In Search of Serenity by R.V.C. Bodley
Sayings of the Serene
As the wheels of the cart follow the heels of the ox, so happiness follows good actions. As the wheels of the cart follow the heels of the ox, so sorrow follows wrong doing. -- Gautama Buddha
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. -- Jesus Christ, according to St. John, Chapter XIV
And God hath spread the earth as a carpet that you may walk thereon through spacious paths. -- Mohammed, according to the Koran, Sura LXXI
Man is not made to understand life, but to live it. -- George De Santayana
It matters little whether we live in an age of chivalry, or in one of atom bombs, men and women want that happiness which is bred by Serenity. The complaint that peace of mind and the rush of modern civilization are incompatible is no more than an evasion by those who will not take the trouble to delve into themselves and discover what constitutes this means of meeting problems. It is the indolent attitude of those who want something without working to get it. Everything in our lives has had a logical purpose and is offered to us to use advantageously or discard improvidently. Degrading trials as well as exhilarating successes have some definite design. In fact, until we "can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same" there is little chance that we will achieve anything approaching spiritual Serenity. It is, nevertheless, extremely difficult for the average human being and especially for those young in years to appreciate this. I certainly did not until I was middle-aged.
From childhood, I had been nurtured on a few truths and a great many fallacies. When suddenly the fallacies began to intrude, I decided that I must do something about it, I must divorce myself from my fraudulent way of reasoning, I must find peace. So I went to look for it and, after an exceedingly long quest, found it. I found it initially among the nomad Arabs who pasture their sheep on the arid uplands of the Sahara, due south of Algiers.
This is not to suggest that Serenity can be acquired by merely going to live away from towns and human beings. This will help, but it will not automatically and miraculously give one relief form the trials which are the inevitable lot of men. For, as Seneca declared some twenty centuries ago, "Though you may cross vast spaces of seas and through lands and cities are left astern, your faults will follow you wheresoever you travel."
What the Sahara did give me were the formulas for a serene approach to life and the foundations on which to build happiness, and that is a great deal. But it was not until much later that I reaped the full benefit of those seven years in the desert and appreciated that, above all, I had been able to see myself as I really was and understand that true Serenity comes from one's deep, unexplainable inner being.
For this reason, I believe that anyone who sincerely wants to find what I did can do so by conscientiously following the elementary principles which I am going to set down on these pages, without necessarily leaving his home in the process. I do not believe that it will help those who feel they are sufficiently enlightened to conduct their lives harmoniously, for any who have discovered "truth." These happy few need a more advanced philosophy than mine to comfort them.
There are a number of quotations in this book from the writings and sayings of great thinkers, which have been inserted to show that everything I advocate in these pages is as old as reason. Neither race, nor creed, nor time alters the ideal which so many have preached and so few have observed. I take this opportunity to thank Miss Emily Scott, who unruffled acceptance of life's trials and constructive thinking on Serenity did much to promote the writing of this book; to Eileen Garret, who first encouraged me to press on paper what, up to then, I had confined to lectures; and to Harriet, without whose co-operation the bringing of this work to a successful conclusion would not have been possible.
When some years ago I disappeared into the Sahara Desert no one gave it much thought. Many believed I had gone on a trip from which I would soon return. When I did not, a few were moderately concerned that one of them should vanish in this unconventional way. The majority merely crossed my name out of their address books and forgot about me. None of them tried to guess why I should discard my heritage and cut myself adrift from my traditions. No one would have understood, if I had explained, that I was tired of people and purposeless pastimes and wanted a place where I could cleanse my brain and set my thoughts in order. No one would have had an inkling of what I meant by a need for an existence which was not governed by codes based on false values. That would have sounded fantastic and out of tune with the ways of thinking of those who had been my companions in war and peace, at school and at home. It would have seemed even more fantastic to them that I was to find the beginnings of what I sought among nomad Tribesmen of North Africa.
These nomads were true Arabs. They had nothing in common with the hybrids who lived in the Mediterranean Coast towns of Algeria. They were purebred, perhaps more so than most of the Arab races, which was the result of their isolation in this part of the world since the great Moslem expansions of the seventh and twelfth centuries. Their customs, their philosophies, their pastoral customs belonged to those eras when Islam's empire was flourishing. It seems incredible than in these days any race could remain so completely detached. Yet, so it was in the Sahara.
These nomads looked and thought as did their ancestors who built the Alcazar and the Alhambra and ruled Spain and Portugal for seven hundred years. Their tents and means of transportation had not changed since Richard I led his Crusaders into the Holy Land centuries ago. Long before Columbus discovered America, these turbaned knights roamed the Sahara without considering the outer world. They were still doing so when I joined them in the twentieth century. Unless gold or oil or uranium is discovered under their pastures, they will doubtless be continuing in the same way two hundred years hence.
It is chiefly the search for material wealth which leads men to uproot ancient customs and, in the name of progress, substitute their frenzied conception of living. More than anything, it was the Arab detachment from what went on in England and America which made believe that I might find Serenity among these wandering tribes of the great Sahara Desert.
These men could see little good in our ways. They felt sorry for our confusion and anxiety. They wished we could set our minds at rest. Sitting beside the camp fire, we would sometimes discuss the Occidental and his peculiarities, and while the argument followed various lines, it almost always ended with the Arab's conclusions:
"As far as we can see, your brand of civilization leads you to rush round in circles, wearing out your minds and bodies, turning your hair white and engaging in wars beside which our wars are no more than schoolboy fist fights. If that is what you call 'progress', we prefer to be thought backward and continue in our way of life with the peace which the desert gives us."
And there was nothing I could say to contradict these observations, because the Arabs did have peace, not only in the Silence of the Sahara but also in their daily routine and approach to worldly and spiritual problems. Religion to them was an intimate and integral part of their lives. It may have been the effect of the desert, but these men seemed to assign to God a far more important place in their scheme of things than do those whose countries are filled with all the accoutrements of modern civilization. In their eyes the Sahara was the Garden of Allah, the only place in the world where God can walk in peace unmolested by human beings. The earth was God's carpet and respected with bare feet.
So, little by little, I allowed my thoughts and habits to drift into Arab ways. I wore the nomad dress because it was best suited to desert life, and I made my home in a tent because it was the only habitation these wanderers knew. Whereas I had always regarded camping as a kind of temporary ordeal, I discovered that this attitude towards the out of doors was completely foreign to my nomad companions. They and their forebears were born in a tent, married in a tent and one day would die in a tent. Many of my shepherds had never been inside a house; none had ever slept in a bed. Camping was their natural way of living. It was also their business. They were nomads because they had to feed their sheep. Their lives were controlled by the problem of pastures. It controlled mine as long as I lived in the Sahara.
At dawn, I rose with my companions and said the morning prayer. Except for a bowl of camel's milk, there was no breakfast. Once I had been accustomed to missing this meal, I felt no urge to feed a body well rested by deep sleep, so, mounting my horse, I followed the others to look for fresh grazing. At noon we halted for the midday prayer. There was no lunch, but the horses were allowed to browse while we sat on the desert and talk or, usually, remained silent. The Arabs, like many Orientals, have an admirable quality of never making conversation. An Arab never says "It is a fine day." It is self-evident that the day is fine, so why draw attention to it. Nor were these silences awkward. They were restful. There was none of that feeling that something must be said just for the sake of saying it. Occasionally we would go for a whole day without uttering a word that was not pertinent to what we happened to be doing. Then, suddenly, a topic would come into someone's mind and would be tossed into our midst as might a stone into a pond. The ensuing talk would be like the ripples caused by the vanishing stone, spreading out forgetful of their origin and dying again as suddenly as the initial splash.
It was these unstrained silences, as much as anything else, which pushed me a little nearer to the comforting peace I needed so badly. It was the way these men minded their own business, never projecting themselves into my thoughts or actions, which gave me that profound rest which is usually found only in solitude.
Our "working day" was always brought to a close with the afternoon prayer. After that, we turned our horses' heads toward camp, which we usually reached at sunset, when we prayed again and, finally, sat down to the only square meal of the day. When our appetites had been satisfied, we chatted or told stories until the time came for the final prayer. Then we stretched ourselves on carpets in our tents and, wrapping our cloaks about us, slept as only the healthy and carefree and physically tired can.
Thus, gradually, this hardy life in the open began to cure my physical aches and mental worries. I realized that these desert men were not only sound of mind and body, but had no neuroses. Unless a man had an accident, he lived to a fine old age and then faded gracefully away without becoming insane or infirm. Soon I no longer jumped when a gun was fired or woke in the night obsessed with apprehension. I began to feel the serenity of my companions taking possession of me. Being an Occidental, I did not accept this as a matter of course. I began to wonder what had changed me, and this brought me to the following conclusions.
While the active existence in this exhilarating air had done me inestimable physical good, while Islam had comforted me and the reliance on "In sha Allah" -- "If God so wills" -- had quieted me, there was something else: The Arabs never fussed. They never fussed about things over which they had no control.
For example, during drought years when many of their sheep died, these nomads never gave way to despair or exclaimed, "If we had gone to pasture there or there, the sheep would not have died." Instead they said, "For some reason best known to Allah, those sheep have died, and there is nothing we can do about it. Let us, therefore, forget about them. Let us go somewhere else and breed more sheep." And this they promptly did, without weeping over what they could not change.
When I first went to the Sahara and my nervous reflexes were not yet under control, I wondered whether much of this attitude was not put on. I waited, expecting to see someone caught off balance by the unexpected. But the moment never came. These men did not rush or shout or lose their tempers. They practiced what they preached, and not like pulpit speakers or psychiatrists who while overflowing with counsels for the "sick at heart" are, in themselves, often as confused as their congregations or patients. They said, "Don't fuss!" And they did not. They had peace. If further proof were needed, one had only to look at their eyes, at their gestures, at the easy way in which they slept. During my early days among these shepherds, I believed in all kinds of social conventions. I had great ideas of "what I stood for." I was not quite sure what I thought I stood for -- but something. And then, suddenly, I was brought face to face with realization that I stood for absolutely nothing! My background and upbringing did not mean anything to an Arab. To him, I was just a man (and an Occidental infidel at that) who, for some suspicious reason, had come to live in the Sahara. That was all.
The appreciation of how important I was in this Arab community hit me hard. Once the initial shock had worn off, however, I saw the soundness of the Arab reasoning. I was not important there or anywhere else! The moment this idea was absorbed, my gropings for truth became less haphazard. I began to realize how much time I had wasted on the unworthwhile, how cluttered had been my mind with futile inhibitions. Gradually I began to discard them. In a few years, I had discarded them all. I had found the beginnings of the formulas for tranquility of mind. I insist on the "beginnings" because Serenity does not come to one automatically as a result of going to live for a while in the desert. That would be too simple a solution. It would eliminate moral responsibilities and the role of conscience. As Socrates replied to a man who complained that he had not benefited from a change of scene, "It serves you right, you traveled with yourself."
My Sahara experience made me profoundly aware of the other me. It made me acutely conscious of the faults that cling to one like burs until they are pulled off and burned. It made me understand what were really the causes for worry and what were generated by tired nerves; in sum, it gave me foundations on which to build Serenity. It did not give me much more than the foundations, for, while these were of rock, the structure did not spring up like a New York skyscraper in a few weeks. In fact, as I look back now, I am aware that much of what I thought I had, I did not have in the Sahara. The real thing came later.
How this happened is too long a story to tell and not appropriate for this book. Suffice it to say that during the next twenty-five years, I continued to be a nomad. I lived in the Dutch Indies, in China, Japan, and Manchuria and in the South Sea Islands. I worked as a journalist and wrote over a dozen books. I taught English literature in a Japanese university in Tokyo, became a screenplay writer in Hollywood and lectured in almost every state of North America.
Yet, in spite of all these experiences and adventures in different parts of the world, I never lost the lessons which I had learned from the Arabs of North Africa. I did not lose them because I was aware of their inestimable value in my search for Serenity and continued to apply them under all circumstances. Nor will those who want to gain something constructive out of this book be able to unless they do likewise when dealing with the problems of their daily lives.
"Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous." So said Confucius, which is pertinently applicable to the secret of finding Serenity. One must learn to be serene just as one must learn to be anything else worthwhile.
Chapter 1 Worrying Is Futile but Contagious
There is always something to worry you. It comes as regularly as sunrise. -- Lord Beaconsfield
My first attempt to impart to others what I had originally learned from the Arabs and then used to good account among other peoples took the form of lectures.
These lectures were at first rather ineffectual. They were so because most of the men and women who listened to me could not put themselves in my position or sense the silence of the Sahara or the Serenity of the nomad shepherds. The imaginative few declared, quite logically, that it was useless to try to gain this kind of peace while living in noisy cities with clamoring and demanding families for whom material needs took precedence over the contemplation of the stars or a philosophy that "God will provide." In short, my lectures were listened to politely and even with interest as the report of strange experiences, but not as applicable to the problems of human beings in the busy modern world.
It was no easy task to translate the logical reasoning of a nomad Arab in a way which hurrying men and women would understand and then put to practical use. For some time, I was baffled, and continued to present my Sahara reminiscences hoping that the point would permeate my listeners. This was simple foolishness, or perhaps just laziness.
Then, one evening, after a particularly heavy barrage of post-lecture questions, it flashed on me what these anxious people needed. I accordingly restructured my talk in such a way as to forestall the questions before they were put to me from the floor of the auditorium. The Arabs began to serve only as an introduction and source of examples, while the main body of the lectures dealt with what seemed to be the main causes of worry to the average housewife, student, farmer, artisan or business executive who came to hear me. I have used the same principle in writing this book, the only difference being that I have gone into much greater detail than in an hour lecture and clarified anything that might be brought up during a "question period."
The order which the chapters follow has not been established with any consideration for the relative values of the sources or mental suffering dealt with in each one. All troubles have their degrees of importance, and whoever we are and whatever we do, there will always be some kind of worry available to suit our individual temperaments. Yet there is no more reason why we should succumb to it than to mumps or measles when they declare themselves in the neighborhoods where we live.
Every man and woman in any civilized community takes precautions the moment a disease seems to menace the family. Even before epidemic conditions exist, doctors and serums and inoculations are employed, and if anyone falls ill, he or she is cared for with all necessary speed. Yet when worrying appears imminent, precautions are seldom taken to ward it off, and nine times out of ten the afflicted one is either ignored or pampered like a neurotic invalid.
Men might become immortal if they would understand the deadly properties of worry. They would certainly live longer if they made up their minds to root it out of their inner selves. Their brains would undoubtedly function more freely if they could be awakened to the futility of fussing. This is no exaggeration. Responsible doctors have told me that worry has been known to cause tooth decay, to bring on diabetes, fabricate gallstones and, of course, develop high blood pressure with consequent heart complications.
If every young man and every young woman setting out on the journey of life could be made to appreciate this and, furthermore, realize that one can become an efficient worrier just as one can become anything else efficient, a great many physical ailments would disappear from a physician's possible diagnoses.
To those who object that there are something over which one cannot help worrying, I would like to suggest that they are mixing up worry and anxiety which are quite different emotions.
For example, a mother has a sick child about whom she understandably anxious. That is normal and natural. Yet it does not mean that this anxiety should be allowed to turn into a frenzy of fussing. There is nothing more contagious than worrying. There is nothing which spreads faster through a household than fussing. There is nothing more damaging to a sick person than this kind of disturbance in the minds of those about him.
One reason why people have a better chance of recovery in a hospital than at home is that, while nurses are anxious to see that the patient gets better, they are not worrying about it. They have no reason to. They know him only as an afflicted human being and have no personal reason to be distressed. In the same way, when someone is very ill in a hospital, friends and relatives are kept away. The chief object of this seemingly inconsiderate gesture is that these people may bring an atmosphere of worry into the sickroom which will be conveyed to the patient and affect him adversely.
I remember a well-meaning lady visiting me in a nursing home where I was recuperating from an operation, but unaware, myself, how ill it had left me. However, by the time the lady had said good-by, the expression on her face, together with a suggestion that it might be a good thing if I saw a clergymen, convinced me that I was dying. It was only complete isolation from outside influences which gave me back my equanimity and the incentive to get better.
Worrying is a waste of energy. It lowers vitality and decreases efficiency. It begets ill humor, tiredness and insomnia, to say nothing of the physical sickness which follows the mental contamination. It leads nowhere and does no one any good.
So many of us remain so immature. Whether we are twenty or sixty, we are still struggling with the uncertainties of our childhood and adolescence. Some of us never completely emerge from our nurseries and schoolrooms. We continue to imagine that somewhere ahead of us lie the solutions to our troubles. We hopefully say:
"When I am thirty, everything will be much simpler!" And then, "When I am fifty, there won't be anything to bother about. By the time I am sixty, I will have defeated life's problems!" Or else, "In a few years, I'll be the boss; then I won't have to worry about anything anymore."
The only trouble with this, as with the other hope formulas is that one never is the boss. There is always someone higher up. If it is not a particular man, it will be a group of men or maybe the public or the family or sometimes even one's conscience.
What few can grasp is that cures for unstable worrying are not generated through achieving more important official, business or worldly positions or out of some physical emancipation, but in our reasoning brains. It is chiefly for those to whom this declaration seems obscure that this book has been written, giving what I have found to be the most efficacious remedies. How these remedies work will depend not only on the co-operation of the fussers but on their admission that they are fussers. Many will never acknowledge that anything ever ruffles them. They claim to be serene, and if they do have emotional outbursts, blame them on tiredness and bad digestion. Those can, of course, be the causes of getting worked up over something which does not matter, but the average human being's worrying condition is a habit, a developed mental attitude to problems which for the most part are not problems at all. For as George Bernard Shaw wrote, "The secret of being miserable is to have the leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not."
There are some men and women who like to have something to fuss about and would be positively unhappy without a grievance. They are constitutional worriers like crossword puzzle maniacs and fanatical stamp collectors; but whereas the crosswords and stamps may only lead the addicts to unsociability, constitutional worrying can one day get even with the votaries and overwhelm them. The professional grumbler is digging his own grave, in which he will not even have the comforting unconsciousness of the buried dead. He will also be damaging everyone with whom he comes into contact. He will be more of a menace than a visitor with active tuberculosis. For tuberculosis there is a fairly definite cure, for worrying, when it takes hold, there is none except one's power to relax and see oneself during a bout of emotionalism.
When I first went to live with the Arabs, they used to point at me and say, "Look at that man, he's behaving like an Occidental trying to catch a train!" Because these men associated Occidentals with train catching and fussing. And then, addressing me, they would add, "If you ride all today and tomorrow, you won't find a train, so relax and stop getting excited."
And this I tried to do but found it difficult. I could not let my mind and body go limp. I could not forget myself or follow the example of those simple men who did not become disturbed about things over which they had no control, and, above all, practiced what they preached.
I remember once motoring with a party of Arabs in the Northern Sahara when suddenly the car stopped. The driver lifted his seat and lifted the hood. Shaking his head he said, almost to himself:
"Makanche essence!" which means "No more gas!"
Without comment, my companions climbed out of the car and sat on the desert. For a while no one spoke. Then it began to rain. One of the older men looked at the sky and said fervently:
"Alhamdullah! May God be praised for this rain, it will do great good to our pastures."
And another old man chimed in with, "Alhamdullah! I trust that this rain is falling in the Atlas and will water my brother's crops."
But I was not impressed by these pious ejaculations. I was still new to the philosophies of the desert people. I was also wet and cold, so, turning to my friend and host, the Caid Madani, I said to him peevishly:
"Why don't you do something about this driver? He knew how far we were going! He knew how much gas we needed! It's his fault we're stuck here! Why don't you tell him so?"
To which, without any change of expression, Madani replied, "What good will it do?" And then, realizing that I was not convinced, added, "The next time we got on a trip, I will ascertain that there is enough gas. If, however, I scold this man now as you suggest, it will make him uncomfortable, it will make us uncomfortable and it will produce no gas. What good will it do?"
To which argument there was, of course, no reasonable reply.
This story must not be laughed off as another example of "Oriental fatalism." It is a reasoning which can be applied by anyone to any situation anywhere and belongs as much to America as to the Sahara, as much to Europeans as to Arabs. Furthermore, when scoffers tell me that they will believe me when they see me applying my Arab theories to the tense citizens of the United States, I assure them that I am doing it all the time. Here is a recent example.
I had delivered an evening lecture at Walla Walla and had to make for Spokane to speak there the following afternoon. In order to do this, it was necessary to go to a place called Wallulah after my Walla Walla engagement and there picked up the express coming from Portland.
I reached Wallulah, which consists of a small wooden station and about six frame houses, at 11:30 P.M. In damp, cold, midwinter darkness -- and found no train. The official in charge of the windswept junction said that the Spokane express might be in, in a couple of hours, or it might not. He himself had no idea. He would, however, advise the passengers the moment he knew anything.
As soon as the full implication of this communication had been taken in by my fellow travellers, they began to fuss. The waiting room into which we had trooped after the discouraging news about the train was of the shed variety and furnished sparsely with wooden benches. On these the men and women seated themselves and stared for a while at the red-hot stove with the resignation of criminals waiting to be executed. Then, as if a hidden power had prodded them, they all got up and followed each other to the door of the shed. With the same automatic movements, they opened it and let in an a blast of icy wind while they stared silently at the deserted tracks. Then they shut the door and returned to the benches.
For a while I watched these frenzied people, fascinated by their fear of something, which was not in the least frightening. They were under shelter, they were warm (when they were not opening the door), they had company and a man to tell them when their train would be due. The worse that could happen to them was to miss some appointment, as I would probably miss my lecture. But even had the consequences of being delayed been disastrous, there was nothing they could do which fussing or worrying would remedy.
After a time, I got tired of following the restless peregrination round the waiting room and let my thoughts wander.
I remembered nights on the desert when, wrapped in my burnous, I slept on the hard ground as a matter of course. Simultaneously, it occurred to me that my present circumstances were no more uncomfortable than they had been in the Sahara and there was no reason why I should not be resting in the same way now. Furthermore, as on that desert motor trip there had been no gas, so now there was no train, and getting excited over it, there or here, would produce precisely the same negative results. So, without further thought on the matter, I stretched myself out on the bench, relaxed my body and mind and soon slept.
When I awoke, rather stiff but quite refreshed, my fellow passengers were drifting round the waiting room like lost souls in Limbo. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was 6 A.M. There was obviously still no train in the offing, so I went out into the freezing dawn to see if I could find some other conveyance to take me on my way. In this I was successful, and by flagging a bus on the road about a mile from the station, I made Spokane in sufficient time to deliver my lecture. So everyone concerned was happy and I was not even tired.
Nor had I accomplished anything remarkable. All that I had done was to apply my principle that worrying did no good. But if I had tried to explain this to the distraught creatures of Wallulah, they would probably have punched my head. Their minds were so congested and unreceptive to logical reasoning that they could not think of anything but the non-arrival of the train. Maybe if I had made them a speech, the punching of the head would have given them relief. But I slept instead. Perhaps it was better so. Mental and physical relaxation requires a great deal of personal concentration. Yet if it is not acquired in time, the omission can ruin the heart or lead to murder or land men and women in the divorce court. There is nothing which is beyond the reach of worrying. It has the insidiousness of poison ivy, the vitality of the dandelion, the smothering strength of the creeping vine. Once it has taken hold, only a stern determination can destroy its menace. Only the conviction that worrying does no good will put a stop to making efficient fussing as important an aim in life as efficient housekeeping or efficient salesmanship.
Chapter 2 Worrying about the Past and the Future
If your lot is certainly decreed, what profit to guard against it? Or, if all is uncertain, what is the use of fear? -- Ausonius Solon
Children have no past nor future, unlike us they relish the present. -- La Bruyere
Plato admirably summed up the vainness of this worrying habit in nine words: "Nothing in human affairs is worth any great anxiety."
Four centuries later, Jesus Christ added to this sentiment with: "Take, therefore, no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
And, six hundred years after that, Mohammed developed the charge by warning his followers that worrying over what had happened was waste of energy and time.
Men throughout the ages have paraphrased or confirmed these precepts. Most philosophers and theologians have recognized their logic. They have laid stress on them in their writings and preachings -- and with what effect? None that is worthy of record.
Had the human race, had half the human race, considered and acted on these maxims, the writings of such books as this one would not be worth undertaking. Were there any effective belief in these precepts of Platonism or Christianity or Islam, except as admirable but impractical idealism, most psychiatrists would have to go out of business.
Without carrying the principle of Plato's dictum to extremes, one can set it to work under the most varied circumstances.
For example, one of the greatest embarrassments which a platform speaker has to overcome before he can capture an audience is nervousness or what actors term stage fright. It is an almost universal complaint among professional entertainers and it attacks business executives and diplomats and high-ranking military men when they are called on to make a speech. I was at one time apprehensive myself and inclined to develop a dry throat and shaking knees when the time drew near for me to start a lecture. There was nothing I could do to control this nervousness until, one day, I remembered what Plato had said twenty-four hundred years ago: "Nothing in human affairs is worth any great anxiety." "Nothing in human affairs" -- that undoubtedly included lectures.
The moment I had this thought planted in my mind, all my nervousness departed. I was going to do my best on the platform, but if I failed, nothing frightful would happen to me -- like Scheherazade, who was doomed to death the moment she stopped telling amusing tales to Haroun al Raschid. In fact, the thought of the way that lovely lady of eighth-century Baghdad kept her talks interesting under such terrifying circumstances made me ashamed of giving way to any fear generated by women's clubs or Rotarians.
It may be argued that but a small proportion of people are lecturers or actors who need this formula for self-assurance, which is true. Nevertheless, these principles can be applied to any situation where nervous tension is possible. Here is one of many examples.
A young baseballer said to me after a match in which he had not distinguished himself, "I was made so jittery by all those people watching me that I couldn't see the ball, let alone hit it."
To which I commented, "But why did you consider the spectators? No one cared about or even noticed your play except yourself. Had you gone to bat without anyone watching, you'd probably have swiped the ball out of the field."
There are certainly many tennis players and golfers who will recognize themselves under this heading, men and women who go onto the courts and courses tensely believing that the world is watching them.
Think too, of self-conscious people one sees entering a public room or sometimes arriving at a private party. Many of these will be imagining that every pair of eyes is focused on them and summing them up, probably unfavorably. Yet, with the exception of one or two, no one will have registered the newcomers' arrival except in the most casual manner.
Let us suppose, however, that this lecturing or this playing of games or this appearing in public does matter and is worthy of "any great anxiety." Let us imagine that any of these things can have momentous consequences in our lives; getting excited about them will not make things better. If, for instance, one is sitting for an examination, the thought of the outcome will mean much to one's future will not help one to write correct answers. It will usually do the reverse. It will solidify the brain and make one handle the paper involved as if it were a death warrant for one's execution. There will be fluster in the mind and this fluster will be reflected in what one writes.
