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Don't try to do any number of things to get yourself well; don't change doctors any number of times, or take countless medicines.
Every doctor knows he cannot hurry your recovery, whatever he may say, and you only r.e.t.a.r.d it by being over-anxious to get strong.
Drop every bit of unnecessary muscular tension.
When you walk, feel your feet heavy, as if your shoes were full of lead, and think in your feet.
Be as much like a child as possible. Play with children as one of them, and think with them when you can.
As you begin to recover, find something every day to do for others.
Best let it be in the way of house-work, or gardening, or something to do with your hands.
Take care of yourself every day as a matter of course, as you would dress or undress; and be sure that health is coming. Say over and over to yourself: Nourishment, fresh air, exercise, rest, PATIENCE.
When you are well, and resume your former life, if old a.s.sociations recall the unhappy nervous feelings, know that it is only the a.s.sociations; pay no attention to the suffering, and work right on.
Only be careful to take life very quietly until you are quite used to being well again.
An illness that is merely nervous is an immense opportunity, if one will only realize it as such. It not only makes one more genuinely appreciative of the best health, and the way to keep it, it opens the sympathies and gives a feeling for one's fellow-creatures which, having once found, we cannot prize too highly.
It would seem hard to believe that all must suffer to find a delicate sympathy; it can hardly be so. To be always strong, and at the same time full of warm sympathy, is possible, with more thought.
When illness or adverse circ.u.mstances bring it, the gate has been opened for us.
If illness is taken as an opportunity to better health, not to more illness, our mental att.i.tude will put complaint out of the question; and as the practice spreads it will as surely decrease the tendency to illness in others as it will shorten its duration in ourselves.
SENTIMENT _versus_ SENTIMENTALITY.
FREEDOM from sentimentality opens the way for true sentiment.
An immense amount of time, thought, and nervous force is wasted in sentimentalizing about "being good." With many, the amount of talk about their evils and their desire to overcome them is a thermometer which indicates about five times that amount of thought Neither the talk nor the thought is of a.s.sistance in leading to any greater strength or to a more useful life; because the talk is all talk, and the essence of both talk and thought is a selfish, morbid pleasure in dwelling upon one's self. I remember the remark of a young girl who had been several times to prayer-meeting where she heard the same woman say every time that she "longed for the true spirit of religion in her life." With all simplicity, this child said: "If she longs for it, why doesn't she work and find it, instead of coming every week and telling us that she longs?" In all probability the woman returned from every prayer-meeting with the full conviction that, having told her aspirations, she had reached the height desired, and was worthy of all praise.
Prayer-meetings in the old, orthodox sense are not so numerous as they were fifty years ago; but the same morbid love of telling one's own experiences and expressing in words one's own desires for a better life is as common as ever.
Many who would express horror at these public forms of sentimentalizing do not hesitate to indulge in it privately to any extent. Nor do they realize for a moment that it is the same morbid spirit that moves them. It might not be so pernicious a practice if it were not so steadily weakening.
If one has a spark of real desire for better ways of living, sentimentalizing about it is a sure extinguisher if practised for any length of time.
A woman will sometimes pour forth an amount of gush about wishing to be better, broader, n.o.bler, stronger, in a manner that would lead you, for a moment, perhaps, to believe in her sincerity. But when, in the next hour, you see her neglecting little duties that a woman who was really broad, strong, and n.o.ble would attend to as a matter of course, and not give a second thought to; when you see that although she must realize that attention to these smaller duties should come first, to open the way to her higher aspirations, she continues to neglect them and continues to aspire,--you are surely right in concluding that she is using up her nervous system in sentimentalizing about a better life; and by that means is doing all in her power to hinder the achievement of it.
It is curious and very sad to see what might be a really strong nature weakening itself steadily with this philosophy and water. Of course it reaches a maudlin state if it continues.
