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Sleep And Rest
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Source: Power Through Repose
NATURE is not only our one guide in the matter of physical training,
she is the chief engineer who will keep us in order and control the
machine, if we aim to fulfil her conditions and shun every personal
interference with the wholesome working of her laws.
Here is where the exquisite sense of growing power comes. In
studying Nature, we not only realize the strength that comes from
following her lead, but we discover her in ourselves gently moving
We all believe we look to Nature, if we think at all; and it is a
surprise to find how mistaken we are. The time would not be wasted
if we whose duties do not lead us to any direct study of natural
life for personal reasons, would take fifteen minutes every day
simply to think of Nature and her methods of working, and to see at
the same time where, so far as we individually are concerned, we
constantly interfere with the best use of her powers. With all
reverence I say it, this should be the first form of prayer; and our
ability to pray sincerely to God and live in accordance with His
laws would grow in proportion to our power of sincere sympathy with
the workings of those laws in Nature.
Try to realize the quiet power of all natural growth and movement,
from a blade of grass, through a tree, a forest of trees, the entire
vegetable growth on the earth, the movement of the planets, to the
growth and involuntary vital operations of our own bodies.
No words can bring so full a realization of the quiet power in the
progress of Nature as will the simple process of following the
growth of a tree in imagination from the working of its sap in the
root up to the tips of the leaves, the blossoms, and the fruit. Or
beginning lower, follow the growth of a blade of grass or a flower,
then a tree, and so on to the movement of the earth, and then of all
the planets in the universe. Let your imagination picture so vividly
all natural movements, little by little, that you seem to be really
at one with each and all. Study the orderly working of your own
bodily functions; and having this clearly in mind, notice where you,
in all movements that are or might be under the control of your
will, are disobeying Nature's laws.
Nature shows us constantly that at the back of every action there
should be a great repose. This holds good from the minutest growth
to the most powerful tornado. It should be so with us not only in
the simple daily duties, but in all things up to the most intense
activity possible to man. And this study and realization of Nature's
method which I am pleading for brings a vivid sense of our own want
of repose. The compensation is fortunately great, or the
discouragement might be more than could be borne. We must appreciate
a need to have it supplied; we must see a mistake in order to shun
How can we expect repose of mind when we have not even repose of
muscle? When the most external of the machine is not at our command,
surely the spirit that animates the whole cannot find its highest
plane of action. Or how can we possibly expect to know the repose
that should be at our command for every emergency, or hope to
realize the great repose behind every action, when we have not even
learned the repose in rest?
Think of Nature's resting times, and see how painful would be the
result of a digression.
Our side of the earth never turns suddenly toward the sun at night,
giving us flashes of day in the darkness. When it is night, it is
night steadily, quietly, until the time comes for day. A tree in
winter, its time for rest, never starts out with a little bud here
and there, only to be frost bitten, and so when spring-time comes,
to result in an uneven looking, imperfectly developed tree. It rests
entirely in its time for rest; and when its time for blooming comes,
its action is full and true and perfect. The grass never pushes
itself up in little, untimely blades through the winter, thus
leaving our lawns and fields full of bare patches in the warmer
season. The flowers that close at night do not half close, folding
some petals and letting others stay wide open. Indeed, so perfectly
does Nature rest when it is her time for resting, that even the
suggestion of these abnormal actions seems absolutely ridiculous.
The less we allow ourselves to be controlled by Nature's laws, the
more we ignore their wonderful beauty; and yet there is that in us
which must constantly respond to Nature unconsciously, else how
could we at once feel the absurdity of any disobedience to her laws,
everywhere except with man? And man, who is not only free to obey,
but has exquisite and increasing power to realize and enjoy them in
all their fulness, lives so far out of harmony with these laws as
ever to be blind to his own steady disobedience.
Think of the perfect power for rest in all animals. Lift a cat when
she is quiet, and see how perfectly relaxed she is in every muscle.
That is not only the way she sleeps, but the way she rests; and no
matter how great or how rapid the activity, she drops all tension at
once when she stops. So it is with all animals, except in rare cases
where man has tampered with them in a way to interfere with the true
order of their lives.
Watch a healthy baby sleeping; lift its arm, its leg, or its head
carefully, and you will find each perfectly relaxed and free. You
can even hold it on your outspread hands, and the whole little
weight, full of life and gaining new power through the perfect rest,
will give itself entirely to your hands, without one particle of
tension. The sleep that we get in babyhood is the saving health of
many. But, alas! at a very early age useless tension begins, and
goes on increasing; and if it does not steadily lead to acute
"Americanitis," it prevents the perfect use of all our powers.
Mothers, watch your children with a care which will be all the more
effective because they will be unconscious of it; for a child's
attention should seldom be drawn to its own body. Lead them toward
the laws of Nature, that they may grow in harmony with them, and so
be saved the useless suffering, strain, and trouble that comes to us
Americans. If we do not take care, the children will more and more
inherit this fearful misuse of the nervous force, and the
inheritance will be so strong that at best we can have only little
invalids. How great the necessity seems for the effort to get back
into Nature's ways when we reflect upon the possibilities of a
To be sure, Nature has Repose itself and does not have to work for
it. Man is left free to take it or not as he chooses. But before he
is able to receive it he has personal tendencies to restlessness to
overcome. And more than that, there are the inherited nervous habits
of generations of ancestors to be recognized and shunned. But repose
is an inmost law of our being, and the quiet of Nature is at our
command much sooner than we realize, if we want it enough to work
for it steadily day by day. Nothing will increase our realization of
the need more than a little daily thought of the quiet in the
workings of Nature and the consequent appreciation of our own lack.
