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Positive And Negative Effort
Source: Nerves And Common Sense
DID you ever have the grip? If you ever have you may know how truly
it is named and how it does actually grip you so that it seems as if
there were nothing else in the world at the time--it appears to
entirely possess you. As the Irishman says, the grip is "the disease
that lasts fur a week and it takes yer six weeks ter get over it."
That is because it has possessed you so thoroughly that it must be
routed out of every little fiber in your body before you are
yourself again, and there are hidden corners where it lurks and
hides, and it often has to be actually pulled out of them. Now it
has been already recognized that if we relax and do not resist a
severe cold it leaves us open so that our natural circulation
carries away the cold much more quickly than if we allowed ourselves
to be full of resistance to the discomfort and the consequent
physical contraction that impeded the circulation and holds the cold
in our system.
My point is this--that it is comparatively easy to relax out of a
cold. We can do it with only a negative effort, but to relax so that
nature in her steady and unswerving tendency toward health can lift
us out of the grip is quite another matter. When we feel ourselves
entirely in the power of such a monster as that is at its worst, it
is only by a very strong and positive effort of the will that we can
yield so that nature can guide us into health, and we do not need
the six weeks of getting well.
In order to gain this positive sense of yielding away from the
disease rather than of letting it hold us, we must do what seems at
the time the impossible--we must refuse to give our attention to the
pain or discomfort and insist upon giving our attention entirely to
yielding out of the contractions which the painful discomforts
cause. In other words, we must give up resisting the grip. It is the
same with any other disease or any pain. If we have the toothache
and give all our attention to the toothache, it inevitably makes it
worse; but if we give our attention to yielding out of the toothache
contractions, it eases the pain even though it may be that only the
dentist can stop it. Once I had an ulcerated tooth which lasted for
a week. I had to yield so steadily to do my work during the day and
to be able to sleep at all at night that it not only made the pain
bearable, but when the tooth got well I was surprised to find how
many habitual contractions I had dropped and how much more freedom
of action I had before my tooth began to ulcerate. I should not wish
to have another ulcerated tooth in order that I might gain more
freedom, but I should wish to take every pain of body and mind so
truly that when the pain was over I should have gained greater
freedom than I had before it began.
You see it is the same with every pain and with every disease.
Nature tends toward health and if we make the disease simply a
reminder to yield--and to yield more deeply--and to put our positive
effort there, we are opening the way for nature to do her best work.
If our entire attention is given to yielding and we give no
attention whatever to the pain, except as a reminder to yield, the
result seems wonderful. It seems wonderful because so few of us have
the habit of giving our entire attention to gaining our real
With most of us, the disease or discomfort is positive, and our
effort against it is negative or no effort at all. A negative effort
probably protects us from worse evil, but that is all; it does not
seem to me that it can ever take us ahead, whereas a positive
effort, while sometimes we seem to move upward in very slow stages,
often takes us in great strides out of the enemy's country.
If we have the measles, the whooping cough, scarlet fever--even more
serious diseases--and make the disease negative and our effort to
free ourselves from it positive, the result is one thousand times
worth while. And where the children have the measles and the
whooping cough, and do not know how to help nature, the mothers can
be positive for the children and make their measles and whooping
cough negative. The positive attitude of a mother toward her sick
child puts impatience or despair out of the question.
Do not think that I believe one can be positive all at once. We must
work hard and insist over and over again before we can attain the
positive attitude and having attained it, we have to lose it and
gain it again, lose it and gain it again, many times before we get
the habit of making all difficulties of mind and body negative, and
our healthy attitude toward conquering them positive.
I said "difficulties of mind and body." I might better have said
"difficulties of body, mind and character," or even character alone,
for, after all, when you come to sift things down, it is the
character that is at the root of all human life.