His Satanic Majesty must offer this dose, sweetened with the sugar of self-love, with intense satisfaction. And if we may personify that gentleman for the sake of ill.u.s.tration, what a fine sarcastic smile must dwell upon his countenance as he sees it swallowed and enjoyed, and knows that he did not even have to waste spice as an ingredient! The sugar would have drowned the taste of any spice he could supply.
There is not even the appearance of strength in sentimentalizing.
Besides the sentimentalizing about ourselves in our desire to live a better life, there is the same morbid practice in our love for others; and this is quite as weakening. It contains, of course, no jot of real affection. What wholesome love there is lives in spite of the sentimentalizing, and fortunately is sometimes strong enough on one side or the other to crowd it out and finally exterminate it.
It is curious to notice how often this sham sentiment for others is merely a matter of nerves. As an instance we can take an example, which is quite true, of a woman who fancied herself desperately fond of another, when, much to her surprise, an acute attack of toothache and dentist-fright put the "affection" quite out of her head. In this case the "love" was a nervous irritant, and the toothache a counter-irritant. Of course the sooner such superficial feeling is recognized and shaken off, the nearer we are to real sentiment.
"But," some one will say, "how are we to know what is real and what is not? I would much rather live my life and get more or less unreality than have this everlasting a.n.a.lyzing." There need be no abnormal a.n.a.lyzing; that is as morbid as the other state. Indulge to your heart's content in whatever seems to you real, in what you believe to be wholesome sentiment. But be ready to recognize it as sham at the first hint you get to that effect, and to drop it accordingly.
A perfectly healthy body will shed germs of disease without ever feeling their presence. So a perfectly healthy mind will shed the germs of sentimentality. Few of us are so healthy in mind but that we have to recognize a germ or two and apply a disinfectant before we can reach the freedom that will enable us to shed the germs unconsciously. A good disinfectant is, to refuse to talk of our own feelings or desires or affections, unless for some end which we know may help us to more light and better strength. Talking, however, is mild in its weakening effect compared with thinking. It is better to dribble sham sentiment in words over and over than to think it, and repress the desire to talk. The only clear way is to drop it from our minds the moment it appears; to let go of it as we would loosen our fingers and drop something disagreeable from our hands.
A good amount of exercise and fresh air helps one out of sentimentalizing. This morbid mental habit is often the result of a body ill in some way or another. Frequently it is simply the effect of tired nerves. We help others and ourselves out of it more rapidly by not mentioning the sentimentalizing habit, but by taking some immediate means towards rest, fresh air, vigorous exercise, and better nourishment.
Mistakes are often made and ourselves or others kept an unnecessary length of time in mental suffering because we fail to attribute a morbid mental state to its physical cause. We blame ourselves or others for behavior that we call wicked or silly, and increase the suffering, when all that is required is a little thoughtful care of the body to cause the silly wickedness to disappear entirely.
We are supposed to be indulging in sickly sentiment when we are really suffering from sickly nerves. An open sympathy will detect this mistake very soon, and save intense suffering by an early remedy.
Sentiment is as strengthening as sentimentality is weakening. It is as strong, as clear, and as fine in flavor as the other is sickly sweet. No one who has tasted the wholesome vigor of the one could ever care again for the weakening sweetness of the other, however much he might have to suffer in getting rid of it. True sentiment seeks us; we do not seek it. It not only seeks us, it possesses us, and runs in our blood like the new life which comes from fresh air on top of a mountain. With that true sentiment we can feel a desire to know better things and to live them. We can feel a hearty love for others; and a love that is, in its essence, the strongest of all human loves. We can give and receive a healthy sympathy which we could never have known otherwise. We can enjoy talking about ourselves and about "being good," because every word we say will be spontaneous and direct, with more thought of law than of self. This true sentiment seeks and finds us as we recognize the sham and shake it off, and as we refuse to dwell upon our actions and thoughts in the past or to look back at all except when it is a necessity to gain a better result.
