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Mind Training

Categories: Uncategorized
Sources: Power Through Repose

IT will be plainly seen that this training of the body is at the

same time a training of the mind, and indeed it is in essence a

training of the will. For as we think of it carefully and analyze it

to its fundamental principles, we realize that it might almost be

summed up as in itself a training of the will alone. That is

certainly what it leads to, and where it leads from.

Maudsley tells us that "he who
is incapable of guiding his muscles,

is incapable of concentrating his mind;" and it would seem to

follow, by a natural sequence, that training for the best use of all

the powers given us should begin with the muscles, and continue

through the nerves and the senses to the mind,--all by means of the

will, which should gradually remove all personal contractions and

obstructions to the wholesome working of the law of cause and


Help a child to use his own ability of gaining free muscles, nerves

clear to take impressions through every sense, a mind open to

recognize them, and a will alive with interest in and love for

finding the best in each new sensation or truth, and what can he not

reach in power of use to others and in his own growth.

The consistency of creation is perfect. The law that applies to the

guidance of the muscles works just as truly in training the senses

and the mind.

A new movement can be learned with facility in proportion to the

power of dropping at the time all impressions of previous movements.

Quickness and keenness of sense are gained only in proportion to the

power of quieting the senses not in use, and erasing previous

impressions upon the sense which is active at the time.

True concentration of mind means the ability to drop every subject

but that centred upon. Tell one man to concentrate his mind on a

difficult problem until he has worked it out,--he will clinch his

fists, tighten his throat, hold his teeth hard together, and

contract nobody knows how many more muscles in his body, burning and

wasting fuel in a hundred or more places where it should be saved.

This is _not_ concentration. Concentration means the focussing of a

force; and when the mathematical faculty of the brain alone should

be at work, the force is not focussed if it is at the same time

flying over all other parts of the body in useless strain of

innumerable muscles. Tell another man, one who works naturally, to

solve the same problem,--he will instinctively and at once "erase

all previous impressions" in muscle and nerve, and with a quiet,

earnest expression, not a face knotted with useless strain, will

concentrate upon his work. The result, so far as the problem itself

is concerned, may be the same in both cases; but the result upon the

physique of the men who have undertaken the work will be vastly


It will be insisted upon by many, and, strange as it may seem, by

many who have a large share of good sense, that they can work better

with this extra tension. "For," the explanation is, "it is natural

to me." That may be, but it is not natural to Nature; and however

difficult it may be at first to drop our own way and adopt Nature's,

the proportionate gain is very great in the end.

Normal exercise often stimulates the brain, and by promoting more

vigorous circulation, and so greater physical activity all over the

body, helps the brain to work more easily. Therefore some men can

think better while walking.

This is quite unlike the superfluous strain of nervous motion,

which, however it may seem to help at the time, eventually and

steadily lessens mental power instead of increasing it. The

distinction between motion which wholesomely increases the brain

activity and that which is simply unnecessary tension, is not

difficult to discern when our eyes are well opened to superfluous

effort. This misdirected force seems to be the secret of much of the

overwork in schools, and the consequent physical break-down of

school children, especially girls. It is not that they have too much

to do, it is that they do not know how to study naturally, and with

the real concentration which learns the lesson most quickly, most

surely, and with the least amount of effort. They study a lesson

with all the muscles of the body when only the brain is needed, with

a running accompaniment of worry for fear it will not be learned.

Girls can be, have been, trained out of worrying about their

lessons. Nervous strain is often extreme in students, from

lesson-worry alone; and indeed in many cases it is the worry that

tires and brings illness, and not the study. Worry is brain tension.

It is partly a vague, unformed sense that work is not being done in

the best way which makes the pressure more than it need be; and

instead of quietly studying to work to better advantage, the worrier

allows herself to get more and more oppressed by her anxieties,--as

we have seen a child grow cross over a snarl of twine which, with

very little patience, might be easily unravelled, but in which, in

the child's nervous annoyance, every knot is pulled tighter. Perhaps

we ought hardly to expect as much from the worried student as from

the child, because the ideas of how to study arc so vague that they

seldom bring a realization of the fact that there might be an

improvement in the way of studying.