I once sat for an examination where I suddenly found myself confronted by questions on a subject which, for some reason, I had not studied. However, as soon as the first panic at seeing the strange problems was over, I let myself go lump and read the paper over analytically. Then I put down what I thought would be the logical answers to the conundrums before me. They were, apparently, sufficiently near to what the examiners wanted, as I received the necessary mark to pass. And this was due only to my not losing my nerve, by applying Plato's dictum that nothing in human affairs is worth any great anxiety -- among which are examinations!
The second declaration of the trilogy, "Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," is an elaboration of the proverb about not crossing bridges until one reaches them.
This seems fairly obvious advice which it should not be too hard to follow. Nevertheless, with the fussers over things which do not matter and the criers over spilt milk, the premature crossers of bridges thrive in their confusion.
One of the commonest examples of unreasonable anticipation of something which may never happen is shown by fidgety train catchers. There is little which causes some people more anxiety than the catching of trains. Whole households are often turned upside down for days ahead of the intended journey, usually by one member of the family who is obsessed by this train-missing phobia. My father was one of these. He not only started to pack days in advance of his departure, but also frequently slept in station hotels to minimize the danger of not being able to get a cab to take him to the train. My memories of moving as a child are laden with nausea brought on by this anticipation of journeys long before we came to them. It took me quite a time, too, to cure myself of this deep-set panic which the mere sight of trunks being brought down from the attic generated in me. In fact, until I made up my mind that this Christian precept about not worrying about tomorrow must be as much part of me as breathing, prospective fussing interfered with everything I did.
When, for instance, I had a book or article to write, I would go to my desk reluctantly with all kind of ideas of how tiresome my task would be. Before I had picked up my pencil, my thoughts were tense and my body stiff, and if there is anything which generates bad writing it is preliminary mental or physical rigidity. Then one day someone commented on the amusing letters I wrote, which reminded me that it was rereading correspondence I had exchanged with my mother from India which had first given me a notion that I might make authorship a profession. Nor was the reason for this easy prose hard to explain. I was writing only for the sake of conveying my thoughts and without any fear about what a publisher or reviewer might say. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" is an admirable maxim for authors and can save a lot of frustration for beginners in any profession as well as for those who are more mature.
If one gives the matter any thought, it seems fantastic that there should be human beings so foolish as to ignore Jesus' advice. The human mind has got itself into the habit of automatically wondering about tomorrow. Yet how many of us can quote occasions when any anticipatory fears materialized. I know that those misfortunes which have overtaken me struck with no preliminary anxieties. What we fear and worry about rarely happens. What we least expect does.
My Arab friends did not as much as allow future occurrences to enter their minds. (There is not even a tense in their grammar to express it -- their design for living belongs solely to the present.) In fact, this insistence on taking no thought for tomorrow often went to extremes. If, for example, a man asked another man to a meal, the potential guest would not reply "yes or no"; he would say instead, "In sha Allah" -- "If God wills it." And if between the invitation and the dinner Allah thrust six friends in the guest's path or placed some obstacle in his way, he would either arrive with six other guests or not put an appearance at all. Nor would he warn his host, who, in turn, would not complain but merely blame himself for having anticipated something problematical and in no way sure. The Moslem uses the expression "In sha Allah" because he believes that those words of Jesus should be put into practice. He believes also in another Christian invocation, "Give us this day our daily bread."
Most of us who recite the Lord's Prayer, through habit or inspiration, do not pause to reflect that Jesus was teaching his disciples to ask God only for what they required during the actual day at hand. What they ate tomorrow would be there or not -- "In sha Allah." It would eliminate a great deal of worry and a great many heartaches, too, if those maxims were remembered every morning on waking when most people start fussing about what is going to happen during the coming twenty-four hours.
The wise physician Sir William Osler said in the course of an address to Yale students some years ago, "Now the way of life that I preach is a habit to be acquired by long and steady repetition. It is the practice of living for the day only, and for the day's work." And a little later in his speech, he quoted the word of Thomas Carlyle: "Our main business is not to see dimly what lies at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand."
So many of us start our breakfasts wondering how we can possibly fit everything which has to be done into the coming day. I used to feel that way with lectures to give and publishers' deadlines to meet and letters to write, to say nothing of seeing people and shopping and reading. Then one day it occurred to me that the mere planning of how I should work out my program wasted valuable time, whereas if I started with the first task and went on to the next without thought of the third or fourth, everything would be finished without an undue expenditure of nervous energy. In fact, without thinking about it, I was following the counsels of Jesus and Sir William Osler, or of Ovid and Seneca, who wrote, respectively, "Reap the harvest today; trust tomorrow as little as possible," and "Lay hold of today's task and you will not depend so much on tomorrow's."
The third or Islamic maxim of the trilogy regarding the futility of worrying over what has happened also elaborates a timeworn proverb, the one about crying over spilt milk. Anyone who really wants Serenity should try not to regret and never give rein to remorse.
Remorse is a hideous and painful state of mind which feeds on the past instead of the present. It is not the same as regret and serves even less purpose. We have all undoubtedly done many things which we regret, we have made many errors of judgment; we have let opportunities slip by which might have influenced our lives for the better. We have also done thoughtless harm to people and have left them wondering how we came to act so wantonly and, in many cases, idiotically. But that does not mean that we should allow remorse to take hold and start eroding our Serenity and perhaps our sanity.
Most Occidentals spend inordinate periods worrying over the might-have-beens. They look back on what they consider to be missed opportunities and wonder how they came to do this and that until the whole issue assumes gigantic proportions.
To take an example which affects so many men and women in all walks of life, let us go back to the subject of trains. When I chance to miss a train, I have taught myself not to stalk up and down the platform muttering like most of my fellow travelers, "If I'd started five minutes earlier, I wouldn't have missed the train!" But I didn't start five minutes earlier and I didn't catch the train. It has gone and there's nothing I can do to bring it back. All the excitement, all the leaping and howling of a dancing Dervish will not alter this. So I contain my one-time, and still instinctive, irritation and occupy myself in some way until the next train.
I am sometimes asked whether I am not bothered about inconveniences which my not arriving at the appointed time may cause to others -- for example, missing a lecture. My answer is "No!" I am naturally sorry that I'm letting down a program chairman, but provided there is no possible means of doing something to remedy the situation, I do not allow myself to become distraught. What would be the point? It would not help me or the lecture audience. It would do no good. Worrying about it would do no good!
When our sheep died during a Sahara drought, when the gas ran out in the rain, all the worrying in the world would not have brought the sheep back to life or produced gas. The results would have been much the same as those of becoming frenzied over missing the train.
Furthermore, missed opportunities may not necessarily have been beneficial opportunities, they may have been the reverse; we cannot tell unless we are able to follow up, or back, what would have occurred if what we wanted so much had materialized. Think, for example, of the man who planned and looked forward to crossing the Atlantic on board the Titanic in April of 1912 and then missed the boat train in London, or of a friend of mine who nearly committed suicide because he had been jilted by a girl who turned out to be such a nagging shrew that the man she did marry was driven almost to the point of wanting to kill himself. There are so many cases I could cite to prove that disappointments, far from being subjects for regret, often turn out to be for our good. Even if they do not, there is nothing more unrewarding than worrying over the past. The truth of this should be self-evident, yet I challenge anyone to tell me honestly that, even if he has not allowed regret or remorse to gnaw at him, he has not at one time or another exclaimed, "If only I hadn't done that!" or else, "I wonder why I made that idiotic decision?"
So, once more, let it be stressed that, whether we are dealing with the future or the past, worrying about it does no good. If we will arm ourselves with this principle and bear in mind the words of Plato and Jesus and Mohammed, we should be able to meet each day not only with confidence but triumphantly. We should be able to say to God and man:
"Here I am, neither complaining nor self-pitying, neither vain, nor intolerant, but filled with courage and optimism, ready to take on whatever is in store for me with the sure and certain knowledge that, as I handle it, so will I be rewarded."
Chapter 3 Worrying about One's Importance
Humility is a virtue which all men preach, none practice, and yet everybody is content to hear. -- John Seldon
The higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk. -- Marcus Tellius Cicero
Whereas "Thou shalt not fuss" must be accepted as the first and great commandment in the attaining of Serenity, the others are no less important. All of them are essential to tranquility of mind. All of them function as part of a whole. None of them can be put to work without humility, and the more humility, the smoother and easier will be the attainment of the goal. In fact, until one can see oneself as one really is, Serenity will be kept at a distance.
I once persuaded a woman, whose mind was racked by guilty yet inexplicable restlessness which amounted almost to neurosis, to write the history of her life. I told her to let herself go and put everything that had ever happened to her into her story without self-consciousness or fear of shocking me. I need not have insisted. What came out of that lady's experiences was something so dramatic that only the artlessness of the writing made me believe it. It made me realize, too, that it is the average women in buses and drugstores, those behind counters and those who wait on tables in restaurants, to whom things happen which are worth recording. The glamour girls of society and Hollywood lead comparatively routine lives devoid of much startling incident.
At any rate, the production of those hundred or so pages did my friend a great deal of good. It relieved her of the pressure of always wondering about herself. The marshaling of the episodes of her life in a frank and ordered manner had allowed her to see why this and that had happened to her and how. It showed her also that what she believed to have been a drab existence had, in reality, been filled with as many gay as sad incidents and a large number which were actually romantic.
This is not to imply that I have discovered something new or have missed my vocation as a psychiatrist. Obviously if you can bring yourself to write about yourself frankly, a lot of satisfaction will probably result. The frankness is important. The style, even the coherence, does not matter. The only essential is to get at the facts without excuses or explanations. If honesty is maintained, any extenuating circumstances will appear of their own accord.
Some people may think they have nothing worthwhile to record. They may regard their lives as uneventful or consider than nothing superlatively good or bad ever came their way. This is rarely so. We all have skeletons in our cupboards, but that does not mean they should be forever kept under lock and key. An airing of what may have become a bogey by long imprisonment can do much to tranquilize the mind by chasing away imaginary fears.
The confessional is one of the strongest and most comforting qualities of the Roman Catholic Church. It explains why so few of this faith take their troubles to psychiatrists. Their religious confessors, while varying in degree of tolerance of repetitions of self-reproof, are always available, usually impersonal and never fee-conscious.
Nevertheless, there is a large proportion of the human race which cannot open its mind to doctor or priest. For those, it is a wise idea to put mental problems on paper. If it achieves nothing else, it may lead to the attainment of this most important and essential requisite in gaining Serenity -- humility.
Humility must be acquired before Serenity will come in. There can be no subterfuges or excuses, no evading the issue. Only to the humble will Serenity offer itself. This statement is made with the authority of one who was brought up and educated without the mention of the word "humility" and certainly without any examples of it. In fact, it was not until I went to live with the Arabs that I began to see myself as who I was, and what I had been, in true focus.
To these desert men, the idea that being born into a special caste or the acquiring of monetary riches could give one any social advantage seemed ridiculous. Birth or outward appearance as a criterion of worth was as alien to them as the eating of pork or the drinking of wine. I remember once, during my early apprenticeship to Moslem way, discussing the probability that a nomad I knew was of higher standing than the average because of the way he was turned out. Before I had gone very far with my argument, however, my friend, the Caid Madani, interrupted me.
"Clothes mean nothing!" he declared. "Some people are dressy, some aren't. The Agha Daylis, for example, is but I am not, yet we belong to the same family and have an equal number of flocks. You can't judge people by what they have on. Not in the Sahara anyway." He paused and added, "One day, I'll be carried to my grave in the same kind of shroud as my poorest shepherd, and when I get to Paradise, in sha Allah, the Archangel won't ask me how many flocks I had or what clothes I wore. He'll ask me what I thought and what I did with my life." The Caid looked at me thoughtfully as if to say, "Get that into your congested brain and let it percolate slowly until all those notions based on false values have been washed away."
And he was right, of course. I was saturated with false values, as are the minds of the majority of conventionally educated Occidentals. The standards of those Orientals who have not been weakened by Western ideas are much more flexible than ours.
One of the hardest lessons I have had to teach myself has been this belief in my own lack of importance. At times I felt that I was too set, that the false values which had been my childhood's diet had been too well digested to be eliminated. Then I began to give time to listening to other people and sometimes questioning them. In a short while I realized that not only was I not unique to my egocentricity, but that the majority of mankind was tremendously concerned with his individual self and what he stood for. One of the most difficult things for him to accept was the conviction that he did not really matter in the general scheme of the universe or that his death would change anything in its course. My inquiring mind was now alerted, and I began to put my theories to a general test. This was facilitated by my lecturing tours, which brought me into contact with all kinds of men and women of all ages and all callings.
One case I recollect particularly. A young reporter was interviewing me in Oklahoma City. In order to illustrate my views on this particular subject, which was also the subject of my lecture, I said:
"If, for example, you are run over by an automobile and killed as you leave this hotel, it won't really matter. No one outside your immediate family circle will be affected by your death or ever hear about it." A look of consternation spread over the youth's face, so I quickly added, "If, half an hour later, I am run over, it won't matter either. I may get a little longer obituary notice than you because I am older and have done more, but that will be all. Otherwise, it won't matter."
And I meant this -- it would not matter. Nevertheless, the reporter described in his column as one "whose long spells of living in out-of-the-way places had affected his health." What he meant, of course, but was too polite or too young to say, was that my mental balance had been affected by this protracted intimacy with Orientals. Nor was he alone in his point of view. The average man and woman will not admit that his or her little life, or big life even, is not of paramount importance. He or she gauges everything from purely personal angles.
Take, for example, a war or a strike. If the fighting is in South America, a farmer in France will glance at the headlines in the morning paper and pass quickly on to the local news. If there is a railway strike, a housewife who never leaves her home will hardly be aware of it. But put that war on the Rhine or the railway strike into the life of a train commuter and you will see the repercussions it will have. Think of yourselves inconvenienced by bad weather or a cold, and your attitude to a wet day when you do not have to go out or to an acquaintance who is sneezing and coughing.
I am no skier so I do not pray for snow. I am happier when there is no snow. There are those, however, for whom a warm winter spoils everything. To some it even means financial disaster.
We are fundamentally and unreasonably concerned with our own problems. We cannot relegate them to the level of unimportance they represent in terms of the universe. We will not convince ourselves that, until we see ourselves as we are and admit our insignificance, Serenity will keep at a distance. "Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" is one of the hardest Christian lessons to assimilate, yet it is essential to the acquiring of Serenity.
Lecturing is not good for humility. This being the center of attraction, this uninterrupted prorating from platforms, this being questioned as if every answer one gives cannot be doubted or contradicted is apt to breed an unintentional and often unconscious superiority complex. I know that when I finish a lecture tour and find myself at a party where I am just another guest, I am filled with an urge to make myself heard. Without realizing it, I discover myself trying to establish myself as an authority on whatever subject is under discussion, regardless of the mental capacity or experience of others, and making myself an egocentric bore. So it is difficult for me, knowing all the pitfalls, to practice humility, how infinitely harder for the man who has never considered whether he is being boastful or self-satisfied.
"As soon as you begin to take yourself seriously," writes Thomas Merton in Seeds of Contemplation, "and imagine that your virtues are important because they are yours, you become the prisoner of your own vanity and even your best works will blind and deceive you. Then, in order to defend yourself, you will begin to see sins and faults everywhere in the actions of other men. And the more unreasonable importance you attach to yourself and to your works, the more you will tend to build your own idea of yourself by condemning other people. Some of the most virtuous men are also the bitterest and most unhappy, because they have unconsciously come to believe that all their happiness depends on their being more virtuous than other men."
To "more virtuous" I would add "more knowledgeable," which is often an equally fictitious presumption. For example, during question periods after lectures, I have found myself inventing replies of which I was not absolutely sure. One evening I realized how outrageous and vain this was, and from then on, when not positive of the correct answer, I said, "I don't know!" I found then that not only did this add to my composure, but it also enhanced my prestige as a reliable speaker who was not afraid to admit himself fallible.
Some of us are overconcerned with our outward appearances and even more so with those of others. We forget those lines of the Gospels concerning the lilies of the field. I was as guilty as anyone of this false vanity until one evening, while watching a scrofulous old tramp eating his dinner in a cafeteria, it occurred to me that once the food had passed his gullet, precisely the same digestive process would go on as in my stomach or in that of a lovely girl or a well-washed millionaire. What I was seeing was the exterior and allowing myself to be unjustifiably influenced thereby.
In spite of what Thomas Jefferson said on the subject, men and women are not created equal. They are born privileged or handicapped, healthy or unhealthy, mentally balanced or unbalanced. But if you belong to the healthy, wealthy and gifted category it does not necessarily make you better than those who do not. It certainly does not give you a right to a superiority complex.
Pride drives Serenity away as relentlessly as autumn winds strip leaves from trees. Until we accept this, until we understand that worldly achievement leads to disillusion, there is little chance that individuals or nations will find spiritual or temporal peace.
This must not be taken to mean that humility has anything in common with inferiority complexes. In fact, the developing of an inferiority complex is as injurious to one's tranquility of mind as the developing of a pride complex. The person who believes that he is less intelligent or less physically attractive than anyone else is not humble. He is merely self-centered. He is as bad as someone who imagines that his virtues are paramount and sees only sins in other men. Furthermore, inferiority complexes will actually breed this comparison and then condemnation of faults in others. It is merely a kind of defensive mechanism -- not humility.
So, while the dictionary may suggest that being humble connotes a sense of inferiority, do not let that bother you. No one is completely superior or completely inferior to anyone else. In almost everyone there is something to be admired. Everyone has some specialized knowledge, be it just hairdressing or carving meat, with which you are not familiar and might like to learn about. Nor have I ever failed to discover that the seemingly stupid "socialite" or semi-educated laborer had at least one subject on which he or she could talk entertainingly.
Thus you, too, have something which is interesting to someone else, however little you think or read. You may also have a great many things you do not suspect. In any case, you have your place in the general plan of the universe, which may be a larger place than you suppose. So do not imagine things. Take everything as it comes. Develop humility, but not an inferiority complex. Be your natural self.
Akin to fussing about one's own importance is allowing one's selfish idiosyncrasies to affect the lives of others.
I know a man, for example, who can be extremely pleasant and excellent company. He has a friendly smile and fundamentally, a kind nature. He has, however, an unreasonably susceptible nervous system which is easily bruised, combined with an ability to like and dislike people violently and for no obvious reason. When it so happens that this sensitive mind has been hurt in some way, a complex is set up which is so unamiable that everyone under the same roof feels it. He keeps his own counsel, too, so that, unless one knows him intimately, there is no evidence that anyone is disturbing him. All one senses is that the whole atmosphere is so poisoned that one wants to escape into the open air to be rid of the contamination. Nor is it necessary for me or you to be the cause of the disturbance. This man may be showering us with every sign of affection, but the vindictive thinking he generates is so powerful that it strikes at anyone within reach.
I once occupied a room in a hotel next to a woman who thought evilly. She could see only bad traits in people and if she could say disagreeable things about them she did. In fact, this continual disparagement of everyone and everything distressed me so that I stopped having anything to do with the lady. But that changed nothing for me. I used to sense the malicious thinking coming at me in waves through the wall of our rooms, so that, without hearing a sound, I knew whether my neighbor was at home or out, awake or asleep. Sometimes the vibrations become so strong that I found myself as disturbed as if I had actually been having an argument with my former friend.
That, of course, should not have affected me any more than the rancorous abstractions of the man mentioned above. Nor does it now -- at least not so much. I have learned to close my mind to those thought attacks and then counter them with pleasant sentiments. If one can start this deflection in time and before the malevolence has been fully generated, it is amazing what calming results can be obtained quite quickly.
A simple formula for this is to repeat a sentence of Voltaire: "The opportunity of doing mischief is found one hundred times a day and of doing good once in a year." Then try to reverse the maxim.
People tell me they cannot help thinking what they do -- but they can! The control of the thinking machine is just as possible as the control of the arms and legs. When a baby first begins to stagger about, it develops muscles which enable it to walk erect in any direction it chooses. It is merely a matter of devoting as much attention to the care of the mental facilities as of the physical.
Applied and purposeful reading may be an initial help in bringing this discipline into being. Once the brain has been made to obey one kind of order, it will automatically obey another until it has become as disciplined as the hands.
Nor is this visionary or vain advice which, even when applicable, leads nowhere. Mind control is one of the great rewards of adult existence, and the difference between bondage and freedom.
Less insidious than these generators of harmful mental vibrations, but still a menace to Serenity and definitely in the category of those suffering from self-importance complexes, are those who still believe in physical vengeance. While these may gain more temporary satisfaction by seeing their victims in material trouble than by just hoping that a malicious remark has hit the target or that a convivial evening has been spoiled by making fellow guests feel ill at ease, the repercussions have to be considered. Hitting or killing have legal punishments which can counterbalance the satisfaction of revenge, but they are not nearly as lasting as vindictive words, or even thoughts, aimed designedly at some person. But whatever the form of retaliative action or intention, it destroys all chances of attaining any degree of Serenity.
"Vengeance is mine! I will repay, saith the Lord! Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him, if he thirst, give him drink; for, in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head!" was St. Paul's exhortation to the Romans sixty years after Christ's death. It is on the same lines as Lao Tze's recommendations about coping with our enemies. "Recompense injury with kindness. To those who are good, I am good; to those who are not good, I am also good.... There is nothing in the world softer or weaker than water, and yet for attacking things which are weak and strong, there is nothing that can take precedence of it."
These principles are hard to apply; they are hard even to understand. Yet, from a practical angle, what they suggest is no more complicated than this.
The moment one starts to follow the instinctive course of hating someone who has done one a bad turn, the disturbance of one's mental and bodily condition begins automatically. Hating hurts the hater as much as, if not a great deal more than, the hatred. Paradoxically, the object of the hatred, provided he is aware of the anger which he is causing, is certainly a great deal of pleasure out of the upset he has brought about. As Dale Carnegie said to me when he heard me venting my fury against an agent whom I felt had done me wrong:
"You know, if X was aware how much he could upset you, he would probably spend the first half hour of every morning dancing round the office from sheer glee!" And then, realizing I was not convinced, he added, "Even if you cannot control your inner feelings, don't try and get your own back. It'll make the chap dance all the more and probably damage you in the process."
Well, I was undisciplined in those days. I was full of egoism and unreceptive, too, to the elements which go to make true Serenity, so I did not heed the wise counsels of my philosophic friend. I continued to hate and I continued to try to get even, so that not only did this imagined enemy triumph over me, but he trampled on me as well. I believe, moreover, that had I applied the friendly method, our positions would have been reversed. In fact, I know from practice now that if I make no reply when someone starts to pick a quarrel, the argumentative one will stop because he can think of nothing further to say. If I then walk away without still having spoken, my victory will be complete and the defeat of the other correspondingly great.
However, laying aside the material satisfaction which such procedure gives one, it is more comfortable for all concerned to love than to hate, and this is not to imply that being kind and considerate should be based on ulterior motives. The saying about casting bread upon the waters is as true today as it was three thousand years ago when King Solomon made it.
For those who complain that generosity is repaid by ingratitude, remember that if one helps or gives with gratitude in view, the whole point of giving or helping ceases. "It is a mark of superiority to confer a kindness," declared Aristotle, "but it is a mark of inferiority to receive it."
I once went out of my way to help a man. I gave him money, I got him clothes, I went to a great deal of trouble to do him good turns for more than a year. When, however, that man was rehabilitated and able to take care of himself, he not only did not thank me, but went out of his way to be ungracious and then ruled me out of his life. For several months, I could think of little else but this ingratitude, and in so doing damaged my peace of mind. Then one day it occurred to me that my expecting thanks marred my friendly gestures, in other words, I was gauging my acts self-righteously, while the man himself resented having been obliged to accept favors from me and wanted to put the whole matter out of his mind. So I immediately did like-wise and the resentment vanished accordingly.
I know a few people who are instinctively and genuinely compassionate towards their fellow men. I know many more whose kind deeds are only self-seeking. While some of these look for material rewards in repayment, a number evaluate the spiritual dividends like marks at school -- as in the case of the rich woman who replied, when I asked her if she had ever done an altruistic kindness to anyone, "Why, yes, of course. I give thousands of dollars every year to A and B and C charities, as well as to my church."
I was on the point of explaining that this was not what I meant by kindness, but the expression on the lady's face made me realize that she gauged her compassion wholly in dollars and cents. Perhaps, too, that was what was intended as her role in the community. Ten thousand dollars, more or less, would make little difference to this woman's income. On the other hand, someone else with more understanding of my interpretation of compassion would not have ten thousand dollars to give, so it all evened out for the best. It all evened out except perhaps as it concerned the personal satisfaction afforded to the lady bountiful. And yet -- who knows? Maybe the gesture of signing those checks with her secretary made out in favor of the church and the hospital and the home for old men produced an ecstasy equal to that of comforting someone deeply afflicted by disease or doubt?
What gives me pleasure is to help someone who needs help, even when this causes me inconvenience. It comes under the heading of Confucius' and later Jesus' enjoinders to do for others what you would wish done for yourself. Nor should this application of the "golden rule" be confined to actions only. Considerate thoughts can do just as much good as inconsiderate thoughts can do harm.
Every now and then, the memory of one of those people against whom one has a grievance will spring into one's thoughts, and the first reaction will be vindictive. This is wrong or, more exactly, negative and can in a very short while have painful physical and mental repercussions. So, instead of letting vindictiveness remain for a second in the mind, one should exclude it and replace it with something constructive. When, too, anger is replaced by affection, it is amazing how quickly Serenity will supplant what could have been a bubbling turmoil of conflicting and nauseating thoughts. A compassionate mentality is the greatest joy promoter imaginable.
Thoughts are similar to the vibrations generated by electric batteries. They are much gentler but they eddy out in the same way through the ether. A sensitive mind can, likewise, catch the thoughts as a receiver catches broadcasts. To some they may not come at all, but if good-will is focused on some other person, comfort will ensue for that person as discomfort will follow ill-intentioned thinking.
Try this yourself. Lying in your bed, morning or evening, wish happiness and peace to anyone you know well enough to visualize. If it produces nothing else, it will give you a quiet night or a happy day.
There are certain types, usually those without enough to occupy them, whose self-importance takes the form of an unhealthy interest in other people's affairs and what they conceive as their shortcomings if not sins. They are usually people vulnerable themselves to criticism but, after the proverbial manner of stone throwers in glass houses, do not recognize this and work themselves into frenzies over what is not their business or else take pleasure in telling others what they have heard in confidence, especially when the confidences are apt to do harm.
