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Source: As A Matter Of Course
THE mere idea of a brain clear from false impressions gives a sense
of freedom which is refreshing.
In a comic journal, some years ago, there was a picture of a man in
a most self-important attitude, with two common mortals in the
background gazing at him. "What makes him stand like that?" said
one. "Because," answered the other, "that is his own idea of
himself." The truth suggested in that picture strikes one aghast;
for in looking about us we see constant examples of attitudinizing
in one's own idea of one's self. There is sometimes a feeling of
fright as to whether I am not quite as abnormal in my idea of myself
as are those about me.
If one could only get the relief of acknowledging ignorance of one's
self, light would be welcome, however given. In seeing the truth of
an unkind criticism one could forget to resent the spirit; and what
an amount of nerve-friction might be saved! Imagine the surprise of
a man who, in return for a volley of abuse, should receive thanks
for light thrown upon a false attitude. Whatever we are enabled to
see, relieves us of one mistaken brain-impression, which we can
replace by something more agreeable. And if, in the excitement of
feeling, the mistake was exaggerated, what is that to us? All we
wanted was to see it in quality. As to degree, that lessens in
proportion as the quality is bettered. Fortunately, in living our
own idea of ourselves, it is only ourselves we deceive, with
possible exceptions in the case of friends who are so used to us, or
so over-fond of us, as to lose the perspective.
There is the idea of humility,--an obstinate belief that we know we
are nothing at all, and deserve no credit; which, literally
translated, means we know we are everything, and deserve every
credit. There is the idea, too, of immense dignity, of freedom from
all self-seeking and from all vanity. But it is idle to attempt to
catalogue these various forms of private theatricals; they are
constantly to be seen about us.
It is with surprise unbounded that one hears another calmly assert
that he is so-and-so or so-and-so, and in his next action, or next
hundred actions, sees that same assertion entirely contradicted.
Daily familiarity with the manifestations of mistaken brain-
impressions does not lessen one's surprise at this curious personal
contradiction; it gives one an increasing desire to look to one's
self, and see how far these private theatricals extend in one's own
case, and to throw off the disguise, as far as it is seen, with a
full acknowledgment that there may be--probably is--an abundance
more of which to rid one's self in future. There are many ways in
which true openness in life, one with another, would be of immense
service; and not the least of these is the ability gained to erase
The self-condemnatory brain-impression is quite as pernicious as its
opposite. Singularly enough, it goes with it. One often finds
inordinate self-esteem combined with the most abject condemnation of
self. One can be played against the other as a counter-irritant;
but this only as a process of rousing, for the irritation of either
brings equal misery. I am not even sure that as a rousing process it
is ever really useful. To be clear of a mistaken brain-impression, a
man must recognize it himself; and this recognition can never be
brought about by an unasked attempt of help from another. It is
often cleared by help asked and given; and perhaps more often by
help which is quite involuntary and unconscious. One of the greatest
points in friendly diplomacy is to be open and absolutely frank so
far as we are asked, but never to go beyond. At least, in the
experience of many, that leads more surely to the point where no
diplomacy is needed, which is certainly the point to be aimed at in
friendship. It is trying to see a friend living his own idea of
himself, and to be obliged to wait until he has discovered that he
is only playing a part. But this very waiting may be of immense
assistance in reducing our own moral attitudinizing.
How often do we hear others or find ourselves complaining of a fault
over and over again! "I know that is a fault of mine, and has been
for years. I wish I could get over it." "I know that is a fault of
mine,"--one brain-impression; "it has been for years,"--a dozen or
more brain-impressions, according to the number of years; until we
have drilled the impression of that fault in, by emphasizing it over
and over, to an extent which daily increases the difficulty of
So, if we have the habit of unpunctuality, and emphasize it by
deploring it, it keeps us always behind time. If we are
sharp-tongued, and dwell with remorse on something said in the past,
it increases the tendency in the future.
