Sources: Nerves And Common Sense
A WOMAN can feel rushed when she is sitting perfectly still and has
really nothing whatever to do. A woman can feel at leisure when she
is working diligently at something, with a hundred other things
waiting to be done when the time comes. It is not all we have to do
that gives us the rushed feeling; it is the way we do what is before
us. It is the attitude we take toward our work.
Now this rushed feeling in the brain and nerves is intensely
oppressive. Many women, and men too, suffer from it keenly, and they
suffer the more because they do not recognize that that feeling of
rush is really entirely distinct from what they have to do; in truth
it has nothing whatever to do with it.
I have seen a woman suffer painfully with the sense of being pushed
for time when she had only two things to do in the whole day, and
those two things at most need not take more than an hour each. This
same woman was always crying for rest. I never knew, before I saw
her, that women could get just as abnormal in their efforts to rest
as in their insistence upon overwork. This little lady never rested
when she went to rest; she would lie on the bed for hours in a state
of strain about resting that was enough to tire any ordinarily
healthy woman. One friend used to tell her that she was an inebriate
on resting. It is perhaps needless to say that she was a nervous
invalid, and in the process of gaining her health she had to be set
to work and kept at work. Many and many a time she has cried and
begged for rest when it was not rest she needed at all: it was work.
She has started off to some good, healthy work crying and sobbing at
the cruelty that made her go, and has returned from the work as
happy and healthy, apparently, as a little child. Then she could go
to rest and rest to some purpose. She had been busy in wholesome
action and the normal reaction came in her rest. As she grew more
naturally interested in her work she rested less and less, and she
rested better and better because she had something to rest from and
something to rest for.
Now she does only a normal amount of resting, but gets new life from
every moment of rest she takes; before, all her rest only made her
want more rest and kept her always in the strain of fatigue. And
what might seem to many a very curious result is that as the
abnormal desire for rest disappeared the rushed feeling disappeared,
There is no one thing that American women need more than a healthy
habit of rest, but it has got to be real rest, not strained nor
Another example of this effort at rest which is a sham and a strain
is the woman who insists upon taking a certain time every day in
which to rest. She insists upon doing everything quietly and
with--as she thinks--a sense of leisure, and yet she keeps the whole
household in a sense of turmoil and does not know it. She sits
complacently in her pose of prompt action, quietness and rest, and
has a tornado all about her. She is so deluded in her own idea of
herself that she does not observe the tornado, and yet she has
caused it. Everybody in her household is tired out with her demands,
and she herself is ill, chronically ill. But she thinks she is at
peace, and she is annoyed that others should be tired.
If this woman could open and let out her own interior tornado, which
she has kept frozen in there by her false attitude of restful quiet,
she would be more ill for a time, but it might open her eyes to the
true state of things and enable her to rest to some purpose and to
allow her household to rest, too.
It seems, at first thought, strange that in this country, when the
right habit of rest is so greatly needed, that the strain of rest
should have become in late years one of the greatest defects. On
second thought, however, we see that it is a perfectly rational
result. We have strained to work and strained to play and strained
to live for so long that when the need for rest gets so imperative
that we feel we must rest the habit of strain is so upon us that we
strain to rest. And what does such "rest" amount to? What strength
does it bring us? What enlightenment do we get from it?
With the little lady of whom I first spoke rest was a
steadily-weakening process. She was resting her body straight toward
its grave. When a body rests and rests the circulation gets more and
more sluggish until it breeds disease in the weakest organ, and then
the physicians seem inclined to give their attention to the disease,
and not to the cause of the abnormal strain which was behind the
disease. Again, as we have seen, the abnormal, rushed feeling can
exist just as painfully with too much and the wrong kind of rest as
with too much work and the wrong way of working.
We have been, as a nation, inclined toward "Americanitis" for so
long now that children and children's children have inherited a
sense of rush, and they suffer intensely from it with a perfectly
clear understanding of the fact that they have nothing whatever to
hurry about. This is quite as true of men as it is of women. In such
cases the first care should be not to fasten this sense of rush on
to anything; the second care should be to go to work to cure it, to
relax out of that contraction--just as you would work to cure
twitching St. Vitus's dance, or any other nervous habit.
Many women will get up and dress in the morning as if they had to
catch a train, and they will come in to breakfast as if it were a
steamer for the other side of the world that they had to get, and no
other steamer went for six months. They do not know that they are in
a rush and a hurry, and they do not find it out until the strain has
been on them for so long that they get nervously ill from it--and
then they find themselves suffering from "that rushed feeling."
Watch some women in an argument pushing, actually rushing, to prove
themselves right; they will hardly let their opponent have an
opportunity to speak, much less will they stop to consider what he
says and see if by chance he may not be right and they wrong.
The rushing habit is not by any means in the fact of doing many
things. It asserts itself in our brains in talking, in writing, in
thinking. How many of us, I wonder, have what might be called a
quiet working brain? Most of us do not even know the standard of a
brain that thinks and talks and lives quietly: a brain that never
pushes and never rushes, or, if by any chance it is led into pushing
or rushing, is so wholesomely sensitive that it drops the push or
the rush as a bare hand would drop a red-hot coal.
None of us can appreciate the weakening power of this strained habit
of rush until we have, by the use of our own wills, directed our
minds toward finding a normal habit of quiet, and yet I do not in
the least exaggerate when I say that its weakening effect on the
brain and nerves is frightful.
