Sources: Nerves And Common Sense
PLAIN common sense! When we come to sift everything down which will
enable us to live wholesome, steady, every-day, interesting lives,
plain common sense seems to be the first and the simplest need. In
the working out of any problem, whether it be in science or in art
or in plain everyday living, we are told to go from the
circumference to the center, from the known to the unknown, from
simplest facts to those which would otherwise seem complex. And
whether the life we are living is quiet and commonplace, or whether
it is full of change and adventure, to be of the greatest and most
permanent use, a life must have as its habitual background plain
every-day common sense.
When we stop and think a while, the lack of this important quality
is quite glaring, and every one who has his attention called to it
and recognizes that lack enough to be interested to supply it in his
own life, is doing more good toward bringing plain common sense into
the world at large than we can well appreciate. For instance, it is
only a fact of plain common sense that we should keep rested, and
yet how many of us do? How many readers of this article will smile
or sneer, or be irritated when they read the above, and say, "It is
all very well to talk of keeping rested. How is it possible with all
I have to do? or with all the care I have? or with all I have to
Now that is just the point--the answer to that question, "How is it
possible?" So very few of us know how to do it, and if "how to keep
rested though busy" were regularly taught in all schools in this
country, so far from making the children self-conscious and
over-careful of themselves, it would lay up in their brains ideas of
plain common sense which would be stocked safely there for use when,
as their lives grew more maturely busy, they would find the right
habits formed, enabling them to keep busy and at the same time to
keep quiet and rested. What a wonderful difference it would
eventually make in the wholesomeness of the manners and customs of
this entire nation. And that difference would come from giving the
children now a half hour's instruction in the plain common sense of
keeping well rested, and in seeing that such instruction was
entirely and only practical.
It has often seemed to me that the tendency of education in the
present day is more toward giving information than it is in
preparing the mind to receive and use interesting and useful
information of all kinds: that is, in helping the mind to attract
what it needs; to absorb what it attracts, and digest what it
absorbs as thoroughly as any good healthy stomach ever digested the
food it needed to supply the body with strength. The root of such
cultivation, it seems to me, is in teaching the practical use and
application of all that is studied. To be sure, there is much more
of that than there was fifty years ago, but you have only to put to
the test the minds of young graduates to see how much more of such
work is needed, and how much more intelligent the training of the
young mind may be, even now.
Take, for instance, the subject of ethics. How many boys and girls
go home and are more useful in their families, more thoughtful and
considerate for all about them, for their study of ethics in school?
And yet the study of ethics has no other use than this. If the mind
absorbed and digested the true principles of ethics, so that the
heart felt moved to use them, it might--it probably would--make a
great change in the lives of the boys and girls who studied it--a
change that would surprise and delight their parents and friends.
If the science of keeping rested were given in schools in the way
that, in most cases, the science of ethics seems to be given now,
the idea of rest would lie in an indigestible lump on the minds of
the students, and instead of being absorbed, digested and carried
out in their daily lives, would be evaporated little by little into
the air, or vomited off the mind in various jokes about it, and
other expressions that would prove the children knew nothing of what
they were being taught.
But again, I am glad to repeat--if instruction, _practical_
instruction, were given every day in the schools on how to form the
habit of keeping rested, it would have a wonderful effect upon the
whole country, not to mention where in many individual cases it
would actually prevent the breaking out of hereditary disease.
Nature always tends toward health; so strongly, so habitually does
nature tend toward health that it seems at times as if the working
of natural laws pushed some people into health in spite of chronic
antagonism they seem to have against health--one might even say in
spite of the wilful refusal of health.
When one's body is kept rested, nature is constantly throwing off
germs of disease, constantly working, and working most actively, to
protect the body from anything that would interfere with its perfect
health. When one's body is not rested, nature works just as hard,
but the tired body--through its various forms of tension that impede
the circulation, prevent the healthy absorption of food and oxygen,
and clog the way so that impurities cannot be carried
off--interferes with nature's work and thus makes it impossible for
her to keep the machine well oiled. When we are tired, the very fact
of being tired makes us more tired, unless we rest properly.
