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Source: Nerves And Common Sense
WHEN we face the matter squarely and give it careful thought, it
seems to appear very plainly that the one thing most flagrantly in
the way of the people of to-day living according to plain common
sense--spiritual common sense as well as materia--is the fact that
we are all living in a chronic state of excitement. It is easy to
prove this fact by seeing how soon most of us suffer from ennui when
"there is not anything going on." It seems now as if the average man
or woman whom we see would find it quite impossible to stop and do
nothing--for an hour or more. "But," some one will say, "why should
I stop and do nothing when I am as busy as I can be all day long,
and have my time very happily full?" Or some one else may say, "How
can I stop and do nothing when I am nearly crazy with work and must
feel that it is being accomplished?"
Now the answer to that is, "Certainly you should not stop and do
nothing when you are busy and happily busy;" or, "Although your
work will go better if you do not get 'crazy' about it, there is no
need of interrupting it or delaying it by stopping to do
nothing--but _you should be able to stop and do nothing,_ and to do
it quietly and contentedly at. any time when it might be required of
No man, woman, or child knows the power, the very great power, for
work and play--there is with one who has in the background always
the ability to stop and do nothing.
If we observe enough, carefully enough, and quietly enough, to get
sensitive to it, we can see how every one about us is living in
excitement. I have seen women with nothing important to do come down
to breakfast in excitement, give their orders for the day as if they
were about running for a fire; and the standard of all those about
them is so low that no one notices what a human dust is stirred up
by all this flutter over nothing.
A man told me not long ago that he got tired out for the day in
walking to his office with a friend, because they both talked so
intensely. And that is not an unusual experience. This chronic state
of strain and excitement in everyday matters makes a mental
atmosphere which is akin to what the material atmosphere would be if
we were persistently kicking up a dust in the road every step we
took. Every one seems to be stirring up his own especial and
peculiar dust and adding it to every one else's especial and
We are all mentally, morally and spiritually sneezing or choking
with our own dust and the dust of other people. How is it possible
for us to get any clear, all-round view of life so long as the dust
stirring habit is on us? So far from being able to enlarge our
horizon, we can get no horizon at all, and so no perspective until
this human dust is laid. And there is just this one thing about it,
that is a delight to think of: When we know how to live so that our
own dust is laid, that very habit of life keeps us clear from the
dust of other people. Not only that, but when we are free from dust
ourselves, the dust that the other men are stirring up about us does
not interfere with our view of them. We see the men through their
dust and we see how the dust with which they are surrounding
themselves befogs them and impedes their progress. From the place of
no dust you can distinguish dust and see through it. From the place
of dust you cannot distinguish anything clearly. Therefore, if one
wishes to learn the standards of living according to plain common
sense, for body, mind, and spirit, and to apply the principles of
such standards practically to their every-day life, the first
absolute necessity is to get quiet and to stay quiet long enough to
lay the dust.
You may know the laws of right eating, of right breathing, of
exercise, and rest--but in this dust of excitement in daily life
such knowledge helps one very little. You constantly forget, and
forget, and forget. Or, if in a moment of forced acknowledgment to
the need of better living, you make up your mind that you will live
according to sensible laws of hygiene, you go along pretty well for
a few weeks, perhaps even months, and then as you feel better
physically, you get whirled off into the excitement again, and
before you know it you are in the dust with the rest of the world,
and all because you had no background for your good resolutions. You
never had found and you did not understand quiet.
Did you ever see a wise mother come into a noisy nursery where
perhaps her own children were playing excitedly with several little
companions, who had been invited in to spend a rainy afternoon? The
mother sees all the children in a great state of excitement over
their play, and two or three of them disagreeing over some foolish
little matter, with their brains in such a state that the nursery is
thick with infantile human dust. What does the wise mother do? Add
dust of her own by scolding and fretting and fuming over the noise
that the children are making? No--no indeed. She first gets all the
children's attention in any happy way she can, one or two at a time,
and then when she has their individual attention to a small degree,
she gets their united attention by inviting their interest in being
so quiet that they "can hear a pin drop." The children get keenly
interested in listening. The first time they do not hear the pin
drop because Johnnie or Mollie moved a little. Mother talks with
interest of what a very delightful thing it is to be for a little
while so quiet that we can hear a pin drop. The second time
something interferes, and the third time the children have become so
well focused on listening that the little delicate sound is heard
distinctly, and they beg mother to try and see if they cannot hear
it again. By this time the dust is laid in the nursery, and by
changing the games a little, or telling them a story first, the
mother is able to leave a nursery full of quiet, happy children.
