Medical ArticlesLessons From Nutritional Anthropology
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Source: The Freedom Of Life
TO argue with nervous anxiety, either in ourselves or in others, is
never helpful. Indeed it is never helpful to argue with "nerves" at
all. Arguing with nervous excitement of any kind is like rubbing a
sore. It only irritates it. It does not take long to argue excited
or tired nerves into inflammation, but it is a long and difficult
process to allay the inflammation when it has once been aroused. It
is a sad fact that many people have been argued into long nervous
illnesses by would-be kind friends whose only intention was to argue
them out of illness. Even the kindest and most disinterested friends
are apt to lose patience when they argue, and that, to the tired
brain which they are trying to relieve, is a greater irritant than
they realize. The radical cure for nervous fears is to drop
resistance to painful circumstances or conditions. Resistance is
unwillingness to endure, and to drop the resistance is to be
strongly willing. This vigorous "willingness" is so absolutely
certain in its happy effect, and is so impossible that it should
fail, that the resistant impulses seem to oppose themselves to it
with extreme energy. It is as if the resistances were conscious
imps, and as if their certainty of defeat--in the case of their
victim's entire "willingness "--roused them to do their worst, and
to hold on to their only possible means of power with all the more
determination. Indeed, when a man is working through a hard state,
in gaining his freedom from nervous fears, these imps seem to hold
councils of war, and to devise new plans of attack in order to take
him by surprise and overwhelm him in an emergency. But every sharp
attack, if met with quiet "willingness," brings a defeat for the
assailants, until finally the resistant imps are conquered and
disappear. Occasionally a stray imp will return, and try to arouse
resistance on what he feels is old familiar ground, but he is
quickly driven off, and the experience only makes a man more quietly
vigilant and more persistently "willing."
Perhaps one of the most prevalent and one of the hardest fears to
meet, is that of insanity,--especially when it is known to be a
probable or possible inheritance. When such fear is oppressing a
man,--to tell him that he not only can get free from the fear, but
free from any possibility of insanity, through a perfect willingness
to be insane, must seem to him at first a monstrous mockery; and, if
you cannot persuade him of the truth, but find that you are only
frightening him more, there is nothing to do then but to be willing
that he should not be persuaded, and to wait for a better
opportunity. You can show him that no such inheritance can become an
actuality, unless we permit it, and that the very knowledge of an
hereditary tendency, when wholesomely used, makes it possible for us
to take every precaution and to use every true safeguard against it.
The presence of danger is a source of strength to the brave; and the
source of abiding courage is not in the nerves, but in the spirit
and the will behind them. It is the clear statement of this fact
that will persuade him The fact may have to be stated many times,
but it should never be argued. And the more quietly and gently and
earnestly it is stated, the sooner it will convince, for it is the
truth that makes us free.
Fear keeps the brain in a state of excitement. Even when it is not
consciously felt, it is felt sub-consciously, and we ought to be
glad to have it aroused, in order that we may see it and free
ourselves, not only from the particular fear for the time being, but
from the subconscious impression of fear in general.
Is seems curious to speak of grappling with the fear of insanity,
and conquering it by being perfectly willing to be insane, but it is
no more curious than the relation of the centrifugal and the
centripetal forces to each other. We need our utmost power of
concentration to enable us to yield truly, and to be fully willing
to submit to whatever the law of our being may require. Fear
contracts the brain and the nerves, and interrupts the circulation,
and want of free circulation is a breeder of disease. Dropping
resistance relaxes the tension of the brain and nerves, and opens
the channels for free circulation, and free circulation helps to
carry off the tendency to disease. If a man is wholesomely willing
to be insane, should such an affliction overtake him, he has dropped
all resistance to the idea of insanity, and thus also to all the
mental and physical contractions that would foster insanity. He has
dropped a strain which was draining his brain of its proper
strength, and the result is new vigor to mind and body. To drop an
inherited strain produces a great and wonderful change, and all we
need to bring it about is to thoroughly understand how possible and
how beneficial it is. If we once realize the benefit of dropping the
strain, our will is there to accomplish the rest, as surely as it is
there to take our hand out of the fire when it burns.
Then there is the fear of contagion. Some people are haunted with
the fear of catching disease, and the contraction which such
resistance brings induces a physical state most favorable to
contagion. There was once a little child whose parents were so full
of anxious fears that they attempted to protect him from disease in
ways that were extreme and ridiculous. All his toys were boiled,
everything he ate or drank was sterilized, and many other
precautions were taken,--but along with all the precautions, the
parents were in constant fear; and it is not unreasonable to feel
that the reflection upon the child of the chronic resistance to
possible danger with which he was surrounded, had something to do
with the fact that the dreaded disease was finally caught, and that,
moreover, the child did not recover. If reasonably healthy
conditions had been insisted upon, and the parents had felt a
wholesome trust in the general order of things, it would have been
likely to make the child more vigorous, and would have tended to
increase his capacity for throwing off contagion.
Children are very sensitive, and it is not unusual to see a child
crying because its mother is out of humor, even though she may not
have spoken a cross word. It is not unusual to see a child contract
its little brain and body in response to the fears and contractions
of its parents, and such contraction keeps the child in a state in
which it may be more difficult to throw off disease.
