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Categories: Uncategorized
Sources: The Freedom Of Life

SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS may be truly defined as a person's inability to

get out of his own way. There are, however, some people who are so

entirely and absolutely self-conscious that everything they do, even

though it may appear spontaneous and ingenuous, is observed and

admired and approved of by themselves,--indeed they are supported

and sustained by their self-consciousness. They are so completely in

bondage to themselve
that they have no glimpse of the possibility

of freedom, and therefore this bondage is pleasant to them.

With these people we have, at present, nothing to do; it is only

those who have begun to realize their bondage as such, or who suffer

from it, that can take any steps toward freedom. The self-satisfied

slaves must stay in prison until they see where they are--and it is

curious and sad to see them rejoicing in bondage and miscalling it

freedom. It makes one long to see them struck by an emergency,

bringing a flash of inner light which is often the beginning of an

entire change of state. Sometimes the enlightenment comes through

one kind of circumstance, sometimes through another; but, if the

glimpse of clearer sight it brings is taken advantage of, it will be

followed by a time of groping in the dark, and always by more or

less suffering. When, however, we know that we are in the dark,

there is hope of our coming to the light; and suffering is nothing

whatever after it is over and has brought its good results.

If we were to take away the prop of self-approval entirely and

immediately from any one of the habitually self-satisfied people,

the probable result would be an entire nervous collapse, or even a

painful form of insanity; and, in all changes of state from bondage

to freedom, the process is and must be exceedingly slow. No one ever

strengthened his character with a wrench of impatience, although we

are often given the opportunity for a firm and immediate use of the

will which leaves lasting strength behind it. For the main growth of

our lives, however, we must be steadily patient, content to aim in

the true direction day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. If we

fall, we must pick ourselves up and go right on,--not stop to be

discouraged for one instant after we have recognized our state as a

temptation. Whatever the stone may be that we have tripped over, we

have learned that it is there, and, while we may trip over the same

stone many times, if we learn our lesson each time, it decreases the

possible number of stumbles, and smooths our paths more than we


There is no exception to the necessity for this patient, steady

plodding in the work required to gain our freedom from

self-consciousness. It is when we are aware of our bondage that our

opportunity to gain our freedom from it really begins. This bondage

brings very real suffering, and we may often, without exaggeration,

call it torture. It is sometimes even extreme torture, but may have

to be endured for a lifetime unless the sufferer has the clear light

by which to find his freedom; and, unfortunately, many who might

have the light will not use it because they are unwilling to

recognize the selfishness that is at the root of their trouble. Some

women like to call it "shyness," because the name sounds well, and

seems to exonerate them from any responsibility with regard to their

defect. Men will rarely speak of their self-consciousness, but, when

they do, they are apt to speak of it with more or less indignation

and self-pity, as if they were in the clutches of something

extraneous to themselves, and over which they can never gain

control. If, when a man is complaining of self-consciousness and of

its interference with his work in life, you tell him in all

kindness that all his suffering has its root in downright

selfishness, he will, in most cases, appear not to hear, or he will

beg the question, and, having avoided acknowledging the truth, will

continue to complain and ask for help, and perhaps wonder whether

hypnotism may not help him, or some other form of "cure." Anything

rather than look the truth in the face and do the work in himself

which, is the only possible road to lasting, freedom. Self-pity, and

what may be called spiritual laziness, is at the root of most of the

self-torment in the world.

How ridiculous it would seem if a man tried to produce an electric

burner according to laws of his own devising, and then sat down and

pitied himself because the light would not burn, instead of

searching about until he had found the true laws of electricity

whose application would make the light shine successfully. How

ridiculous it would seem if a man tried to make water run up hill

without providing that it should do so by reaching its own level,

and then got indignant because he did not succeed, and wondered if

there were not some "cure" by means of which his object might be

accomplished. And yet it is no more strange for a man to disobey

habitually the laws of character, and then to suffer for his

disobedience, and wonder why he suffers.

There is an external necessity for obeying social laws which must be

respected, or society would go to pieces; and there is just as great

an internal necessity for obeying spiritual laws to gain our proper

self-control and power for use; but we do not recognize that

necessity because, while disrregarding the laws of character, we can

still live without the appearance of doing harm to the community.

Social laws can be respected in the letter but not in the spirit,

whereas spiritual laws must be accepted by the individual heart and

practiced by the individual will in order to produce any useful

result. Each one of us must do the required work in himself. There

is no "cure," no help from outside which can bring one to a lasting


If self-consciousness makes us blush, the more we are troubled the

more it increases, until the blushing may become so unbearable that

we are tempted to keep away from people altogether; and thus life,

so far as human fellowship goes, would become more and more limited.