Now if we, who would like to live happily and keep well, according
to plain common sense, can put ourselves with intelligent humility
in the place of these little children and study to be quiet, we will
be working for that background which is never failing in its
possibilities of increasing light and warmth and the expanse of
First with regard to a quiet body. Indigestion makes us unquiet,
therefore we must eat only wholesome food, and not too much of it,
and we must eat it quietly. Poor breathing and poor blood makes us
unquiet, therefore we should learn to expand our lungs to their full
extent in the fresh air and give the blood plenty of oxygen.
Breathing also has a direct effect on the circulation and the brain,
and when we breathe quietly and rhythmically, we are quieting the
movement of our blood as well as opening the channels so that it can
flow without interruption. We are also quieting our brain and so our
whole nervous system.
Lack of exercise makes us unquiet, because exercise supplies the
blood more fully with oxygen and prevents it from flowing
sluggishly, a sluggish circulation straining the nervous system. It
is therefore important to take regular exercise.
Want of rest especially makes us unquiet; therefore we should attend
to it that we get--as far as possible--what rest we need, and take
all the rest we get in the best way. We cannot expect to fulfill
these conditions all at once, but we can aim steadily to do so, and
by getting every day a stronger focus and a steadier aim we can gain
so greatly in fulfilling the standards of a healthy mind in a
healthy body, and so much of our individual dust will be laid, that
I may fairly promise a happy astonishment at the view of life which
will open before us, and the power for use and enjoyment that will
Let us see now how we would begin practically, having made up our
minds to do all in our power to lay the dust and get a quiet
background. We must begin in what may seem a very small way. It
seems to be always the small beginnings that lead to large and
solidly lasting results. Not only that, but when we begin in the
small way and the right way to reach any goal, we can find no short
cuts and no seven-league boots.
We must take every step and take it decidedly in order to really get
there. We must place one brick and then another, exactly, and place
every brick--to make a house that will stand.
But now for our first step toward laying the dust. Let us take half
an hour every day and do nothing in it. For the first ten minutes we
will probably be wretched, for the next ten minutes we may be more
wretched, but for the last five minutes we will get a sense of quiet
and at first the dust, although not laid, will cease to whirl. And
then--an interesting fact--what seems to us quiet in the beginning
of our attempt, will seem like noise and whirlwinds, after we have
gone further along. Some one may easily say that it is absurd to
take half an hour a day to do nothing in. Or that "Nature abhors a
vacuum, and how is it possible to do nothing? Our minds will be
thinking of or working on something."
In answer to this, I might say with the Irishman, "Be aisy, but if
you can't be aisy, be as aisy as you can!" Do nothing as well as you
can. When you begin thinking of anything, drop it. When you feel
restless and as if you could not keep still another minute, relax
and make yourself keep still. I should take many days of this
insistence upon doing nothing and dropping everything from my mind
before taking the next step. For to drop everything from one's mind,
for half an hour is not by any means an easy matter. Our minds are
full of interests, full of resistances. With some of us, our minds
are full of resentment. And what we have to promise ourselves to do
is for that one-half hour a day to take nothing into consideration.
If something comes up that we are worrying about, refuse to consider
it. If some resentment to a person or a circumstance comes to mind,
refuse to consider it.
I know all this is easier to say than to do, but remember, please,
that it is only for half an hour every day-only half an hour. Refuse
to consider anything for half an hour. Having learned to sit still,
or lie still, and think of nothing with a moderate degree of
success, and with most people the success can only be moderate at
best, the next step is to think quietly of taking long, gentle, easy
breaths for half an hour. A long breath and then a rest, two long
breaths and then a rest. One can quiet and soothe oneself inside
quite wonderfully with the study of long gentle breaths. But it must
be a study. We must study to begin inhaling gently, to change to the
exhalation with equal delicacy, and to keep the same gentle,
delicate pressure throughout, each time trying to make the breath a
After we have had many days of the gentle, long breaths at intervals
for half an hour, then we can breathe rhythmically (inhale counting
five or ten, exhale counting five or ten), steadily for half an
hour, trying all the time to have the breath more quiet, gentle and
steady, drawing it in and letting it out with always decreasing
effort. It is wonderful when we discover how little effort we really
need to take a full and vigorous breath. This half hour's breathing
exercise every day will help us to the habit of breathing
rhythmically all the time, and a steady rhythmic breath is a great
physical help toward a quiet mind.