The slavery to nerve habit is a well-known physiological fact; but
nerve habit may be strengthened negatively as well as positively.
When this is more widely recognized, and the negative practice
avoided, much will have been done towards freeing us from our
subservience to mistaken brain-impressions.
Let us take an instance: unpunctuality-for example, as that is a
common form of repetition. If we really want to rid ourselves of the
habit, suppose every time we are late we cease to deplore it; make a
vivid mental picture of ourselves as being on time at the next
appointment; then, with the how and the when clearly impressed upon
our minds, there should be an absolute refusal to imagine ourselves
anything but early. Surely that would be quite as effective as a
constant repetition of the regret we feel at being late, whether
this is repeated aloud to others, or only in our own minds. As we
place the two processes side by side, the latter certainly has the
advantage, and might be tried, until a better is found.
Of course we must beware of getting an impression of promptness
which has no ground in reality. It is quite possible for an
individual to be habitually and exasperatingly late, with all the
air and innocence of unusual punctuality.
It would strike us as absurd to see a man painting a house the color
he did not like, and go on painting it the same color, to show
others and himself that which he detested. Is it not equally absurd
for any of us, through the constant expression of regret for a
fault, to impress the tendency to it more and more upon the brain?
It is intensely sad when the consciousness of evil once committed
has so impressed a man with a sense of guilt as to make him steadily
undervalue himself and his own powers.
Here is a case where one's own idea of one's self is seventy-five
per cent below par; and a gentle and consistent encouragement in
raising that idea is most necessary before par is reached
And par, as I understand it, is simple freedom from any fixed idea
of one's self, either good or bad.
If fixed impressions of one's self are stones in the way, the same
certainly holds good with fixed impressions of others. Unpleasant
brain-impressions of others are great weights, and greater
impediments in the way of clearing our own brains. Suppose So-
and-so had such a fault yesterday; it does not follow that he has
not rid himself of at least part of it to-day. Why should we hold
the brain-impression of his mistake, so that every time we look at
him we make it stronger? He is not the gainer thereby, and we
certainly are the losers. Repeated brain-impressions of another's
faults prevent our discerning his virtues. We are constantly
attributing to him disagreeable motives, which arise solely from our
idea of him, and of which he is quite innocent. Not only so, but our
mistaken impressions increase his difficulty in rising to the best
of himself. For any one whose temperament is in the least sensitive
is oppressed by what he feels to be another's idea of him, until he
learns to clear himself of that as well as of other
It is not uncommon to hear one go over and over a supposed injury,
or even small annoyances from others, with the reiterated assertion
that he fervently desires to forget such injury or annoyances. This
fervent desire to forgive and forget expresses itself by a repeated
brain-impression of that which is to be forgiven; and if this is so
often repeated in words, how many times more must it be repeated
mentally! Thus, the brain-impression is increased until at last
forgetting seems out of the question. And forgiving is impossible
unless one can at the same time so entirely forget the ill-feeling
roused as to place it beyond recall.
Surely, if we realized the force and influence of unpleasant
brain-impressions, it would be a simple matter to relax and let them
escape, to be replaced by others that are only pleasant It cannot be
that we enjoy the discomfort of the disagreeable impressions.
And yet, so curiously perverted is human nature that we often hear a
revolting story told with the preface, "Oh, I can't bear to think of
it! "And the whole story is given, with a careful attention to
detail which is quite unnecessary, even if there were any reason for
telling the story at all, and generally concluded with a repetition
of the prefatory exclamation. How many pathetic sights are told of,
to no end but the repetition of an unpleasant brain-impression. How
many past experiences, past illnesses, are gone over and over, which
serve the same worse than useless purpose,--that of repeating and
emphasizing the brain-impression.
A little pain is made a big one by persistent dwelling upon it; what
might have been a short pain is sometimes lengthened for a lifetime.