A great deal--it seems to me more than one-half--of the fatigue in
the world comes from the need of an intelligent understanding of how
to keep rested. The more that lack of intelligence is allowed to
grow, the worse it is going to be for the health of the nation. We
have less of that plain common sense than our grandfathers and
grandmothers. They had less than their fathers and mothers. We need
more than our ancestors, because life is more complicated now, than
it was then. We can get more if we will, because there is more real
understanding of the science of hygiene than our fathers and mothers
had before us. Our need now is to use _practically_ the information
which a few individuals are able to give us, and especially to teach
such practical use to our children.
Let us find out how we would actually go to work to keep rested, and
take the information of plain common sense and use it.
To keep rested we must not overwork our body inside or outside. We
must keep it in an equilibrium of action and rest.
We overwork our body inside when we eat the wrong food and when we
eat too much or not enough of the right food, for then the stomach
has more than its share of work to do, and as the effort to do it
well robs the brain and the whole nervous system, so, of course, the
rest of the body has not its rightful supply of energy and the
natural result is great fatigue.
We overwork our body inside when we do not give it its due amount of
fresh air. The blood needs the oxygen to supply itself and the
nerves and muscles with power to do their work. When the oxygen is
not supplied to the blood, the machinery of the body has to work
with so much less power than really belongs to it, that there is
great strain in the effort to do its work properly, and the effect
is, of course, fatigue.
In either of the above cases, both with an overworked stomach and an
overworked heart and lungs, the complaint is very apt to be, "Why am
I so tired when I have done nothing to get tired?" The answer is,
"No, you have done nothing outside with your muscles, but the heart
and lungs and the stomach are delicate and exquisite instruments.
You have overworked them all, and such overwork is the more
fatiguing in proportion to what is done than any other form, except
overwork of the brain." And the overtired stomach and heart and
lungs tire the brain, of course.
Of the work that is given to the brain itself to overtire it we must
speak later. So much now for that which prevents the body from
keeping rested inside, in the finer working of its machinery.
It is easy to find out what and how to eat. A very little careful
thought will show us that. It is only the plain common sense of
eating we need. It is easy to see that we must not eat on a tired
stomach, and if we have to do so, we must eat much less than we
ordinarily would, and eat it more slowly. So much good advice is
already given about what and how to eat, I need say nothing here,
and even without that advice, which in itself is so truly valuable,
most of us could have plain common sense about our own food if we
would use our minds intelligently about it, and eat only what we
know to be nourishing to us. That can be done without fussing.
Fussing about food contracts the stomach, and prevents free
digestion almost as much as eating indigestible food.
Then again, if we deny ourselves that which we want and know is bad
for us, and eat only that which we know to be nourishing, it
increases the delicacy of our relish. We do not lose relish by
refusing to eat too much candy. We gain it. Human pigs lose their
most delicate relish entirely, and they lose much--very much
Unfortunately with most people, there is not the relish for fresh
air that there is for food. Very few people want fresh air
selfishly; the selfish tendency of most people is to cut it off for
fear of taking cold. And yet the difference felt in health, in
keeping rested, in ease of mind, is as great between no fresh air
and plenty of fresh air as it is between the wrong kind of food and
enough (and not too much) of the right kind of food.
Why does not the comfort of the body appeal to us as strongly
through the supply of air given to the lungs as through that of food
given to the stomach? The right supply of fresh air has such
wonderful power to keep us rested!
Practical teaching to the children here would, among other things,
give them training which would open their lungs and enable them to
take in with every breath the full amount of oxygen needed toward
keeping them rested. There are so many cells in the lungs of most
people, made to receive oxygen, which never receive one bit of the
food they are hungry for.
There is much more, of course, very much more, to say about the
working of the machinery of the inside of the body and about the
plain common sense needed to keep it well and rested, but I have
said enough for now to start a thoughtful mind to work.
