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Brain Impressions

Categories: Uncategorized
Sources: As A Matter Of Course

THE mere idea of a brain clear from false impressions gives a sense

of freedom which is refreshing.

In a comic journal, some years ago, there was a picture of a man in

a most self-important attitude, with two common mortals in the

background gazing at him. "What makes him stand like that?" said

one. "Because," answered the other, "that is his own idea of

himself." The truth suggested in that picture strik
s one aghast;

for in looking about us we see constant examples of attitudinizing

in one's own idea of one's self. There is sometimes a feeling of

fright as to whether I am not quite as abnormal in my idea of myself

as are those about me.

If one could only get the relief of acknowledging ignorance of one's

self, light would be welcome, however given. In seeing the truth of

an unkind criticism one could forget to resent the spirit; and what

an amount of nerve-friction might be saved! Imagine the surprise of

a man who, in return for a volley of abuse, should receive thanks

for light thrown upon a false attitude. Whatever we are enabled to

see, relieves us of one mistaken brain-impression, which we can

replace by something more agreeable. And if, in the excitement of

feeling, the mistake was exaggerated, what is that to us? All we

wanted was to see it in quality. As to degree, that lessens in

proportion as the quality is bettered. Fortunately, in living our

own idea of ourselves, it is only ourselves we deceive, with

possible exceptions in the case of friends who are so used to us, or

so over-fond of us, as to lose the perspective.

There is the idea of humility,--an obstinate belief that we know we

are nothing at all, and deserve no credit; which, literally

translated, means we know we are everything, and deserve every

credit. There is the idea, too, of immense dignity, of freedom from

all self-seeking and from all vanity. But it is idle to attempt to

catalogue these various forms of private theatricals; they are

constantly to be seen about us.

It is with surprise unbounded that one hears another calmly assert

that he is so-and-so or so-and-so, and in his next action, or next

hundred actions, sees that same assertion entirely contradicted.

Daily familiarity with the manifestations of mistaken brain-

impressions does not lessen one's surprise at this curious personal

contradiction; it gives one an increasing desire to look to one's

self, and see how far these private theatricals extend in one's own

case, and to throw off the disguise, as far as it is seen, with a

full acknowledgment that there may be--probably is--an abundance

more of which to rid one's self in future. There are many ways in

which true openness in life, one with another, would be of immense

service; and not the least of these is the ability gained to erase

false brain-impressions.

The self-condemnatory brain-impression is quite as pernicious as its

opposite. Singularly enough, it goes with it. One often finds

inordinate self-esteem combined with the most abject condemnation of

self. One can be played against the other as a counter-irritant;

but this only as a process of rousing, for the irritation of either

brings equal misery. I am not even sure that as a rousing process it

is ever really useful. To be clear of a mistaken brain-impression, a

man must recognize it himself; and this recognition can never be

brought about by an unasked attempt of help from another. It is

often cleared by help asked and given; and perhaps more often by

help which is quite involuntary and unconscious. One of the greatest

points in friendly diplomacy is to be open and absolutely frank so

far as we are asked, but never to go beyond. At least, in the

experience of many, that leads more surely to the point where no

diplomacy is needed, which is certainly the point to be aimed at in

friendship. It is trying to see a friend living his own idea of

himself, and to be obliged to wait until he has discovered that he

is only playing a part. But this very waiting may be of immense

assistance in reducing our own moral attitudinizing.

How often do we hear others or find ourselves complaining of a fault

over and over again! "I know that is a fault of mine, and has been

for years. I wish I could get over it." "I know that is a fault of

mine,"--one brain-impression; "it has been for years,"--a dozen or

more brain-impressions, according to the number of years; until we

have drilled the impression of that fault in, by emphasizing it over

and over, to an extent which daily increases the difficulty of

dropping it.

So, if we have the habit of unpunctuality, and emphasize it by

deploring it, it keeps us always behind time. If we are

sharp-tongued, and dwell with remorse on something said in the past,

it increases the tendency in the future.