This possible improvement may be easily shown. I have taken a girl

inclined to the mistaken way of working, asked her to lie on the

floor where she could give up entirely to the force of

gravity,--then after helping her to a certain amount of passivity,

so that at least she looked quiet, have asked her to give me a list

of her lessons. Before opening her mouth to answer, she moved in

little nervous twitches, apparently every muscle in her body, from

head to foot. I stopped her, took time to bring her again to a quiet

state, and then repeated the question. Again the nervous movement

began, but this time the child exclaimed, "Why, isn't it funny? I

cannot think without moving all over!" Here was the Rubicon crossed.

She had become alive to her own superfluous tension; and after that

to train her not only to think without moving all over, but to

answer questions easily and quietly and so with more expression, and

then to study with greatly decreased effort, was a very pleasant


Every boy and girl should have this training to a greater or less

degree. It is a steady, regular process, and should be so taken. We

have come through too many generations of misused force to get back

into a natural use of our powers in any rapid way; it must come step

by step, as a man is trained to use a complicated machine. It seems

hardly fair to compare such training to the use. of a machine,--it

opens to us such extensive and unlimited power. We can only make the

comparison with regard to the first process of development.

A training for concentration of mind should begin with the muscles.

First, learn to withdraw the will from the muscles entirely. Learn,

next, to direct the will over the muscles of one arm while the rest

of the body is perfectly free and relaxed,--first, by stretching the

arm slowly and steadily, and then allowing it to relax; next, by

clinching the fist and drawing the arm up with all the force

possible until the elbow is entirely bent. There is not one person

in ten, hardly one in a hundred, who can command his muscles to that

slight extent. At first some one must lift the arm that should be

free, and drop it several times while the muscles of the other arm

are contracting; that will make the unnecessary tension evident.

There are also ways by which the free arm can be tested without the

help of a second person.

The power of directing the will over various muscles that should be

independent, without the so-called sympathetic contraction of other

muscles, should be gained all over the body. This is the beginning

of concentration in a true sense of the word. The necessity for

returning to an absolute freedom of body before directing the will

to any new part cannot be too often impressed upon the mind. Having

once "sensed" a free body--so to speak--we are not masters until we

gain the power to return to it at a moment's notice. In a second we

can "erase previous impressions" for the time; and that is the

foundation, the rock, upon which our house is built.

Then follows the process of learning to think and to speak in

freedom. First, as to useless muscular contractions. Watch children

work their hands when reciting in class. Tell them to stop, and the

poor things will, with great effort, hold their hands rigidly still,

and suffer from the discomfort and strain of doing so. Help them to

freedom of body, then to the sense that the working of their hands

is not really needed, and they will learn to recite with a feeling

of freedom which is better than they can understand. Sometimes a

child must be put on the floor to learn to think quietly and

directly, and to follow the same directions in this manner of

answering. It would be better if this could always be done with

thoughtful care and watching; but as this would be inappropriate

with large classes, there are quieting and relaxing exercises to be

practised sitting and standing, which will bring children to a

normal freedom, and help them to drop muscular contractions which

interfere with ease and control of thought and expression. Pictures

can be described,--scenes from Shakespeare, for instance,--in the

child's own words, while making quiet motions. Such exercise

increases the sensitiveness to muscular contraction, and unnecessary

muscular contraction, beside something to avoid in itself, obviously

makes thought _indirect._ A child must think quietly, to express his

thought quietly and directly. This exercise, of course, also

cultivates the imagination.

In all this work, as clear channels are opened for impression and

expression, the faculties themselves naturally have a freer growth.

The process of quiet thought and expression must be trained in all

phases,--from the slow description of something seen or imagined or

remembered, to the quick and correct answer required to an example

in mental arithmetic, or any other rapid thinking. This, of course,

means a growth in power of attention,--attention which is real

concentration, not the strained attention habitual to most of us,

and which being abnormal in itself causes abnormal reaction. And

this natural attention is learned in the use of each separate

sense,--to see, to hear, to taste, to smell, to touch with quick and

exact impression and immediate expression, if required, and a in

obedience to the natural law of the conservation of human energy.

With the power of studying freely, comes that of dropping a lesson

when it is once well learned, and finding it ready when needed for

recitation or for any other use. The temptation to take our work

into our play is very great, and often cannot be overcome until we

have learned how to "erase all previous impressions." The

concentration which enables us all through life to be intent upon

the one thing we are doing, whether it is tennis or trigonometry,

and drop what we have in hand at once and entirely at the right

time, free to give out attention fully to the next duty or pleasure,

is our saving health in mind and body. The trouble is we are afraid.