We are like Orpheus, and true sentiment is our Eurydice with her touch on our shoulder; the spirits that follow are the sham-sentiments, the temptations to look back and pose. The music of our lyre is the love and thought we bring to our every-day life. Let us keep steadily on with the music, and lead our Eurydice right through Hades until we have her safely over the Lethe, and we know sentimentality only as a name.
THERE are very few persons who have not I had the experience of giving up a problem in mathematics late in the evening, and waking in the morning with the solution clear in their minds. That has been the experience of many, too, in real-life problems. If it were more common, a great amount of nervous strain might be saved.
There are big problems and little, real and imaginary; and some that are merely tired nerves. In problems, the useless nervous element often plays a large part. If the "problems" were dropped out of mind with sufferers from nervous prostration, their progress towards renewed health might be just twice as rapid. If they were met normally, many nervous men and women might be entirely saved from even a bowing acquaintance with nervous prostration. It is not a difficult matter, that of meeting a problem normally,--simply let it solve itself. In nine cases out of ten, if we leave it alone and live as if it were not, it will solve itself. It is at first a matter of continual surprise to see how surely this self-solution is the result of a wholesome ignoring both of little problems and big ones.
In the tenth case, where the problem must be faced at once, to face it and decide to the best of our ability is, of course, the only thing to do. But having decided, be sure that it ceases to be a problem. If we have made a mistake, it is simply a circ.u.mstance to guide us for similar problems to come.
All this is obvious; we know it, and have probably said it to ourselves dozens of times. If we are sufferers from nervous problems, we may have said it dozens upon dozens of times. The trouble is that we have said it and not acted upon it. When a problem will persist in worrying us, in pulling and dragging upon our nerves, an invitation to continue the worrying until it has worked itself out is a great help towards its solution or disappearance.
I remember once hearing a bright woman say that when there was anything difficult to decide in her life she stepped aside and let the opposing elements fight it out within her. Presumably she herself threw in a little help on one side or the other which really decided the battle. But the help was given from a clear standpoint, not from a brain entirely befogged in the thick of the fight.
Whatever form problems may take, however important they may seem, when they attack tired nerves they must be let alone. A good way is to go out into the open air and so identify one's self with Nature that one is drawn away in spite of one's self. A big wind will sometimes blow a brain clear of nervous problems in a very little while if we let it have its will. Another way out is to interest one's self in some game or other amus.e.m.e.nt, or to get a healthy interest in other people's affairs, and help where we can.
Each individual can find his own favorite escape. Of course we should never shirk a problem that must be decided, but let us always wait a reasonable time for it to decide itself first. The solving that is done for us is invariably better and clearer than any we could do for ourselves.
It will be curious, too, to see how many apparently serious problems, relieved of the importance given them by a strained nervous system, are recognized to be nothing at all. They fairly dissolve themselves and disappear.
THE line has not been clearly drawn, either in general or by individuals, between true civilization and the various perversions of the civilizing process. This is mainly because we do not fairly face the fact that the process of civilization is entirely according to Nature, and that the perversions which purport to be a direct outcome of civilization are, in point of fact, contradictions or artificialities which are simply a going-over into barbarism, just as too far east is west.
If you suggest "Nature" in habits and customs to most men nowadays, they at once interpret you to mean "beastly," although they would never use the word.
It is natural to a beast to be beastly: he could not be anything else; and the true order of his life as a beast is to be respected.
It is natural to a man to govern himself, as he possesses the power of distinguishing and choosing, With all the senses and pa.s.sions much keener, and in their possibilities many degrees finer, than the beasts, he has this governing power, which makes his whole nervous system his servant just in so far as through this servant he loyally obeys his own natural laws. A man in building a bridge could never complain when he recognized that it was his obedience to the laws of mechanics which enabled him to build the bridge, and that he never could have arbitrarily arranged laws that would make the bridge stand. In the same way, one who has come to even a slight recognition of the laws that enable him to be naturally civilized and not barbarously so, steadily gains, not only a realization of the absolute futility of resisting the laws, but a growing respect and affection for them.