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Nature's Teaching

Categories: Uncategorized
Sources: Power Through Repose

NATURE is not only our one guide in the matter of physical training,

she is the chief engineer who will keep us in order and control the

machine, if we aim to fulfil her conditions and shun every personal

interference with the wholesome working of her laws.

Here is where the exquisite sense of growing power comes. In

studying Nature, we not only realize the strength that comes from

following her lead, but
we discover her in ourselves gently moving

us onward.

We all believe we look to Nature, if we think at all; and it is a

surprise to find how mistaken we are. The time would not be wasted

if we whose duties do not lead us to any direct study of natural

life for personal reasons, would take fifteen minutes every day

simply to think of Nature and her methods of working, and to see at

the same time where, so far as we individually are concerned, we

constantly interfere with the best use of her powers. With all

reverence I say it, this should be the first form of prayer; and our

ability to pray sincerely to God and live in accordance with His

laws would grow in proportion to our power of sincere sympathy with

the workings of those laws in Nature.

Try to realize the quiet power of all natural growth and movement,

from a blade of grass, through a tree, a forest of trees, the entire

vegetable growth on the earth, the movement of the planets, to the

growth and involuntary vital operations of our own bodies.

No words can bring so full a realization of the quiet power in the

progress of Nature as will the simple process of following the

growth of a tree in imagination from the working of its sap in the

root up to the tips of the leaves, the blossoms, and the fruit. Or

beginning lower, follow the growth of a blade of grass or a flower,

then a tree, and so on to the movement of the earth, and then of all

the planets in the universe. Let your imagination picture so vividly

all natural movements, little by little, that you seem to be really

at one with each and all. Study the orderly working of your own

bodily functions; and having this clearly in mind, notice where you,

in all movements that are or might be under the control of your

will, are disobeying Nature's laws.

Nature shows us constantly that at the back of every action there

should be a great repose. This holds good from the minutest growth

to the most powerful tornado. It should be so with us not only in

the simple daily duties, but in all things up to the most intense

activity possible to man. And this study and realization of Nature's

method which I am pleading for brings a vivid sense of our own want

of repose. The compensation is fortunately great, or the

discouragement might be more than could be borne. We must appreciate

a need to have it supplied; we must see a mistake in order to shun


How can we expect repose of mind when we have not even repose of

muscle? When the most external of the machine is not at our command,

surely the spirit that animates the whole cannot find its highest

plane of action. Or how can we possibly expect to know the repose

that should be at our command for every emergency, or hope to

realize the great repose behind every action, when we have not even

learned the repose in rest?

Think of Nature's resting times, and see how painful would be the

result of a digression.

Our side of the earth never turns suddenly toward the sun at night,

giving us flashes of day in the darkness. When it is night, it is

night steadily, quietly, until the time comes for day. A tree in

winter, its time for rest, never starts out with a little bud here

and there, only to be frost bitten, and so when spring-time comes,

to result in an uneven looking, imperfectly developed tree. It rests

entirely in its time for rest; and when its time for blooming comes,

its action is full and true and perfect. The grass never pushes

itself up in little, untimely blades through the winter, thus

leaving our lawns and fields full of bare patches in the warmer

season. The flowers that close at night do not half close, folding

some petals and letting others stay wide open. Indeed, so perfectly

does Nature rest when it is her time for resting, that even the

suggestion of these abnormal actions seems absolutely ridiculous.

The less we allow ourselves to be controlled by Nature's laws, the

more we ignore their wonderful beauty; and yet there is that in us

which must constantly respond to Nature unconsciously, else how

could we at once feel the absurdity of any disobedience to her laws,

everywhere except with man? And man, who is not only free to obey,

but has exquisite and increasing power to realize and enjoy them in

all their fulness, lives so far out of harmony with these laws as

ever to be blind to his own steady disobedience.

Think of the perfect power for rest in all animals. Lift a cat when

she is quiet, and see how perfectly relaxed she is in every muscle.

That is not only the way she sleeps, but the way she rests; and no

matter how great or how rapid the activity, she drops all tension at

once when she stops. So it is with all animals, except in rare cases

where man has tampered with them in a way to interfere with the true

order of their lives.

Watch a healthy baby sleeping; lift its arm, its leg, or its head

carefully, and you will find each perfectly relaxed and free. You

can even hold it on your outspread hands, and the whole little

weight, full of life and gaining new power through the perfect rest,

will give itself entirely to your hands, without one particle of

tension. The sleep that we get in babyhood is the saving health of

many. But, alas! at a very early age useless tension begins, and

goes on increasing; and if it does not steadily lead to acute

"Americanitis," it prevents the perfect use of all our powers.

Mothers, watch your children with a care which will be all the more

effective because they will be unconscious of it; for a child's

attention should seldom be drawn to its own body. Lead them toward

the laws of Nature, that they may grow in harmony with them, and so

be saved the useless suffering, strain, and trouble that comes to us

Americans. If we do not take care, the children will more and more

inherit this fearful misuse of the nervous force, and the

inheritance will be so strong that at best we can have only little

invalids. How great the necessity seems for the effort to get back

into Nature's ways when we reflect upon the possibilities of a

continued disobedience!

To be sure, Nature has Repose itself and does not have to work for

it. Man is left free to take it or not as he chooses. But before he

is able to receive it he has personal tendencies to restlessness to

overcome. And more than that, there are the inherited nervous habits

of generations of ancestors to be recognized and shunned. But repose

is an inmost law of our being, and the quiet of Nature is at our

command much sooner than we realize, if we want it enough to work

for it steadily day by day. Nothing will increase our realization of

the need more than a little daily thought of the quiet in the

workings of Nature and the consequent appreciation of our own lack.