Whenever I hear a sensational story at someone's expense, I try to gauge the mentality and motives of the raconteur and either discard everything that has been said or else endeavor to determine what probably started the yarn. Do his yourself before hastily judging the subject of the gossip. Bear in mind, also, that a scurrilous story at someone's expense will one day return to its generator or repeater like a whizzing boomerang.
Worse than this oral damage, however, is mischief making through abusive letters. Hearsay may be forgotten. The written word cannot. In most correspondence, nothing of the least importance or literary value is recorded and posted to various parts of the world. Except for love letters, which are, for the most part, so banal that they do not bear reading aloud, only a small proportion are composed expressly to please or inform some topic of artistic, scientific or political interest. All that remains are conventional condolences and congratulations, or scoldings and invectives.
"If you have written a clever and conclusive but scathing letter," said Lord Avebury, "keep it back until next day and it will often not go at all." And St. Paul exhorted the Ephesians: "Let not the sun go down on your wrath."
I wish I had blazoned those words on the walls of every room in which I have ever lived. I wish that I had learned them by heart as soon as I could read. I wish that a great many other people whom I know had done so too.
It is frightening to think how letters hurt, for the terrible quality about them is that their pain giving is deliberate. It takes time and concentration to seat oneself at a desk and write words to someone else. It also takes time and concentration to read what one has written and consider its significance. It takes more time to place the letter in an envelope, address and mail it.
Letter writing is not like an angry exclamation touched off by some unexpected taunt. It is not like a thought which forms spontaneously in the mind but can be repressed before it has time to be changed into words. The production of letters is all coldly calculated, and when carried out in an angry mood, has intention to harm behind it. Furthermore, unless the recipient of the communication is a philosopher, who will tear it up the moment he has perceived its nature, it will remain a constant reminder of the ill-will which was once generated in the imagination of the sender. This ill-will may have evaporated an hour after the letter was posted, but is too late then. The words are already flying like poisoned arrows to hit their mark without warning and there remain to fester through the years. Only the other day, for example, I found a venomous letter which had been written by a close friend thirty-five years ago. The reading of those mischievous words brought back to me a host of hideous recollections which I had completely forgotten but disturbed me almost as greatly as in that far-off time. So, "if you have written a clever and conclusive but scathing letter, keep it back until next day and it will often not go at all." To which I would add that, having decided beforehand to hold the letter overnight, there should be no restraint in its preparation. The more one lets oneself go, the more one airs one's grievances on paper, the greater will be the relief from tension.
It is better and wiser, however, not to write vindictively or think vindictively. It is far wiser to be kindly disposed towards those one believes are enemies. One cannot damage the neighbor with hatred without damaging oneself, and that starts an interminable series of repercussions which destroy everything one has tried to achieve in the search for Serenity.
Happiness, and thence Serenity, depends to a great extent on the ability to renounce the memory of anything unpleasant, however sharply it may sting one's inner susceptibilities. That maxim is as important as "Worrying does no good." In fact, the two are almost synonymous. If you can put them into practice, tranquility of mind will soon be yours.
The final manifestation of this self-importance complex is anger. Anyone who cannot control his temper is a selfish and despicable creature who, knowing that his moods are feared by his family or friends, trades on the knowledge, demanding flattery and compliance with his whims.
Like drinking, anger can wreck a family and home and destroy friendships, and may even lead to murder and suicide. Like drinking, too, this failing can be cured only by the determined efforts of the sufferer himself. Apart, too, from the degrading spectacle which anger offers, it can kill the person so addicted, not slowly like alcohol, but as abruptly as a bullet fired from a rifle.
Sometimes this agitation does not show itself in flaring rages and is, to all intents and purposes, unconscious. Patients go to doctors complaining of poundings of the heart when they are lying in bed and, apparently, not in the least angry. The answer is, of course, that unawareness of tension does not mean that it does not exist. The very fact that the heart, though normal, pounds when it is at rest is one of the best proofs that all is not evenly balanced and that tension does exist.
However, while this undercurrent of emotional disturbance is distressing and perhaps dangerous to the individual, it does not usually upset the composure of a community, and only the person involved or maybe a wife or husband or parent is disturbed. With a man or a woman who flies into paroxysms of rage, however, it is a different story. Everyone within reach of the fury is affected.
A person with an uncertain temper is like a homicidal maniac who goes about with a concealed revolver which the least upset will cause him to use. His lack of control puts every relative, friend and neighbor on the alert and destroys any peace there may be in the community where the anger-infected creature lives. And there can be even worse consequences. A man in a rage not only loses all sense of proportion but develops inordinate strength which he may use to attack blindly what he believes to be the cause of his grievance. If he does not resort to physical violence, he can say things which will not only hurt his friends but get him into trouble with those who have no family compunctions to hold them back from taking reprisals. The angry man is quite illogical and showers abuse on people who are not responsible for what is disturbing him.
For example, the waiter who gets a scolding because the food in a restaurant is bad when he had nothing to do with cooking it, or the station master who is blamed when the train is late, or the reckless or overcautious automobile drivers who upbraid each other and cause accidents which self-control might have avoided.
I once saw a man of obviously good upbringing go into an unbelievable tantrum when a railway porter picked up his bag, which had not been properly shut, and spilled the contents onto the platform. It was obviously not the porter's fault, but the owner's, who turned the air blue with his language. Luckily the porter remained calm and repacked the bag, by which time the raging traveler had cooled down and was evidently deeply ashamed of the performance.
Apart from its other damaging consequences, loss of temper is such a waste of time. I never saw an Arab, or for that matter, any Oriental get unduly excited or enraged. They were permeated with the silent Serenity of the desert or saturated with the composure of their Buddhas. They had peace of mind because they knew the futility of everything else. They knew that any nervous or emotional upset fails to exist in the presence of complete relaxation.
The best way to cure anger is to try and see oneself during a sulk or a tantrum, and convince oneself that whenever one allows self-control to slip, one is appearing in the guise of an undignified baboon, secretly laughed at and liable not only to lose friends and job but also wife and children. If one can do that and act accordingly, smiles will take the place of scowls, and gaiety will displace those awkward pauses in conversation when one enters a room. Health, too, will improve and bouts of nausea and painful indigestion will be as much a part of a forgotten past as the urge to punch people's noses or kick the dog. Above all, there will be Serenity and peace in the home and in the neighborhood.
Chapter 4 Worrying about One's Social Standing
Envy is almost the only vice which is practicable at all times and in every place; the only passion which can never lie quiet from want of irritation. -- Samuel Johnson
While some people are obsessed by their own importance, others are equally concerned with the importance of others, yearning to be like them or among them or to have what they have. They are possessed by that envy complex the futility of which has no equal. While "Thou shalt not covet" was the last of God's commandments, that makes it no less important to this search for Serenity than the other nine.
For those who insist that they have never had an inordinate desire to possess something belonging to someone else, let me use a colloquial expression which is synonymous with coveting: "Keeping up with the Joneses," or with any outwardly more successful families or sets than your own -- the relative social stratum does not matter. It is the mere effort of trying to keep up with or outrival someone or something which counts.
Wherever one goes in North America, one notices this constant striving to eclipse the other fellow, the other wife, the other family. The better house, the better car, the better coat, even the better pots and pans obsess both men and women -- but chiefly women. They are harassed by these ambitions until the mania to outrival takes precedence over everything else and drives those who fall into mental depression and often into actual physical decline.
Class consciousness, too, is more accentuated in the United States than almost anywhere else in the world and helps to maintain this "keeping-up" mania. In an American small town, for instance, every man proclaims that every other is as good as he, but he does not really believe so. The chairman of the directors of a local department store does not invite the cashier to dine at his home any more than the floor manager goes to lunch with the garbage collector. The outward familiarity which one notices between frequenters of club cars on trains does not include invitations to the traveling salesman for week-end visits with the executives to whom they have "stood drinks."
The American habit of calling chance acquaintances by their Christian names three minutes after a meeting does not indicate affection or even intimacy, and although it may be done to suggest equality with the exclusive Joneses, it has none of the significance of the same thing in other countries, where it often takes years to get into an informal social basis.
Keeping up with or climbing up to the position of the Joneses, with its accompanying worries, takes many strange forms, one of the strangest being in the matter of subscribing to charities. There are people I know who can no longer afford to give what they once did to the Community Chest, for instance, but do so in order to be listed in the same category as wealthy donors; while others, newly rich, make large contributions in order to attract attention and create envy.
One of the traits I noticed earliest in the Arabs was their lack of envy. Some I knew were exceedingly wealthy, with barely taxed incomes from their date palms and flocks -- but no one would have known it. Except on ceremonial occasions, the chiefs dressed in the same way as the shepherds and lived in the same kinds of tents. A beggar held out his hand with as much gesture of giving as receiving. There was no servility in his thanks to the alms giver, in fact there was no thanks at all other than an affirmation other that Allah would repay. Interestingly enough, both parties believed this so that painful and insincere relationship between the recipient of charity and its promoter was never established. To an Arab, acquiring a better cloak or a better horse or a better tent, merely for the sake of outdoing another nomad, would appear to be sheer nonsense. If Abdallah or Moussa or Sliman wanted a new cloak or horse or tent, it would be because he wanted it for himself, not to impress others, who would not anyway notice the addition of the new item.
This is not to belittle honest competition, but to condemn competing with no other objective than to outshine the neighbor, which, unfortunately, is more the rule than the exception in most communities.
One of the most interesting lectures I ever gave, from the point of view of audience reaction to this aspect of Serenity, occurred in Hollywood. My listener's attention was admirable until I reached that part of my talk which dealt with humility and envy. At that point, I suddenly realized that I was confronted by a galaxy of the most expensive furs and hats, to say nothing of jewelry, which had ever been gathered before me at a lecture anywhere. There they were, furry and feathery, gay and glittering, and there was I fruitlessly condemning the obsession to have more material things rather than developing inner virtues. Nor was there any alternative but to struggle on and let my exhortations rebound from wall to wall of the auditorium.
One of the most poignant examples of the fatuity of social competition is the spectacle of middle-aged widows who rock and regret on the verandas of summer resort hotels. There they sit, rocking and regretting, regretting and rocking. They have nothing to do, nothing to look forward to and usually little enough to look back on. And why so? Why do they rock in this derelict state of mind and body? Usually because their husbands worked frenziedly to give them means to maintain their false standards and died from the effort.
An American told me that she asked her twelve-year-old daughter, after a trip abroad, what had struck her most about her first contact with Europe. The reply was significant: "There were as many old gentlemen as there were old ladies."
Europeans take life much more easily than Americans, which is chiefly due to climate and partly to not feeling obliged to outrace everyone else. I have known men who led leisurely lives in France and Italy change soon after settling in America into frenzied pursuers after some undetermined goal. Women, too, who took life as it came in Europe, became infected with the outrivaling mania a few months after settling in the United States.
The only expatriate I ever knew who kept his balance outside his native land was an old man called Harry Kent, who looked after the tennis courts on an estate on Long Island. He was almost illiterate and had emigrated from England before the days of passports and quota regulations. He had married a lady "in service" and their sons had gone to the local high school, where he had learned the slogans about "rising above his station" and "having advantages which his parents had not had." As a result he had betaken himself to college and out of the orbits of "domestic service." At the time of which I speak, he had become a real estate broker somewhere in the neighborhood of where his father tended the tennis courts.
"And ain't 'e proud of it!" the old man would say as I sat with him in a kind of cellar where he stored the tennis equipment. "Ain't 'e proud and ain't 'e un'appy! Got insomnia, 'e tells 'is mother, whatever that is."
I don't suppose that old Cockney ever missed a night's rest. He knew exactly what he stood for, he had humility, he was serene, and he left it at that. The agitated world with its tense people straining after something with rewards obscured by worries made no sense to him. They were absurdities with which he had no patience, so the less he thought about them, the better. If anyone ever made me break the tenth commandment, it was this man. I envied him his composure, I coveted his Serenity.
So many men and a good many women feel that they will be happier in spheres or occupations which are not naturally their own. To give an example, I do not have to go beyond my own profession and experiences. My aptitudes as a writer belong to biography, history and travel. Nevertheless, feeling that I could be a successful novelist or playwright, I have tried to put this belief into effect, with unfortunate results. Of the many novels I have written and the several plays, four were published and two produced, and all failed to arouse any interest.
When I was working in Hollywood, I was continually meeting young women who believed themselves to be great actresses and nearly died of starvation to prove it. Most of them had the makings of excellent wives and mothers and some had qualifications for executive positions. There were stenographers, too, who developed envious neurasthenia because they imagined they were fitted for more exciting things, whereas a genuine enthusiasm for their jobs would probably have led them to those brighter horizons they craved.
Naturally, if a man or woman has a chance to progress, the opportunity should be heeded. The pursuit of an ambition becomes wasteful only when it obviously cannot be fulfilled, and deplorable when it has its sole motive the achievement of personal power at the expense of others. Because whatever materialists may say, success of this kind will not breed Serenity. It will breed precisely the opposite. Yet few will accept this, and when remedies such as those set out in this book are suggested, the majority remain unconvinced. They are like the wealthy young man who asked Jesus the best way to get into Paradise. "Jesus saith unto him," according to St. Matthew, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." Thus, the idea of concentrating on the acquisition of humility seems to be something which few will even take into consideration, however frustrated they may be. They are too busy envying and collecting and storing useless trivialities.
Nor is any of this new or characteristic of our age. Five centuries before the birth of Christ, Buddha and Confucius counseled modestly. Today there are over two hundred million Buddhists and over six hundred million Confucians who try to emulate the examples of their masters. But there are not a million disciples of Alexander of Macedon or Napoleon Bonaparte or Adolf Hitler. There are, however, a great many "Worldly Wisemen" who thrive for a while rather aimlessly until they slip into the "Slough of Despond" and never catch a glimpse of the "Delectable Mountains." Perhaps they do not want to. Perhaps they are content to stagger about in their mire of materialism. Well, that is their business, but it is not the road to tranquility. The Joneses' standards will not stand up over the rough, steep ground which has to be covered before the comfortable down grade begins and the sun-kissed meadows of Serenity are caught sight of.
Chapter 5 Worrying about Financial Problems
Beware of ambition for wealth, for there is nothing so characteristic of narrowness and littleness of soul as the love of riches; and there is nothing nobler than indifference to money. -- Marcus Tellius Cicero
Balzac was the first to perceive that money was as necessary to a young man in the nineteenth century as a coat of mail was in the fifteenth. -- George Moore
One of the most distressing human states of mind is the sense of importance which money gives to many who have it and the feeling of frustration it gives to many who do not. One of the prime promoters of worry in the United States is connected with the lack of money, while the next in importance is the belief that having more money will settle all problems pertaining to happiness. And yet, having a bigger income really solves nothing. All that happens is that the standard of living, urged on by this keeping up with the Joneses obsession, increases until fancied needs once more exceed the funds available to supply them.
This is not new or essentially American. Three hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Greek philosopher Epucurus wrote "If you wish to make Pythocles rich, do not add to his store of money, but subtract from his desires."
Nevertheless, there are many who will argue this point of view, and will quote in support of their argument George Moore's statement that Balzac was the first to perceive that money was as necessary to a young man in the nineteenth century as a coat of mail was in the fifteenth. On which one can only comment that money, like wine and women, is good for some and not so good for others.
My own experience has never shown me the advantage of possessing a great deal of money. I have never had a large regular income, but on occasions such as those when I worked in the motion picture business or when I sold a book to a Hollywood studio and had considerable cash at my disposal, I never changed my habits. The only occasions where I did alter my ways were when I was particularly broke and had to. Even so, when I lived in ultra-cheap hotels, my friends regarded it more as an eccentricity than a financial necessity. No one, I am sure, suspected that I paid calls on people who served afternoon tea in order to fill my stomach when there was no means to buy supper. But I was not particularly unhappy and not wildly disturbed. I had faith in myself and faith in something outside of me which I never really defined. I certainly had no sensation of shame because I was "on the rocks." I was in the particular predicament of the moment to a great extent because of my own stupidity. Nevertheless, had it been on account of some genuine bad luck or an error of judgment, the lack of income would not have laid me low. It definitely would not have made me envy the more fortunate or covet wealth.
Money is a convenience which helps one do agreeable things in an agreeable way. It is not evidence of brilliance or virtue and not always of industry. It certainly does not enhance the character of men and women or raise them to positions of moral superiority. It does not always make them generous or even good-natured. In fact, many of those who acquire wealth seem to lose the kindliness of their leaner years.
It has been recorded, for example, that one of the happiest men who ever lived was St. Francis of Assisi, who was also the poorest. While it is impossible to compare degrees of individual worldly contentment, I have no doubt this is true.
This is not to suggest that the wealthy, by the fact, are automatically unhappy any more than that paupers by being penniless are pure and peaceful. Nevertheless, great fortunes do create complications which lesser means cannot. Or perhaps it is more exact to say that when people become rich they lose their sense of values. At any rate, there is no doubt that men whose lives are given over to acquiring wealth rest less easily than their employees who merely add up figures. Likewise, those who already have big bank balances are vulnerable to fears of loss which seldom develop in the mind of the honest bank clerk behind his grill.
Nor is this a hackneyed truism. It is the result of what I observed during a strange interlude after the First World War, when I kept a ledger at Barclay's Bank and cared little whether the balance was in red or black, provided it tallied with the other mysterious books in which my colleagues scribbled. It comes from knowing of the suicides of the affluent after the financial crash of 1929 and the comparative tranquility of the indigent during that time. It comes from a Gallup poll which estimated that seventy per cent of the worries of Americans result from lack of money and the corresponding conviction that riches will solve all problems.
Neither does there appear to be any quick remedy for this state of mind. Financial conflicts between nations and between individuals have been going on from time immemorial. They belong as much to the Babylonians and the Persians, the Phoenicians and the Romans as the Americans and English.
Being badly off has two great advantages. It dispels any suspicion one might have that people could possibly be interested in one because of one's worldly possessions or that one could ever be a cause of material envy. It also brings one much closer to the basic troubles and joys of mankind than when one is affluent. It is as impossible to feel "want" until one has experienced it, as to imagine a toothache when all one's teeth are sound. Until the day when I could not afford both lunch and dinner and pocketed rolls when I was invited out, I had no notion why people went to soup kitchens or poked in garbage cans for bits of bread.
Wealth presents curious contradictions. It can give so much Serenity to those who lack it and, paradoxically, deprive those who have it of so much more. I have yet to meet a rich man who truly appreciates the luxury of a satisfying meal or the joy of possessing a rare book or the ecstasy of a week in the country as does the fellow who eats at the Automat, reads at the library and works in a city. Those delights belong only to the imaginative poor who know how to love and can sing just because they see the sun. They are delights which compare in no way with the same experiences when they are ordered by the mere gestures of pressing a button or lifting a telephone receiver. I know this because that was how things were arranged for me when I worked at the British Embassy in Paris during the Peace Conference of 1919, and how they were not arranged for me for a long time thereafter.
In those days a suggestion was sufficient to have me supplied with anything from reserved compartments on trains to a suite at the Hotel de Normandie in Deauville. Subordinate officers and orderlies were as commonplace then as lack of personal service was to be a few years later. Yet none of these luxuries were really appreciated or gave me as much enjoyment as a weekly lunch, which in those later banking days, I used to share with my colleagues at an unpretentious Italian restaurant on the Boulevards. Here, in a spirit of joyous extravagance, we splurged a goodly portion of our week's pay on platefuls of spaghetti and red Chianti.
Nor have I ever captured again the ecstasy of awakening at dawn on the slopes of a Himalayan hillside or of seeing the Sahara glistening under the moonlight. I doubt whether the materially fortunate ever have those joys in quite that kind of way. They cannot. Their money makes their traveling uninteresting. Their luxury cruise ships, their suites at fashionable hotels, their meals at restaurants which duplicate those in their home towns cause them to see the world no more intimately than if they were in a motion picture theatre. They live aloof from all that is real, buying everything from courtesy to mink coats, from smiles to champagne. Their sense of values is as lacking as their Serenity.
One of the best examples of this mentality can be seen in a certain type of tourist from the North and South American continents traveling in Europe. The moment they set foot there, out come the wallets and the tipping begins, out of all proportion to anything a native inhabitant could afford or would give if he were able, even out of proportion to what this same tipper would hand out in his own country. But while this largess buys European smiles, it does not buy good-will or affection but rather contempt for a mentality which believes that everyone as well as everything has a price. The traveler seldom hears this directly, and although he may sense a hostile undercurrent, it never occurs to him that it is due to his attitude towards money.
So many people ask after lectures, "What do the Arabs do with all the money they make from sheep breeding and date farming?"
And I always reply, "Nothing."
I do not think that many believe me, but it's the truth -- at any rate from my audiences' point of view. The nomad Arabs do nothing with their profits to improve their way of living or, as they would think, complicate it. They spend their money on their needs, such as food and clothing, distributing the surplus among those who are not as fortunate as they.
Many of those who set out to find Serenity are defeated by the trials of the journey, which brings them to grief quicker than anything else. And yet, if they would consider this aspect of their quest for a moment, they would appreciate how worthwhile is the expenditure. If logical reasoning will not tell them so, let them glance at any average group of human beings in the "civilized" world today. The majority will be frantically wasting energy to attain something material they believe will make them better off. They will be jostling each other, falling over each other, yelling at each other. They will be trampling and snorting and bellowing like stampeding cattle. Like cattle, too, most of them will not be at all sure where they are going or why, but that will not stop them. Nothing will stop them until they find they cannot push any further. Those who have not died of exhaustion on the way may wonder what the struggle was about, what generated the fierce surge towards the indefinable something known as "progress." What gave them such abnormal vitality? Because, suddenly, they are tired in body and mind, and the social and monetary gains they have achieved do not seem to compensate for the weariness. Or do they? Aren't they free now? Free from material want, free from social stigma, free from being regarded as social failures? Now that the top of the slippery ramp has been reached, that merciless question must be answered. Is everything serene and safe and splendid at the culmination of the wearing climb?
The answer is obvious. Freedom from fear is not ensured by material success nor, for that matter, is freedom from anything malevolent. The financially or successfully secure are in bondage to apprehension. They are as much in bondage as prisoners in a penitentiary, and like prisoners, see little chance of escape. Like prisoners, too, they would give much for their freedom. At least they think they would.
That is their trouble -- they think they would, for neither the physically immobilized prisoner in the jail nor the mentally immobilized prisoners in his luxurious surroundings will obey the rules which entitle him to freedom. He wants his cake of indulgence, be it crime or overdrinking or any other form of undisciplined relaxation, to keep and also to eat. And yet, it is no harder to follow the steep road to Serenity than the hazardous route to material gain or the dangerous stagger towards felony.
Occasionally, I have found myself making a fair success of something I was undertaking and been correspondingly satisfied with myself. But at the same time I sense the lack of any deep-rooted mental well-being. The triumph of the moment has stimulated me as might a bottle of champagne, but with the knowledge that the effect would wear off rapidly and end in anticlimax. There was nothing solid to support my good spirits and my exhilaration was inclined to be clouded by depression. Nor was there anything which I could do about it until I discovered the cause of this apparent paradox.
Material gain by itself is perhaps the most disappointing of achievements. It has the same deceiving qualities as the child's belief that because grownups can eat anything they like and go to bed when they please they must have reached the summit of emancipated happiness. It is, nevertheless, as difficult to convince the child of this fallacy as the man who is set on financial success. And this is not to imply that money should be thrown out of the window if one wants Serenity. It is only a warning against allowing a dollar mentality to take control.
"Thou art rich and what of it? As thou departest dost thou drag thy riches after thee, pulling them into the coffin?" So said the ancient Greek Paladas, summing up what should be always remembered by those who have, by those who have not and those who hope to have.
Money is given one to spend wisely for one's pleasure and the pleasure of others, not for hoarding or for showing off. Nor is it "the root of all evil." In fact, St. Paul never wrote that to Timothy, and the often misquoted passage really reads:
"For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith and pierced them through with many sorrows."
Chapter 6 Worry Brought On by Physical Indulgence
Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. -- Benjamin Franklin
Tranquility of mind depends as much on physical as on spiritual soundness. This seems fairly obvious, yet few people recognize it. They do not understand that in overstraining themselves they are wearing down nervous resistance. They cannot be convinced that there is no disease or operation or exertion which does not leave some aftereffect on the mind.
Overindulgence in eating or drinking or smoking or too violent physical exercise are the primary causes of tired nerves. Tired nerves are the primary causes of irritability and lack of Serenity. Once the nervous resistance is low and cells are giving out more than they are taking in, worry and fear are waiting to take control. A serene mind cannot thrive in an overindulged or under-rested body.
While this should be self-evident to anyone of average intelligence, there are few people who give it a thought. They treat their bodily machine with as little consideration as an old bicycle, banging it about, leaving it out in the rain, omitting to oil it or pump up the tires until one day the bicycle can no longer stand the strain and disintegrates. But while the bicycle ceases to be of any practical use and is relegated to a junk heap, the human being, now nothing more than a self-made encumbrance, continues to be given consideration by those who had the forethought to take care of themselves.
To the majority of human beings, eating is no more than a means of subsistence. The average Asiatic and African is happy if he gets sufficient food to escape starvation. More Europeans than one supposes are not properly fed, and there are undoubtedly a good many North Americans who are undernourished. For such as these, what follows will sound sheer nonsense, but it is not for the poverty-stricken and famished that this chapter has been written. It is for all men and women who are overindulging their stomachs and senses, not realizing that it is this overindulgence which gives them jumpy nerves and a glum outlook on life.
Gluttony can be one of the grossest of human obsessions. It is one of the primary causes of short tempers, tiredness and loss of mental tranquility. The insistence in the United States on "balanced diets,", the flow of books and articles and lectures on sensible eating, the expansion of scientific knowledge about foods and their effects on body and mind are not new. They are very old.
In ancient Babylon, for example, there were apparently no physicians as we know them, and cures for diseases were based on simple abstinence and domestic care. Titus Pomponious Atticus, who lived in Rome about 100 A.D., suffered such tortures from dropsical gout that he decided to starve himself to death. Before he succeeded, he cured himself. During the splendid days of Assyrian, Egyptian and Grecian civilization, a simple diet was the universal rule. The Arabs, who after the death of Mohammed established an empire greater than that of the Romans, carried out their campaigns on a meager ration of barley and dates and with no alcoholic stimulant.