I know a woman who is contantly complaining. Every morning she has a
series of pains to tell of, and her complaints spout out of her in a
half-irritated, whining tone as naturally as she breathes. Over and
over you think when you listen to her how useful all those pains of
hers would be if she took them as a reminder to yield and in
yielding to do her work better. But if one should venture to suggest
such a possibility, it would only increase the complaints by one
more--that of having unsympathetic friends and being misunderstood.
"Nobody understands me--nobody understands me." How often we hear
that complaint. How often in hearing it we make the mental question,
"Do you understand yourself?"
You see the greatest impediment to our understanding ourselves is
our unwillingness to see what is not good in ourselves. It is easy
enough in a self-righteous attitude of what we believe to be
humility to find fault with ourselves, but quite another thing when
others find fault with us. When we are giving our attention to
discomforts and pains in a way to give them positive power, and some
one suggests that we might change our aim, then the resistance and
resentment that are roused in us are very indicative of just where
we are in our character.
Another strong indication of allowing our weaknesses and faults to
be positive and our effort against them negative is the destructive
habit of giving excuses. If fault is found with us and there is
justice in it, it does not make the slightest difference how many
things we have done that are good, or how much better we do than
some one else does--the positive way is to say "thank you" in spirit
and in words, and to aim directly toward freeing ourselves from the
fault. How ridiculous it would seem if when we were told that we had
a smooch on our left cheek, we were to insist vehemently upon the
cleanliness of our right cheek, or our forehead, or our hands,
instead of being grateful that our attention should be called to the
smooch and taking soap and water and at once washing it off. Or how
equally absurd it would be if we went into long explanations as to
how the smooch would not have been there if it had not been for so
and so, and so and so, or so and so,--and then with all our excuses
and explanations and protestations, we let the smooch stay--and
never really wash it off.
And yet this is not an exaggeration of what most of us do when our
attention is called to defects of character. When we excuse and
explain and tell how clean the other side of our face is, we are
putting ourselves positively on the side of the smooch. So we are
putting ourselves entirely on the side of the illness or the pain or
the oppression of difficult circumstances when we give excuses or
resist or pretend not to see fault in ourselves, or when we confess
faults and are contented about them, or when we give all our
attention to what is disagreeable and no attention to the normal way
of gaining our health or our freedom.
Then all these expressions of self or of illness are to us positive,
and our efforts against them only negative. In such cases, of
course, the self possesses us as surely as the grip possesses us
when we succumb entirely to all its horrors and make no positive
effort to yield out of it. And the possession of the self is much
worse, much deeper, much more subtle. When possessed with
selfishness, we are laying up in our subconsciousness any number of
self-seeking motives which come to the surface disguised and compel
us to make impulsive and often foolish efforts to gain our own ends.
The self is every day proving to be the enemy of the man or woman
whom it possesses.
God leaves us free to obey Him or to choose our own selfish way, and
in His infinite Providence He is constantly showing us that our own
selfish way leads to death and obedience to Him leads to life. That
is, that only in obedience to Him do we find our real freedom. He is
constantly showering us with a tender generosity and kindness that
seems inconceivable, and sometimes it seems as if more often than
not we were refusing to see. Indeed we blind ourselves by making all
pains of body and faults of soul positive and our efforts against
If we had a disagreeable habit which we wanted to conquer and asked
a friend to remind us with a pinch every time he saw the habit,
wouldn't it seem very strange if when he pinched us, according to
agreement, we jumped and turned on him, rubbing our arm with
indignation that he should have pinched? Or would it not be even
funnier if we made the pinch merely a reminder to go on with the
The Lord is pinching us in that way all the time, and we respond by
being indignant at or complaining at our fate, or reply by going
more deeply into our weaknesses of character by allowing them to be
positive and the pinches only to emphasize them to us.
One trouble is that we do not recognize that there is an agreement
between us and the Lord, or that we recognize and then forget it;
and yet there should be--there is--more than an agreement, there is
a covenant. And the Lord is steadily, unswervingly doing His part,
and we are constantly failing in ours. The Lord in His loving
kindness pinches--that is, reminds us--and we in our stupid
selfishness do not use His reminders.