Ruskin tells the story with his own expressive power when he says,

"Are not the elements of ease on the face of all the greatest works

of creation? Do they not say, not there has been a great _effort

_here, but there has been a great power here?"

The greatest act, the only action which we know to be power in

itself, is the act of Creation. Behind that action there lies a

great Repose. We are part of Creation, we should be moved by its

laws. Let us shun everything we see to be in the way of our own best

power of action in muscle, nerve, senses, mind, and heart. Who knows

the new perception and strength, the increased power for use that is

open to us if we will but cease to be an obstruction?

Freedom within the limits of Nature's laws, and indeed there is no

freedom without those limits, is best studied and realized in the

growth of all plants,--in the openness of the branch of a vine to

receive the sap from the main stem, in the free circulation of the

sap in a tree and in all vegetable organisms.

Imagine the branch of a vine endowed with the power to grow

according to the laws which govern it, or to ignore and disobey

those laws. Imagine the same branch having made up its vegetable

mind that it could live its own life apart from the vine, twisting

its various fibres into all kinds of knots and snarls, according to

its own idea of living, so that the sap from the main stem could

only reach it in a minimum quantity. What a dearth of leaf, flower,

and fruit would appear in the branch! Yet the figure is perfectly

illustrative of the way in which most of us are interfering with the

best use of the life that is ours.

Freedom is obedience to law. A bridge can be built to stand, only in

obedience to the laws of mechanics. Electricity can be made a useful

power only in exact obedience to the laws that govern it, otherwise

it is most destructive. Has man the privilege of disobeying natural

laws, only in the use of his own individual powers? Clearly not. And

why is it that while recognizing and endeavoring to obey the laws of

physics, of mechanics, and all other laws of Nature in his work in

the world, he so generally defies the same laws in their application

to his own being?

The freedom of an animal's body in obeying the animal instincts is

beautiful to watch. The grace and power expressed in the freedom of

a tiger are wonderful. The freedom in the body of a baby to respond

to every motion and expression is exquisite to study. But before

most children have been in the world three years their inherited

personal contractions begin, and unless the little bodies can be

watched and trained out of each unnecessary contraction as it

appears, and so kept in their own freedom, there comes a time later,

when to live to the greatest power for use they must spend hours in

learning to be babies all over again, and then gain a new freedom

and natural movement.

The law which perhaps appeals to us most strongly when trying to

identify ourselves with Nature is the law of rhythm: action,

re-action; action, re-action; action, re-action,--and the two must

balance, so that equilibrium is always the result. There is no

similar thought that can give us keener pleasure than when we rouse

all our imagination, and realize all our power of identifying

ourselves with the workings of a great law, and follow this rhythmic

movement till we find rhythm within rhythm,--from the rhythmic

motion of the planets to the delicate vibrations of heat and light.

It is helpful to think of rhythmic growth and motion, and not to

allow the thought of a new rhythm to pass without identifying

ourselves with it as fully as our imagination will allow.

We have the rhythm of the seasons, of day and night, of the tides,

and of vegetable and animal life,--as the various rhythmic motions

in the flying of birds. The list will be endless, of course, for the

great law rules everything in Nature, and our appreciation of it

grows as we identify ourselves with its various modes of action.

One hair's variation in the rhythm of the universe would bring

destruction, and yet we little individual microcosms are knocking

ourselves into chronic states of chaos because we feel that we can

be gods, and direct our own lives so much better than the God who

made us. We are left in freedom to go according to His laws, or

against them; and we are generally so convinced that our own stupid,

short-sighted way is the best, that it is only because Nature

tenderly holds to some parts of us and keeps them in the rhythm,

that we do not hurl ourselves to pieces. _This law of rhythm--or of

equilibrium in motion and in rest--is the end, aim, and effect of

all true physical training for the development and guidance of the

body._ Its ruling power is proved in the very construction of the

body,--the two sides; the circulation of the blood, veins and

arteries; the muscles, extensor and flexor; the nerves, sensory and


When the long rest of a body balances the long activity, in day and

night; when the shorter rests balance the shorter activity, as in

the various opportunities offered through the day for entire rest,

if only a minute at a time; when the sensory and motor nerves are

clear for impression and expression; when the muscles in parts of

the body not needed are entirely quiet, allowing those needed for a

certain action to do their perfect work; when the co-ordination of

the muscles in use is so established that the force for a movement

is evenly divided; when the flexor rests while its antagonizing

muscle works, and _vice versa,--_ when all this which is merely a

_natural power for action and rest _is automatically established,

then the body is ready to obey and will obey the lightest touch of

its owner, going in whatever direction it may be sent, artistic,

scientific, or domestic. As this exquisite sense of ease in a

natural movement grows upon us, no one can describe the feeling of

new power or of positive comfort which comes with it; and yet it is

no miracle, it is only natural. The beasts have the same freedom;

but they have not the mind to put it to higher uses, or the sense to

enjoy its exquisite power.

Often it seems that the care and trouble to get back into Nature's

way is more than compensated for in the new appreciation of her laws

and their uses. But the body, after all, is merely a servant; and,

however perfect its training may have been, if the man, the master,

puts his natural power to mean or low uses, sooner or later the

power will be lost. Self-conscious pride will establish its own

contractions. The use of a natural power for evil ends will limit

itself sooner or later. The love for unwholesome surroundings will

eventually put a check on a perfectly free body, although sometimes

the wonder is that the check is so long in coming. If we have once

trained ourselves into natural ways, so akin are the laws of Nature

and spirit, both must be obeyed; and to rise to our greatest power

means always to rise to our greatest power for use. "A man's life is

God's love for the use for which he was made;" a man's power lies in

the best direction of that use. This is a truth as practical as the

necessity for walking on the feet with the head up.