Without going back beyond the sixteenth century, we can read Lord Bacon on the subject: "Curing diseases is effected by temporary medicine, but lengthening of life requireth observation of diets." And Sir William Temple, a contemporary of Charles II, tells us that a centenarian attributed his robust condition to eating before he was hungry and drinking before he was dry, which prevented his taking too much at a time
Perhaps the finest example of a human being who, by observing the rule of temperance, maintained perfect health and Serenity until he died at the age of 108 was the sixteenth-century Venetian, Luigi Cornaro. If evidence is required, there are three contemporary portraits painted of Cornaro when he was nearing his hundredth birthday which suggest a man half his age. Two are by Titian, one by Tintoretto.
Until the day of his death, Cornaro never became infirm. His nervous system never broke down and his senses were never impaired by blindness or deafness. He took a normal quota of exercise every day until he retired to bed for the last time, he learned to sing in his seventies and wrote three treatises on The Art of Living Long between the ages of eighty-three and ninety-one.
In these writings, Cornaro recommends temperance and simple cooking as the best aids to longevity and tranquility of mind. While he enumerates the kinds and qualities of the wines and meats and vegetables on which he thrived, he insists that these are what suited him alone. He is emphatic on this point and urges all those who wish to conserve their health to find out for themselves what is best for them individually*.
He denounces parents who compel their children to eat what is supposed to be good for them and hosts who force food on guests with small appetites. On one aspect of diet alone he is stubborn -- quantity. He has no doubt that overeating and overdrinking are the chief causes of illness, worry and premature death. It is hard to quarrel with this argument. Apart from the gross appearance of those who are overweight and the bestial behavior of the overdrinkers, the minds of these intemperate creatures are usually like the bodies in which they dwell. Their texture is suet-like and, as suet is stodgy, so are the senses, which does not mean that they are serene. They cannot be. They are too busy coping with overtaxed digestions.
Twenty-four hundred years ago, Socrates and Plato spoke of "a fair mind in a fair body," and Juvenal, five centuries later, pronounced his immortal dictum, "Mens sana in corpore sano." In the eighteenth century, Voltaire declared: "It is the stomach that makes people happy." In our own times, Sir William Osler said in an address to Yale students: "No dyspeptic can have a sane outlook on life -- to keep the body fit is a help in keeping the mind pure."
And that is a thousand times true. No man with indigestion can be serene. No man with a clogged liver can be anything but evil-tempered. If you do not believe this, try to be gay and good-natured after an evening of overeating, overdrinking and oversmoking. Contrast your state in such circumstances with awaking after a long night's rest in the country.
Cornaro does not mention smoking in any of his octogenarian treatises because at that time this habit was not yet in vogue in Europe. Had it been, it is certain he would have said that overindulgence in tobacco can be as bad for the nervous system as too much food and drink. For some, any smoking is upsetting to heart, digestion and nerves and, consequently, to Serenity.
I gave up smoking for several reasons. The first was that whenever I felt out of sorts, I instinctively knocked off tobacco. The second was that as soon as I was feeling well enough to smoke again, I did not enjoy it until I had once more broken myself into the habit. My doctor, with whom I discussed the matter, took an X ray of my lungs which showed them to be stained by nicotine, and then read me a paragraph from a medical encyclopedia which said, "Nicotine is extremely poisonous to man, a very small dose (less than a drop) proving fatal within a few minutes." He told me, too, that lung cancer was often attributed to smoking and then added that if I did not believe in medical warnings, it might interest me to calculate how much a year I spent on tobacco. While this recommendation did not influence me to any great extent, I was astonished to find how much money did go into what was no more than indulging a debilitating habit which I had acquired soon after leaving school. But it was probably the X-ray photo and the extract from the encyclopedia which had the most effect and made me put tobacco out of my life. It was not easy, however, and for six weeks or so I craved my after-breakfast smoke. However, I stood firm with a filled but unlit pipe between my teeth. Soon I had no pipe at all and no thoughts even of a pipe. I had climbed out of another rut without any temptation to drop back.
I have never smoked since, and my nervous system, as well as my general health, has improved beyond belief. My Serenity has increased, and while, like Luigi Cornaro, I will let others decide what suits them best, I cannot believe that tobacco does anyone any good. I have no doubt, either, that many of the dyspeptic and depressed people of the world today would do well to substitute for their bicarbonates and sedatives and other palliatives to indigestion and nervousness less subservience to the extremely ingrate and vindictive Lady Nicotine.
For those who wish to give up tobacco and need artificial aid, I suggest the unlit pipe or the unlit cigar, to start with. Smoking is as much a physical as a mental habit. The lips and the palate demand tobacco with as much insistence as the nerves. Holding something in one's mouth which tastes of nicotine during the transition period is, therefore, comforting and helps in the weaning process.
I gave up drinking about the same time as I did smoking I had drunk, on and off, since I left school, sometimes moderately, occasionally to excess. Like nicotine, alcohol did me no good. It upset my stomach, paralyzed my mind and gave me nauseating hangovers. It also made me do foolish things. The "day after", I was invariably in a state of queasy stupor which ruined my reasoning and my writing. But that did not stop me. I went on like a great many seemingly intelligent people, who, day after day, go a little way towards ruining their digestions and nerves with the concentration of maniac masochists. That I stopped acting in this futile way came, as it often does, in a sudden mental reversal and from quite unexpected causes.
The first was a twenty-five-cent edition of the late Dorothea Brande's Wake Up and Live which I picked up by accident from a railway station newspaper stand. I do not usually acquire books in this way, and my browsing might have been limited to a glance had not my eyes caught the chapter heading "The Will to Fail."
"Failure," I read, "indicates that energy has been poured into the wrong channels. It takes energy to fail."
That assertion made my thoughts spin. It jolted me as if I had suddenly been waked from a sound sleep by a fire or an earthquake. "It takes energy to fail." I kept on repeating this to myself, trying to rationalize the meaning of Miss Brande's statement. In almost trancelike state, I bought the book and continued reading. A few pages further on, I came to the passage which, together with the sentence above, was to have so much effect on me.
"The easiest of all to recognize as lovers of failure," Miss Brande went on to say, "are the heavy drinkers. Where drinking is so constant as to bring on a waking sleep or, deeper, a kind of death in life, the presence of the will to fail is obvious to any observer. But there are thousands who show the symptoms in so faint a form that they pass almost unnoticed, all those who drink, knowing that it means a bad morning the next day, a vague and wolly approach to every problem until the effects have passed off; those to whom any drinking means physical discomfort, whether acute or trifling. Anyone who has learned to expect these consequences and yet continues to lay himself open to them stands convicted of the desire to handicap himself, at least to that extent."
That was that, and that was me, convicted of the desire to handicap myself, convicted of the will to fail with no extenuating circumstances!
I had been born with an active mind which had been thoroughly developed. Physically, I was as sound as a race horse, though not in training. I was not tied down to any dreary routine or obliged to live in the slums of a smoky city. In other words, I had not the semblance of an excuse to seek forgetfulness in alcohol. Yet, although the words of Miss Brande had shocked me and impelled me to a lot of introspective probing, they did not put an immediate end to my drinking habits. What made me pause and give the matter more serious thought was one of those magazine articles which appear persistently in the United States and refer to alcoholism as a disease. This assertion, probably because I felt guilty, annoyed me. Then it provoked me. If overdrinking was a disease, I was a diseased man. But I did not believe this; in fact I was certain I was perfectly well. I had merely developed a bad habit like smoking or biting my nails. Anyone with any strength of character could stop tippling if he wanted to; it was merely a question of making up one's mind. Yet, while I turned this over and occasionally fumed about it, I took no steps in the direction of reform.
As a matter of fact, a great many heavy drinkers do go on postponing this decision until it is too late to do any good, or else they use this "disease" formula as an excuse for their excesses. They so convince their friends and relatives that a deep-seated ailment exists that, instead of being handled roughly, they are humored like invalids. They then trade on this sympathy to drink more and are pardoned for their behavior on the grounds that they did not know what they were doing when they ought really to have been told that they had no business to be drunk in the first place!
At any rate, after a good deal of procrastinating, I took myself in hand, drastically and abruptly. That is to say, I did not cut down on liquor, or drink only over the week end. I knew this would be quibbling. I gave up drinking one night and did not touch alcohol again for seven years. Nor did I replace it with any other stimulant or sedative.
I do not suggest that this was easy or comfortable or that I did not miss my whiskey because that would not be true. During the initial months of my teetotalism, I was wretched from 6 P.M. Until dinner, which was evidence in itself of the will to fail and an obvious vindication of my step. Nevertheless it was not easy and I had to devise and adhere to a rigid formula.
To begin with, I made it a rule to avoid all cocktail parties and dinners where there was preliminary drinking. I dined early, before the anxious moment of needing a drink arrived. I did everything I could think of to keep myself from being tempted until, little by little, the urge to drink faded as had the urge to smoke. Soon I found that I could go to parties and casually refuse all the once tempting glasses without effort. I was amused, too, to notice how imbecile my companions became as an evening progressed. The reactions of the women especially fascinated me. The velocity of the transition from reserved greetings to talkativeness, to shrillness and on to amorous gestures was a revelation. In a surprisingly short time, these seemingly normal human beings lost all sense of proportion and much of their sense of decorum.
And then as I noted these unattractive traits, I wondered why I had never done so before? Why, after all this time, were they suddenly impressing me? It was because I had been like these people. I had been noisy and inane and amorous and uncontrolled. If one thing irrevocably decided me to curb the drinking habit, it was going to a cocktail party cold sober!
On the other hand, I soon began to gain in health and energy. I felt like John Bunyan in Pilgrim's Progress when the heavy pack fell from his back at "the wall that was called Salvation." I felt as if I had been struggling through a dark and stifling tunnel, and had unexpectedly come out into comforting sunshine and fresh breezes, ten years younger and much stronger than I had been six months before.
There would be fewer people seeking divorce and the solace of psychiatry if more of them would look at themselves dispassionately before and after they have taken a few drinks. Yet, with all this, I maintain the principle of Luigi Cornaro that what is good for me is not necessarily good for you. If you like drinking, and if it does you no harm and is not apt to become your master, by all means drink. But be sure who is the boss, especially as you grow older.
There are people who thrive on rich food and alcoholic drinks and others to whom asceticism is the only way to live. As examples, we have Sir Winston Churchill and the Agha Khan, Cardinal Manning and Bernard Shaw. The alertness of these men's minds is evidence that they flourished on what they thought best for them. They also had Serenity.
The French and Italians and Spaniards who take life much as it comes and rarely allow worries to gnat at them, look upon wine as part of their daily food ration. They take it naturally without any idea that it will make them incoherent or cause them to lose their sense of values. They seldom take it to conceal inferiority complexes or give them false courage. They depend on it in the same way as they do on regular meals, but no more.
I like to drink wine when I know it to be good and when it is served with appropriate food. That, however, is merely a matter of personal taste and has little to do with the effect of alcohol on body and mind. Anyone who feels so inclined can make himself just as paralytic on Bordeau or Burgundy as on Bourbon. It may take longer but the ultimate result will be the same.
While a good many women and some men try to save themselves from alcoholism by substituting Benzedrine for cocktails, they are really no better off. The hangover next day when the nerves, no longer braced by the drug, are sagging may not have the nausea of wine or whiskey but the feeling of exhaustion is much the same. Furthermore, while alcohol encourages sleep, Benzedrine tends to generate insomnia, which leads to the sleeping pill habit. Although this does not upset households like drinking, it can end fatally for the addict.
Few can handle narcotics in moderation, be they opium smokers or hashish eaters or ladies whose social activities key them up beyond the reach of sleep. After the initial ecstasies of one pill, the mind, whether weary or not, begs for more. Soon a resistance is formed and two, three or six pills produce little effect but become as established a habit as the evening meal. This is followed by a gradual impairment of the mental faculties, and if an accidental overdose does not kill the addict, there may be little coherence left. This is especially so when the now enfeebled, self-made invalid stimulates his heart with Benzedrine and calms it with barbiturates. The heart can take a great deal of punishment, as the health records of rower and runners will testify, but when in so many minutes it is ordered to function at top speed and then at slow motion, it no longer knows what it is doing and eventually gives up trying.
"It takes energy to fail," wrote Dorothea Brande. And it can be added that it takes determination and perseverance to destroy our vital organs which, except in abnormal cases, are given us in perfect and resistant working condition. The joys of overindulgences last for a few hours. The joys of moderation endure as long as life.
Having tried to dampen the joys of overeating, smoking and drinking, and suspecting that few will be upset or influenced by these comments, it may interest those who say, "I don't mind the aftereffects, they're worth it!" to learn something about the hangover and its possible cure.
In the first place, except in excessive quantities, alcohol is not, by itself, a killer. Only under exaggerated and exceptional conditions do whiskey or gin damage the brain or the vital organs of the body. Ailments commonly supposed to result from drinking are, in reality, caused by the lack of vitamins, minerals, and proteins in liquor and the habitual drinker's neglecting to eat. (Incidentally, a quote temporary palliative when food cannot be combined with drink is to take vitamin B tablets while on a spree.) Alcohol, like sugar, creates artificial and temporary energy but gives even less nourishment. Consequently, during an evening of drinking men and women put a great deal of physical strain on their systems. Without any awareness of their conditions, they then go to bed emotionally worn out, to fall into a restless sleep until they wake up exhausted, edgy and with an aching head. What has to be dealt with in the morning is, more than anything, tiredness -- tiredness of the nervous system -- and the only way to cure tiredness is by rest.
The man who tries to fight his hangover with cold showers, black coffee and exercise is taking all the wrong measures to cure himself. Instead of the cold shower, he should take a warm bath, instead of the black coffee, he should drink warm milk and eat easily digested food, which will restore his lost strength; instead of violent exercise, he should rest his overtaxed body and mind. Above all, he should not drink spirits or wine for at least forty-eight hours. By following these rules, which may be difficult for those who have to work after a night of partying, the hangover period will be abbreviated. This advice is no more than common sense.
Anyone who wakes after a sober, stay-at-home evening feeling as desperately ill as it is possible to feel after an alcoholic night would not only remain in bed but send for a doctor. He would dare not revive himself with artificial stimulants or probably eat or drink anything at all until a physician had diagnosed the cause of his nausea, headache and miscellaneous pains. He would call his office and report his condition with unmistakable sincerity. So why not take the same attitude to the hangover? It is far better to recover completely and quickly than to struggle to work unable to do anything zestfully and perhaps even feeling the necessity of recuperating with some more of the poison which started the trouble.
The best remedy, however, is not to drink to excess. There is more crime, depravity, destitution and general unhappiness due to overdrinking than to any other human weakness. It is, correspondingly, the greatest enemy of Serenity.
Chapter 7 Worries Attendant on Love Affairs and Marriage
The young man who feels an awakening that life is a burden or a bore has been neglecting his machine, driving it too hard, stoking the engines too much, or not cleaning out the ashes and clinkers. Or has been too much with Lady Nicotine or fooling with Bacchus, or, worst of all, with the Younger Aphrodite. -- Sir William Osler
Temperance does not only mean being a teetotaler, it means being temperate in everything one does -- in drinking and smoking, in working or playing, in dallying with what Dr. Osler refers to as the "Younger Aphrodite" and Dr. Fielding, more bluntly, as "Sex and the Love Life." To quote Cicero, "Temperance is the firm and moderate dominion of reason over passion and other unrighteous impulses of the mind."
However, while the younger Aphrodite plays an important role in the attainment or loss of Serenity, one cannot generalize about individual bodies. As in eating and drinking, each person must have an idea of what is best for him and should follow his instinct for better or for worse, remember that strict self-denial can be as bad for one as periodical self-indulgence.
A man or a woman who dies a teetotaler or a virgin usually looks back on a dreary journey strewn with refusals and one of no particular merit. Until one has known sensual pleasures, their avoidance is not especially virtuous. With few exceptions, lifelong temperance and chastity can breed such dullness of mind that the body might just as well be dead. In fact, what makes men like Charles de Foucauld and Thomas Merton interesting is that they knew life from all points of view.
"There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repenteth than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance" makes much more sense to me now than it did when I heard it used as a text for a sermon at school.
It takes a lot of fundamental sensuality for a human being to develop all lusts of the flesh. It takes a great deal of will power, too, to give them up. By giving them up, I do not mean that asceticism is the essential or recommended alternative. The exhilaration gained from good wine or the satisfaction from good food or the ecstasies from physical love are not, in themselves, censurable or sinful. The trouble is that the sensuous and the voluptuous go to extremes to overindulge these normal and natural pleasures, which leads as much to undermining of Serenity as worrying about things over which one has no control.
A great many men believe that the sexual act is essential to the promotion of good health. Nothing could be more false. In fact, carried out as a means to an end, it can become an irritant and then an enfeebler.
Speaking to Yale undergraduates, Sir William Osler attached more blame to unbridled sexual indulgence as a cause of mental exhaustion than to overindulgence in tobacco and alcohol. While for many years I did not rightly understand or heed the great doctor's words, I now know that he was right. Incontinence is a relentless enemy of creative work, as it probably is of any worthwhile occupation.
The majority of mankind measure life by false standards of pleasure and pain, instead of by standards of growth. When all goes well, everything is wonderful. When the reverse occurs, everything is deplorable. Few, in either case, give a moment to consider whether or not they are progressing as a result of experience which has been afforded them. Yet everything that happens pushes one a little farther on the journey towards this knowledge.
When I start off to find myself, I was weighed down by destructive thoughts and habits, and as unfit as you may believe yourself to be to achieve tranquility of mind. For this reason, the physical aspects of this subject have been stressed. Tobacco may remain a harmless habit, alcohol may soothe tired nerves, sloth may only mean breakfast in bed. None of these may ever catch up with the Serenity seeker who is forewarned or has any strength of character. To certain natures, however, they are as injurious as is the Younger Aphrodite when she gets out of hand.
"The other primal instinct is the heavy burden which Nature puts on all of us to insure a continuation of the species," says Sir William Osler. "To drive Plato's team taxes the energies of the best of us. One of the horses is a raging, untamed devil, who can only be brought into subjection by hard fighting and severe training. This much you all know as men: once the bit is between the teeth, the black steed Passion will take the white horse Reason with you and the chariot rattling over the rocks to perdition."
I once quoted this paragraph to a Frenchman -- a writer and philosopher who, in spite of his snow-white hair and beard, had a youthful twinkle in his eyes. Shrugging his shoulders, he asked:
"Do you know any better way to die?"
During my early days as a lecturer, and when still a bachelor, no question period after any of my talks on Serenity ever passed without someone popping up with:
"May I ask if you are married?"
"No, I am not married."
"Then how can you who have no wife or family responsibilities tell those who have how not to worry? You don't know what you're talking about!"
Or words to that effect and spoken with a note of peevish disapproval. In other words, an indictment and denunciation of the married state as something which inevitably defeats the tranquility of mind.
At that time, I was inclined to sympathize with the questioners. I felt that, as a carefree bachelor who had floated around the world unattached for years, I was not one to counsel husbands with nagging wives and squalling children. I was not one to direct the way to Serenity for wives with indolent, selfish, drinking or bad-tempered husbands. So I used to shrug my shoulders and grin, feeling that eighty per cent of my audience agreed with the questioner. And yet, at the back of my mind, I knew that I was wrong. I knew that I should have replied to my critics with something like this:
"Maybe your home is dreary and quarrelsome. Maybe your wife has lost her freshness and your husband is no longer the passionate lover. But have you wondered whether this is perhaps not your fault? Has it ever occurred to you that you entered into this state freely and, presumably, after careful consideration? Had you no serious intentions then to help and comfort each other and laugh and be strong together, and not merely go to bed together? Might I remind you of those beautiful words of the marriage service: 'For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part ... with this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, with my worldly goods I thee endow.' Have you ever thought of them? Have you honestly tried to find solutions to your problems? Success in marriage is much more than finding the right person; it is also a matter of being the right person. Nor is it marriage that fails, it is people that fail. All marriage does is show people up."
Such thoughts are worth serious consideration by those who are contemplating uniting themselves to comparative strangers for the rest of their lives as well as by those already married, bearing in mind that, like drinking and smoking, marriage must be viewed as a matter of individual temperament -- good for some, bad for others.
A great many men and a good many women marry with the instincts of animal or physical urges impelling them. Without admitting it, or perhaps even realizing it, their need to be together is dominated by passion. Like the birds and the beasts, they are influenced by the mating impulse. They mistake desire for love. They have not heard or do not appreciate the wise words of H.G. Wells when he observed that love and the sexual urge are usually coincidences. In fact, I believe one of the primary causes for marriage disasters is disregard of this truth. Disregard and a vague idea that everything will adjust itself after marriage, though why this should be left to chance passes the bounds of human comprehension.
Marriage is like a long journey for which many contingencies have to be anticipated before the travelers set out. No one would embark for Australia without some information about the boat on which he was sailing or without baggage and money for incidental expenses. Yet that is precisely how many marriages are undertaken, leading to the fate which awaits any form of improvidence. If the readers of newspapers could not identify themselves with those ill-assorted couples in comic strips, like "Jiggs" or "Mr. And Mrs.," publishers would not pay high-salaried cartoonists to produce them. Nor is this type of humor limited to the dailies. In addition to the ancient mother-in-law quips, few weeklies or monthlies refrain from making fun of marriage or portraying it as bondage for the husband and dull routine for the wife.
Even advertisements suggest how both males and females can acquire foolproof methods for holding their mates. These are, for the most part, based on sexual relations which belong rather to primitive savages or to brothels of ancient Babylon than to the age of atomic science. Marriage, in short, has come to be regarded as a joke, a rather sordid joke, or as a way to gratify sensual needs without the risk of being accused of moral turpitude! Yet into what an ideal state can marriage be made when sensibly handled. What an inducement to the development of Serenity.
Love, true love, is a miracle. It is not what most of us expect: a stormy, almost frightening appeal for one of the opposite sex which flares too fiercely to last. The real thing is like nothing else in the world. It is as if we had entered for the first time a group of living perceptive beings who understand as we do. Unfortunately, the privilege of falling in love is not given to everybody and the privilege of falling deeply in love is given to few.
According to Andr, Maurois, conversation is the real basis of matrimony. "To be alone with a woman who talks intelligently," he says, "is one of the pleasantest things in life." He does not say the pleasantest thing, but one* of the pleasantest. Nor is it implied that a highly educated woman will necessarily* make a highly satisfactory wife any more than will one whose chief asset is beauty. In fact, there is nothing a man fears more than having a wife with more intellect than himself or one who dazzles with her loveliness but has no more claim to humanity than an orchid. Here must be something in the make-up of both parties besides good looks, good brains or good manners. There should be a little culture, a great deal of tact and an adequate amount of charm. The first can often be acquired, the second presents a more difficult problem. In fact, charm is a quality which is extremely hard to define and those who have it are highly unaware of their good fortune.
Tact, although completely absent in some people's natures, can be developed. It is a sense which has been the success secret of men and women in every walk of life. In marriage, it is intuitiveness to the mood of one's husband or wife, saying the right thing instinctively at the right moment, restraining the inappropriate question, never offending with ill-chosen words. A man and woman with true tact can achieve more towards maintaining Serenity in the home than with all the beauty and money in the world. Even intelligence is useless unless it is combined with tact.
Tact is an ability to put oneself in the opposite person's place and to control whatever emotions are uppermost in one's mind at the moment. Love, combined with tact, makes an ordinary, selfish sentiment controlled by trivialities into something which is without condition or change. It turns it into a symbol of eternity, obliterating all memory of a beginning, all fear of an end. Yet how few men and women on the threshold of marriage can appreciate what this means or, when married, put into practice.
Mostly newlyweds, when they have passed beyond the initial stages of endearment, drift into discussing their neighbors, recounting dreary experiences of their drab day or sitting in silence wondering how the excitement and fun of courting days disappeared. Some try to revive the old emotions by drinking, but usually the evening or Sunday at home degenerates into reading a newspaper, yawning and trying to imagine what the respective partners ever found so attractive in each other. Some couples, not having enough mental stimulus, do not even do this. They just vegetate like overripe pumpkins which have ceased to grow or mature until death does them part.
This applies, to a considerable extent, to people of moderate means who cannot submerge their boredom in dinner parties and theaters, or winters in Florida and summers in Europe. It applies to those who married for better or for worse and have discovered only the worse, without even money as a makeshift opiate to deaden the tedium of incompatibility and the tact to ward off recriminations.
While discussing this aspect of money as a smoothing element in ill-assorted unions, it may be asked whether "marrying money" can really breed harmony. The only time I ever saw this question squarely broached in print was in Mr. Scripps' memoirs. "Don't marry for money," he advised. "Women are what they are. At best, they are hard enough to get along with. They are always trying to make a man do something he doesn't want to do and generally succeeding. If they have the money, they are twice as powerful." Probably the safest rule to follow is not to marry on account of money, but at the same time not to be put off by someone one loves merely because of a much larger income on that side than on one's own.
While there is no real remedy for those who cannot or will not rouse themselves from soddening routine, there can be some avoidance of irritants which will wear out the patience of the best-intentioned mates and put an end to all prospects of a serene existence. The first and most insidious is nagging.
A great many men and women nag without being aware that they are doing so. They criticize and complain about trivial matters and are horrified when, one day, they realize that things they have been saying through the years have worn a deep wound.
There is, for example, the husband or wife who, with entirely good intentions, is always commenting on the drinking habits of his or her mate until the criticized party begins to "nip" in secret and may develop into an alcoholic. Even if this does not materialize, deception has been brought into being between two people who should, before all, be scrupulously frank. And with the first lie told, the second and third follow automatically.
Another way to make home life intolerable is to drag up the past, for example by harping on some old love affair or a previous marriage. What renders this form of nagging more senseless than any other is that no one can do anything to alter what happened before either of the parties concerned met!
While inquisitiveness may be a genuine demonstration of interest in a husband or wife, it usually is no more than idle curiosity, which, when uncontrolled becomes wearisome. Although there are men who have this failing, it is more apt to be a female trait. Like Bluebeard's wives and Logengrin's bride, they cannot leave well enough alone. And men detest questions. They are little concerned with their wives' club meetings, lunches, shopping expeditions, or even the doings of their neighbors. They have their own habits and work and thoughts, some of which they enjoy sharing in their own time if not pressed.
Some men relish spells of solitude, as do some women. Their minds are tired or they have problems to solve. Yet, how hard it is, usually, for the majority to find restfulness. The moment either partner suggests spending the day alone, there is immediate suspicion of some secret if not lustful intention, which may lead to the invention of an unconvincing excuse and a procession of conjectures, bringing on a night of nagging and the attendant banishing of Serenity. With a natural night's rest gone, irritation follows, leading to a second row and more lack of sleep until a frenzied antagonism has been generated by nothing more than an ill-timed question.