Similarly, an old pain is brought back by recalling a
The law of association is well known. We all know how familiar
places and happenings will recall old feelings; we can realize this
at any time by mentally reviving the association. By dwelling on the
pain we had yesterday we are encouraging it to return to-morrow. By
emphasizing the impression of an annoyance of to-day we are making
it possible to suffer beyond expression from annoyances to come; and
the annoyances, the pains, the disagreeable feelings will find their
old brain-grooves with remarkable rapidity when given the ghost of a
I have known more than one case where a woman kept herself ill by
the constant repetition, to others and to herself, of a nervous
shock. A woman who had once been frightened by burglars refused to
sleep for fear of being awakened by more burglars, thus increasing
her impression of fear; and of course, if she slept at all, she was
liable at any time to wake with a nervous start. The process of
working herself into nervous prostration through this constant,
useless repetition was not slow.
The fixed impressions of preconceived ideas in any direction are
strangely in the way of real freedom. It is difficult to catch new
harmonies with old ones ringing in our ears; still more difficult
when we persist in listening at the same time to discords.
The experience of arguing with another whose preconceived idea is so
firmly fixed that the argument is nothing but a series of circles,
might be funny if it were not sad; and it often is funny, in spite
of the sadness.
Suppose we should insist upon retaining an unpleasant
brain-impression, only when and so long as it seemed necessary in
order to bring a remedy. That accomplished, suppose we dropped it on
the instant. Suppose, further, that we should continue this process,
and never allow ourselves to repeat a disagreeable brain-impression
aloud or mentally. Imagine the result. Nature abhors a vacuum;
something must come in place of the unpleasantness; therefore way is
made for feelings more comfortable to one's self and to others.
Bad feelings cause contraction, good ones expansion. Relax the
muscular contraction; take a long, free breath of fresh air, and
expansion follows as a matter of course. Drop the brain-contraction,
take a good inhalation of whatever pleasant feeling is nearest, and
the expansion is a necessary consequence.
As we expand mentally, disagreeable brain-impressions, that in
former contracted states were eclipsed by greater ones, will be
keenly felt, and dropped at once, for the mere relief thus obtained.
The healthier the brain, the more sensitive it is to false
impressions, and the more easily are they dropped.
One word by way of warning. We never can rid ourselves of an
uncomfortable brain-impression by saying, "I will try to think
something pleasant of that disagreeable man." The temptation, too,
is very common to say to ourselves clearly, "I will try to think
something pleasant," and then leave "of that disagreeable man" a
subtle feeling in the background. The feeling in the background,
however unconscious we may be of it, is a strong
brain-impression,--all the stronger because we fail to recognize
it,--and the result of our "something pleasant" is an insidious
complacency at our own magnanimous disposition. Thus we get the
disagreeable brain-impression of another, backed up by our agreeable
brain-impression of ourselves, both mistaken. Unless we keep a sharp
look-out, we may here get into a snarl from which extrication is
slow work. Neither is it possible to counteract an unpleasant
brain-impression by something pleasant but false. We must call a
spade a spade, but not consider it a component part of the man who
handles it, nor yet associate the man with the spade, or the spade
with the man. When we drop it, so long as we drop it for what it is
worth, which is nothing in the case of the spade in question, we
have dropped it entirely. If we try to improve our brain-impression
by insisting that a spade is something better and pleasanter, we are
transforming a disagreeable impression to a mongrel state which
again brings anything but a happy result.
Simply to refuse all unpleasant brain-impressions, with no effort or
desire to recast them into something that they are not, seems to be
the only clear process to freedom. Not only so, but whatever there
might have been pleasant in what seemed entirely unpleasant can more
truly return as we drop the unpleasantness completely. It is a good
thing that most of us can approach the freedom of such a change in
imagination before we reach it in reality. So we can learn more
rapidly not to hamper ourselves or others by retaining disagreeable
brain-impressions of the present, or by recalling others of the past.
Next: The Triviality Of Trivialities