The slavery to nerve habit is a well-known physiological fact; but

nerve habit may be strengthened negatively as well as positively.

When this is more widely recognized, and the negative practice

avoided, much will have been done towards freeing us from our

subservience to mistaken brain-impressions.

Let us take an instance: unpunctuality-for example, as that is a

common form of repetition. If we really want to rid ourselves of the

habit, suppose every time we are late we cease to deplore it; make a

vivid mental picture of ourselves as being on time at the next

appointment; then, with the how and the when clearly impressed upon

our minds, there should be an absolute refusal to imagine ourselves

anything but early. Surely that would be quite as effective as a

constant repetition of the regret we feel at being late, whether

this is repeated aloud to others, or only in our own minds. As we

place the two processes side by side, the latter certainly has the

advantage, and might be tried, until a better is found.

Of course we must beware of getting an impression of promptness

which has no ground in reality. It is quite possible for an

individual to be habitually and exasperatingly late, with all the

air and innocence of unusual punctuality.

It would strike us as absurd to see a man painting a house the color

he did not like, and go on painting it the same color, to show

others and himself that which he detested. Is it not equally absurd

for any of us, through the constant expression of regret for a

fault, to impress the tendency to it more and more upon the brain?

It is intensely sad when the consciousness of evil once committed

has so impressed a man with a sense of guilt as to make him steadily

undervalue himself and his own powers.

Here is a case where one's own idea of one's self is seventy-five

per cent below par; and a gentle and consistent encouragement in

raising that idea is most necessary before par is reached

And par, as I understand it, is simple freedom from any fixed idea

of one's self, either good or bad.

If fixed impressions of one's self are stones in the way, the same

certainly holds good with fixed impressions of others. Unpleasant

brain-impressions of others are great weights, and greater

impediments in the way of clearing our own brains. Suppose So-

and-so had such a fault yesterday; it does not follow that he has

not rid himself of at least part of it to-day. Why should we hold

the brain-impression of his mistake, so that every time we look at

him we make it stronger? He is not the gainer thereby, and we

certainly are the losers. Repeated brain-impressions of another's

faults prevent our discerning his virtues. We are constantly

attributing to him disagreeable motives, which arise solely from our

idea of him, and of which he is quite innocent. Not only so, but our

mistaken impressions increase his difficulty in rising to the best

of himself. For any one whose temperament is in the least sensitive

is oppressed by what he feels to be another's idea of him, until he

learns to clear himself of that as well as of other


It is not uncommon to hear one go over and over a supposed injury,

or even small annoyances from others, with the reiterated assertion

that he fervently desires to forget such injury or annoyances. This

fervent desire to forgive and forget expresses itself by a repeated

brain-impression of that which is to be forgiven; and if this is so

often repeated in words, how many times more must it be repeated

mentally! Thus, the brain-impression is increased until at last

forgetting seems out of the question. And forgiving is impossible

unless one can at the same time so entirely forget the ill-feeling

roused as to place it beyond recall.

Surely, if we realized the force and influence of unpleasant

brain-impressions, it would be a simple matter to relax and let them

escape, to be replaced by others that are only pleasant It cannot be

that we enjoy the discomfort of the disagreeable impressions.

And yet, so curiously perverted is human nature that we often hear a

revolting story told with the preface, "Oh, I can't bear to think of

it! "And the whole story is given, with a careful attention to

detail which is quite unnecessary, even if there were any reason for

telling the story at all, and generally concluded with a repetition

of the prefatory exclamation. How many pathetic sights are told of,

to no end but the repetition of an unpleasant brain-impression. How

many past experiences, past illnesses, are gone over and over, which

serve the same worse than useless purpose,--that of repeating and

emphasizing the brain-impression.

A little pain is made a big one by persistent dwelling upon it; what

might have been a short pain is sometimes lengthened for a lifetime.