The best remedy for this condition of mind is a short separation while both sides can rest and reflect. In fact, without any specific objective, husbands and wives should part occasionally and sort their thoughts and behave without considering anybody but themselves. Yet how many married couples put this into practice? The moment he or she suggests a few days of solitary holiday, doubts develop. What is behind this wish to be alone?
Jealousy, in any form, is disastrous to peace of mind. In the home it destroys every foundation of happiness, any feeling of security. The odd thing is that jealousy rarely has any cause beyond mere suspicion worked up from something the jealous person thought he saw or heard. Theater audiences, witnessing Othello, sympathize with Desdemona and condemn the Moor as a murderous maniac. Nevertheless, fifty per cent of that audience have been guilty to some degree of the same kind of insanity. Nor is it much good preaching about this. Human beings are jealous or not jealous by nature. If Serenity is one's goal, the best thing is to drop the company of anyone who shows this trait. Neither time nor self-control will eradicate what is inherent as baldness or bad teeth. Along with jealousy, nagging -- which can be the result of jealousy -- is the most ruthless destroyer of peace of mind.
In an article in Collier's W.J. Slocum declared that there are more derelict alcoholics in skid-row flophouses of the United States because of nagging or jealous wives than for any other reason. One of Dale Carnegie's most pertinent remarks, which has always clung to my mind, runs something like this: "Walking ten blocks to meet a nagging wife can be more fatiguing than walking ten miles to meet a sweetheart one adores." I have no doubt, either, that there are numbers of women who would say the same about the return of a husband from the office who grumbles and criticizes for no reason but that he is that kind of man.
To have Serenity in marriage nagging must be checked quickly; otherwise, like a microbe in a glass of water, which can neither be seen nor sensed, it will increase with such rapidity that eventually nothing can resist it.
Rabbi Joshua Liebman says in one of his essays: "Marriage is a many sided relationship between a man and a woman, intended in our culture to continue until interrupted by death; the legal, social, economic, religious and emotional aspects of which provide, theoretically at least, the best circumstances under which to conceive and to rear children; at the same time, offering the maximum opportunity for the greatest number of adults to live well rounded, happy lives as individuals. Unhappy indeed is the couple where the bond is only legal. 'What God hath joined!' expresses an unwarranted assumption which would surely be characterized as such by omniscient wisdom. The idea that an agreement and a legal bond automatically confer happiness, because marriages are made in heaven by some mysterious and divine predestination is sentimental tommyrot. If marriages are made in heaven, why do so many married people live in hell?"
There is one more worry breeder in this male-female relationship which belongs really to the premarital period. It concerns the girl who, having up to the moment of her engagement been a painter or poet or an actress, assures her fianc, that all she yearns for is an opportunity to cook, make beds and sweep floors. Or the big game hunter and explorer who convinces his bride-to-be that his lifelong ambition has been to live in a city and work in an office.
Both these people are probably sincere when they make these declarations, because they're in love and think only in terms of the likes or dislikes of the loved one. Yet they should know that lives in the art world or in Central Africa cannot be easily reconciled to nurseries or concrete pavements. Nor is this a fanciful idea. Many more marriages than one supposes have gone on the rocks for no other reason than unconscious or unintended dishonesty during the courting stage.
I saw it happen myself when a quite inartistic man of my acquaintance convinced the girl he wanted to marry, who was a first-class musician, that he doted on opera, symphonies and piano solos. But when the honeymoon was over and his bride announced that she had tickets for this and that musical event, the man admitted he was tone deaf and that any form of concert was for him a wasteful and tedious ordeal. The only reason, he explained, that he had accompanied his fianc,e to hear music was that he wanted to be near her. Now there was no further necessity to pretend.
The wife's answer was to pack up and leave, explaining to me later, after she had obtained a divorce, that she could not go on living with a man who was fundamentally so dishonest!
It has been said that children are a great comfort in one's old age and also help one to get there faster. There is much truth in this quip, although its fulfillment can be avoided by a little common sense.
Training a child does not consist solely in educating it. It consists a great deal more in giving it a good example. The father and mother must establish a tone of stability and security to which the child will respond. The actual presence of the parents, their evident love for each other and especially obvious signs of harmony will do more for a child than endless talking about good behavior.
Neurosis is not inherited, but the foundation may be laid by the neurotic behavior of parents. To a small child, anything the father or mother does seems normal and natural. Consequently, he imitates the behavior by being agreeable and loving, or spiteful and selfish. If he sees his parents going into tantrums, he will do the same. Thus, if the parents are neurotic, the child may grow up neurotic, not because he has inherited this trait, any more than they did, but because he has learned it from them.
On the other hand, parents should not sacrifice themselves for their children. They should not deprive them of necessities, but neither should they allow them to be extravagant if that is apt to cause anyone discomfort. Children seldom fully appreciate what their parents are doing for them, and if they do, they seldom show much gratitude. Those who do, frequently allow their sense of duty to carry their indebtedness to extremes.
There is nothing more than distressing than the spectacle of devoted sons and daughters abandoning their happiness and future to demanding, ailing or aging parents. Divorced from their contemporaries, they sacrifice themselves in an atmosphere of wheel chair seclusion. And eventually these children are left to deal with the world's problems alone -- often too late to start homes of their own.
What all this resolves itself into is getting parents, marriage and children into the right perspective -- a potential source of Serenity instead of a potential source of worry. This applies, moreover, chiefly to the English-speaking races, who approach marriage casually and with little true consideration for the future. No heed is given to the failures of other marriages, to the advice of older and experienced people, if not parents, or to the tribulations which young people have to undergo from the lack of the necessary means to start a home. Instead, a young woman announces her engagement, everyone applauds, a wedding date is fixed and the couple is launched into an adventure like a rudderless boat in a rough sea.
With the Latins, there is still much forethought given to this subject, much weighing of pros and cons, judging the suitability of the young people involved -- their ages, tastes, temperaments, their financial resources. Usually there is a little nest egg or a dowry in the picture, maybe a paid-for home or other goods and chattels with which to start housekeeping. There is, in other words, a material as well as a spiritual foundation for the union.
The free and easygoing Anglo-Saxon youths is apt to scoff at these marriages of convenience, but he cannot refute the fact that the proportion of divorces in the un-Sovietized portions of the Continental Europe is far lower than in England and the United States.
Nor has this much to do with any binding rules of the Roman Catholic Church. In many parts of Italy and even more in France, numerous families are freethinkers whose marriages are not blessed by a priest. The success of these unions can be attributed to an understanding of the ingredients which go to make a comfortable and happy home. In fact, an active search for Serenity would be little understood by a European Latin and probably not by a Scandinavian, and this can, to a great extent, be attributed to a sane and prudent approach to marriage.
Shortly after writing this chapter, I found myself skimming through some essays by Arnold Bennett published thirty years or so ago, where I came upon the following passage dealing with marriage:
"Personally," he writes, "I should estimate that in not one per cent even of romantic marriages are the husband and wife capable of passion for each other after three years, so brief is the duration of violence of love. In perhaps thirty-three per cent, passion settles down into a tranquil affection which is ideal. In fifty per cent, it sinks into sheer indifference, and one becomes used to one's wife or one's husband as to one's other habits. In the remaining sixteen per cent, it develops into dislike or detestation. Do you think that my percentages are wrong, you who have been married a long time and know what the world is? Well, you may modify them a little -- you won't modify them much. The risk of finding oneself ultimately among the sixteen per cent can be avoided by the simple expedient of not marrying and, by the same expedient, other risks can be avoided which I have not mentioned."
While that may be the best advice anyone can offer about this most ancient and perplexing problem, it is no answer to the search for Serenity. In fact, love, true love of the mind as well as of the body is probably the safest solution to the worldly confusions which beset most of us. Bear in mind, however that love is as fragile as it is beautiful and should be handled with corresponding care -- never taken for granted. If properly understood, it can be the source of happiness and the cause of Serenity. When it is matured by marriage, it can furnish that tranquility of mind which surpasses anything else of its kind. For, in spite of the comic strips, and cynical comments on the married state, and divorce statistics, marriage properly accepted and used can be one of the answers, possibly the most satisfactory answer, for those who seek Serenity.
Chapter 8 Worrying about Illness and Insomnia
Blessing on him who first invented sleep. It covers a man, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold and cold for the hot. It is the current coin which purchases cheaply all the pleasures of the world, and the balance that sets even king and shepherd, fool and sage. -- Miguel de Cervantes
Why can't one sleep? Insomnia is unnatural children and primitive peoples sleep without persuasion. My Arab shepherds rolled up in their burnouses on the hard desert and dropped off to sleep the moment they lay down. So did I after a little practice; or as I heard a girl comment after listening to a group of young ladies telling how their thoughts went round and round as soon as they put out the light:
"The moment I get into bed, I shut my eyes and my mind goes blank."
The significance of that remark, I know, escaped the speaker as well as her friends but what it amounted to was: "I am more richly endowed, more fortunate, more happy than any of you. I have a gift which has no price and no money can buy."
One of the main causes of insomnia is the worrying brought on by just thinking about it. Yet it is medically established that no one ever died from not sleeping. Nevertheless, a great number of human beings, especially in the United States, suffer from insomnia, and for these something more than scientific facts are necessary.
There are three methods, outside complete physical exhaustion, for luring sleep.
The first and worst is a sedative. Although this is not recommended, when for some reason the need becomes imperative, it should be put into effect in the right away and at the right time. That is, the drug should be taken sufficiently early in the evening to ensure reaping its full benefit.
Most insomniacs toss about until after midnight before making up their minds to surrender to a sleeping pill. They are now, however, so tense that whatever narcotic they use does not relieve them quickly. So when at last they have sunk into a drugged sleep, it is time to get up. Then, in order to operate effectively, they drink quantities of coffee so that nervousness starts all over again. With the night the same restlessness reappears, the same journey to the barbiturate bottle, succeeded by the same paralyzed waking. Such a condition is one of the greatest disasters which can befall anybody, putting an end to tranquility of mind. In fact, once the sleep seeker develops the habit of taking a nightly dose and then increases it to meet the natural physical resistance to any form of medicine, he is as sick a man as the chronic alcoholic, with his health, work and future in danger. Like the alcoholic, too, he must go to extremes to cure the habit -- sit up all night, walk, stay awake and read, adopt any subterfuge to defeat the dependence on narcotics. Sleeping pills and potions taken indiscriminately may not be fatal but they will cause one to lose all power of concentration.
What hardly any addicts realize is that bromide poisoning causes insomnia, the very condition the drug is supposed to cure, which leads, of course, to heavier doses resulting in more poisoning and worse insomnia. Furthermore, while the barbiturate hangover may be so slight that some individuals are unaware of it, it is nevertheless there, eating away at the brain and steadily lowering efficiency.
Some readers may feel that I have never been threatened by insomnia and therefore have no right to preach on the subject. That is not true, There have been periods in my life when pain and illness kept me awake. On one of these occasions I was given morphine, codeine and Demerol, but once the suffering was over I cut myself of from the unneeded sedative. On other occasions I took nothing, preferring to let natural causes wear me out until sleep came of its own accord. That is the hard way, but it is the best way if eventually one wants peace and sanity.
As a matter of fact, there are several artificial aids to sleep which are not harmful. A hot bath or something to eat before settling down for the night are both sound sedatives. For those who go off to sleep as soon as they have put out the light but are wide awake two hours later, something more to eat by the bedside, such as apples or milk, will usually send them off again.
Temperature also plays a big role in promoting satisfying sleep. Every person has his own ideas about what the thermometer in the bedroom should read, yet there are hundreds of men and women whose restless nights are due to nothing more than being too hot or too cold or having too many blankets on the bed or an icy draft blowing from a too widely opened window.
One of the best methods I have discovered for inducing sleep requires some imagination. It consists in telling oneself stories about oneself after the summer of the fanciful adventures of Walter Mitty -- making oneself the hero of a romantic love affair or a daring exploit or a superlative athletic contest. Nor does this really require much effort since long before the climax is reached, sleep has brought oblivion. Next evening one can go on from where consciousness was lost or else start afresh. Or if romance is not in one's line, one can try to create the perfect crime, casting oneself in the role of the criminal endeavoring to anticipate every move the police may make to frustrate the robbery or murder.
If one's imagination is quite sterile, a good mental sleeping pill is to try to remember a road along which one has driven or ridden or walked. On occasions when sleep was elusive, I have set out in fancy along the highway which leads from Algiers to the Sahara, but I have rarely got beyond the Atlas Range before losing consciousness.
There are many other kinds of mental games, all efficacious in the luring of sleep. The system employed does not matter provided it gets the mind occupied with such an organized series of thoughts that it cannot dart about from one disturbing subject to another or worry the same problem aimlessly like a cat running after its own tail.
There is also the inducing of sleep by becoming so weary that staying awake is out of the question. As the late Roussy de Sales amusingly suggested: "Formula for sleeping. Not go to bed for a week. Then go to bed!"
While this was spoken in fun, the notion is not as exaggerated as might be supposed. When a restless mind will take no respite, bodily exhaustion can be the remedy. It is rare to find a man or woman whose occupation is entirely physical reaching the bed with any likelihood of a disturbed night ahead.
Couples who share rooms are among those who are deliberately handicapping themselves in the race for sleep. No two human beings are well enough adjusted to feel the urge to rest or rise at identical moments. Some like reading in bed, some like talking, some are too drowsy to do either. Thus, a bedtime conflict is always apt to crop up which is death to rest. Even if there is no conflict, there is the restlessness of one person or the snoring of the other to add to the insomnia problem. If separate rooms are not available, separate beds should be imperative.
These recommendations do not apply to those who for practical or economic reasons cannot consider them or for those who find bedroom intimacy an inducement to sleep. The suggestions are for the many who ruin their nights from no other reason than habit, convention or tradition.
In my opinion and after trying many systems and discussing them with specialists and practitioners, the only infallible prescription for sleep is as follows: Retire for the night with the intention of sleeping. In the words of Homer, "The night is already at hand and it is well to yield to the night." In other words, do not do so to think over the problems of the day which has passed or of the day which is coming. Go there for sleep, certain of discarding all physical and mental cares.
For those who feel that this is simpler to say than do, the following explanation given me by a Hindu philosopher, who inclined to mysticism and believed in Christianity, may help.
"Sleep and death," he said, "are closely related. In both cases, our spirits leave our bodies and wander off into the universe. The only difference in the two states is that when we die, the currents of vitality cease to flow and decay sets in. While we are sleeping, every physical organ is functioning exactly as if we were awake, but our spirits are away. This is, of course, that sleep from which one awakes refreshed and without any recollection of idiotic or fantastic dreams, which, incidentally, occur when we are between wakefulness and sleep and the spirit, returning to the body, creates unsymmetrical thoughts which bring us back to the full consciousness. It is only unbroken sleep which gives us that sublime sensation that everything is right with ourselves and those about us."
In support of this theory, I can think of the occasions when I have wakened in the morning with a kind of ecstasy, ready to handle any worldly problems the day might bring. I am sure, too, that many men and women who read these lines can look back on similar experiences, but have never wondered why they happened or made any attempt to repeat them. They probably do not know or suspect that there is a way, a way I learned also from my serene Hindu friend.
In the first place, the achievement of this kind of ecstatic rest requires preparation and the preparation requires practice. If preparation is not made, if the worries of the day are not discarded, they will follow one into the realms of sleep. Thus, how one has lived during the day, together with the companions of wakeful thought, will also, to a great extent, determine the nature of sleep at night. Preliminary tranquility of mind is essential in order to receive any benefit from sleep.
This preliminary tranquility of mind means -- if one lives with wife, family or friend -- the avoidance of arguments or the introduction of any controversial topic, however mildly, in the evening. It may be a domestic problem of no real importance, something one said at breakfast, or the impending visit of a tiresome relative, which at bedtime can become as irritating as a barbed thorn in one's finger. If one lives alone, it is easy to turn to an interesting book to make one forget past and future until drowsiness sets in. But, whatever one's status, all that tends to be discordant must be ejected from the mind before retiring for the night, and while this may be difficult at first, practice will soon make it as much of a habit as eating one's supper.
The way I prepare myself for sleep, and the way you can also, is as follows: Having achieved this mental attitude towards bedtime, I consider the physical aspect, which is nearly as important. I make up my mind that, regardless of whether I lose consciousness or not, I will be at rest. Every part of me will be resting and my only purpose will be to bring physical rest. I will not even consider the word "sleep." Everything in me will be concentrated on plain rest.
To arrive at this purely material condition, I then allow my body and especially my back and neck to go limp. I relax my arms and close my eyes. It does not matter if I am lying in a field or on a soft bed, I am flabby and flaccid from my head to my feet.
I know now that I am physically at rest. I further know that if I do not become insensible during the night, which is unlikely under these conditions, I will not have been using or tiring my ears or eyes or limbs. All those parts of me which have been in continual action during daylight will have been in repose. In other words, six or eight hours stretched out in the dark, awake, and six or eight hours stretched out in the dark, asleep, vary little, as far as recuperative relaxation is concerned, provided there is no interruption.
There must be no turning on the light to read or going into a frenzy over the possibility that insomnia is going to make one into a nervous wreck. It will not make one into a nervous wreck, provided one regards these hours of lying in the dark as a deliberate intention to rest in the same way as one goes to lie down sometime in the afternoon. No one appears from a siesta with a story of agonizing sleeplessness. On the contrary, the resurrection from the post-lunch rest has refreshed the subject whether consciousness was lost or not. The same reasoning must be applied to so-called insomnia. In other words, thinking about not being asleep, listening to a clock strike the hours, imagining how impossible work will be next day are actually the causes of insomnia. So forget that word or its implications and, except under abnormal circumstances, this new mental attitude will induce sleep.
"He sleeps well who knows not that he sleeps ill!" said Publius Syrus in Rome two thousand years ago. Which goes to show that the idea that thinking about insomnia brings it on is neither original nor new. I doubt very much, too, whether men who have to get up every morning before six to empty garbage cans or girls who have to travel from the country to offices in the city suffer from wakefulness at night. They have no time. Nor have you if you make up your mind about it.
Concerning the more spiritual system for luring sleep, my Hindu friend advised: "Lying on your back with your hands crossed on your chest, let the rest of your physical self sag. Simultaneously, relax your mind and empty your brain of conflicting thoughts and then of all thoughts. It takes practice to do this but it will come with conscientious concentration. Once the brain cells are 'loose' and accordingly receptive, say something like "Come in, sleep!" It does not matter what expression you use or if you use any expression at all provided the mind is waiting and ready for sleep. If that is so, tranquility and that peace which passes all understanding will spread over you and before you know what has happened you will have gone off completely as if you had taken a deep breath of ether. "If," he then added, "you find that sleep will not respond to this call, it is because, in spite of your best intentions, you have not completely emptied your brain of worldly and, especially, angry or controversial thoughts. Of this there is no doubt. In order to benefit by this compelling calm, there must be unconditional surrender."
This formula is not farfetched or impractical, nor has it anything to do with Emile Cou,'s cures by autosuggestion. It is within the reach of all, as I can certify who first, rather doubtfully and then with growing confidence, put it into practice, until from anticipating bedtime with apprehension of boredom, I now look forward to it eagerly as something which will send me out next day saturated with the joy of living. Once you have accepted it, as I have, you will banish from your mind all notions that sound slumber is not yours by right, while simultaneously discarding those capsules and tablets which debilitate and demoralize. You will above all sleep serenely, wake serenely, and live serenely. In fact, the achievement of Serenity is almost synonymous with the achievement of good sleeping habits.
Much the same can be said about health, that is to say bad health induced by fussing. As with insomnia, men and women who have to earn their living cannot afford to be ill. Invalidism is the privilege of the idle and wealthy. "It is dainty to be sick," wrote Emerson, "if you have the leisure and convenience for it." Or as a famous French doctor remarked, "There are no illnesses, only patients."
If one has the leisure, it is just as easy to become a hypochondriac as an insomniac. The moment one decides one has high blood pressure or that a lump in one's arm is malignant or that one's lungs are ailing, it does not take long to work oneself into a potential heart, or cancer, or tuberculosis subject. This is followed by a gradually lengthening daily self-examination and corresponding increase of worrying until many symptoms of other malignant ailments are discovered.
Jerome K. Jerome, the English humorist, tells how he went one morning to the British Museum to look up the cure for hay fever. "I got down the book," he writes, "and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves and began indolently to study diseases generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into -- some fearful, devastating scourge, I know -- and before I had glanced half way down the list of premonitory symptoms, it was borne in on me that I had fairly got it.
"I sat for a while, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever -- read the symptoms -- discovered I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it -- wondered what else I had got, turned up St. Vitus' dance -- found, as I expected, that I had that too -- began to get interested in my case, so started alphabetically. Read up ague, and learning that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would start in about another fortnight. Bright's disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in modified form. Cholera I had with severe complications; diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady which I could conclude I had not got was housemaid's knee!
"I sat and pondered. I thought what an interesting case I must be from a medical point of view. Then I wondered how long I had to live. I felt my pulse. I could not at first feel any pulse at all. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed to start off. I pulled out my watch and timed it. It made a hundred and forty-seven to the minute. I tried to feel my heart. It had stopped beating. I tried to look at my tongue but all I could see was the tip and the only thing that I could gain from what was to feel more certain than before that I had scarlet fever. I had walked into that reading room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck!"
And that is only a slightly exaggerated description of how hypochondria develops.
Unfortunately, many doctors do not help these imaginary invalids. Some of them need patients. Others realize that if they find no real illness, the man or woman consulting them will move on to somebody who sympathizes and prescribes. Others feel that self-medication and increased nervous tension will be the outcome of an uncompassionate attitude. There are only a few who refuse to waste time on the would-be invalid.
In an inn where I used to go to write I once saw an over-rich old lady in a tantrum because the local doctor she summoned had said there was nothing wrong with her. Flaming with healthy rage, she stood on the threshold of her room denouncing the physician as an incompetent provincial practitioner who did not know illness when he saw it! The truth was that, being a busy country doctor, he did know illness, real illness, and could not be bothered with a wealthy woman whose only disability was not having enough to occupy her aimless existence.
On the other hand, I have known people who really did suffer from bad health and could find little compensation. Some of them were veritable martyrs. They could not afford to summon doctors to their homes or even go to their offices. They had to work every day except on weekends, when they were too weary to go to hospitals for free treatment. The courage of these men and women has always made me ashamed when I have let minor indispositions take the upper hand and put me to bed. It has also made me wish that I could set some of the ladies who rock and regret on hotel verandas to cleaning offices or standing behind department store counters when they complained of pains in their cushioned-propped backs and stool-supported legs.
There is no greater deterrent to Serenity than worrying over ailments, imaginary or real. Even if one is suffering from something serious, fussing over it will only make it worse. However, the man or woman who is a genuine invalid is usually resigned and courageous. It is to out-and-out hypochondriacs that these warnings are addressed.
A good remedy for this mentality is to consider how fortunate one is in not having various chronic ailments. For example, I have seldom had a headache and never one of those excruciating migraines which rack some people at regular intervals. I have not suffered from lumbago or sciatica or gout. I am not the subject to recurring colds or asthma, in fact, except for an erratic digestion which can be humored by a sensible diet, I cannot complain that I have ever had anything which has caused me more than temporary inconvenience. Yet it takes the writing of these words to bring this blessing to my notice and make me grateful for the immunity to what torments a large proportion of the human race.
If you are ill, however, and need medical help or advice, do not fail to tell a doctor the truth. While the hypochondriacs invent symptoms, the true sufferers often conceal them. They disguise what they drink and smoke and deny having had ailments they consider undignified or shameful. The only consequence of this deception is to make the diagnosis and treatment more difficult for the doctor. Even after the doctor has prescribed, this type of patient is apt to disregard instructions or apply them only when it does not interfere with his habitual way of living, or take double doses on the assumption that they will have double the effect. Thus the dishonest and undisciplined patient is as likely to lose his Serenity as is the hypochondriac.
Some people feel wear and depressed and constantly wonder why. They go to doctors for tonics which are given them because that is the simplest solution and the only "remedy" a tired mind will understand. But that is, of course, only a temporary help.
Fatigue can seem to be mental or physical, but in point of fact, mental work, provided it interests one, cannot make one tired. Blood tests on manual laborers have shown fatigue symptoms, while tests of the same kind on students and creative artists have shown none. After hours of continuous work, there may be no chemical evidence of exhaustion, so that, to all intents and purposes, a writer should be able to do as effective work after six hours at his desk as after one! As it happens, I have found this to be approximately true; at least when I have been working on a subject which inspired my imagination, I have written for ten hours a day without trace of weariness. Paradoxically (or normally, according to these scientific findings), deadline work on articles which did not really interest me or the revising of a manuscript for the third time had me restless and yawning half an hour after starting to type. In the same way, office workers in subordinate positions leave their ledgers, tills and typewriters comatose with exhaustion, yet revive and feel themselves suffused with energy at a dinner party or dance half an hour later.
So there are different kinds of tiredness. The most obvious, and the easiest to remedy, result from too much exercise or from staying up too late. Anyone who does not recognize that lying down or sleeping is the primary cure (and many do not, preferring artificial stimulants instead) has only himself to blame if his body gives way to the overtaxing of his strength.
The forms of fatigue which concern us now are not that simple to deal with. In fact, they are as hard to define as to cure. One of the most common is strain from the kind of overwork which involves continuous responsibility without periods of relaxation. While this, too, could be handled by deliberate resting, few think of taking a holiday before tenseness has gained complete command. When this occurs, the breaking point is not far off, and can result in a long period of invalidism and sometimes even suicide.
Then there is boredom, usually the outcome of some dull routine or being obliged to do work one dislikes, or sometimes just having nothing to do -- especially not having enough to do! This is the most difficult form of tiredness to remedy, since it requires imagination and enterprise -- first to diagnose the cause of the weariness and then radically change a way of living regardless of consequences, such as giving up a job one may have held for a long time, moving to a different part of the country, or perhaps taking up an occupation when one is not really obliged to work.
The third cause of tiredness is hidden emotional disturbances, like hating one's home life or the town one remains in from habit, or one's parents or wife, or even the neighbors with whom one is forced to associate. Any of these causes gnaw at the nerves and create an irritable tenseness which leads to despondency and attendant worries. This is followed by a condition in which the body actually feels battered and aching and unable to be at ease in any position, while the mind finds it impossible to relax or concentrate. Sedatives will produce a temporary relief, but cannot touch the basic cause of the trouble, which can only be dealt with by a determination to attack the disturbance at the roots.
The fourth cause of tiredness, and this applies especially to the United States, is the intensity with which Americans live, work and play. Everything is carried out at breakneck speed and in a perpetual frenzy of time saving! Saving time for what? As an Arab once said to me, "What do you do with the time you've saved?"
