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The Use Of The Brain
Source: Power Through Repose
LET us now consider instances where the brain alone is used, and the
other parts of the body have nothing to do but keep quiet and let
the brain do its work. Take thinking, for instance. Most of us think
with the throat so contracted that it is surprising there is room
enough to let the breath through, the tongue held firmly, and the
jaw muscles set as if suffering from an acute attack of lockjaw.
Each has his own favorite tension in the act of meditation, although
we are most generous in the force given to the jaw and throat. The
same superfluous tension may be observed in one engaged in silent
reading; and the force of the strain increases in proportion to the
interest or profundity of the matter read. It is certainly clear,
without a knowledge of anatomy or physiology, that for pure,
unadulterated thinking, only the brain is needed; and if vital force
is given to other parts of the body to hold them in unnatural
contraction; we not only expend it extravagantly, but we rob the
brain of its own. When, for purely mental work, all the activity is
given to the brain, and the body left free and passive, the
concentration is better, conclusions are reached with more
satisfaction, and the reaction, after the work is over, is healthy
This whole machine can be understood perhaps more clearly by
comparing it to a community of people. In any community,--Church,
State, institution, or household,--just so far as each member minds
his own business, does his own individual work for himself and for
those about him, and does not officiously interfere with the
business of others, the community is quiet, orderly, and successful.
Imagine the state of a deliberative assembly during the delivery of
a speech, if half-a-dozen of the listeners were to attempt to help
the speaker by rising and talking at the same time; and yet this is
the absurd action of the human body when a dozen or more parts, that
are not needed, contract "in sympathy" with those that have the work
to do. It is an unnecessary brace that means loss of power and
useless fatigue. One would think that the human machine having only
one mind, and the community many thousands, the former would be in a
more orderly state than the latter.
In listening attentively, only the brain and ears are needed; but
watch the individuals at an entertaining lecture, or in church with
a stirring preacher. They are listening with their spines, their
shoulders, the muscles of their faces. I do not refer to the look of
interest and attention, or to any of the various expressions which
are the natural and true reflection of the state of the mind, but to
the strained attention which draws the facial muscles, not at all in
sympathy with the speaker, but as a consequence of the tense nerves
and contracted muscles of the listener. "I do not understand why I
have this peculiar sort of asthma every Sunday afternoon," a lady
said to me. She was in the habit of hearing, Sunday morning, a
preacher, exceedingly interesting, but with a very rapid utterance,
and whose mind travelled so fast that the words embodying his
thoughts often tumbled over one another. She listened with all her
nerves, as well as with those needed, held her breath when he
stumbled, to assist him in finding his verbal legs, reflected every
action with twice the force the preacher himself gave,--and then
wondered why on Sunday afternoon, and at no other time, she had this
nervous catching of the breath. She saw as soon as her attention was
drawn to the general principles of Nature, how she had disobeyed
this one, and why she had trouble on Sunday afternoon. This case is
very amusing, even laughable, but it is a fair example of many
similar nervous attacks, greater or less; and how easy it is to see
that a whole series of these, day after day, doing their work
unconsciously to the victim, will sooner or later bring some form of
The same attitudes and the same effects often attend listening to
music. It is a common experience to be completely fagged after two
hours of delightful music. There is no exaggeration in saying that
we should be _rested_ after a good concert, if it is not too long.
And yet so upside-down are we in our ways of living, and, through
the mistakes of our ancestors, so accustomed have we become to
disobeying Nature's laws, that the general impression seems to be
that music cannot be fully enjoyed without a strained attitude of
mind and body; whereas, in reality, it is much more exquisitely
appreciated and enjoyed in Nature's way. If the nerves are perfectly
free, they will catch the rhythm of the music, and so be helped back
to the true rhythm of Nature, they will respond to the harmony and
melody with all the vibratory power that God gave them, and how can
the result be anything else than rest and refreshment,--unless
having allowed them to vibrate in one direction too long, we have
disobeyed a law in another way.
Our bodies cannot by any possibility be _free,_ so long as they are
strained by our own personal effort. So long as our nervous force is
misdirected in personal strain, we can no more give full and
responsive attention to the music, than a piano can sound the
harmonies of a sonata if some one is drawing his hands at the same
time backwards and forwards over the strings. But, alas! a
contracted personality is so much the order of the day that many of
us carry the chronic contractions of years constantly with us, and
can no more free ourselves for a concert at a day's or a week's
notice, than we can gain freedom to receive all the grand universal
truths that are so steadily helpful. It is only by daily patience
and thought and care that we can cease to be an obstruction to the
best power for giving and receiving.
There are, scattered here and there, people who have not lost the
natural way of listening to music,--people who are musicians through
and through so that the moment they hear a fine strain they are one
with it. Singularly enough the majority of these are fine animals,
most perfectly and normally developed in their senses. When the
intellect begins to assert itself to any extent, then the nervous
strain comes. So noticeable is this, in many cases, that nervous
excitement seems often to be from misdirected intellect; and people
under the control of their misdirected nervous force often appear
wanting in quick intellectual power,--illustrating the law that a
stream spreading in all directions over a meadow loses the force
that the same amount of water would have if concentrated and flowing
in one channel. There are also many cases where the strained nerves
bring an abnormal intellectual action. Fortunately for the saving of
the nation, there are people who from a physical standpoint live
naturally. These are refreshing to see; but they are apt to take
life too easily, to have no right care or thought, and to be
Another way in which the brain is constantly used is through the
eyes. What deadly fatigue comes from time spent in picture
galleries! There the strain is necessarily greater than in
listening, because all the pictures and all the colors are before us
at once, with no appreciable interval between forms and subjects
that differ widely. But as the strain is greater, so should the care
to relieve it increase. We should not go out too far to meet the
pictures, but be quiet, and let the pictures come to us. The fatigue
can be prevented if we know when to stop, and pleasure at the time
and in the memory afterwards will be surprisingly increased. So is
it in watching a landscape from the car window, and in all interests
which come from looking. I am not for one instant condemning the
_natural_ expression of pleasure, neither do I mean that there
should be any apparent nonchalance or want of interest; on the
contrary, the real interest and its true expression increase as we
learn to shun the shams.
But will not the discovery of all this superfluous tension make one
self-conscious? Certainly it will for a time, and it must do so. You
must be conscious of a smooch on your face in order to wash it off,
and when the face is clean you think no more of it. So you must see
an evil before you can shun it. All these physical evils you must be
vividly conscious of, and when you are so annoyed as to feel the
necessity of moving from under them self-consciousness decreases in
equal ratio with the success of your efforts.
Whenever the brain alone is used in thinking, or in receiving and
taking note of impressions through either of the senses, new power
comes as we gain freedom from all misdirected force, and with
muscles in repose leave the brain to quietly do its work without
useless strain of any kind. It is of course evident that this
freedom cannot be gained without, first, a consciousness of its
necessity. The perfect freedom, however, when reached, means freedom
from self-consciousness as well as from the strain which made
self-consciousness for a time essential.
Next: The Brain In Its Direction Of The Body
Previous: Other Forms Of Rest