We have no trust. A child is afraid to stop thinking of a lesson

after it is learned,--afraid he will forget it. When he has once

been persuaded to drop it, the surprise when he takes it up again,

to find it more clearly impressed upon his mind, is delightful. One

must trust to the digestion of a lesson, as to that of a good

wholesome dinner. Worry and anxiety interfere with the one as much

as with the other. If you can drop a muscle when you have ceased

using it, that leads to the power of dropping a subject in mind; as

the muscle is fresher for use when you need it, so the subject seems

to have grown in you, and your grasp seems to be stronger when you

recur to it.

The law of rhythm must be carefully followed in this training for

the use of the mind. Do not study too long at a time. It makes a

natural reaction impossible. Arrange the work so that lessons as far

unlike as possible may be studied in immediate succession. We help

to the healthy reaction of one faculty, by exercising another that

is quite different.

This principle should be inculcated in classes, and for that purpose

a regular programme of class work should be followed, calculated to

bring about the best results in all branches of study.

The first care should be to gain quiet, as through repose of mind

and body we cultivate the power to "erase all previous impressions."

In class, quiet, rhythmic breathing, with closed eyes, is most

helpful for a beginning. The eyes must be closed and opened slowly

and gently, not snapped together or apart; and fifty breaths, a

little longer than they would naturally be, are enough to quiet a

class. The breaths must be counted, to keep the mind from wandering,

and the faces must be watched very carefully, for the expression

often shows anything but quiet. For this reason it is necessary, in

initiating a class, to begin with simple relaxing motions; later

these motions will follow the breathing. Then follow exercises for

directing the muscles. The force is directed into one arm with the

rest of the body free, and so in various simple exercises the power

of directing the will only to the muscles needed is cultivated.

After the muscle-work, the pupils are asked to centre their minds

for a minute on one subject,--the subject to be chosen by some

member, with slight help to lead the choice to something that will

be suggestive for a minute's thinking. At first it seems impossible

to hold one subject in mind for a minute; but the power grows

rapidly as we learn the natural way of concentrating, and instead of

trying to hold on to our subject, allow the subject to hold us by

refusing entrance to every other thought. In the latter case one

suggestion follows another with an ease and pleasantness which

reminds one of walking through new paths and seeing on every side

something fresh and unexpected. Then the class is asked to think of

a list of flowers, trees, countries, authors, painters, or whatever

may be suggested, and see who can think of the greatest number in

one minute. At first, the mind will trip and creak and hesitate over

the work, but with practice the list comes steadily and easily. Then

follow exercises for quickness and exactness of sight, then for

hearing, and finally for the memory. All through this process, by

constant help and suggestion, the pupils are brought to the natural

concentration. With regard to the memory, especial care should be

taken, for the harm done by a mechanical training of the memory can

hardly be computed. Repose and the consequent freedom of body and

mind lead to an opening of all the faculties for better use; if that

is so, a teacher must be more than ever alive to lead pupils to the

spirit of all they are to learn, and make the letter in every sense

suggestive of the spirit. First, care should be taken to give

something worth memorizing; secondly, ideas must be memorized before

the words. A word is a symbol, and in so far as we have the habit of

regarding it as such, will each word we hear be more and more

suggestive to us. With this habit well cultivated, one sees more in

a single glance at a poem than many could see in several readings.

Yet the reader who sees the most may be unable to repeat the poem

word for word. In cultivating the memory, the training should be

first for the attention, then for the imagination and the power of

suggestive thought; and from the opening of these faculties a true

memory will grow. The mechanical power of repeating after once

hearing so many words is a thing in itself to be dreaded. Let the

pupil first see in mind a series of pictures as the poem or page is

read, then describe them in his own words, and if the words of the

author are well worth remembering the pupil should be led to them

from the ideas. In the same way a series of interesting or helpful

thoughts can be learned.

Avoidance of mere mechanism cannot be too strongly insisted upon;

for exercise for attaining a wholesome, natural guidance of mind and

body cannot be successful unless it rouses in the mind an

appreciation of the laws of Nature which we are bound to obey. A

conscious experience of the results of such obedience is essential

to growth.