Nor is a holiday invariably the answer, because a holiday under modern conditions, with this mania not to waste one precious moment of the brief leisure, is just as tiring as work -- frequently more tiring!
"Rest is not idleness," said Lord Avebury, "and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means waste of time." If some of the nervously exhausted would do this instead of driving aimlessly along a crowded road or arranging their holidays in a mob of frenzied time savers, there would be fewer mental breakdowns and little need for this kind of book.
Nor am I criticizing an American trait from the point of view of a foreigner. Long before I came to the United States, I had read about this tenseness in the works of a Harvard professor William James. Here, for example, is a passage from the great philosopher's "Essay on relaxation":
"We say that so many of our fellow countrymen collapse and have to be sent abroad to rest their nerves because they work so hard. I suspect that this is an immense mistake. I suspect that neither the nature nor the amount of our work is accountable for the frequency and severity of our breakdowns, but their cause lies rather in those absurd feelings of hurry, of having no time, in that breathlessness and tension, that anxiety of feature, and that solicitude for results, that lack of inner harmony and ease, , in short, by which the work is so apt to be accompanied, and from which a European who should do the same work would nine times out of ten be free. These perfectly wanton and unnecessary tricks of inner attitude and outer manner in us, caught from the social atmosphere, kept up by tradition, and idealized by many of the admirable way of life, are the last straws which break the American camel's back, the final overflowers of our measure of wear and tear and fatigue."
This rushing like the wind, always going somewhere, never getting anywhere makes one think of Alice Through the Looking Glass after her headlong dash with the Red Queen:
"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get somewhere if you ran very fast for a long time as we've been doing."
"A slow sort of country!" said the Red Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run twice as fast as that."
It explains, too, why so many more Americans suffer from high blood pressure, stomach ulcers and heart ailments than their contemporaries in Europe.
The only remedy for these self-destructive habits is, once more, to take the matter in hand deliberately and ease the tension from inside. And by the inside is not meant drugging the body with alcohol or Benzedrine or some barbiturate. It means deliberately relaxing everything, including the mind. Until one can do this, there will be no mechanism to generate tranquility. Dr. Edmund Jacobson of the University of Chicago Laboratory of Clinical Physiology has declared that any nervous or emotional state fails to exist in the presence of complete relaxation. He does not say may or even will not exist -- but fails to exist. In other words, one cannot continue to worry if one is relaxed.
During my stay in the Sahara, I never saw an Arab in a tense state of body or mind. Whether he was resting or working, his limbs and muscles were slack. When he walked, he took long easy strides. When he rode, he became part of the horse, almost like a centaur. The horse, too, felt the relaxation of its master and, while spirited, was calm.
I noticed also how restive the same horse became when it was loaned to some visiting Occidental with nerves not attuned to the Serenity of the desert. Even the animal could sense the rider's emotional instability, which had nothing to do with the quality of the horsemanship.
The Chinese with whom I came into contact when I lived in Eastern Asia did not ride much, if at all, but they showed their mastery over relaxation even more effectively than the Arabs. While they were always fully occupied, they never let their work interfere with their rest so that when the necessity to relax made itself felt, they instinctively and almost automatically allowed their bodies and minds to go limp. In a few moments, an evident calm absorbed them and though wide awake, their minds had clearly not lost contact with the worries of the world, with its pleasures too. They had the Serenity of those statues of Buddha.
A carved figure of Buddha can serve as an admirable model for relaxation. It will show, in addition to the calmness of facial expression, a slackness of the limbs and especially of the hands. These rest on the lap of the image as if they were not attached to the shoulders by bones and sinews. The arms have no tension and suggest almost that all the pent-up confusions of the mind are flowing out of the fingers, leaving in their place that tranquility which characterizes every bronze and marble reduction of the founder of Buddhism.
Hands are of paramount importance in bringing about relaxation. They are the most restless extremities of the body and the most sensitive. Whenever I went to rest myself without going to bed, I seat myself on a chair and let my hands literally drop into my lap. At the same time, I allow my shoulders to sag and my spine to forget its erectness. In a short while, all strained thoughts will have run out of my head, down the back of my neck, through my arms and out the tips of my fingers. By doing this for a few minutes whenever I find the time, I not only forget my nervous tension but become truly rested. Try this yourself and see what happens. Try it without mental or physical concentration on what you are doing. Try it at any moment of the day.
For example, I always practice this kind of relaxing when waiting to see a doctor or dentist or publisher or even meeting an unpunctual guest. As a result, I am able to go into my doctor's office or take a seat in the dentist's chair or greet an unpunctual guest without that aggrieved attitude of most people who have been kept waiting.
Few aspects of human behavior are as strange as that shown by people bent on keeping appointments. While this also comes under the heading of giving oneself a false sense of importance, it has much to do with relaxation, both in the general sense and as an antidote to that particular failing.
Almost every man or woman who goes to a doctor or a tryst assumes an expression which suggests that he or she is the only patient or lover in the world. If the physician is overbody or the object of the affections overlate, tenseness often mounts outrageously to a point where nausea may set in. Yet what a chance this interlude of compulsory inactivity offers for relaxing mind and body and allowing the tired nerve cells to rebuild themselves.
I remember once finding a dentist in such a nervous condition that he could not hide it. Realizing that he needed to relieve what seethed in his mind or else lose his self-control, I asked him what the trouble was. Even when he had let go about the irritations generated by a series of complaining and unreasonable clients, I still felt his tension was too high. I did not fancy the idea of his jabbing things into my mouth in that state, so I persuaded him to sit in his own dental chair, the most admirable spot in which to relax if sensibly used, and let his hands droop in his lap. For ten minutes, he sat there "uncoiled" and breathing deeply until, satisfied that he was completely calmed, I took his place. Half an hour later, I left with my teeth attended to efficiently and painlessly. Incidentally, I would have liked to submit the patients who fumed in the waiting room to the same treatment, reminding them that taut nerves make them especially receptive to suffering. I might have added that a tranquil mental attitude on their part would make it much easier for the dentist to do his work efficiently, or that toothache lasts for hour far more excruciatingly than the few twinges which maybe felt from the whirring drill.
The first thing to do, then, in connection with general relaxation is to let the arms go limp. Then the neck and back will follow suit until soon the whole body will begin to conform. After a little practice, sleep or semi-sleep will follow, regardless of the position of the body.
Unfortunately, few humans beings who belong to the Occidental world understand what this means. Those who have an inkling rarely put it into effect. When the day's work is over, they begin to wonder restlessly how they can occupy themselves until bedtime. They fill themselves with stimulants, and thus jerked out of a natural tiredness, scurry off to bridge, bowling, movies or dancing. They never consider that the nightly mercy of the eventide repairs our nature with comforting repose.
There was a Hollywood writer I knew who killed himself by relentless scurryings. He was working at one of the studios on the screen adaptation of Noel Coward's Cavalcade, which in itself was an all-absorbing and fatiguing task. Yet soon after leaving the office, he would play golf or tennis, if it was fine, frequently following this with dining and usually dancing. Or else he might go to a gymnasium to swim or box and generally wear himself out until it was time for partying. One day his body and mind broke under the strain, and in less than a week they had given up the struggle. He was dead because he could not go from his office to his comfortable house and let his body slump -- or even read until he slept.
Nor is this case an exception. It is probably the typical behavior of most men between the ages of twenty and seventy. Women, being instinctively more careful of their bodies, do not usually collapse in their tracks.
I have a comic strip (a tragic strip would be more apt) which I cut out of a magazine as a reminder that I am in the minority as far as this shifting from work to bed in low gear is concerned. The cartoons on this strip show how a man and his wife decide to spend an evening at home and the restless boredom which ensues. Finally, worn out by failing to find any pastime, they fall nervously into bed with, "Let's go to a show tomorrow."
Even those who settle down to read rarely do so with concentration. They allow an undercurrent of thought to deprive them of the food a good book offers. This is partly because many men and women read from duty rather than pleasure. They feel they should keep up with literary trends, so they rely on the best-seller lists or the counsel of store employees in their book purchases. Reading should have as its goal entertainment or instruction, it should never be done from a sense of duty unless research is the objective, and should always, if possible, be carried on in quiet surroundings and without interruptions.
If books bore you or you find it difficult to concentrate on reading and you have not become an addict of television, try relaxing with your imagination as your only form of entertainment. After a little practice you will find this soothing and, if you have an inventive mind, great fun too.
I recollect someone saying to me one summer day when I had announced that I was taking the day off from my desk, "How lovely it must be to slack about in the sun with a book!" To which I replied, "Why the book?"
I recollect, too, that after that day of apparently doing nothing constructive I got back to work with not only a sensation of rest but of having passed the time in a worthwhile way.
Winston Churchill, in his late sixties, was able to conduct the greatest war in history because of his ability to relax at will and sleep before he became too tired. Henry Ford directed his huge business without letting himself become exhausted by giving up part of each working day to rest, usually lying down. Thus, both these men never looked their ages and probably felt twenty years younger than they were.
Until modern man can learn to bow before the gales of nervous worry, he will be an easy prey to bad humor and insomnia and those conditions of mind which lead to nervous breakdowns. He will be sad, discontented and at odds with his fellow creatures. The whole of his outlook will be fearful and acidulous.
So let the hands and arms and then the whole body go limp while you repeat those words of Dr. Edmund Jacobson: "Any nervous or emotional state fails to exist in the presence of complete relaxation."
And yet when everything is said about illness and hypochondria, medicines and doctors and relaxing, we still have the element of accident to contend with.
A man can spend his days watching what he eats and drinks, avoiding colds, taking vitamins, undergoing regular medical checkups, even resting, and then be run over and maimed or perhaps killed by a car driven by a drunken idiot or an irresponsible schoolboy.
"In the midst of life we are in death," says the Book of Common Prayer, which makes one wonder why anyone bothers to worry about illness, severe, slight or merely fancied. The only people I ever encountered who did this were the desert Arabs, but then they had no doctors to consult. And doctors would not have had any business in the Sahara if they had been there. They might find less to do in other parts of the world if more people followed the Arab example and stopped fussing about things over which they have no control. There would be Serenity, too, and a sincere desire to breed that feeling of good-will which is not only the basis of peace in the home but peace among nations.
Chapter 9 The Worrying Condition When One Wakes
The art of meditation may be exercised at all hours and in all places; and men of genius, in their walks, at tables and amidst assemblies, turning the eye of the mind inwards, can form artificial solitude; retired amidst a crowd, calm amidst distraction, wise amidst folly. -- Isaac Disraeli
So many people have told me that although they had little difficulty handling the affairs of the day and did not suffer from insomnia, they never woke without an indefinable fear plaguing them and starting their morning tensely. For such persons there are remedies.
Before I discovered these remedies, I often woke (even after a good night) anxiously. Sometimes this uneasy waking would take place at night, but usually in the morning. Whatever time it was, however, apprehension saturated me and destroyed the mental repose I had acquired while unconscious. I needed breakfast and coffee to give me reassurance that nothing horrible was in the offing. Yet while this artificial stimulation caused fears to fade during the day and sent me bravely to bed at night, I was back in a state bordering on panic the moment wakefulness returned. After a good many experiments, I discovered that the surest way to defeat what was only an imaginary condition, often promoted by some form of indigestion, was to analyze the cause -- it was no more complicated than that.
Assuming you're not a homeless tramp sleeping on a park bench, this is what you should do. Having returned to consciousness and found yourself obsessed by doubt and dismay, lie back on our pillow, as relaxed as possible, with the following thought:
"Here am I resting in bed, in the shelter of a room with everything to make my rising comfortable, and a good breakfast waiting to stimulate me. While I take this for granted, there are hundreds of men and women nearby who have no warm beds in which to lie and only vague prospects of breakfast." Consider that carefully, remembering that if you were destitute you would not have time for this luxury of appraising your physical conditions. So this anxiety of mind is not due to immediate need or discomfort. Having established and accepted this reality, ask yourself, "What then is bothering me?"
The answer will come quick as a flash. There can be no quibbling or doubt about it, no escaping what is emerging direct from the subconscious. The basic cause of the worrying may be trivial or without valid foundation, but there it is before you. Nor will any reasoning efface, modify it or deny its truth.
The next step is to deal with it and solve it, which will not be too difficult once you have made up your mind not to deny the evidence or your senses. Most of us allow vexations to take the upper hand because we will not face the issues involved, big or small. We procrastinate and will not assume that all problems have solutions. Some require slow and tactful handling; some may be unpleasant or drastic -- that may even entail self-sacrifice or the hurting of others -- but all riddles have answers.
Sometimes, too, the basic problem may not be more complicated than intemperance or insomnia. There is nothing which gives a gloomier outlook than physical tiredness, be it caused by strain, overeating or overdrinking, while black coffee or strong tea taken before going to one's room at night are sufficient by themselves to bring about a frightened waking, teeming with sensations of impending disaster.
If, however, there is some definite affliction threatening and we are fearful or obstinate about it, the worst thing is to brood over it in bed. That will only set up a tormenting nervous tension which even breakfast will not relieve. So if the mind refuses to deal with the cause of the worry in a logical way, the body should be roused from under the sheets and placed in a bath or shower, or it should be taken out into the fresh air and made to exercise. Rapidly circulating blood and deep-breathing lungs will do more to clear minds rigid with worry than any pill or potion.
A warning must be given about using walks deliberately to work out problems. This often has the opposite effect, if the walker merely turns over and over whatever is worrying him until his mind has become as frenzied as if he had remained between those sheets. Walks are useful for sorting out conflicting thoughts, but the process should be put into action through the subconscious. In other words, the thinking apparatus must be given some mechanical or superficial occupation not directly connected with the matter involved. The following ways, for instance, I have found produce the best results.
If I am in the country, I set out for my tramp with a bag of beans or peanuts. Before starting, I make a bet with myself about the number of beans or peanuts (within ten) in the bag, and as I walk I drop them one by one, after the manner of Tom Thumb. This may seem rather childish, and perhaps it is, yet it is extraordinary how preoccupied the mind will become with the outcome of the game. All thoughts focused on the worry soon fade, while the exercise may dissipate it completely or, subconsciously, solve the cause. In any event, the refreshed brain will tackle the problem more calmly.
If I am in town with something to clear up, I play another game. Going into the street, I inform myself that I can have, free of charge, any one thing I see in a shop window within, say, ten or twenty blocks. The decision has to be made as the window where the selected article is displayed is passed. In no circumstances can I go back or even linger in making up my mind. Nor am I permitted to keep some earlier coveted object in reserve if the last shop on my walk turns out to be a cigar store or a barroom.
The game can be varied and made more exciting by substituting human beings for inanimate things. In this case, the man or woman involved can, in a predetermined area, select any mate he or she fancies. However, if no one has selected at the end of whichever block ends the game, the last person encountered becomes the player's future husband, lover or mistress. (It is interesting, too, how one passes up attractive creatures and with what regularity the ultimate male or female encountered is one of nature's human gargoyles.)
Under any conditions, both games are amusing to occupy a walk, and when employed with specific purpose can so absorb the mind with various calculations that there will be no time left to chew over and exaggerate whatever the worry may be.
For any who are not imaginative or think themselves too old for such games, a movie, play or concert can produce the same results. The important thing is to make sure that when a worrying thought comes into the mind, something constructive or diverting must be put in its place. Once the issue is done, the brain will relax, and by the time it is applied to the problem involved, will be sufficiently rested to cope with it.
While thinking about something too intensively may lead to obsession, restful meditation and wise introspection are helpful, often essential, to the attainment of Serenity. Most Occidentals, however, are too nervous to put it into effect in the right way, for, as Dr. John O. Moseley, late president of the University of Nevada, once said to me:
"When a white man sits down to think about his troubles, he goes crazy; when a colored man sits down to think about his troubles, he goes to sleep." And he added thoughtfully and emphatically, "Excitement is weakness, calmness is strength, energetic repose is positive grandeur."
The first assertion belonged to my own creed. It confirmed my argument that the world's only real fussers are Occidentals. The second maxim set me thinking.
"Energetic repose is positive grandeur."
I tried to give myself an illustration of what those words suggested, and once more there materialized before me those statues of Buddha I had seen in China, in Japan and in the temples of India. They sat before me, powerful in the energetic repose of their inanimate figures. Their grandeur overwhelmed my mind as it concentrated on them.
I defy anyone, however frivolous, to stand before such an image as the great Daibutsu at Kamakura and not be sobered by its silent majesty, its ethereal detachment. It gives one the certitude that twenty-five hundred years ago, the founder of this faith discovered some great truth, and above all, truth about himself. This is of paramount importance in the achieving of Serenity, but so difficult that most human beings shy away from any attempt to effect it.
Conscientious introspection, sincere delving into oneself, demands courage. It demands courage because the first thing discovered in the process is usually unattractive. It looks bad, it smells bad, it probably is bad. But if one perseveres, one will pass through the unattractive elements and reach what is good and beautiful underneath all this deceptive outer covering.
As Krishna's heroic incarnation of Vishnu, the supreme spirit of the Hindus, is made to say in the Bhagavad-Gita, "The soul of him who hath perceived the Real Self is peaceful and calm, in heat and in cold, in pleasure and pain, in that which he calleth honor and dishonor. Such a one excelleth in wisdom to such an extent that he regardeth both friends and enemies, aliens and countrymen, saints and sinners, the righteous and the unrighteous with equal love and sense of brotherhood."
Unfortunately average men and women are so shocked by this first glimpse of their inner selves that they rush off to find any diversion which will shut out the disturbing picture. The few who are not afraid and come back for a second try will be rewarded, because if they persevere they will undoubtedly find Serenity. They will be able to look back with consternation at the time when they did not know themselves as they really were. They will wonder how they could have ever been happy.
To a relative degree, I passed some time avoiding this issue, for while I had begun to examine my inner self during those years in the Sahara, I never went very deep because I was too earnest and eager about what I was trying to do, making the procedure an almost self-conscious task. I did not, in fact, really find out very much about my immaterial self until some years later and then quite by accident. This happened, oddly enough, one night during a typhoon off the coast of Japan.
Towards midnight the storm was at its height and the liner on which I was traveling had "heaved to." The waves higher than the decks, seemed to be hitting us from all directions. But I did not care. An unfamiliar narcotic administered by the Japanese doctor on board had lulled me into a semi-comatose condition, making me feel almost as if my spirit was detached from my body. My thoughts were racing away from me, too fast to control, too high to hold....
And then, as suddenly as it had begun, the roar of the storm died. With the silence, consciousness surged back. An urge simultaneously took hold of me to get up. It was almost as if something outside was calling me, so I dressed and went on deck. I did not notice what time it was, but it was dark and there was no one about. I walked forward and looked out towards the just discernible horizon. There was little wind, and the only trace of the typhoon were the great billows over which the ship swept rhythmically. Thirstily, I drank in the salt air until my whole self vibrated with an exalting sensation of well-being. At the same time, out of nowhere, out of the dark sky and restless ocean came the answer to my question, the first clue to the mystery I was trying to solve. And it was something like this:
Unless I had the ability and the courage to become truly detached and see myself as I really was, all my ways of thinking would go on being confused.. I must take myself apart and judge each part. I must weigh each part and put each part to the test, as I might the components of an engine. Those parts which were dirty would have to be cleaned. Those parts which were worn out would have to be replaced. There must be no evading the issue, no excuses that this or that part was too small or unimportant for attention. The only way to find myself was to know every fraction of myself and deal with every fraction according to its merits. The only way to set myself on the road which led to Serenity was to fit myself for that road!...
The ship was lifted onto the crest of a great wave and remained poised for a moment. Around and below me, the ocean rose and fell like the bosom of a sleeping giant. Above me, planets and stars and suns sparkled into infinity. But I no longer looked at them with questioning awe. They were as much a part of my life and problems as the sea and the land of this globe, as the United States to which I was going for the first time.
The ship glided down again into the trough of the rollers. Foam glowed white about the prow. For a moment, I remained reverently by the bulwarks. Then I walked back to my cabin, "shut up in measureless content."
Nor will those who want to acquire something constructive from this book be able to do so unless they try to do what I did, applying and practicing self-examination intelligently and thoughtfully.
We are having it continually impressed upon us that we become what we swallow. Diets and vitamin capsules have become an integral part of our lives. It occurs to few, however, that the food with which the mind is furnished determines the character. When the cerebral food is changed, the mental disposition undergoes just as much modification as the body does by a variation of diet -- even more so.
Average digestive organs can adapt themselves to new foods, and they have all kinds of methods for coping with the unexpected. Furthermore, an upset stomach asserts itself in no uncertain terms so that its proprietor has to take steps to give it effective redress without delay. The mind, however, is not nearly so articulate or, rather, the hearing ability of its owner is much less acute than when it is being upbraided by an irritated stomach.
So many human beings are crying out against the hopelessness of the world, against its darkness. They never pause to wonder whether this darkness and hopelessness is not in them and whether what they imagine is not merely a reflection of their own muddled minds.
Mental diets are more important than physical. All the balanced vitamins, proteins, calories and I know not what else cannot make a man healthy, happy or prosperous if he has a bad disposition. It is for this reason that meditation and intelligent and protracted introspection are suggested. It is no good, either, doing this every now and then when one finds time. It is necessary to have an established system and the system is of paramount importance.
Negative thoughts must not be dwelt on. A negative thought contains failure, frustration, jealousy, vindictiveness, imagined bad health. A negative thought contains failure, frustration, jealousy, vindictiveness, imagined bad health. These negative notions are perhaps not courted. They force themselves into the mind and, if not dealt with promptly and drastically, establish themselves there permanently. Allowing this to happen can do as much harm to the brain as a glass of iodine can do to the stomach.
The right kind of meditation is hard to carry out without much good-will and practice. So many people tell me that they easily forget what they are meditating about. Without even trying, they assume meditation is beyond them. They say it is all very well to talk in this vein but that putting such theories into practice does not work -- at any rate not for them. They are too tense, too nervous.
To such objections, there are two answers. The first that tenseness will gradually slacken if these suggestions are followed. This will undoubtedly be challenged. Nevertheless, it is true. Nervousness does not preclude Serenity.
Anyone who is at all sensitive or imaginative is nervous. Most artists, writers, musicians and highly intelligent people are nervous. Yet many of them have tranquility and contentment.
Conventionally normal people did not create the sculptures in St. Peter's or the temples of Athens. Nor did the immortal poetry or our classic books come out of platitudinous, calm minds. Even some of the world's greatest statesmen and soldiers like Alexander, Napoleon, Disraeli and Gambetta had highly nervous temperaments. As for great musicians, there are probably none who are not strung as tight as the strings of pianos and violins. But the majority of these have inward peace and a calm, detached attitude to the fussing of the world.
On the other hand, staid people almost invariably have mediocre or unimaginative minds. They are unenterprising and correspondingly esteemed by their fellow citizens, who confuse orthodox behavior with virtue. When they die, droves of relatives attend their funerals, showing signs of appropriate grief, but with no inner emotions. Conventional obituary notices appear in the local newspapers which, in the words of Arnold Bennett, amount to no more than "De mortuis nil nisi bunkum!" and if the deceased were regular and sufficiently important churchgoers, they may be mentioned in an uninspired sermon. But that will definitely be all. They will leave nothing behind of the least interest to anyone. The worthy and the normal and the staid are not necessarily good, or if they are, it is often because they never had anything to tempt them.
So, if you are of a nervous nature, be glad of it. Respect your condition and try to understand it. Do not be afraid of it. Do not, under any circumstances, consider it a bar to tranquility of mind. It is not. It can be, on the contrary, a great help, if you handle it the right way.
I am nervously sensitive and I'm glad of it. Had I not been so, I would have been unable to dramatize my thoughts and found it difficult to write with feeling. It is probable that I would have remained in the army, commanded my regiment in peacetime, possibly a brigade, and retired as a major general. Later, I would have become a local magistrate and the occupant of the front pew of the etiquette-conscious village church. When I died a formal obituary notice would have announced that I had expired after a successful career of fighting Aridis, shooting gnus and sending petty pilferers to jail. And no one would have cared or commented.
I do not know whether more than two people will care when I die as I am now, but there will be comments -- critical comments for the most part, because I chose an unorthodox way of living.
I once read in a book of epigrams by Minna Thomas Antrim: "A person who can shock society has the world before him. To amuse it one need only be clever, but to shock it requires genius."
Only the witless show no reactions to exploding bombs, to stirring music, to the love, laughter, and luxuries of the world in which we have to spend these brief years. So if you are different from the average man and women of your social circle. And be glad of it! It will have no adverse effects on your Serenity.
Sometimes when I urge meditation and introspection as necessary equipment for the journey towards Serenity, I am told that all this has been made easy for me because of those periods I devoted to solitude in faraway places. My critics feel that anyone can find Serenity if he goes deliberately to spend seven years in the Sahara or five years in East Asia. Nothing could be more inaccurate.
The Sahara helped me considerably and so did East Asia, but they did not, by themselves, give me Serenity. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson:
"There is one means of procuring solitude which to me, and I apprehend to all men, is effectual, and that is to go to the window and look at the stars."
Try that formula next time you want to be alone with yourself. Try it in New York, in Paris, in London. It does not matter where. Solitude and Serenity will be waiting for you in that sparkling universe. Yet, while this deep inner sense of tranquility is easier to identify when one is alone, that condition in itself does not generate tranquility.
"All your bustle is useless," said Socrates twenty-four hundred years ago. "Do you ask why such flight does not help you? It is because you flee along with yourself."
In other words, do not dash off to the Sahara or the Himalayas to find Serenity, unless you have previously tried to deal with your problems in whatever place they originated. Rural solitude will undoubtedly give you a much better chance to put your thoughts in order than a rumbling town, but the actual solution will not magically appear out of desolate plains or stately mountains or dark forests.
I eventually found what I sought during a lecture tour of the United States; and what could be more unlike the majestic silences of the Himalayas or the philosophic contemplations of the Arabs than audiences at women's and Rotary clubs? Others too can do as much under equally disturbing conditions if they sincerely want to and will give themselves a chance to know themselves.
From boyhood my life inclined to the solitary. I depended on no one for anything. Unless some professional obligation, I avoided parties and sometimes went for weeks without talking to other people. I allowed my mind to roam, and in so doing began to discover myself. I laid bare my faults and appreciated the valuable gifts nature had given me free of charge. I tried to correct the former and use the latter. I never felt that gnawing necessity to pass the time for just the sake of so doing; time passed of its own accord quite rapidly enough. I was happy alone, and while no narcissist, I was getting close to "truth," not only as it concerned myself but as it concerned others and other things.
"A man who cannot wonder, who does not habitually wonder, is but a pair of spectacles behind which there are no eyes." I do not recollect who said this, but it is a thought worthy of much consideration by any who seek Serenity. I believe, too, that my youthful optimism and good health are largely due to this ability to meditate and be alone for long periods.
