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The Use Of The Brain

Categories: Uncategorized
Sources: Power Through Repose

LET us now consider instances where the brain alone is used, and the

other parts of the body have nothing to do but keep quiet and let

the brain do its work. Take thinking, for instance. Most of us think

with the throat so contracted that it is surprising there is room

enough to let the breath through, the tongue held firmly, and the

jaw muscles set as if suffering from an acute attack of lockjaw.

Each has his own favo
ite tension in the act of meditation, although

we are most generous in the force given to the jaw and throat. The

same superfluous tension may be observed in one engaged in silent

reading; and the force of the strain increases in proportion to the

interest or profundity of the matter read. It is certainly clear,

without a knowledge of anatomy or physiology, that for pure,

unadulterated thinking, only the brain is needed; and if vital force

is given to other parts of the body to hold them in unnatural

contraction; we not only expend it extravagantly, but we rob the

brain of its own. When, for purely mental work, all the activity is

given to the brain, and the body left free and passive, the

concentration is better, conclusions are reached with more

satisfaction, and the reaction, after the work is over, is healthy

and refreshing.

This whole machine can be understood perhaps more clearly by

comparing it to a community of people. In any community,--Church,

State, institution, or household,--just so far as each member minds

his own business, does his own individual work for himself and for

those about him, and does not officiously interfere with the

business of others, the community is quiet, orderly, and successful.

Imagine the state of a deliberative assembly during the delivery of

a speech, if half-a-dozen of the listeners were to attempt to help

the speaker by rising and talking at the same time; and yet this is

the absurd action of the human body when a dozen or more parts, that

are not needed, contract "in sympathy" with those that have the work

to do. It is an unnecessary brace that means loss of power and

useless fatigue. One would think that the human machine having only

one mind, and the community many thousands, the former would be in a

more orderly state than the latter.

In listening attentively, only the brain and ears are needed; but

watch the individuals at an entertaining lecture, or in church with

a stirring preacher. They are listening with their spines, their

shoulders, the muscles of their faces. I do not refer to the look of

interest and attention, or to any of the various expressions which

are the natural and true reflection of the state of the mind, but to

the strained attention which draws the facial muscles, not at all in

sympathy with the speaker, but as a consequence of the tense nerves

and contracted muscles of the listener. "I do not understand why I

have this peculiar sort of asthma every Sunday afternoon," a lady

said to me. She was in the habit of hearing, Sunday morning, a

preacher, exceedingly interesting, but with a very rapid utterance,

and whose mind travelled so fast that the words embodying his

thoughts often tumbled over one another. She listened with all her

nerves, as well as with those needed, held her breath when he

stumbled, to assist him in finding his verbal legs, reflected every

action with twice the force the preacher himself gave,--and then

wondered why on Sunday afternoon, and at no other time, she had this

nervous catching of the breath. She saw as soon as her attention was

drawn to the general principles of Nature, how she had disobeyed

this one, and why she had trouble on Sunday afternoon. This case is

very amusing, even laughable, but it is a fair example of many

similar nervous attacks, greater or less; and how easy it is to see

that a whole series of these, day after day, doing their work

unconsciously to the victim, will sooner or later bring some form of

nervous prostration.

The same attitudes and the same effects often attend listening to

music. It is a common experience to be completely fagged after two

hours of delightful music. There is no exaggeration in saying that

we should be _rested_ after a good concert, if it is not too long.

And yet so upside-down are we in our ways of living, and, through

the mistakes of our ancestors, so accustomed have we become to

disobeying Nature's laws, that the general impression seems to be

that music cannot be fully enjoyed without a strained attitude of

mind and body; whereas, in reality, it is much more exquisitely

appreciated and enjoyed in Nature's way. If the nerves are perfectly

free, they will catch the rhythm of the music, and so be helped back

to the true rhythm of Nature, they will respond to the harmony and

melody with all the vibratory power that God gave them, and how can

the result be anything else than rest and refreshment,--unless

having allowed them to vibrate in one direction too long, we have

disobeyed a law in another way.

Our bodies cannot by any possibility be _free,_ so long as they are

strained by our own personal effort. So long as our nervous force is

misdirected in personal strain, we can no more give full and

responsive attention to the music, than a piano can sound the

harmonies of a sonata if some one is drawing his hands at the same

time backwards and forwards over the strings. But, alas! a

contracted personality is so much the order of the day that many of

us carry the chronic contractions of years constantly with us, and

can no more free ourselves for a concert at a day's or a week's

notice, than we can gain freedom to receive all the grand universal

truths that are so steadily helpful. It is only by daily patience

and thought and care that we can cease to be an obstruction to the

best power for giving and receiving.

There are, scattered here and there, people who have not lost the

natural way of listening to music,--people who are musicians through

and through so that the moment they hear a fine strain they are one

with it. Singularly enough the majority of these are fine animals,

most perfectly and normally developed in their senses. When the

intellect begins to assert itself to any extent, then the nervous

strain comes. So noticeable is this, in many cases, that nervous

excitement seems often to be from misdirected intellect; and people

under the control of their misdirected nervous force often appear

wanting in quick intellectual power,--illustrating the law that a

stream spreading in all directions over a meadow loses the force

that the same amount of water would have if concentrated and flowing

in one channel. There are also many cases where the strained nerves

bring an abnormal intellectual action. Fortunately for the saving of

the nation, there are people who from a physical standpoint live

naturally. These are refreshing to see; but they are apt to take

life too easily, to have no right care or thought, and to be

sublimely selfish.

Another way in which the brain is constantly used is through the

eyes. What deadly fatigue comes from time spent in picture

galleries! There the strain is necessarily greater than in

listening, because all the pictures and all the colors are before us

at once, with no appreciable interval between forms and subjects

that differ widely. But as the strain is greater, so should the care

to relieve it increase. We should not go out too far to meet the

pictures, but be quiet, and let the pictures come to us. The fatigue

can be prevented if we know when to stop, and pleasure at the time

and in the memory afterwards will be surprisingly increased. So is

it in watching a landscape from the car window, and in all interests

which come from looking. I am not for one instant condemning the

_natural_ expression of pleasure, neither do I mean that there

should be any apparent nonchalance or want of interest; on the

contrary, the real interest and its true expression increase as we

learn to shun the shams.

But will not the discovery of all this superfluous tension make one

self-conscious? Certainly it will for a time, and it must do so. You

must be conscious of a smooch on your face in order to wash it off,

and when the face is clean you think no more of it. So you must see

an evil before you can shun it. All these physical evils you must be

vividly conscious of, and when you are so annoyed as to feel the

necessity of moving from under them self-consciousness decreases in

equal ratio with the success of your efforts.

Whenever the brain alone is used in thinking, or in receiving and

taking note of impressions through either of the senses, new power

comes as we gain freedom from all misdirected force, and with

muscles in repose leave the brain to quietly do its work without

useless strain of any kind. It is of course evident that this

freedom cannot be gained without, first, a consciousness of its

necessity. The perfect freedom, however, when reached, means freedom

from self-consciousness as well as from the strain which made

self-consciousness for a time essential.