stages of his Evolution—1st step, Animal life; 2nd step, Intellectual life; 3rd step, Spiritual life, and these three lives form one composite life. The foregoing remarks lead us to this vitally important conclusion. Although in a state of Nature man’s evolution proceeds automatically through the three steps just described, yet the process is extremely slow, whereas if man, knowing the natural process and the divine purpose of his evolution from the animal, through the intellectual, to the spiritual life, sets himself to co-operate with the Divine Law, his evolution may be indefinitely accelerated, so that what unaided Nature requires ages to work out, man, cooperating with Nature, can accomplish within the brief limits of his natural life. Animated by this all-inspiring thought, and having made a solemn resolution to co-operate with the Divine Wisdom in working out his own Spiritual Evolution, let the reader sketch out a general plan of procedure, and then carry it out in details which will suggest themselves as he proceeds.
The greatest teachers of mankind have prescribed Meditation, "in the silence" of our own hearts, as the best means of seeing our inner Self-the new country we have to explore. But the art of Meditation—for it is an art-—requires some practice. With some of us it is apt to become a dreamy sort of reverie without a definite plan and purpose a vague drifting and groping about in the darkness. Here the pen of a ready writer comes to our aid as an invaluable auxiliary, thought written down acquires a reality and value which it does not otherwise possess. It becomes in a sense our own; a personal possession, at least in appearance. Moreover, every thought is a germ capable of reproducing its kind. Write down a thought, and almost directly another thought will spring out of it, and yet another, and so on. "But," it may be urged, "exactly the same thing occurs in thinking apart from any writing." That is so, but we easily forget what merely passes through our mind, whereas if we write it down we need never forget it. Also the act of writing down our thoughts, besides "keeping us to the point," engenders clearness of mental vision and accuracy of verbal expression. How different is the impression produced upon our mind by a landscape we have simply stood and looked at and one we have sketched on the spot or described with our pen! Bacon says truly that "writing maketh an accurate man," for writing is an art, and all art is in itself an Education. The importance, therefore, of cultivating the habit of writing down our meditations can hardly be exaggerated. "It invites the soul to think for itself, to live outwardly its own conviction, and to aspire and build regardless of the failures or successes of the past." As to the best form of our meditations, what can be better than that of a prayer? for meditation involves aspiration, and aspiration is the attitude of the soul towards its Maker, and to express this in words is to add the grace of art to the beauty of holiness. Another good form of meditation is that of question and answer. A question put to ourselves today, and answered tentatively and provisionally according to our light of today, may sleep for months or years, and on exposure to the light of some subsequent period of life, may demand and compel from us a totally different answer. For growth in the spiritual life means change for the better, which is synonymous with Evolution. We live in an age when everything is done for us. What we most need is experience—not other people’s, but our own. The experience of others, however valuable to themselves, may be of comparatively little use to ourselves. Acting upon other people’s advice or experience is like wearing ready-made clothes. They were not made for us, and therefore do not fit. Truth is relative and presents a different aspect to different minds. Each of us must paint Truth as she reveals herself to us severally. Each time we resume our sitting she will appear more and more beautiful, and so our portrait will become to us increasingly precious at each sitting. There is great delight to be derived from a beautiful thought that comes to us for the first time, even though we may subsequently discover the same thought in other people's writings. Only think of the Source of "every good and perfect gift." To ourselves it is Original, because it came from that Source or Origin, and is none the less ours because it happened to appear to someone else before it appeared to us. Truth is the King’s Messenger to man. On the road he first meets one man, then another, and after that many others. The message he brings belongs to all who are willing to receive it.
We do well to transplant into our little gardens choice flowers that others have cultivated and brought to perfection. Beautiful it is to tend them and see them bud and bloom under our loving care. Beautiful it is to train rose and eglantine around our cottage porch, and see them peep in at the casement and hear through the night their gentle tap on the window-pane. But even more fascinating than these are those little seedlings which seemed to have dropped straight from Heaven and taken their place unbidden among the rest. How tenderly we watch these little strangers, these waifs and strays from an unknown land, wondering what they are, how and whence they came, and what they will "turn out" to be. Such are what we call our own thoughts as distinguished from those we find in books. Account for the feeling as we may, there is a peculiar charm about these mysterious visitants of our souls, and so we give them hearty welcome. And if we step out of the little garden of the heart into the great wilderness of the world of men, we shall find a general tendency on the part of the majority to shirk the duty which devolves on every individual man to think for himself in respect of his daily conduct. In a world teeming with literature the question cannot but occur to one as to how far the incessant and promiscuous reading in which so many of us indulge is destructive of original thought and calculated to produce mental degeneracy. Schopenhauer on this point is strongly affirmative, and calls Reading "the Surrogate of Thought." Certain it is that Thought is the prerogative of man, and distinguishes him from the beasts that perish; and yet, despite the proneness of men and women to stand up for "their rights," this very first and foremost of all rights, the right—to say nothing of the duty—of thinking for oneself is apparently so little valued that men and women equipped with the average complement of brain power are content to subordinate their own reason to every passing whim and fancy of Society and Fashion. From the point of view of Evolution such a condition of things must necessarily tend towards mental degeneracy. Every man thinks by proxy. Every man has his adviser, his "Surrogate." He gets all his thinking done for him—by his party, his sect, his church, his newspaper, his country. Everybody but himself thinks for him, while he himself blindly acquiesces and simply does what others do.
Fellow-Reader, whether of one book or ten thousand, how often a thought comes to you that seems good and true! The next time one comes, don’t hesitate, but jot it down at once; and, if you are not satisfied with the reasons already given, here is another. It may never come again, and, for aught you know to the contrary, it may be a message to your soul, to your neighbor, to the world. The bearer is "Fors Clavigera," to whom the Romans built temples, or "Chance the Nail-bearer." So nail it down—this thought, I mean. It may or may not prove prolific. If it contains a germ of Truth, so much the better, for it will produce other thoughts of its kind. You will know its value by its capacity of growth. If it is good it is alive and will grow, and is therefore worth keeping alive. Therefore love it as you would your own child. It is yours to have and to hold. It came to you to be loved, to be tended, to be brought up. You are its chosen guardian and earthly parent, and, as such, are responsible for its welfare. Therefore love it: it is right to do so. Only if do all these things reverently. Just consider the sacredness and the mystery of the thing! "Inspiration" is a word to be pronounced with reverence, although, alas! oftentimes so glibly uttered. The wish is father to the thought; but what is father to the wish? What is the real Source of this mysterious Power which we call Original Thought, and who will dare say "I know not?"