This is, once more, not a suggestion that everyone, regardless of his worldly obligations, should take off for some wilderness and remain there in retreat for months or years -- although I know a lot of men and women whose nervous conditions it would cure -- but periods should be spent in silence and meditation. These periods do not have to be observed at any specific time or outside the house in which one lives. All that matters is detachment, as far as possible, from the sounds of people and their mechanical contrivances. To this must be added complete relaxation.
To repeat the words of Benjamin Disraeli's father quoted at the head of this chapter, "The art of meditation may be exercised at all hours and in all places; and men of genius, in their walks, at tables and amidst assemblies, turning the eyes of the mind inwards, can form artificial solitude; retired amidst a crowd, calm amidst distraction, wise amidst folly."
For my own personal satisfaction (and paradoxically, when one thinks of the contentment I found in those arid deserts) I prefer to gratify my yearnings for solitude in the country and near water. The sound and the sight of running rivers or a restless sea can do more for me in ten minutes than hours of reflection in a garden, than days in a house. I feel my thoughts being rinsed by the ripples and washed away by the waves until my mind is cleansed of false reasoning. It is the answer to all questions, it belongs to Eternity -- it will always be there.
The rivers of England, India and America have soothed and satisfied me, as have the great seas and oceans of the world. They have taught me lessons and sent me on my way, fortified and encouraged and exhilarated as if I had drunk from the Moslem Paradise a goblet of the wine which comforts without intoxicating.
It is the sea and the rivers and the mountains and the deserts which cause men to know themselves. It is their association with lonely places which teaches them self-discipline. It is the silences which give them divinity and then tranquility of mind. A man who has known these pageants of empty lands, who has heard the roar of the immortal ocean, who has listened to the wind in the Sahara and stood beneath the thundering God of the Himalayas can accept the accord of the modern world knowing that everything has some meaning. He can be grateful and generous. He can, above all, love with the unselfishness of deep understanding, And that, more than anything else, will give him permanent and satisfying Serenity.
Chapter 10 Worrying about One's Work
Do the thing you fear to do and death of fear is certain. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
A man is not so much hurt by what happens as by his opinion of what happens. -- Michael de Montaigne
I have known only three men who were sincerely happy in their work and would not have changed it for anything else, even if that had not meant increased salaries or positions of greater importance. There are probably others but only in these three did I sense a real pride and delight in doing what they did to earn a living. The majority of human beings feel that they are wrongly cast and should be following any occupation but the one they are in.
With most of my life behind me, I can agree with Christopher Morley: "There is only one success -- to be able to spend your life your own way." Unless a man does what he truly wants to do, his mind and his body will never be content. This is one of the most important lessons to learn and practice in attaining Serenity.
Procrastination and uncertainty are irritations which destroy Serenity and make one despise oneself. "Should I or shouldn't I?" become nightmares which continually confuse thinking and stop people in their tracks.
This is not to recommend that anyone inspire to being what he patently cannot be. Soldiers who think they ought to be bank presidents or housewives who aspire to political appointments are just as unhappy as those in uncongenial jobs. Nor is it any good looking at anybody else and saying:
"How I envy your life!" or "I wonder why I do what I do?"
That will get you nowhere. If circumstances lead you to work in a bank or a store when you would rather be a sailor or a farmer, it is foolish and unenterprising to continue your present work. If you want to live in London or New York, it is no good sitting at home and grumbling:
"I wish I were in London or New York!"
That will have no motive effect. You must bestir yourself. You must get out your car or go to the railway station or to the docks and board a train or a boat. To do what one wants requires the making of decisions. It also requires the taking of risks. Risk is the very essence of life, and the total absence of danger is equal to death. In the words of Benjamin Disraeli, "Success is the child of audacity!"
Keeping the safe job may give you bread and butter and a humdrum existence, with death as the only adventure to which to look forward. Taking the risk may land you in the gutter or elevate you to triumph, but either way there will be a thousand thrills en route.
When, at the age of thirty, I gave up a career in which I had done well but which bored me, and set out on my own, I had exactly three hundred pounds and no apparent prospect of making another penny. But I did, and I also found Serenity. I was taking a serious risk but I felt that this was better than crawling miserably along in the life which, in spite of its ease and security, I detested.
I once read one of Dr. Roper's polls which gave the statistics of what the average men and women in the United States thought of their professional occupations. The investigator had spoken to factory workers, laborers, engineers, doctors, teachers. I don't recall what the figures were for each occupation, but the general mean showed that fifty-five percent of these people disliked what they were doing! In other words, more than half the employed in the United States would have preferred to be doing something else! When asked further why they did not follow their inclinations, they replied that they had responsibilities which made it impossible for them to start afresh. That settled that! Even for the sake of Serenity and individual satisfaction, these men and women could not break away from what was crushing their personalities and destroying their morale. They would go on doing a job halfheartedly, and probably badly, wearing themselves out in the process, merely because they had not sufficient courage to take a risk. Until death called them, they would do no more than exist. Because that was all their lives would be, "existing," making enough to feed themselves and their families, living in drab quarters among tiresome people and suspecting all the time that a little boldness, a little enterprise could give them, what they could be successful at.
No one can do anything well or achieve any degree of Serenity unless he has enthusiasm. I see so many examples of this in people who embark on my profession simply because they think it is an easy way to money and fame. But it is not an easy way. It is a very difficult way, although it is impossible to so convince the inexperienced. Feeling that they have an adequate command over the English language, these aspiring writers set out to conquer the literary market. And for the most part they fail. They fail from lack of enthusiasm. One glance at a manuscript will tell a professional reader whether the author is writing because he has such a strong urge that he must write or just a notion that by putting words on paper he will be able to barter them for a satisfactory check.
This principle applies to all professions. A surgeon I know can become ecstatic about examining people's insides. Consequently he is among the best surgeons in the world and his Serenity is obvious. When I smoked, my cigar merchant could talk endlessly about the soothing properties of his mixtures and his enthusiasm was so sincere that his customers bought his tobaccos at exorbitant rates. I have met wine merchants who became drunk over the memory of a particular bottle of claret and inspired clients to stock their cellars accordingly. The artistry of a haircut depends entirely on whether the barber looks at all heads as so many coconuts or as individual contours and shapes. I know a plumber in Connecticut who would rather discuss his trade than any other topic. In his opinion, human beings began to reason when they invented plumbing, while leaking tabs are synonymous with the dawn of civilization. He separates the world into two sections, the bath and sink world, and the non-bath and non-sink world. He has enthusiasm, and that makes him a great plumber as it made Michelangelo a great artist and William Pitt a great statesman.
The men who complain about their businesses are those who have not put all their energies into making them a success. This can be seen again and again in any community, large or small. The men who fail are those who start something with the sole object of bettering themselves financially. They are not really interested in their drugstores or their tailor shops or their cleaning establishments. They expect quick returns, and when these do not materialize, they decide the business is bad and give up or switch to something else.
There are people, of course, who have no enthusiasm because they do not know what they want. Of these I would like to ask if they know what they do not want? Being aware of what one does not want is the next best thing to being aware of what one wants.
When I first went to live in the Sahara, I still did not know what I wanted, but I knew what I did not want. It took me a little while to find out in which direction lay my natural goal. Once I had settled this, it was merely a matter of putting all my energy into reaching it. Others, too, may need a little reflection to establish their course, but once they have it, nothing should deflect them from it.
Thus, the safest way to establish a sound basis for Serenity is to decide what one feels is one's best occupational medium and follow it, regardless of risks. "Do the thing you fear to do," declared Emerson, "and the death of fear is certain."
During my young soldiering days, I scaled cliffs in the Himalayas where there appeared to be no foothold for an ibex or even a mouse. Years after mountaineering had disappeared out of my life, I found myself in the Berkshire Hills of Connecticut with a ridge to cross which, in the Kashmiri days, I would have taken on blindfolded and with my hands tied. But as I started to get to the other side of the pseudo precipice, I fell into panic. I could not bring myself to do it.
That night I was anxious. I wondered what had happened to my nerves. I wondered whether I was becoming prematurely old? I went on wondering until I was sure that unless I did what had frightened, I would lose my nerve. So the next day I returned to the hillside and considered it analytically, comparing it to really dangerous rock faces I had dealt with in Kashmir. Then I crossed it. It was an ordeal and I was jumpy when I got to the other side. So I rested and crossed it again. After that, I crossed it almost daily until it became of as little concern to me as strolling across a street.
That may seem an anecdote which has nothing to do with the topic under discussion. But it has a great deal to do with it, for if the worrier will go after what is plaguing him in the same way that I went after my imagined mountaineering trial, he will defeat it and then take it in the day's work.
It may be objected that mine was no more than a physical test. In a literal sense, perhaps it was, but that did not prevent the initial fear from originating in my mind. For as the French writer Montaigne said, "A man is not hurt so much by what happens as by his opinion of what happens."
When I stood in that Connecticut valley, nothing had happened to me. There was not any likelihood that anything would happen. Nor did anything happen. The whole state of apprehension came from my mind. I was disturbed by thoughts within me which had no connection with what my body was doing and were brought into being by imagining how the rocks and the flowing river and the hillside might affect me! Furthermore, once I had established that none of these inanimate manifestations of nature had any influence over my life, except by the importance which I gave to them, the whole problem dissolved, confirming to me, once more, that Serenity can be found only in oneself and by one's own efforts. I emphasize "own" and I doubly emphasize "efforts."
Nothing anywhere can be accomplished without hard work. Many associate hard work with the earning power or the achieving power of social position. This is the conventional point of view but not substantially correct. One can, for example, become an efficient worrier by perseverance just as one can become efficient in anything else by doing it all the time. Similarly, it requires energy and tenacity to acquire spiritual security. In fact, where it concerns Serenity, the effort must be greater than it is for material rewards. Those who are discouraged by the length and roughness of the road should not estimate progress by days or even weeks, but by months and years. Then a backward glance in summer to winter and in winter to summer will disclose marked improvements if the search has been resolute, conscientious and courageous -- especially courageous.
There are no emboldening tonics to hearten the knight errant or vehicles to speed him on his way. The entire journey must be undertaken on foot as was Christian's, and as in Pilgrim's Progress the trials of the road will sometimes be frightening and often hard to conquer. That is why courage is so essential for enterprise.
The Faithfuls and the Hopefuls and the Valiants persevere towards the goal which they know will leave behind the troubles that frustrate them and give them what all the millions of the millionaires cannot buy -- Serenity. They know that by this means only will they find the peace which passes all understanding.
Serenity is within us all and nothing can bring it out but ourselves. Philosophers, teachers and founders of faiths have said this from earliest times. Even the Duc de la Rocheroucauld observed: "When a man finds no peace in himself, it is useless to seek it elsewhere."
Chapter 11 Worrying about Politics and World Affairs
If you can convince yourself that nothing can bring you peace but yourself and put that into practice, the worries of today will fade like those of yesterday, and those of tomorrow will never come. Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own times. -- Gustave Flaubert
While most worriers have personal preoccupations, there are many who work themselves into frenzies over domestic and world politics. The mere reading of the declaration of a statesman or politician in the morning paper changes them from composed, law-abiding citizens into fanatics who want the man in question impeached, and write vituperative letters about him to the press. If, on their way to work, they meet a neighbor who disagrees with their point of view, anger flares as if they had been personally insulted.
What is so dismal about this attitude is that these political worriers cannot hope to change the trend of what is going on at home or abroad. They cannot be made to realize that even if their perturbation had some small effect, it would not alter the fact that history has a way of repeating itself. There are examples of these recurring historical cycles wherever one turns.
During my lecture tours, for instance, it has been suggested to me that democracy was invented in the United States. One young man actually informed me from the floor of a Middle Western auditorium that democracy was, to all intents and purposes, unknown in Europe before the Second World War. When in reply I quoted Aristotle on Greece's government at the end of the fourth century before Christ: "In democracy the supreme power is in the hands of the freemen;... democracy is a state where the freemen and the poor, being the majority, are invested with the power of the State," the expression in the young man's eyes indicated that he thought I was romancing or misquoting to suit my argument. He acted in much the same way as did a not too well-educated and rather bigoted lay preacher to whom I once pointed out that all religions, including Christianity, are based on centuries-old traditions and legends.
The cross came from Egypt and was the emblem of the Twareg, the Gauls, the Phoenicians and Assyrians centuries before it was adopted by the Christians about 326 A.D. It was the sacred symbol, too, of the pagan Aztecs when Cortez landed in Mexico. The triple crown of the Pope's miter is Mithraic or ancient Persian; traditions like the virgin birth have appeared in many primitive creeds before Christ, while the Trinity has Brahmin origins and is familiar in Greek mythology.
Whether the preacher contradicted my assertions on principle or because he really did not believe me, I cannot say. However, before we parted I was able to show him in print the counsel of Confucius given five centuries before Christ. "Do not unto another what you would not be done unto you; thou needest this law alone, it is the foundation and principle of all the rest," and reminded him of the subsequent recommendation of Jesus: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for that is the law and the prophets," which I hoped would make him admit that religion like democracy or anything else in the story of this world, has been repeating itself since history was first recorded and probably long before.
When did democracy have its beginnings? Probably in hidden prehistoric times. We know, however, that it was common in ancient Greece. The Athenians, in fact, can be recognized as the first people who tried to form a democratic state, not merely one possessed by a sovereign people but one bound together by common democratic institutions.
The traditional founding of the Roman Republic dates back as far as 500 B.C. and while the empire flourished into the first three hundred years of the Christian era, democratic institutions continued with varying degrees of authority and popularity according to the Caesar of the moment.
The Middle Ages were not favorable to the functioning of democracy, and history repeated itself with a return of a tyrannous rule not unlike that of the pre-Christian Persian and autocratic emperors. However, towards the end of that unenlightened period another swing towards popular liberty took pace.
Seventeenth-century England can probably be regarded as the birthplace of modern democracy. In 1651 John Milton wrote: "Give me the liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties. No man who knows aught can be so stupid as to deny that all men were naturally born free, being the image and resemblance of God himself, it being manifest that the power of kings and magistrates is nothing else but what is only derivative, transferred and committed to them to trust from the people, to the common good of them all."
Which has much similarity to what the American Declaration of Independence proclaimed some one hundred and twenty-five years later, and, among other things, tends to prove that nothing we do or say is original. It has all happened before.
Let those, therefore, who become disturbed because this or that country is swinging too far to the right or to the left bear in mind that, during the past twenty-five hundred years or so a multitude of countries have been doing just that, and will undoubtedly continue doing so for the next twenty-five hundred years.
Those political grumblers who see in the Soviet regime a plague to peace and the symbol of imperial ambitions need not go far back in Russian history to find the same kind of absolute rulers, then called czars, and the same drive towards Asia. It was in 1637 that the first Russians reached the Pacific by the overland route and from then on struggled to develop their influence in the Far East. The Japanese put a slight check on this in 1904, but during the years immediately preceding the First World War, as a young officer serving with my regiment in India, I used to take part in defensive maneuvers along the Northwest Frontier, not against potential ill-armed Afridi or Pathan raiders but against modernly equipped European armies, in other words against the menace of Imperial Russia. The Czarist ambition to spread Russian influence over the whole of Asia was never fulfilled but that did not stop the perfecting of the plan which today shows more signs of being successfully realized by the Communist commissars than by the emperors.
Aware of this, I often told skeptical lecture audiences that they should be more concerned about Russian encroachment to the East than to the West. I warned them of a war on the mainland of Asia involving American and European troops years before Korea. I could now predict some unpleasant consequences from the rearming of Japan, not because I am a seer but because I am a student of history.
In the same way, all arguments for and against Chiang Kai-shek must reach the same conclusion that, whether the Chinese ruler was called Min T'ai Tsu in 1328 A.D. or Ch'ung Te in 1636 or Yuan Shi-kai in 1911 or Sun Yat-sen in 1925 or Chiang Kai-shek in 1936 or Mao Tse-tung in 1949, China has, from time immemorial, been governed by dictators who, whether they dubbed themselves emperors, or presidents, generalissimos or commissars, imposed their rule on the people without reference to their wishes and continued to exploit them until some other bandit came along and occupied the throne or its equivalent. Political history has not changed in China any more than anywhere else in the world, and trying to make the Chinese act or think as we do is not going to alter a historical pattern which has been recurring for more than two thousand years.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 without warning, I was not particularly surprised. In my biography of Admiral Togo, I had recorded almost the same happening at the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in October of 1904, when the Japanese fleet bombarded Port Arthur before war had been officially declared. That premature attack had been of tremendous advantage to Japan, so it seemed probable that the same procedure would be followed to begin another war. The Japanese were observing a precedent, repeating history.
To return to Europe and the present, fear is expressed by many, who will not read history or remember what has happened during their lifetimes, that Aneurin Bevan may, one day, be prime minister of England and destroy the country with radical reforms. Yet in 1649 we beheaded our king and made Britain into a republic, while barely one hundred years ago the Chartist agitators demanded reforms which, at that time, sounded far more revolutionary to the British people that anything Mr. Bevan is advocating now.
Or to come even nearer to our generation and in my own memory, there was David Lloyd George and his People's Budget passed by the House of Commons in 1909 but vetoed by the Lords because it shifted taxation to the wealthy in the form of income and inheritance taxes, levies on unearned income and the like, all of which rocked England and the English as much as anything Mr. Bevan would like to make law today. Yet those Lloyd George taxes have been multiplied and multiplied by succeeding governments until there are no rich people in England and our stately homes have been pulled down or handed over to the National Trust, while the revolutionary little Welsh chancellor of the Exchequer, the Socialist pro-Boer, died a Peer of the Realm, with far more conservative ideals than Sir Winston Churchill in 1954.
"The more it changes the more it remains the same," wrote Alphonse Karr, and fussing about it over the morning paper will merely upset your day and do no good to whatever political cause you sponsor.
During the Victorian era, the British were imposing their way of living on the greater part of the world. The sun never set on our cricket matches and whiskies and sodas and matins and five o'clock teas. "God save the Queen" and the Union Jack were symbolic of civilization. Now it is the Americans who have taken on our role, and the world's inhabitants do not like it any better than when the British, the Spaniards, the Moslems or the Romans felt that their conception of culture was best for the people in their spheres of influence. No one knows who will take America's place, but as sure as the sun goes on rising and setting, so will the ever recurring cycle of shifting civilization and national influence continue.
Let me suggest, therefore, as a remedy for adding to private worries the worries of the world, that you read history. If that seems too arduous, a great deal of historical information can be quickly acquired from the Encyclopedia Britannica, and if even that demands too much time, there is an admirable one-volume book compiled by W. L. Langer entitled An Encyclopedia of World History, in which everything important that has happened on our globe since Palaeolithic times is recorded in sufficient detail to convince the inveterate fusser that, alas, the problems of the universe have changed little since politically minded man first recorded his thoughts over five thousand years ago.
To repeat the words of Gustave Flaubert at the head of this chapter, "Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own time."
But it need not be so for those who seek Serenity, and try to see what goes on about them in the perspective of the ages which have passed and in the ages which are to come.
Chapter 12 Worrying about Religion
Truth has never been, can never be, contained in one creed. -- Mrs. Humphrey Ward
The whole of the history of civilization is strewn with creeds and institutions which were valuable at first, and deadly afterwards. -- Walter Bagheot
While worrying over religious matters is more personal than worrying over world affairs, it is almost as vain.
Although it is evident that some religious creed or practice is helpful to certain people in search of Serenity, it is like what one eats, a matter for individual taste. A great many men and women who believe themselves religious never mature spiritually. As they thought of God at fifteen, so they think at fifty.
While I never considered the Church as a possible profession, I have found myself fascinated and continually absorbed by the methods employed by men throughout the ages to glorify a deity. I have made a study of many faiths of today and yesterday which has led me to the conclusion that, while every religion differs in dogmatic detail, each one has the same basic origins and all lead to a final goal -- God.
Rabbi Liebman in one of his essays says: "Religion will be making enormous contributions to genuine brotherhood which it comes to emphasize the truth that there are no sectarian labels to our fears and aspirations, that there is no essential difference between the basic anxieties, phobias, hopes and hungers of a Christian, a Buddhist or a Jew.... Different sins for different faiths make the whole conception of religion ridiculous. Why should I be a sinner as a Roman Catholic if I didn't go to Mass and not one if I am a Baptist? Why should I be unclean as an uncircumcised Jew and clean under the same conditions as a Christian? Sin is a human invention. It is our interpretation of what we imagine that God wants us to do."
And in the same train of thought, W. Somerset Maugham says in his Writer's Notebook: "The evidence adduced to prove the truth of one religion is very much the same as that adduced to prove the truth of another. I wonder that it does not make a Christian uneasy to reflect that if he had been born in Morocco he would have been a Mahometan, if in Ceylon a Buddhist, and in that case Christianity would have seemed to him as absurd and obviously untrue as those religions seem to a Christian."
It is no good either brushing off Mr. Maugham's views as those of an agnostic. Rabbi Liebman was a believer, and how can one question the late William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, who declared: "It is a mistake to suppose that God is only, or even chiefly, concerned with religion."
Lecomte de Nouy says in his Human Destiny that we are like a lot of mountain climbers who all want to reach the highest peak but refuse to go in one group. We select different guides who lead us by different paths and denounce the rival guides as impostors. Such is the influence of these guides that when different bodies of mountaineers happen to meet on their upward route they start fighting. Nevertheless, in the end, all the guides and all their clients reach the ultimate goal, which is variously named God.
If only human beings would appreciate this obvious and historically authentic fact and stop wondering about which faith is most favored by the Almighty, much worrying over religious beliefs would be eliminated. Nevertheless, in spite of this seemingly logical reasoning, a Christian sect has not yet appeared which will make more than minor concessions to another. Each group is uncompromising in its attitude towards any digression from its own particular views, and then only within its own denomination. For anything outside Christendom there is ignorant contempt.
Religious persuasions of Asia show greater tolerance than we do to different divisions of their respective beliefs as well as to Christian creeds. Too, Orientals as a mass are much more spiritually inspired than Occidentals in that they assign a far larger place to God in their daily lives and to the practice of their faiths than do believers in Europe and America. They certainly do not allow religion to cause them any worry. It is, on the contrary, the solution to all their problems.
We practicing Christians are so self-conscious about it all. Except in a church and usually on Sundays only, we never kneel or pray in public, whereas the Oriental addresses himself to God at all times and wherever he happens to be. Nor is there any reason for us to be so diffident about God. Jesus was not, and He taught in the fields more often than in the temple. He never intended, either, that the faith which bears His name should be pre-empted by certain sects and practiced in specially consecrated buildings with more or less ostentatious rites according to the tastes of the worshipers involved. That the Christian Church has not, to date, been a peace-generating element in the world is largely due to this rivalry among the ministers of different denominations. They seem, somehow, to have lost sight of what Jesus was trying to expound.
I remember finding myself on a remote Pacific island where a Catholic priest and a Lutheran pastor were barely on speaking terms. Individually they were admirable men, but because they disagreed over the way Jesus should be worshiped, they lived like enemies among the bewildered and rival congregations of simple-minded Micronesians.
In England, and even more so in the United States, I have encountered this Serenity-destroying attitude. In the small Connecticut community of the Berkshire Hills where I used to go to write, there were five Christian churches with five clergymen all claiming to be the only authorized interpreters of Jesus' doctrines. None of these groups could properly support their churches, yet no one had ever conceived of the possibility of amalgamating in order to carry on the work of their common Founder. For the breeding of Christian unity and Serenity, it seems that churches and sects could do with fewer clergy to interpret their creeds. There might even be no specially trained priests, as in Islam, just churches, as suggested by Jerome K. Jerome in his Diary of a Pilgrimage.
"Among all nations," he writes, "there should be vast temples raised where people might worship Silence and listen to it, for it is the voice of God. These fair churches and cathedrals that men have reared around them through the world have been built as homes for mere creeds -- this one for Protestantism, that one for Romanism, another for Mohammedanism. But God's silence dwells in all alike, only driven forth at times by tinkling of bells or the mumbling of prayers; and, in them, it is good to sit awhile and have communion with her."
For those who find attendance at religious services irksome but believe that churches are one of the tools in the search for Serenity, following Jerome K. Jerome's idea may be the solution. I rather think that it is. The kind of church or chapel does not matter, whether it is old or new, well or poorly appointed. Let it, however, be dimly lighted. Windows which let in light somehow also let in sound, and silence is of the greatest importance in seeking spiritual comfort and Serenity. Sitting on a chair or in a pew, allow the body and mind to relax. In a few minutes there should develop a gradual freedom from tension, followed by a sense of soothing of exposed nerves. While praying may add to the Serenity, it is not essential. The fact of being at ease in the twilight quiet of the church will usually produce the desired results. These may not come instantly, but sooner or later that serene peace we crave will creep over the senses and may even grant an ecstasy which has no earthly counterpart.
This is affirmed with the authority of one who has visited churches, temples and cathedrals all over the world, sometimes with little spiritual exaltation, sometimes with no more than a sensation of comforting physical rest, occasionally with that rapture which comes only from communion with something beyond physical reason.
I remember an occasion near Washington, Connecticut. I had just finished reading C.S. Lewis' Christian Behavior. The book had made such a deep impression on me that I felt an urge for some sort of quiet isolation. So I entered as nearby church. It was empty and filled with comforting silence. Almost breathless with anticipation for something which I sensed was waiting for me, I sat in the last pew. I did not pray, I did not even think. My eyes hardly saw the vigil light which burned before the sanctuary. I felt myself being taken wholly out of myself as an ineffable Serenity spread itself gently over me, bathing me in warm, compassionate, comforting deliverance from care. It was almost like receiving an injection of morphine, but a thousand times stronger, a thousand times more soothing. Nor was there any question of this having been brought about by autosuggestion. When I entered that church, I was seeking nothing but quiet. Had I been outside a cathedral or a mosque or a synagogue, I would have entered with the same urge for restful silence. That this peace did come to me in the way described was probably due to the fact that I had made myself receptive to communion with what lies outside this world. Nor is there any reason why you should not do the same with the same results.
For those who feel that this is beyond their reach or have difficult in relaxing their minds so that they will bring themselves into communion with the Infinite, this counsel given by Cardinal Mercier, the heroic Archbishop of Brussels during the First World War, is worth considering: "If every day during five minutes you will keep your imagination quiet, shut your eyes to all the things of sense and close your ears to all sounds of earth, so as to be able to withdraw into the sanctuary of your baptized soul, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, speaking there to that Holy Spirit, saying: 'O Holy Spirit, enlighten, guide, strengthen and console me. Tell me what I ought to do and command me to do it. I promise to be submissive in everything Thou permittest to happen to me, only show me what is Thy will.' If you will do this, your life will pass happily and serenely. Consolation will abound even in the midst of troubles. Grave will be given proportion to the trial as well as strength to bear it, bringing you to the Gates of Paradise full of merit."