Now for keeping the body well rested from the outside. It is all so
well arranged for us--the night given us to sleep in, a good long
day of work and a long night of rest; so the time for rest and the
time for work are equalized and it is so happily arranged that out
of the twenty-four hours in the day, when we are well, we need only
eight hours' sleep. So well does nature work and so truly that she
can make up for us in eight hours' sleep what fuel we lose in
sixteen hours of activity.
Only one-third of the time do we need to sleep, and we have the
other two-thirds for work and play. This regular sleep is a strong
force in our aim to keep rested. Therefore, the plain common sense
of that is to find out how to go to sleep naturally, how to get all
the rest out of sleep that nature would give us, and so to wake
refreshed and ready for the day.
To go to sleep naturally we must learn how to drop all the tension
of the day and literally _drop_ to sleep like a baby. _Let go into
sleep_--there is a host of meaning in that expression. When we do
that, nature can revive and refresh and renew us. Renew our
vitality, bring us so much more brain power for the day, all that we
need for our work and our play; or almost all--for there are many
little rests during the day, little openings for rest that we need
to take, and that we can teach ourselves to take as a matter of
course. We can sit restfully at each one of our three meals. Eat
restfully and quietly, and so make each meal not only a means of
getting nourishment, but of getting rest as well. There is all the
difference of illness and health in taking a meal with strain and a
sense of rush and pressure of work, and in taking it as if to eat
that one meal were the only thing we had to do in the day. Better to
eat a little nourishing food and eat it quietly and at leisure than
a large meal of the same food with a sense of rush. This is a very
important factor in keeping rested.
Then there are the many expected and unexpected times in the day
when we can take rest and so _keep rested._ If we have to wait we
can sit quietly. Whatever we are doing we can make use of the
between times to rest. Each man can find his own "between times." If
we make real use of them, intelligent use, they not only help us to
keep rested, they help us to do our work better, if we will but
watch for them and use them.
Now the body is only a servant. and in all I have. written above, I
have only written of the servant. How can a servant keep well and
rested if the master drives him to such an extent that he is brought
into a state, not where he won't go, but where he can't go, and must
therefore drop? It is the intelligent master, who is a true disciple
of plain common sense, who will train his servant, the body, in the
way of resting, eating and breathing, in order to fit it for the
maximum of work at the minimum of energy. But if you obey every
external law for the health and strength of the body, and obey it
implicitly, and to the letter, with all possible intelligence, you
cannot keep it healthy if the mind that owns the body is pulling it
and twisting it, and _twanging_ on its delicate machinery with a
flood of resentment and resistance; and the spirit behind the mind
is eager, wretched, and unhappy, because it does not get its own
way, or elated with an inflamed egoism because it is getting its own
All plain common sense in the way of health for the body falls dead
unless followed up closely with plain common sense for the health of
the mind; and then again, although when there is "a healthy mind in
a healthy body," the health appears far more permanent than when a
mind full of personal resistance tries to keep its body healthy,
even that happy combination cannot be really permanent unless there
is found back of it a healthy spirit.
But of the plain common sense of the spirit there is more to be said
at another time.
With regard to the mind, let us look and see not only that it is not
sensible to allow it to remain full of resistance, but is it not
What an important factor it should be in the education of children
to teach them the plain common sense needed to keep the mind
healthy--to teach them the uselessness of a mental resistance, and
the wholesomeness of a clean mind.
If a child worries about his lessons, he is resisting the
possibility of failing in his class; let him learn that the worry
_interferes_ with his getting his lesson. Teach him how to drop the
worry, and he will find not only that he gets the lesson in less
time, but his mind is clearer to remember it.
By following the same laws, children could be taught that a feeling
of rush and hurry only impedes their progress. The rushed feeling
sometimes comes from a nervous unquiet which is inherited, and
should be trained out of the child.
But alas! alas! how can a mother or a father train a child to live
common sensibly without useless resistance when neither the mother
nor the father can do that same themselves. It is not too late for
any mother or father to learn, and if each will have the humility to
confess to the child that they are learning and help the child to
learn with them, no child would or could take advantage of that and
as the children are trained rightly, what a start they can give
their own children when they grow up--and what a gain there might be
from one generation to another! Will it ever come? Surely we hope