Similarly, an old pain is brought back by recalling a


The law of association is well known. We all know how familiar

places and happenings will recall old feelings; we can realize this

at any time by mentally reviving the association. By dwelling on the

pain we had yesterday we are encouraging it to return to-morrow. By

emphasizing the impression of an annoyance of to-day we are making

it possible to suffer beyond expression from annoyances to come; and

the annoyances, the pains, the disagreeable feelings will find their

old brain-grooves with remarkable rapidity when given the ghost of a


I have known more than one case where a woman kept herself ill by

the constant repetition, to others and to herself, of a nervous

shock. A woman who had once been frightened by burglars refused to

sleep for fear of being awakened by more burglars, thus increasing

her impression of fear; and of course, if she slept at all, she was

liable at any time to wake with a nervous start. The process of

working herself into nervous prostration through this constant,

useless repetition was not slow.

The fixed impressions of preconceived ideas in any direction are

strangely in the way of real freedom. It is difficult to catch new

harmonies with old ones ringing in our ears; still more difficult

when we persist in listening at the same time to discords.

The experience of arguing with another whose preconceived idea is so

firmly fixed that the argument is nothing but a series of circles,

might be funny if it were not sad; and it often is funny, in spite

of the sadness.

Suppose we should insist upon retaining an unpleasant

brain-impression, only when and so long as it seemed necessary in

order to bring a remedy. That accomplished, suppose we dropped it on

the instant. Suppose, further, that we should continue this process,

and never allow ourselves to repeat a disagreeable brain-impression

aloud or mentally. Imagine the result. Nature abhors a vacuum;

something must come in place of the unpleasantness; therefore way is

made for feelings more comfortable to one's self and to others.

Bad feelings cause contraction, good ones expansion. Relax the

muscular contraction; take a long, free breath of fresh air, and

expansion follows as a matter of course. Drop the brain-contraction,

take a good inhalation of whatever pleasant feeling is nearest, and

the expansion is a necessary consequence.

As we expand mentally, disagreeable brain-impressions, that in

former contracted states were eclipsed by greater ones, will be

keenly felt, and dropped at once, for the mere relief thus obtained.

The healthier the brain, the more sensitive it is to false

impressions, and the more easily are they dropped.

One word by way of warning. We never can rid ourselves of an

uncomfortable brain-impression by saying, "I will try to think

something pleasant of that disagreeable man." The temptation, too,

is very common to say to ourselves clearly, "I will try to think

something pleasant," and then leave "of that disagreeable man" a

subtle feeling in the background. The feeling in the background,

however unconscious we may be of it, is a strong

brain-impression,--all the stronger because we fail to recognize

it,--and the result of our "something pleasant" is an insidious

complacency at our own magnanimous disposition. Thus we get the

disagreeable brain-impression of another, backed up by our agreeable

brain-impression of ourselves, both mistaken. Unless we keep a sharp

look-out, we may here get into a snarl from which extrication is

slow work. Neither is it possible to counteract an unpleasant

brain-impression by something pleasant but false. We must call a

spade a spade, but not consider it a component part of the man who

handles it, nor yet associate the man with the spade, or the spade

with the man. When we drop it, so long as we drop it for what it is

worth, which is nothing in the case of the spade in question, we

have dropped it entirely. If we try to improve our brain-impression

by insisting that a spade is something better and pleasanter, we are

transforming a disagreeable impression to a mongrel state which

again brings anything but a happy result.

Simply to refuse all unpleasant brain-impressions, with no effort or

desire to recast them into something that they are not, seems to be

the only clear process to freedom. Not only so, but whatever there

might have been pleasant in what seemed entirely unpleasant can more

truly return as we drop the unpleasantness completely. It is a good

thing that most of us can approach the freedom of such a change in

imagination before we reach it in reality. So we can learn more

rapidly not to hamper ourselves or others by retaining disagreeable

brain-impressions of the present, or by recalling others of the past.