"The sovereign cure for worry is religious faith," declared William James. It is for the individual to choose according to his needs.
In spite of George de Santayana's observation that men have fiendishly conceived a heaven only to find it insipid and a hell to find it ridiculous, the majority of human beings are still disturbed by thoughts about rewards and retributions after death. Those people who have not matured spiritually since adolescence still believe in heaven and hell as corporeal and anthropomorphic places especially reserved for Christians or, at any rate, for the inhabitants of our world.
The best treatment for such worry-breeding ideas is not to denounce the notion as childish but to induce any who need a clearer picture of heaven and hell than that described in the Bible or preached from some pulpits to study astronomy. The following from Sir James Jean's The Mysterious Universe will illustrate what I mean:
"A few stars are known which are hardly bigger than the earth, but the majority are so large that hundreds of thousands of earths could be packed inside and leave room to spare; here and there, we come upon a giant star large enough to contain millions of earths. And the total number of stars in the universe is probably something like the total number of grains of sand on all the seashores of the world. Such is the littleness of our homes in space measured up against the total substance of the universe."
The Mount Wilson observatory has confirmed the existence of a star with a diameter of one hundred and twenty million miles, whereas the diameter of our own sun is only eight hundred and sixty-four thousand miles. This star is called Mira and is comparatively close to us, only seventy-two light years away. Even so, Mira is small compared to another star in the Swordfish constellation whose brilliance has been proved to be five hundred thousand times stronger than our sun's and whose light takes one hundred thousand years to reach us.
These figures are staggering and make the average conception of what human beings amount to as infantile as it is limited. It is like the perspective of a microbe in the folds of the skin of a rhinoceros, which can only suppose that its world begins and ends on the back of its host. Nor does it seem illogical to believe that in some of those countless worlds spinning around their respective suns there are living creatures somewhat like ourselves, or possibly of a far greater mental development than any we can imagine. The only thing which prevents us from fully accepting this is our very restricted and anthropomorphic reasoning habits.
If, however, this is accepted as a plausible theory, there materializes a much clearer picture of what heaven and hell may be. Simultaneously, it replaces fears, with Serenity. "For behold," said Jesus, "the Kingdom of God is within you," which means that "Paradise" can be generated in ourselves by eliminating all those sources of worry already referred to until there is left only an indescribable but saturating peace of mind.
Hell is just the opposite. It is the state of a soul tortured by the agony of remorse for wrong doing and regrets for things which could have been remedied but were put aside until too late. Hell-fire, on which our grandparents were brought up and which is still preached in some churches, is not literally physical fire. It is present pain of mind, spiritual torment which neither sleep nor time nor any distraction can alleviate -- what some believers call simply Purgatory.
Sheila Kaye-Smith, in an essay written some years ago, advanced the theory that eternal punishment does not necessarily signify everlasting punishment but rather complete punishment dropping the time element altogether. "Just as eternal life," she wrote, "stands for life that is complete, boundless, supreme; so eternal death stands for death that is complete, boundless, supreme."
This is a worthwhile notion that should make it easier for those who are tantalized by the elusive problem of eternity. It is complementary to John Morley's protest: "The most frightful idea that ever corroded nature -- the idea of eternal punishment." In fact, there is probably no such thing as punishment, spiritual or physical, as we are used to thinking of it. There are only bad or false results, errors of judgment, opportunities missed.
Speculation on such subjects may seem unrewarding, yet until I began to delve into and reason over these problems, I had missed some of the most important elements which can produce Serenity. The Great Sahara Desert rolling out majestically until it merged with the infinite horizon was no more than shimmering, desolate wilderness unless one thought of it in the way the Arabs did, as a place to meet Eternity. The Himalayas, flinging their snow-capped peaks into the sky, remained but mighty mountains. The wide oceans were only heaving wastes of water. The towns belonged to scurrying, careworn citizens. Everything was local and limited. Few things had any intrinsic significance. Unhappiness was general. Serenity was nowhere!
Then all this was changed, changed by nothing more than a simple but basic alteration in my way of thinking. "Our life is what our thoughts make us," said the Emperor Marcus Aurelius one hundred and sixty years before the birth of Christ. And that truth remains today and will remain always. Heaven or hell, truth or falsehood, right or wrong, joy or sorrow -- the viable answer is there, if we give our minds the chance to think.
Chapter 13 Worrying about Death and the Life to Come
There are different tints in the sky of our lives; the past is rosy, the present is grey, the future is blue. Beyond this blue which shimmers before our eyes, there gapes an abyss without bourne and without name -- the abyss of metamorphosis into the eternal life. The great charm of life comes, perhaps from the certainty of death. -- Isabelle Eberhardt
Although there is some answer to practically any question a human being can ask, for one there is none that is positive: What happens to us after we die? It may be because of this that the possibilities of afterlife cause such speculation and generate such apprehension, a vain apprehension, too, since death is an inevitable end for all of us which no conjecturing will alter in the least degree.
Death should never appear as an enemy but rather as a comforter; in fact, the stimulation of living stems somewhat from this certainty of an end, for if mortal things were to last forever, they would seem unworthy of attachment. Thus my own attitude towards the supposed end of what we call life has been rather one of curiosity together with a feeling of assurance that, with this end, certain mental confusions of this world will be clarified and false evaluations shown up. I certainly do not consider death a finality, but rather an emergence from human or mortal adolescence.
Nothing positively dies. It is we who go away and lose sight of it. There is no past or future. Today, tomorrow and yesterday are one. Nor is death vindictive or awe-inspiring. Those who have such ideas merely fail to understand something which is just as normal as sleeping or resting. Nevertheless, for believer or atheist, the same terror exists. And this is most illogical. The believers should know that happiness must await them outside the world's local atmosphere. The atheist should be resigned to a negative future where behavior on earth will have neither reward nor punishment. Everyone should also bear in mind that man begins to die as soon as he is born, and the span of his life is the length of time this requires.
I know a man (and while I am thinking of someone in particular, I have in mind hundreds of human beings who would fit this description) who has never done anything since he left college except get rid of the time on his hands. He goes to the club, he plays bridge, he gossips, he hunts and gives dinner parties. His existence is completely futile. But in spite of this lazy, blank life, he has no Serenity and he is afraid of death. Yet, as I once pointed out to him, all the things he does to pass time away are no more than methods to shorten the period which remains until death claims him. He is one of those, too, who regard death as their special privilege and is concerned with this inevitability as if he were the only one in his circle, possibly the English-speaking world, who will experience the shedding of the mortal body. Nor is this man's attitude a particular exception. It is the attitude of many human beings who regard dying as a kind of personal prerogative.
Paradoxically, a great many of these same kinds of people cannot imagine death coming to them at all. The permanent interruption of their earthly activities is beyond the power of their imaginations. What occurs at death and afterwards has no conceivable shape they can picture mentally.
It took me some time to form an attitude about this subject, and as I am still among the living my opinion remains conjecture and obscured by the limitations of a finite mind. But, in the first place, I have an idea that death was never intended and that we developed death ourselves. In other words, I accept the symbolic lesson of the fall of man as recorded in the Book of Genesis and in a good many earlier legendary scriptures. I have a further notion that the human race may in a far-distant day overcome physical death.
The earth has existed for over two billion years and "life" began to appear on its surface perhaps a billion years after its original "creation." Man, however, in any rational form has existed for only fifty thousand years or so. During those millenniums a certain amount of evolution has taken place, but not as much in proportion to the time lapse involved as is generally supposed. A small but definite increase in the life span has also been noted.
Through wiser living and steadily increasing scientific knowledge, we are, by slow degrees, prolonging the mental and physical usefulness of our spiritual bodies. When we have learned as much about our spiritual constitution, it is possible that death, as we know it now, will become as rare as senility in seventy-year-olds today. This surmise, which seems as incredible now as television would have been in Queen Victoria's reign, must remain a surmise. For the moment, we are concerned with the transition from the physical to the spiritual, to what we technically call dying.
We are all familiar with those who remind us that as no one ever comes back from the "other side" to tell us what happens there, it is logical to believe that either nothing does happen or else it is not worth telling anybody about. Incredulity has a way of making many of us feel important. It gives us a kind of false superiority to say to someone, "If you want me to believe you, prove it!"
To certain people, of course, anything which cannot be demonstrated is genuinely impossible to accept, in the same way as a man who has been blind from birth cannot conceive the natural phenomenon of daylight. To convey to someone who is tone-deaf the beauties of a symphony is as hard as convincing the color-blind that leaves are green, but that does not mean that these afflicted people are deranged. Nor can they be regarded as eccentric creatures, for, as Bertrand Russell once said, "Lunatics hear voices which other people do not hear yet, instead of crediting them with abnormally acute hearing, we lock them up."
Ask anyone if he has ever seen a star and the answer will be in the affirmative. But that affirmation will have no foundation because no one has ever actually seen a star. All that has been seen is the light which started coming from that star thousands of years ago.
Thus, if some people are incredulous or ignorant about what goes on around them on the earth, how much more incredulous will they be about what does not belong to the earth. The possibility of total extinction after death is not proved by the absence of communication with those who have gone before. In fact, it is reasonable to believe that the spirits of the dead do come back. But these dematerialized creatures can make little or no impression on us because our minds are, for the most part, geared only to worldly matters and so effectually closed to the supernatural.
Death, it must be emphasized again, is not the end to our lives in the human conception of the word. It is an episode, a development, a transition. The processes of dying and sleeping are somewhat akin, as are those of being born and waking up. As the first hours of our existences are spent in oblivion, so are the last hours. "Death, so called, is a thing which makes men weep and yet a third of human life is passed in sleep" -- so wrote Lord Byron in Don Juan.
In one close brush with death, all that I experienced was a sensation of slipping quietly away in a warm, soothing stream. There was no frantic effort and no apprehension. Nothing belonging to my material life mattered in the least. I was comfortable and filled with Serenity. On the other hand, I found the rest to life, the convalescence, a great deal harder and extremely painful. It is because of this experience that I try to repress unhappy emotions when someone for whom I care ceases to live. I feel sure that the loved one is better off than when coping with the cares of this world. As a matter of fact, if one gives the matter any thought, it is obvious that the average mourner, however brokenhearted, is not really considering the dead person. He is considering himself. The fundamental cause of the weeping is his missing of whomever he has lost. Mortal bereavement is not generated by anxiety over the condition of the release or anything beyond the grave. The suffering is entirely selfish and goes towards explaining why mourning is often so short and shallow. Had I gone on my spiritual way from that hospital bed, I believe that one my greatest ecstasies would have been a true perception of the futility of worldly cares and ambitions and especially of grieving about things of which I had no control. I would also have learned the true meaning of Serenity.
As it is, I am no wiser than anyone else whether my conception of death is anything like reality. Of one thing, however, I am sure. Once our immortal souls have left our mortal bodies, they have discarded them forever. The doctrine of the resurrection of the body has always seemed to me unaesthetic and in rather poor taste, like suggesting piling dirty rubbish in fragrant garden or trying to renovate a broken-down piece of furniture with a fresh of paint.
One often hears people talk of the soul as if it were part of the body, which is absurd. The body does not have a soul, it is the soul which has, or occupies the body and forsakes it the moment death occurs. Explaining this is difficult and it may be simpler to think of the soul as the spirit or even as the mind. The range of a freed soul or spirit can thus be compared to one's imagination.
If, for example, one closes one's eyes and thinks of some place where one has been -- Java or the Sahara, New York or London, the landscapes and the houses and the people fall into place. One can walk in the streets or ride over the fields. With a little extra effort, one can smell the flowers and feel the pavements. To all intents and purposes, one is there. But one is not there. Our bodies still remain where these wandering thoughts originated.
If we were dead, however, not only would our thoughts take us to innumerable terrestrial places we had never seen, but much further into the infinity of the universe. There would be no physical barriers to hold us back. Through death we would be free. Whenever I allow this notion to germinate, I find it hard to understand why any of us give any consideration to this coarse and often diseased weight which the soul causes to move and feel and think. Even when there is exterior beauty and attraction, it is only because of the soul. The moment that vital spirit departs, everything begins to disintegrate. We become nothing more than a few pailfuls of water and a handful of ash, which are what make up the human body.
So why are we so concerned with our bodies? Not only concerned but obsessed by them and their care. We wash, dress, feed and coddle them. We buy them hats and jewels and wrap them in furs. Then, suddenly, they fall to pieces, hideous and malodorous. The soul has a body and not the body a soul, and when the soul has done with the body and can discard it, it does so. It throws it off as any of us might an old overcoat. Let those who are left behind, therefore, not weep because the familiar form and face and voice are not there. Apart from the fact that that alters nothing, it disrupts the Serenity of all concerned, and makes the glorious transition from mortal to immortal life a tragedy instead of a release and triumph.
"Let the dead bury their dead!" was Jesus' rebuke to one of his disciples, who asked permission to go and bury his father and mother; should be borne in mind more frequently by those Christians who attach undue importance to putting away their deceased relatives. Funerals and their attendant rites are not only a waste of money and time, but lacerating to the feelings of those who attach any importance to the remains of the dead. Nor, from a religious point of view, are they logical since, by the time the body is being attended to by a priest, the soul has presumably been disposed of for better or for worse.
Such customs, I realize, are not new. They also belong to prehistoric days, as the discovery of ancient tombs shows, and were closely connected with the religious superstitions of the times long before the undertaking business came into being. This, however, does not make them any more commendable or helpful to the search for Serenity.
One of Homer's most splendid passages about death appears in the sixth book of the Iliad: "Even as the generation of leaves, so are those of men. As for the leaves, the wind scatters them upon the earth, but the forest as it buds brings forth new leaves when the Spring is come: even so one generation of men arises and another passes away."
In some places, leaves are burned, in others they are used as fertilizers; otherwise they are scattered or return to the earth when they came. So, too, should our bodies be treated, anonymously, once they have been vacated by their immortal souls.
One of my most comforting recollections of the Arabs was the way in which the dead, regardless of class, were carried to their graves in a plain shroud and on a communal stretcher. Everyone in the community helped with the funeral as it was felt that now that the soul had gone to be judged by its Creator, the disposal of the remains was the concern of all. Nor was there anything in the cemetery to indicate whether the deceased was a beggar or a merchant, a chief or a shepherd. One stone marked the head and another the feet of the corpse. Nor were they carved or polished tombstones, but just bits of rock picked up haphazardly. In fact, they were placed there only to prevent the laying of some other body in the same grave. These Moslems believed that the rating of the departed was a matter for God's judgment, so that indicating anyone's worldly position by an epitaph on an elaborate tombstone would be impertinence to the Almighty.
Furthermore, these Arabs showed no grief over the death of a relative or neighbor. On the contrary, they rejoiced at the thought that after seventy years or so of discomfort in the hot, arid desert, a man or woman had gone to rest by the waters of Paradise where the grass is eternally green and the fruits eternally ripe. They realized that mourning the dead or worrying about their afterlife did no good and was the worst possible thing for Serenity.
However, without letting death disturb us, it should not be sought or brought about before its time. Even when everything appears to be going hopelessly wrong, killing the body solves nothing. Suicides are merely egotists who would do well to consider the grief and shame that could follow their self-destruction.
For the same reasons, capital punishment must be condemned as belonging to the ways of savages and the eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth era. It seems to be the height of impertinence for a fallible man to die because he has broken some equally fallible law or convention.
However, in whatever way death comes it need not be feared or allowed to become a source of worry. It should be thought of as a friend who approaches with comforting relief to smooth out our cares and take away our pains and infirmities. Death alone can draw restful curtains over our tired eyes and set us free to find that peace which passes all understanding. In the attaining of Serenity, death is the climax, and the greater the tranquility of mind, the easier the departure will be. For, as James Lowell wrote:
Death is beautiful as feet of friend Coming with welcome at our journey's end.
Or as in Gertrude Bell's translation from the Persian:
Thus said the poet: "When death comes to you All ye whose life-sand through the hour glass slips, He lays two fingers on your ears, and two Upon your eyes he lays, one on your lips: Whispering -- 'Silence!'"
Chapter 14 Perseverance Is Essential to the Attainment of Serenity
Make haste nor wait for the coming hours; he who is unready today will be more so tomorrow. -- Neither will the wave which has passed be called back, nor can the hour which has gone return. -- Publius Ovidius Naso
Preoccupation with trivialities fills the lives of myriads of men and women who never become aware that nothing is more exhausting and irritating or does more harm to the cause of Serenity than the empty feeling at the end of a wasted day.
Pottering about one's home or office, chatting endlessly on the telephone about nothing, or, for those with leisure, staying overlong in bed can easily become fixed habits which take up an inordinate part of one's life. A half hour of wasted time every day will add up to nearly a working month a year, although for most people the time-wasting quota is much higher. As a Chinese proverb runs, "The idle are a peculiar kind of dead who cannot be buried."
If you cannot all at once concentrate on Serenity, concentrate on your housekeeping, bookkeeping, book writing, bricklaying, or whatever is your bent. It is likely, too, that this in itself will give you such a feeling of satisfaction of days well spent that Serenity will come of its own accord. Nor is this advice difficult to follow. Almost anything which one pursues with sufficient perseverance will be attained. Even if the goal is shrouded in fog, it may actually be only a few steps or minutes away.
There is a classic story, but always good to remember and take warning from, of the man who staked out a gold claim near the Klondike. The prospects looked excellent, which led to the purchase of elaborate equipment to mine the concession. Then, as suddenly as the evidence of gold had been found, it was lost. Discouraged, the prospector sold out to the first taker and left to earn his living less speculatively. The new man set to work digging where his predecessor had left off. Within a few yards, he struck one of the richest gold veins in that area. Soon he was a millionaire. What became of the original prospector is not on record. His history has disappeared for want of a little perseverance, or the lack of course to pick and shovel a few yards further.
Objectives must be pursued in a straight line regardless of the obstacles in the way. By looking to the right and left or listening to people who chatter by the wayside, the goal can easily be lost sight of. For instance, the only way to read a book is to have only one available at a time. The only way to get what one wants is to have faith and confidence in oneself alone, disregarding criticism, however well intended.
Regret nothing. There is not enough time in life for being sorry for what was or is not. Maintain a sense of humor, and even misfortunes will have their compensations.
"Don't make the same mistake twice!" sounds fairly simple. Yet not only do most of us make the same mistake twice, but ten times, twenty times, and even then we seem not to learn. Nor am I an exception, for while a few of my apparent errors in judgment have eventually turned out for the best, many have not. However, I try not to let the memories of these mistakes worry me. When they do force themselves into my mind, when I am tired or wakeful or ill, I drive them out by reminding myself that errors of judgment are more the rule than not in the lives of most human beings, and there is nothing for it but to forget whatever was done.
Those who pray repeat mechanically, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Yet how many of us really put these words into effect? The hardest of human virtues is to forgive sincerely when one has been hurt and wronged. Nevertheless, doing that very thing will generate Serenity.
If you want to feel happiness in your inner self, dismiss all evil ideas about people. The less unkindness and jealousy you nurture in your mind for other men, the more comforting will be your association with them. And that simple advice is practiced as rarely as forgiving "those who trespass against," because of most human beings' lack of interest in anything which has nothing directly to do with themselves and their self-love. If you do not believe it answer this question: "What do you think of when you are alone?" Even if your reply is "God," it will almost certainly be God in relation to yourself. However, it will probably not be God but some minor physical ailment or what someone is reported to have said or an imagined slight, perhaps a jealousy founded or unfounded, at any rate something so trifling in relation to the universe that it is unworthy of notice.
"Life is short!" has become a hackneyed truism. A wiser and more pertinent slogan should be: "Life is too short to be little!"
In an essay written before either of the world wars, Arnold Bennett said something on this subject which has always stayed in my mind:
"You wake up in the morning, and lo! your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours of the unmanufactured tissues of the universe of your life! It is yours! It is the most precious of possessions. A highly singular commodity, showered upon you in a manner as singular as the commodity itself! For remark! No one can take it from you. It is unstealable. And no one receives either more or less than you receive. ....
"If one can't contrive to live on a certain income of money, one earns a little more -- or steals it, or advertises for it. One doesn't necessarily muddle one's life because one can't quite manage on a thousand pounds a year; one braces the muscles and makes it guineas, and balances the budget. But if one cannot arrange that an income of twenty-four hours a day shall exactly cover all proper items of expenditure, one does muddle one's life definitely. The supply of time, though gloriously regular, is cruelly restricted.
"Which of us lives on twenty-four hours a day? And when I say 'lives,' I do not mean exists, nor 'muddles through.' Which of us is free from the uneasy feeling that the greatest 'spending departments' of his daily life are not managed as they ought to be? Which of us is quite sure that this fine suit is not surmounted by a shameful hat, or that in attending to the crockery he has forgotten the quality of the food? Which of us is not saying to himself -- which of us has not been saying to himself all his life: "I shall alter that when I have a little more time."
"We never shall have any more time. We have, and we always have had, all the time that there is. It is the realization of this profound and neglected truth (which, by the way, I have not discovered) that has led me to minute practical examination of daily time expenditure. ..."
I do not know how old Arnold Bennett was when he wrote this, but what he says seems increasingly true when, having passed your fiftieth anniversary and then your sixtieth, you suddenly discover that planning the distant future, and then even the near future, is no longer feasible. The obituary notices of your contemporaries and eventually those of your juniors indicate that what you put off twenty years ago, you really put off forever. This cannot be proved to the young or middle-aged, but it is not the less true. So do whatever you have in mind now before you find yourself stumbling down the last steep hill which leads to eternity.
Most of us beat our heads against obstacles of no real significance. We brood over grievances. We magnify every word and gesture relating to ourselves. We paralyze the objects of our affections with over-demonstrative love and allow our spirits to slump the minute things go wrong, blaming others for what is our fault and refusing to see beyond the moment. We are intolerant of everyone and everything except ourselves, depending on the opinion and praise of others for our whole satisfaction.
Many of us look up into the sky or into the darkness of the night and ask, "Why did this have to happen to me?" or "God, what does this mean?" or "Had I only known!"
Few of us value the blessing offered to us here. Few of us seek diligently for the beautiful. None of us will admit that the answer "Why did this have to happen to me?" is "Because of my own shortcomings, because of my errors of judgment, because I did not look beyond trivialities."
I remember finding myself in the United States after two exhausting years of tribulation in Europe. I had forgotten what Serenity meant. The contentment I had known in the Sahara had faded. I did not know where I was going, surrounded, as it were, by a fog of despair which never lifted. Then one evening, while staying with some friends on Long Island, I wandered into a lovely garden. The place was a tangle of briar roses, honeysuckle and other wild flowers. Mossy paths made their ways among sweet-smelling shrubs and followed whispering brooks. Here and there, miniature bridges spanned the clear water of the streams. Although it was obviously cared for, no one seemed to frequent the place. The only sounds were the humming of insects and the breeze rustling over tinkling rivulets. And as I wandered through this domain of Sleeping Beauty, I began to forget my self-pity. I felt my care and confusion dissolving. By the time I returned to my friends' house, my attitude towards my troubles had changed.
Thereafter, I spent part of each day in the fragrant garden. I rested in silence before a kind of pagan shrine almost hidden by tall grasses and let my thoughts uncoil themselves. I listened to the birds and, as I watched them, pondered on the inexplicable ways of human beings, of the aimless manner in which they killed each other knowing that no good would come of it. Birds seemed to live much more sensible lives. For the most part, these feathered creatures minded their own business and worked instinctively under conditions of harmonious communion. They mated, laid eggs, looked after their young and taught them to fly. Some were decorative, some went in for song, all added advantageously to the landscape, and few did any harm. Meditating in that rustling garden, I wished that I could build myself an enormous aviary, so big that the birds would not feel that they were in captivity, and stock it with parrots, flamingos, thrushes, nightingales, finches and golden pheasants -- and even live there myself! I felt sure that I could gain a great deal more from such an existence than from continuing to keep pace with the maniacs who thrived on destroying their fellow men by both words and deeds.
The monks of Tibet who live on bare necessities and close to nature have a Serenity which cannot be ruffled. They have acquired the greatest gift to which human beings can aspire, and they want no more. We of the modern world expect too much of earthly pleasures. When we find that these do not really satisfy, we become bitter and condemn the world as a fraud. Yet everything has a meaning and leads somewhere, and our wisest course is to accept that without worrying about the reasons. "Man is not made to understand life but to live it," wrote George de Santayana. Try to do that, and you will be closer to Serenity than by attempting to estimate infinity or the comparative advantages of religious creeds. Nor is this too difficult. I have managed to follow the precept by living a life of my own (even when not physically alone), detached from the thoughts, conventions and fussings of most men. I have always tried to believe in myself and have never let the words or opinions of others influence me unduly. I have an idea that any understanding of life will come after it is over, and while I do not want to hasten this inevitable end, I am not afraid of its coming. In the pronouncement of final justice, there is no such thing as punishment in the worldly sense. There are only wrong results, results which we human beings have brought about ourselves. It is we who have built the barriers between the material and the supernatural, because, in point of fact, they do not really exist. ...
In the last analysis, remember that you are inwardly free by virtue of your reason, and that consequently you are outwardly free too; remember that nothing goes by luck but by law alone, that if you are unconscious of something, it cannot hurt you, and that if anything does hurt you, it is because of your own actions. Above all, remember what Goethe said: Since Time is not a person we can overtake when he is gone, let us honor him with mirth and cheerfulness while he is passing."
So be gay, tolerant and generous. Be your natural, uninhibited self and not something you think you ought to be or you feel others wish you to be. Reflect that if you seem to fail sometimes, it is probably your fault. A man or a woman who says, "I am bankrupt, my wife has deserted me, the only thing left for me is to renounce everything and enter a monastery," is in reality renouncing nothing. It is the world which has renounced him.
Remember that fussing over the past and the future will never accomplish anything, that material pleasure alone will never give complete satisfaction. True Serenity is not the tranquility of mind generated by denying reality, but a quality within you, an ability to accept with equanimity whatever trials and triumphs are sent your way. Even though you may share my doubts about the value or organized religion as a solution to suffering, the only element which gives you peace is what Christians call God and for whom other creeds have equally valid names.
"In my father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you so. ... Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" -- so reads a passage in the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John.
Only faith in something beyond the confusion of this world can give you the peace which passes all understanding, the perfect tranquility, the final answer to your search for Serenity, and that faith can come from one source only, the deathless spirit which lies within you.