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Hurry, Worry, And Irritability
Source: The Freedom Of Life
PROBABLY most people have had the experience of hurrying to a train
with the feeling that something held them back, but not many have
observed that their muscles, under such conditions, actually _do_
pull them back.
If any one wants to prove the correctness of this observation let
him watch himself, especially if it is necessary for him to go
downstairs to get to the station, while he is walking down the
steps. The drawing back or contracting of the muscles, as if they
were intelligently trying to prevent us from reaching the train on
time, is most remarkable. Of course all that impeding contraction
comes from resistance, and it seems at first sight very strange that
we should resist the accomplishment of the very thing we want to do.
Why should I resist the idea of catching a train, when at the same
time I am most anxious to do so? Why should my muscles reflect that
resistance by contracting, so that they directly impede my progress?
It seems a most singular case of a house divided against itself for
me to want to take a train, and for my own muscles, which are given
me for my command, to refuse to take me there, so that I move toward
the train with an involuntary effort away from it. But when the
truth is recognized, all this muscular contraction is easily
explained. What we are resisting is not the fact of taking the
train, but the possibility of losing it. That resistance reflects
itself upon our muscles and causes them to contract. Although this
is a practical truth, it takes us some time to realize that the fear
of losing the train is often the only thing that prevents our
catching it. If we could once learn this fact thoroughly, and live
from our clearer knowledge, it would be one of the greatest helps
toward taking all things in life quietly and without necessary
strain. For the fact holds good in all hurry. It is the fear of not
accomplishing what is before us in time that holds us back from its
This is so helpful and so useful a truth that I feel it necessary to
repeat it in many ways. Fear brings resistance, resistance impedes
our progress. Our faculties are paralyzed by lack of confidence, and
confidence is the result of a true consciousness of our powers when
in harmony with law. Often the fear of not accomplishing what is
before us is the _only_ thing that stands in our way.
If we put all hurry, whether it be an immediate hurry to catch a
train, or the hurry of years toward the accomplishment of the main
objects of our lives,--if we put it all under. the clear light of
this truth, it will eventually relieve us of a strain which is
robbing our vitality to no end.
First, the times that we _must_ hurry should be minimized. In nine
cases out of ten the necessity for hurry comes only from our own
attitude of mind, and from no real need whatever. In the tenth case
we must learn to hurry with our muscles, and not with our nerves,
or, I might better say, we must hurry without excitement. To hurry
quietly is to most people an unknown thing, but when hurry is a
necessity, the process of successive effort in it should be pleasant
If in the act of needful hurry we are constantly teaching ourselves
to stop resistance by saying over and over, through whatever we may
be doing, "I am perfectly willing to lose that train, I am willing
to lose it, I am willing to lose it," that will help to remove the
resistance, and so help us to learn how to make haste quietly.
But the reader will say, "How can I make myself willing when I am
The answer is that if you know that your unwillingness to lose the
train is preventing you from catching it, you certainly will see the
efficacy of being willing, and you will do all in your power toward
yielding to common sense. Unwillingness is resistance,--resistance
in the mind contracts the muscles, and such contraction prevents our
using the muscles freely and easily. Therefore let us be willing.
Of course there, is. a lazy, selfish indifference to catching a
train, or accomplishing anything else, which leaves the tendency to
hurry out of some temperaments altogether, but with that kind of a
person we are not dealing now. And such indifference is the absolute
opposite of the wholesome indifference in which there is no touch of
laziness or selfishness.
If we want to avoid hurry we must get the habit of hurry out of our
brains, and cut ourselves off, patiently and kindly, from the
atmosphere of hurry about us. The habit gets so strong a hold of the
nerves, and is impressed upon them so forcibly as a steady tendency,
that it can be detected by a close observer even in a person who is
lying on a lounge in the full belief that he is resting. It shows
itself especially in the breathing. A wise athlete has said that our
normal breathing should consist of six breaths to one minute. If the
reader will try this rate of breathing, the slowness of it will
surprise him. Six breaths to one minute seem to make the breathing
unnecessarily slow, and just double that seems about the right
number for ordinary people; and the habit of breathing at this
slower rate is a great help, from a physical standpoint, toward
erasing the tendency to hurry.
One of the most restful exercises any one can take is to lie at full
length on a bed or lounge and to inhale and exhale, at a perfectly
even, slow rate, for half an hour. It makes the exercise more
restful if another person counts for the breathing, say, ten slowly
and quickly to inhale, and ten to exhale, with a little pause to
give time for a quiet change from one breath to another.
Resistance, which is the mental source of hurry, is equally at the
root of that most harmful emotion--the habit of worrying. And the
same truths which must be learned and practised to free ourselves of
the one habit are applicable to the other.
Take the simple example of a child who worries over his lessons.
Children illustrate the principle especially well, because they are
so responsive that, if you meet them quietly with the truth in
difficulties of this kind they recognize its value and apply it very
quickly, and it takes them, comparatively, a very little time to get
If you think of telling a child that the moment he finds himself
worrying about his lesson he should close his book and say:
"I do not care whether I get this lesson or not."
And then, when he has actually persuaded himself that he does not
care, that he should open his book and study,--it would seem, at
first sight, that he would find it difficult to understand you; but,
on the contrary, a child understands more quickly than older people,
for the child has not had time to establish himself so firmly in the
I have in mind a little girl in whom the habit had begun of worrying
lest she should fail in her lessons, especially in her Latin. Her
mother sent her to be taught how not to worry. The teacher, after
giving her some idea of the common sense of not worrying, taught her
quieting exercises which she practised every day; and when one day,
in the midst of one of her lessons, Margaret seemed very quiet and
restful, the teacher asked:--
"Margaret, could you worry about your Latin now if you tried?"