But, when such a limitation is allowed to remain within us, and we

make no effort of our own to find its root and to exterminate it, it

warps us through and through. If self-consciousness excites us to

talk, and we talk on and on to no end, simply allowing the selfish

suffering to goad us, the habit weakens our brains so that in time

they lose the power of strong consecutive thought and helpful


If self-consciousness causes us to wriggle, and strain, and stammer,

and we do not recognize the root of the trouble and shun it, and

learn to yield and quietly relax our nerves and muscles, of course

the strain becomes worse. Then, rather than suffer from it any

longer, we keep away from people, just as the blushing man is

tempted to do. In that case, the strain is still in us, in the back

of our brains, so to speak--because we have not faced and overcome


Stage fright is an intense form of self-consciousness, but the man

who is incapable of stage fright lacks the sensitive temperament

required to achieve great power as an artist. The man who overcomes

stage fright by getting out of his own way, and by letting the

character he is playing, or the music he is interpreting, work

through him as a clear, unselfish channel receives new power for his

work in the proportion that he shuns his own interfering


But it is with the self-consciousness of everyday life that we have

especially to do now, and with the practical wisdom necessary to

gain freedom from all its various discomforts; and, even more than

that, to gain the new power for useful service which comes from the

possession of that freedom.

The remedy is to be found in obedience to the law of unselfishness,

carried out into the field of nervous suffering.

Whatever one may think, however one may try to dodge the truth by

this excuse or that, the conditions to be fulfilled in order to gain

freedom from self-consciousness are _absolutely within the

indidivual who suffers._ When we once understand this, and are faced

toward the truth, we are sure to find our way out, with more or less

rapidity, according to the strength with which we use our wills in

true obedience.

First, we must be willing to accept the effects of

self-consciousness. The more we resist these effects the more they

force themselves upon us, and the more we suffer from them. We must

be willing to blush, be willing to realize that we have talked too

much, and perhaps made ourselves ridiculous. We must be willing to

feel the discomforts of self-consciousness in whatever form they may

appear. Then--the central point of all--we must know and

understand, and not dodge in the very least the truth that the _root

of self-consciousness is selfishly caring what other people think of

us,--and wanting to appear well before them._

Many readers of this article who suffer from self-consciousness will

want to deny this; others will acknowledge it, but will declare

their inability to live according to the truth; some,--perhaps more

than a few,--will recognize the truth and set to work with a will to

obey it, and how happily we may look forward to the freedom which

will eventually be theirs!

A wise man has said that when people do not think well of us, the

first thing to do is to look and see whether they are right. In most

cases, even though they way have unkind feelings mingled with their

criticism, there is an element of truth in it from which we may

profit. In such cases we are much indebted to our critics, for, by

taking their suggestions, we are helped toward strength of character

and power for use. If there is no truth in the criticism, we need

not think of it at all, but live steadily on, knowing that the truth

will take care of itself.

We should be willing that any one should think _anything_ of us, so

long as we have the strength of a good conscience. We should be

willing to appear in any light if that appearance will enhance our

use, or is a necessity of growth. If an awkward appearance is

necessary in the process of our journey toward freedom, we must not

resist the fact of its existence, and should only dwell on it long

enough to shun its cause in so far as we can, and gain the good

result of the greater freedom which will follow.

It is because the suffering from self-consciousness is often so

intense that freedom from it brings, by contrast, so happy and so

strong a sense of power.

There is a school for the treatment of stammerers in this country in

which the pupils are initiated into the process of cure by being

required to keep silence for a week. This would be a most helpful

beginning in a training to overcome self-consciousness. We should

recognize first that we must be willing to endure the effects of

self-consciousness without resistance. Secondly, we should admit

that the root of self-consciousness lies entirely in a selfish

desire to appear well before others. If, while recognizing these two

essential truths and confirming them until they are thoroughly

implanted in our brains, we should quietly persist in going among

people, the practice of silent attention to others would be of the

greatest value in gaining real freedom. The practice of attentive

and sympathetic silence might well be followed by people in general

far more than it is. The protection of a loving, unselfish silence

is very great: a silence which is the result of shunning all

selfish, self-assertive, vain, or affected speech; a silence which

is never broken for the sake of "making conversation," "showing

off," or covering selfish embarrassment; a silence which is full of

sympathy and interest,--the power of such a silence cannot be


If we have the evil habit of talking for the sake of winning

approval, we should practise this silence; or if we talk for the

sake of calling attention to ourselves, for the sake of winning

sympathy for our selfish pains and sorrows, or for the sake of

indulging in selfish emotions, nothing can help us more than the

habit of loving and attentive silence.

Only when we know how to practise this--in an impersonal, free and

quiet spirit, one which is not due to outward repression of any

kind--are we able to talk with quiet, loving, helpful speech. Then

may we tell the clean truth without giving unnecessary offence, and

then may we soothe and rest, as well as stimulate in, wholesome ways;

then, also, will our minds open to receive the good that may come to

us through the words and actions of others.