As an example of making our faults positive and our effort to
conquer them negative, one very common form is found in a woman I
know, who has times of informing her friends quite seriously and
with apparent regret of her very wrong attitudes of mind. She tells
how selfish she is and she gives examples of the absolute
selfishness of her thoughts when she is appearing to do unselfish
things. She tells of her efforts to do better and confesses what she
believes to be the absolute futility of her effort. At first I was
quite taken in by these confessions, and attracted by what seemed to
be a clear understanding of herself and her own motives, but after a
little longer acquaintance with her, made the discovery, which was
at first surprising to me, that her confessions of evil came just as
much from conceit as if she had been standing at the mirror admiring
her own beauty. Selfish satisfaction is often found quite as much in
mental attitudes of grief as in sensations of joy. Finally this
woman has recognized for herself the conceit in her contemplation of
her faults, and that she has not only allowed them to be positive
while her attitude against them is negative; she has actually nursed
them and been positive herself with their positiveness. Her attitude
against them was therefore more than ordinarily negative.
The more common way of being negative while we allow our various
forms of selfishness to positively govern us is, first in bewailing
a weakness seriously, but constantly looking at it and weeping over
it, and in that way suggesting it over and over to our brains so
that we are really hypnotizing ourselves with the fault and
enforcing its expression when we think we are in the effort to
conquer it. Such is our negative attitude.
Now if we are convinced that evil in ourselves has no power unless
we give it power, that is the first step toward making our efforts
positive and so negativing the evil. If we are convinced that evil
in ourselves has not only no power but no importance unless we give
it power, that is a step still farther in advance. The next step is
to refuse to submit to it and refuse to resist it. That means a
positive yielding away from it and a positive attention to doing our
work as well as we can do it, whatever that work may be.
There is one way in which people suffer intensely through being
negative and allowing their temptations to be positive, and that is
in the question of inherited evil. "How can I ever amount to
anything with such inheritances? If you could see my father and what
he is, and know that I am his daughter, you would easily appreciate
why I have no hope for myself," said a young woman, and she was
perfectly sincere in believing that because of her inherited
temptations her life must be worthless. It took time and gentle,
intelligent reasoning to convince her that not only are no inherited
forms of selfishness ours unless by indulging we make them ours, but
that. through knowing our inheritances, we are forewarned and
forearmed, and the strength we gain from positive effort to free
ourselves fully compensates us for what we have suffered in
oppression from them. Such is the loving kindness of our Creator.
This woman of whom I am writing awoke to the true meaning of the
story of the man who asked, before he went with the Lord Jesus
Christ, first to go back and bury his father. The Lord answered,
"Let the dead bury their dead, and come thou and follow me." When we
feel that we must be bound down by our inheritances, we are surely
not letting the dead bury their dead.
And so let us study the whole question more carefully and learn the
necessity of letting all that is sickness and all that is evil be
negative to us and our efforts to conquer it be positive; in that
way the illness and the evil become less than negative,--they
gradually are removed and disappear.
Why, in the mere matter of being tired, if we refuse to let the
impression of the fatigue be positive to us, and insist upon being
positive ourselves in giving attention to the fact that now we are
going to rest, we get rested in half the time,--in much less than
half the time. Some people carry chronic fatigue with them because
of their steady attention to fatigue.
"I am tired, yes, but _I am going to get rested!"_ That is the
sensible attitude of mind.
Nature tends toward health. As we realize that and give our
attention to it positively, we come to admire and love the healthy
working of the laws of nature, and to feel the vigor of interest in
trying to obey them intelligently. Nature's laws are God's laws, and
God's laws tend toward the health of the spirit in all matters of
the spirit as surely as they tend toward health of body in all
natural things. That is a truth that as we work to obey we grow to
see and to love with deepening reverence, and then indeed we find
that God's laws are all positive, and that the workings of self are
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