Ruskin tells the story with his own expressive power when he says,
"Are not the elements of ease on the face of all the greatest works
of creation? Do they not say, not there has been a great _effort
_here, but there has been a great power here?"
The greatest act, the only action which we know to be power in
itself, is the act of Creation. Behind that action there lies a
great Repose. We are part of Creation, we should be moved by its
laws. Let us shun everything we see to be in the way of our own best
power of action in muscle, nerve, senses, mind, and heart. Who knows
the new perception and strength, the increased power for use that is
open to us if we will but cease to be an obstruction?
Freedom within the limits of Nature's laws, and indeed there is no
freedom without those limits, is best studied and realized in the
growth of all plants,--in the openness of the branch of a vine to
receive the sap from the main stem, in the free circulation of the
sap in a tree and in all vegetable organisms.
Imagine the branch of a vine endowed with the power to grow
according to the laws which govern it, or to ignore and disobey
those laws. Imagine the same branch having made up its vegetable
mind that it could live its own life apart from the vine, twisting
its various fibres into all kinds of knots and snarls, according to
its own idea of living, so that the sap from the main stem could
only reach it in a minimum quantity. What a dearth of leaf, flower,
and fruit would appear in the branch! Yet the figure is perfectly
illustrative of the way in which most of us are interfering with the
best use of the life that is ours.
Freedom is obedience to law. A bridge can be built to stand, only in
obedience to the laws of mechanics. Electricity can be made a useful
power only in exact obedience to the laws that govern it, otherwise
it is most destructive. Has man the privilege of disobeying natural
laws, only in the use of his own individual powers? Clearly not. And
why is it that while recognizing and endeavoring to obey the laws of
physics, of mechanics, and all other laws of Nature in his work in
the world, he so generally defies the same laws in their application
to his own being?
The freedom of an animal's body in obeying the animal instincts is
beautiful to watch. The grace and power expressed in the freedom of
a tiger are wonderful. The freedom in the body of a baby to respond
to every motion and expression is exquisite to study. But before
most children have been in the world three years their inherited
personal contractions begin, and unless the little bodies can be
watched and trained out of each unnecessary contraction as it
appears, and so kept in their own freedom, there comes a time later,
when to live to the greatest power for use they must spend hours in
learning to be babies all over again, and then gain a new freedom
and natural movement.
The law which perhaps appeals to us most strongly when trying to
identify ourselves with Nature is the law of rhythm: action,
re-action; action, re-action; action, re-action,--and the two must
balance, so that equilibrium is always the result. There is no
similar thought that can give us keener pleasure than when we rouse
all our imagination, and realize all our power of identifying
ourselves with the workings of a great law, and follow this rhythmic
movement till we find rhythm within rhythm,--from the rhythmic
motion of the planets to the delicate vibrations of heat and light.
It is helpful to think of rhythmic growth and motion, and not to
allow the thought of a new rhythm to pass without identifying
ourselves with it as fully as our imagination will allow.
We have the rhythm of the seasons, of day and night, of the tides,
and of vegetable and animal life,--as the various rhythmic motions
in the flying of birds. The list will be endless, of course, for the
great law rules everything in Nature, and our appreciation of it
grows as we identify ourselves with its various modes of action.
One hair's variation in the rhythm of the universe would bring
destruction, and yet we little individual microcosms are knocking
ourselves into chronic states of chaos because we feel that we can
be gods, and direct our own lives so much better than the God who
made us. We are left in freedom to go according to His laws, or
against them; and we are generally so convinced that our own stupid,
short-sighted way is the best, that it is only because Nature
tenderly holds to some parts of us and keeps them in the rhythm,
that we do not hurl ourselves to pieces. _This law of rhythm--or of
equilibrium in motion and in rest--is the end, aim, and effect of
all true physical training for the development and guidance of the
body._ Its ruling power is proved in the very construction of the
body,--the two sides; the circulation of the blood, veins and
arteries; the muscles, extensor and flexor; the nerves, sensory and
When the long rest of a body balances the long activity, in day and
night; when the shorter rests balance the shorter activity, as in
the various opportunities offered through the day for entire rest,
if only a minute at a time; when the sensory and motor nerves are
clear for impression and expression; when the muscles in parts of
the body not needed are entirely quiet, allowing those needed for a
certain action to do their perfect work; when the co-ordination of
the muscles in use is so established that the force for a movement
is evenly divided; when the flexor rests while its antagonizing
muscle works, and _vice versa,--_ when all this which is merely a
_natural power for action and rest _is automatically established,
then the body is ready to obey and will obey the lightest touch of
its owner, going in whatever direction it may be sent, artistic,
scientific, or domestic. As this exquisite sense of ease in a
natural movement grows upon us, no one can describe the feeling of
new power or of positive comfort which comes with it; and yet it is
no miracle, it is only natural. The beasts have the same freedom;
but they have not the mind to put it to higher uses, or the sense to
enjoy its exquisite power.
Often it seems that the care and trouble to get back into Nature's
way is more than compensated for in the new appreciation of her laws
and their uses. But the body, after all, is merely a servant; and,
however perfect its training may have been, if the man, the master,
puts his natural power to mean or low uses, sooner or later the
power will be lost. Self-conscious pride will establish its own
contractions. The use of a natural power for evil ends will limit
itself sooner or later. The love for unwholesome surroundings will
eventually put a check on a perfectly free body, although sometimes
the wonder is that the check is so long in coming. If we have once
trained ourselves into natural ways, so akin are the laws of Nature
and spirit, both must be obeyed; and to rise to our greatest power
means always to rise to our greatest power for use. "A man's life is
God's love for the use for which he was made;" a man's power lies in
the best direction of that use. This is a truth as practical as the
necessity for walking on the feet with the head up.
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