We can mingle with the deep breathing simple exercises of lifting
each arm slowly and heavily from the shoulder, and then letting it
drop a dead weight, and pausing while we feel conscious of our arms
resting without tension in the lap or on the couch.
But all this has been with relation to the body, and it is the
mental and moral dust of which I am writing. The physical work for
quiet is only helpful as it makes the body a better instrument for
the mind and for the will. A quiet body is of no use if it contains
an unquiet mind which is going to pull it out of shape or start it
up in agitation at the least provocation. In such a case, the quiet
body in its passive state is only a more responsive instrument to
the mind that wants to raise a dust. One--and the most helpful way
of quieting the mind--is through a steady effort at concentration.
One can concentrate; on doing nothing--that is, on sitting quietly
in a chair or lying quietly on the bed or the floor. Be quiet, keep
quiet, be quiet, keep quiet. That is the form of concentration, that
is the way of learning to do nothing to advantage. Then we
concentrate on the quiet breathing, to have it gentle, steady, and
without strain. In the beginning we must take care to concentrate
without strain, and without emotion, use our minds quietly, as one
might watch a bird who was very near, to see what it will do next,
and with care not to frighten it away.
These are the great secrets of true strengthening concentration. The
first is dropping everything that interferes. The second is working
to concentrate easily without emotion. They are really one and the
same. If we work to drop everything that interferes, we are so
constantly relaxing in order to concentrate that the very process
drops strain bit by bit, little by little.
An unquiet mind, however, full of worries, anxieties, resistances,
resentments, and full of all varieties of agitation, going over and
over things to try to work out problems that are not in human hands,
or complaining and fretting and puzzling because help seems to be
out of human power, such a mind which is befogged and begrimed by
the agitation of its own dust is not a cause in itself--it is an
effect. The cause is the reaching and grasping, the unreasonable
insistence on its own way of kicking, dust-raising self-will at the
back of the mind.
A quiet will, a will that can remain quiet through all emergencies,
is not a self-will. It is the self that raises the dust--the self
that wants, and strains to get its own way, and turns and twists and
writhes if it does not get its own way.
God's will is quiet. We see it in the growth of the trees and the
flowers. We see it in the movement of the planets of the Universe.
We see God's mind in the wonderful laws of natural science. Most of
all we see and feel, when we get quiet ourselves, God's love in
every thing and every one.
If we want the dust laid, we must work to get our bodies quiet. We
must drop all that interferes with quiet in our minds, and we must
give up wanting our own way. We must believe that God's way is
immeasurably beyond us and that if we work quietly to obey Him, He
will reveal to us His way in so far as we need to know it, and will
prepare us for and guide us to His uses.
The most perfect example we have of a quiet mind in a quiet body,
guided by the Divine Will, is in the character of the Lord Jesus
Christ. As we study His words and His works, we realize the power
and the delicacy of His human life, and we realize--as far as we are
capable of realizing--the absolute clearness of the atmosphere about
Him. We see and feel that atmosphere to be full of quiet--Divine
There is no suffering, no temptation, that any man or woman ever had
or ever will have that He did not meet in Himself and conquer.
Therefore, if we mean to begin the work in ourselves of finding the
quiet which will lay our own dust from the very first, if we have
the end in our minds of truer obedience and loving trust, we can,
even in the simple beginning of learning to do nothing quietly, find
an essence of life which eventually we will learn always to
recognize and to love, and to know that it is not ourselves, but it
is from the Heavenly Father of ourselves.
Some of us cannot get that motive to begin with; some of us will, if
we begin at all, work only for relief, or because we recognize that
there is more power without dust than with it, but no one of us is
ever safe from clouds of dust unless at the back of all our work
there is the desire to give up all self-will for the sake of obeying
and of trusting the Divine Will more and more perfectly as time goes
on. If we are content to work thoroughly and to gain slowly, not to
be pulled down by mistakes or discouragements, but to learn from
them, we are sure to be grateful for the new light and warmth and
power for use that will come to us, increasing day by day.
Next: Plain Every-day Common Sense
Previous: Positive And Negative Effort