If you hold your fist as tight as you can hold it for fifteen
minutes, the fatigue you will feel when it relaxes is a clear proof
of the energy you have been wasting. The waste of nervous energy
would be much increased if the fist were held tightly for hours; and
if the waste is so great in the useless tightening of a fist, it is
still greater in the extended and continuous contraction of brain
and nerves in useless fears; and the energy saved through dropping
the fears and their accompanying tension can bring in the same
proportion a vigor unknown before, and at the same time afford
protection against the very things we feared.
The fear of taking cold is so strong in many people that a draught
of fresh air becomes a bugaboo to their contracted, sensitive
nerves. Draughts are imagined as existing everywhere, and the
contraction which immediately follows the sensation of a draught is
the best means of preparing to catch a cold.
Fear of accident keeps one in a constant state of unnecessary
terror. To be willing that an accident should happen does not make
it more likely to happen, but it prevents our wasting energy by
resistance, and keeps us quiet and free, so that if an emergency of
any kind arises, we are prepared to act promptly and calmly for the
best. If the amount of human energy wasted in the strain of nervous
fear could be measured in pounds of pressure, the figures would be
astonishing. Many people who have the habit of nervous fear in one
form or another do not throw it off merely because they do not know
how. There are big and little nervous fears, and each and all can be
met and conquered,--thus bringing a freedom of life which cannot
even be imagined by those carrying the burden of fear, more or less,
throughout their lives.
The fear of what people will think of us is a very common cause of
slavery, and the nervous anxiety as to whether we do or do not
please is a strain which wastes the energy of the greater part of
mankind. It seems curious to measure the force wasted in
sensitiveness to public opinion as you would measure the waste of
power in an engine, and yet it is a wholesome and impersonal way to
think of it,--until we find a better way. It relieves us of the
morbid element in the sensitiveness to say, "I cannot mind what
so-and-so thinks of me, for I have not the nervous energy to spare."
It relieves us still more of the tendency to morbid feeling, if we
are wholesomely interested in what others think of us, in order to
profit by it, and do better. There is nothing morbid or nervous
about our sensitiveness to opinion, when it is derived from a love
of criticism for the sake of its usefulness. Such a rightful and
wise regard for the opinion of others results in a saving of energy,
for on the one hand, it saves us from the mistakes of false and
shallow independence, and, on the other, from the wasteful strain of
The little nervous fears are countless. The fear of not being exact.
The fear of not having turned off the gas entirely. The fear of not
having done a little daily duty which we find again and again we
have done. These fears are often increased, and sometimes are
aroused, by our being tired, and it is well to realize that, and to
attend at once carefully to whatever our particular duty may be, and
then, when the fear of not having done it attacks us, we should
think of it as if it were a physical pain, and turn our attention
quietly to something else. In this way such little nagging fears are
relieved; whereas, if we allowed ourselves to be driven by them, we
might bring on nervous states that would take weeks or months to
overcome. These nervous fears attack us again and again in subtle
ways, if we allow ourselves to be influenced by them. They are all
forms of unwillingness or resistance, and may all be removed by
dropping the resistance and yielding,--not to the fear, but to a
willingness that the fear should be there.
One of the small fears that often makes life seem unbearable is the
fear of a dentist. A woman who had suffered from this fear for a
lifetime, and who had been learning to drop resistances in other
ways, was once brought face to face with the necessity for going to
the dentist, and the old fear was at once aroused,--something like
the feeling one might have in preparing for the guillotine,--and
she suffered from it a day or two before she remembered her new
principles. Then, when the new ideas came back to her mind, she at
once applied them and said, "Yes, I _am afraid,_ I _am awfully
afraid._ I am _perfectly willing to be afraid," _and the ease with
which the fear disappeared was a surprise,--even to herself.
Another woman who was suffering intensely from fear as to the
after-effects of an operation, had begun to tremble with great
nervous intensity. The trembling itself frightened her, and when a
friend told her quietly to be willing to tremble, her quick,
intelligence responded at once. "Yes," she said, "I will, I will
make myself tremble," and, by not only being willing to tremble, but
by making herself tremble, she got quiet mental relief in a very
short time, and the trembling disappeared.
The fear of death is, with its derivatives, of course, the greatest
of all; and to remove our resistance to the idea of death, by being
perfectly willingly to die is to remove the foundation of all the
physical cowardice in life, and to open the way for the growth of a
courage which is strength and freedom itself. He who yields gladly
to the ordinary facts of life, will also yield gladly to the supreme
fact of physical death, for a brave and happy willingness is the
characteristic habit of his heart:--
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will."
There is a legend of the Arabs in which a man puts his head out of
his tent and says, "I will loose my camel and commit him to God,"
and a neighbor who hears him says, in his turn, "I will tie my camel
and commit him to God." The true helpfulness from non-resistance
does not come from neglecting to take proper precautions against the
objects of fear, but from yielding with entire willingness to the
necessary facts of life, and a sane confidence that, whatever comes,
we shall be provided with the means of meeting it. This confidence
is, in itself, one of the greatest sources of intelligent endurance.
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