And again I repeat, the rushed feeling has nothing whatever to do
with the work before us. A woman can feel quite as rushed when she
has nothing to do as when she is extremely busy.
"But," some one says, "may I not feel pressed for time when I have
more to do than I can possibly put into the time before me ?"
Oh, yes, yes--you can feel normally pressed for time; and because of
this pressure you can arrange in your mind what best to leave
undone, and so relieve the pressure. If one thing seems as important
to do as another you can make up your mind that of course you can
only do what you have time for, and the remainder must go. You
cannot do what you have time to do so well if you are worrying about
what you have no time for. There need be no abnormal sense of rush
Just as Nature tends toward health, Nature tends toward rest--toward
the right kind of rest; and if we have lost the true knack of
resting we can just as surely find it as a sunflower can find the
sun. It is not something artificial that we are trying to learn--it
is something natural and alive, something that belongs to us, and
our own best instinct will come to our aid in finding it if we will
only first turn our attention toward finding our own best instinct.
We must have something to rest from, and we must have something to
rest for, if we want to find the real power of rest. Then we must
learn to let go of our nerves and our muscles, to leave everything
in our bodies open and passive so that our circulation can have its
own best way. But we must have had some activity in order to have
given our circulation a fair start before we can expect it to do its
best when we are passive.
Then, what is most important, we must learn to drop all effort of
our minds if we want to know how to rest; and that is difficult. We
can do it best by keeping our minds concentrated on something simple
and quiet and wholesome. For instance, you feel tired and rushed and
you can have half an hour in which to rest and get rid of the rush.
Suppose you lie down on the bed and imagine yourself a turbulent
lake after a storm. The storm is dying down, dying down, until by
and by there is no wind, only little dashing waves that the wind has
left. Then the waves quiet down steadily, more and more, until
finally they are only ripples on the water. Then no ripples, but the
water is as still as glass. The sun goes down. The sky glows.
Twilight comes. One star appears, and green banks and trees and sky
and stars are all reflected in the quiet mirror of the lake, and you
are the lake, and you are quiet and refreshed and rested and ready
to get up and go on with your work--to go on with it, too, better
and more quietly than when you left it.
Or, another way to quiet your mind and to let your imagination help
you to a better rest is to float on the top of a turbulent sea and
then to sink down, down, down until you get into the still water at
the bottom of the sea. We all know that, no matter how furious the
sea is on the surface, not far below the surface it is absolutely
still. It is very restful to go down there in imagination.
Whatever choice we may make to quiet our minds and our bodies, as
soon as we begin to concentrate we must not be surprised if
intruding thoughts are at first constantly crowding to get in. We
must simply let them come. Let them come, and pay no attention to
I knew of a woman who was nervously ill, and some organs of her body
were weakened very much by the illness. She made-up her mind to rest
herself well and she did so. Every day she would rest for three
hours; she said to herself, "I will rest an hour on my left side, an
hour on my right side, and an hour on my back." And she did that for
days and days. When she lay on one side she had a very attractive
tree to look at. When she lay on the other she had an interesting
picture before her. When she lay on her back she had the sky and
several trees to see through a window in front of the bed. She grew
steadily better every week--she had something to rest for. She was
resting to get well. If she had rested and complained of her illness
I doubt if she would have been well to-day. She simply refused to
take the unpleasant sensations into consideration except for the
sake of resting out of them. When she was well enough to take a
little active exercise she knew she could rest better and get well
faster for that, and she insisted upon taking the exercise, although
at first she had to do it with the greatest care. Now that this
woman is well she knows how to rest and she knows how to work better
than ever before.
For normal rest we need the long sleep of night. For shorter rests
which we may take during the day, often opportunity comes at most
unexpected times and in most unexpected ways, and we must be ready
to take advantage of it. We need also the habit of working
restfully. This habit of course enables us to rest truly when we are
only resting, and again the habit of resting normally helps us to
A wise old lady said: "My dear, you cannot exaggerate the
unimportance of things." She expressed even more, perhaps, than she
It is our habit of exaggerating the importance of things that keeps
us hurried and rushed. It is our habit of exaggerating the
importance of ourselves that makes us hold the strain of life so
intensely. If we would be content to do one thing at a time, and
concentrate on that one thing until it came time to do the next
thing, it would astonish us to see how much we should accomplish. A
healthy concentration is at the root of working restfully and of
resting restfully, for a healthy concentration means dropping
everything that interferes.
I know there are women who read this article who will say; "Oh, yes,
that is all very well for some women, but it does not apply in the
least to a woman who has my responsibilities, or to a woman who has
to work as I have to work."
My answer to that is: "Dear lady, you are the very one to whom it
The more work we have to do, the harder our lives are, the more we
need the best possible principles to lighten our work and to
enlighten our lives. We are here in the world at school and we do
not want to stay in the primary classes.
The harder our lives are and the more we are handicapped the more
truly we can learn to make every limitation an opportunity--and if
we persistently do that through circumstances, no matter how severe,
the nearer we are to getting our diploma. To gain our freedom from
the rushed feeling, to find a quiet mind in place of an unquiet one,
is worth working hard for through any number of difficulties. And
think of the benefit such a quiet mind could be to other people!
Especially if the quiet mind were the mind of a woman, for, at the
present day, think what a contrast she would be to other women!
When a woman's mind is turbulent it is the worst kind of turbulence.
When it is quiet we can almost say it is the best kind of quiet,