"Yes," said Margaret, "I am afraid I could."
Nothing more was said, but she went on with her lessons, and several
days after, during the same restful quiet time, the teacher ventured
"Now, Margaret, could you worry about your Latin if you tried?"
Then came the emphatic answer, _"No, I could not."_
After that the little girl would say:
"With the part of me that worries, I do not care whether I get my
Latin or not; with the part of me that does not worry, I want to get
my Latin very much; therefore I will stay in the part of me that
does not worry, and get my Latin."
A childish argument, and one that may be entirely incomprehensible
to many minds, but to those who do comprehend, it represents a very
real and practical help.
It is, in most cases, a grave mistake to, reason with a worry. We
must first drop the worry, and then do our reasoning. If to drop the
worry seems impossible, we can separate ourselves from it enough to
prevent it from interfering with our reasoning, very much as if it
were neuralgia. There is never any real reason for a worry, because,
as we all know, worry never helps us to gain, and often is the cause
of our losing, the things which we so much desire.
Sometimes we worry because we are tired, and in that case, if we can
recognize the real cause, we should use our wills to withdraw our
attention from the object of worry, and to get all possible rest at
once, in the confident belief that rest will make things clear, or
at least more clear than they were when we were tired. It would be
hard to compute the harm that has been done by kindly disposed
people in reasoning with the worry of a friend, when the anxiety is
increased by fatigue or illness. To reason with one who is tired or
ill and worried, only increases the mental strain, and every effort
that is made to reason him out of it aggravates the strain; until,
finally, the poor brain, through kindly meant effort, has been
worked into an extreme state of irritation or even inflammation. For
the same reason, a worried mind should not be laughed at. Worries
that are aroused by fatigue or illness are often most absurd, but
they are not absurd to the mind that is suffering from them, and to
make fun of them only brings more pain, and more worry. Gentle,
loving attention, with kindly, truthful answers, will always help.
By such attention we are really giving no importance to the worry,
but only to our friend, with the hope of soothing and quieting him
out of his worries, and when he is rested he may see the truth for
We should deal with ourselves, in such cases, as gently as we would
with a friend, excepting that we can tell the truth to ourselves
more plainly than we can to most friends.
Worrying is resistance, resistance is unwillingness. Unwillingness
interferes with whatever we may want to accomplish. To be willing
that this, that, or the other should happen seems most difficult,
when to our minds, this, that, or the other would bring disaster.
And yet if we can once see clearly that worrying resistance tends
toward disaster rather than away from it, or, at the very least,
takes away our strength and endurance, it is only a matter of time
before we become able to drop our resistance altogether. But it is a
matter of time; and, when once we are faced toward freedom, we must
be patient and steady, and not expect to gain very rapidly. Theirs
is indeed a hard lot who have acquired this habit of worry, and
persist in doing nothing to gain their freedom.
"Now I have got something to worry about for the rest of my life,"
remarked a poor woman once. Her face was set toward worrying;
nothing but her own will could have turned it the other way, and yet
she deliberately chose not to use it, and so she was fixed and
settled in prison for the rest of her life.
To worry is wicked; it is wickedness of a kind that people often do
not recognize as such, and they are not fully responsible until they
do; but to prove it to be wicked is an easy matter, when once we are
faced toward freedom; and, to get over it, as I have said, is a
matter of steady, persistent patience.
As for irritability, that is also resistance; but there are two
kinds of irritability,--physical and moral.
There is an irritability that comes when we are hungry, if we have
eaten something that disagrees with us, if we are cold or tired or
uncomfortable from some other physical cause. When we feel that kind
of irritability we should ignore it, as we would ignore a little
snapping dog across the street, while at the same time removing its
cause as quickly as we can. There is nothing that delights the devil
more than to scratch a man with the irritability of hunger, and have
him respond to it at once by being ugly and rude to a friend; for
then the irritation immediately becomes moral, and every bit of
selfishness rushes up to join it, and to arouse whatever there may
be of evil in the man. It is simple to recognize this merely
physical form of irritability, and we should no more allow ourselves
to speak, or act, or even _think_ from it, than we should allow
ourselves to walk directly into foul air, when the good fresh air is
close to us on the other side.
But moral irritability is more serious; that comes from the soul,
and is the result of our wanting our own way. The immediate cause
may be some physical disturbance, such as noise, or it may be
aroused by other petty annoyances, like that of being obliged to
wait for some one who is unpunctual, or by disagreement in an
argument. There are very many causes for irritability, and we each
have our own individual sensitiveness or antipathy, but, whatever
the secondary cause, the primary cause is always the
same,--resistance or unwillingness to accept our circumstances.
If we are fully willing to be disturbed, we cease to be troubled by
the disturbance; if we are willing to wait, we are not annoyed by
being kept waiting, and we are in a better, more quiet humor to help
our friend to the habit of promptness. if we are willing that
another should differ from us in opinion, we can see more clearly
either to convince our friend, if he is wrong,--or to admit that he
is right, and that we are wrong. The essential condition of good
argument is freedom from personal feeling, with the desire only for
the truth,--whether it comes from one party or the other.
Hurry, worry, and irritability all come from selfish resistance to
the facts of life, and the only permanent cure for the waste of
force and the exhausting distress which they entail, is a
willingness to accept those facts, whatever they may be, in a spirit
of cheerful and reverent obedience to law.
Next: Nervous Fears