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Chapter 18 The Mystery of Life Explained

The question “What is life?” has been the unsolved mystery of ages. Some have made it identical with sensation; while others have found the “vital spark of heavenly flame” in intelligence and thought. Some have made it the result of organization. But why is life supposed to result from organization, rather than organization from the vital force, whatever it may be? Others have referred it to the contractility of the fibres. In these theories there is the error of taking effects for causes. Some have supposed it to be a certain indefinable principle superadded to the organism, and distinct from both the soul and the body, — a sort of divine Promethean spark to animate the clay image. They called this indefinable something, life, a word that has been used in psychology and physiology without any determinate signification.

One mistake, common to all these theories, has consisted in taking certain effects or phenomena of life, for the vital principle itself. An ancient theory, dating as far back as the Jewish legislator, asserts that the life of the body is the blood, or is in the blood. The same might be predicated of all the animal fluids — the mucous, the serum, or the gastric juice. But who could tell what gave animation to the blood itself? As to the soul, if it had any vitality distinct from its own essence, who could say what it was? Some more modern theorists have referred the vital phenomena to electricity. If this were true, all that would be necessary to add to one’s vital stock, would be to insulate him, and charge him from an electro-magnetic battery.

A favorite hypothesis, adopted by many, is that the so-called nervous fluid is the vital element of the body. But the existence of such a fluid has never been demonstrated. Whatever life is, it is certain it is not a fluid. Bichat gives a definition of life which has been extensively adopted, viz. “Life is the sum of the functions by which death is resisted.” Of this denition Coleridge remarks, that he can discover in it “no other meaning than that life consists in being able to live.” Coleridge, following Schelling, makes life to be the “tendency to individuation,” or in other words, the force which combines many qualities into an individual existence. This is true, but indefinite and unsatisfactory. We still ask, What is the power that does this? De Blainville gives a definition of the vital principle, which was adopted by Comte, viz. “Life is the two-fold internal movement of composition and decomposition at once general and continuous.” In other words, it is included in the phenomena of absorption and excretion. But these physiological processes are the effect of life, and not the vital principle itself. Herbert Spencer gives an abstract definition of life in the following words: “Divesting the conception of all superfluities and reducing it to its most abstract shape, we see that life is definable as the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations.” This may involve the idea of the “pre-established harmony” of Leibnitz, or it may mean that life is only sensation.

The whole suhject of life, its nature and origin, has been involved in such profound mystery, that philosophy has sometimes deemed it the part of wisdom not to meddle with it, but to pass it by, as belonging to those inscrutable matters, which, owing to the necessary limitations of finite thought, we must wait the light of a higher day to disclose. This is a way of disposing of a subject we do not understand, more convenient than scientific. A mystery is not always that which lies beyond the grasp of the human understanding, and is incomprehensible in its nature, but is something which has not been explained. There are many things, which were once classed among the secret things that belong to the Deity alone, that are now well understood. And the awful circle of mystery, into which men have been forbidden to enter, or even profanely to look, has, in the growth of knowledge during the last century, been greatly narrowed down. In the progress of the light of the New Age, things will be taken from the class of the unknown, and what is deemed the unknowable, and placed among things revealed, that belong to us and our children.

There is no more mystery about life, than there is about anything else. More than a century ago, one of the profoundest scholars and most illuminated minds of Europe, the Scandinavian Apocalyptist, cast into the darkness the inspired utterance, love is the life of man. This brief sentence is like the creative fiat, “Let there be light,” when light first flashed upon the solid darkness of the abyss. Love is the inmost life of the soul. It is not only the common life of the body, the vital spark that animates the outward form, the spring of all its organic movements, and the force that impels the curious and wonderful machinery, but it is the vivifying principle of all sensation and thought. Love is the highest and divinest force in the universe, and in the body is correlated to all the other and lower forces. Sensibility and intelligence, and all the psychological actions, are phenomena to which the term force is applicable. They are forces distinct from those that constitute the properties of matter, but nevertheless are forces. And all forces are persistent and mutually interchangeable.

Guided by the recent results of scientific investigation, the organic forces are regarded by many distinguished physiologists of the present day, as correlative of the common forces of the inorganic world. These may produce contractility, and this, sensation. Sensation may excite thought and intelligence, and the movement
of the intellect, as the direction of the thoughts to an amiable object, will excite the love. And the action of the affectional nature infuses life into all below it. Thought itself proceeds from love. This may not be the apparent truth, but an examination of the proposition in the light of consciousness, the ultimate tribunal before which all questions in mental philosophy must be decided, will show it to he the real fact.

One thing we know, — that in proportion as our emotional nature is excited, the more active and the clearer become our thoughts. There are moments of emotional or affectional excitement, when the flame of zeal or love burns with an intense heat, and the intellect then emits a clearer light, and the man speaks with an eloquence and power, which, at other times, he never attains. When we think the clearest, if we turn the eye of consciousness inward, we shall perceive that the brighter light in the intelligence is the radiance of a more ardent heat of the affections. For truth proceeds from love, as light from flame. The more vehement the excitement of the sensibility, the more luminous are our thoughts, just as in nature there is a dead and cold whiteness, and a shining or living brightness. In proportion as our affections, which are forms or manifestations of the love, grow cold, in the same degree the intellect loses its vigor, and the senses become torpid. Our thoughts instead of being bright scintilations that glitter and dazzle in the darkness, fall as blackened scales from the cold iron on the anvil. Every thought and sensation, and movement either of the mind or body, has its birth in love. This is the only divine Promethean spark. Life is a flame, and the brighter it burns, the clearer the light it emits.

The inmost life, the vital force of the soul, is love. This in passing outward, according to the raw of correlation, becomes heat in the outward organism. For heat corresponds to love. It answers an analogous use in the realm of matter, to that which affection accomplishes in the world of mind. When this vital heat is equally and harmoniously distributed through the entire system, there is a state of health. Disease is a loss of the proper balance. It is an inharmonious distribution of the vital force, some parts or organs having an undue share, while others at the same time are robbed of their rightful proportion. In intermittent fevers, when there is too much heat at the surface, there is not enough within, and vice verse, and the system swings from one state to the other, like the motions of a pendulum, until the lost harmony is restored, or life extinct. The heat of the body is from no other source than the love. This is the life of the soul, which, ultimated in the material organism, becomes vital heat. It is not a dead caloric, like that radiated from combustible bodies, though it may be correlated to it. Ordinary caloric is destitute of the spiritual element. Organic or living force does not set except at a certain temperature, which is an indispensable requisite to it. In warm blooded animals 100 degrees F. to 102 degrees F. is the normal temperature. Greatly below this the vital movements are weakened or suspended. The development of the germ in the uterus cannot take place at a temperature much below the normal standard.

The heat of the body is not derived alone from the combination of the oxygen of the air with the carbonaceous elements of the blood. The best physiological authorities admit that this hypothesis is profoundly insufficient to solve the mystery or explain all its phenomena. The carbon and hydrogen, contained in our food, are not sufficient to replace the heat that is radiated from the body of a man exposed, day after day, to the cold atmosphere of winter. It would require a considerable fraction of a cord of wood to do this. There must be some cause lying further back. This much we know — for it is a fact of observation and consciousness — that when we experience an increased intensity of the love or affections, the body responds with an augmented glow of vital heat, which shows itself even in the countenance. In proportion as we love, life thrills in every department of our being, and even warms the soul’s tenement. How this is done, we may be able to understand in some degree.

It is accepted now as a demonstrated truth of science, that heat is a form of motion. The hypothesis of a fluid, called caloric, has been abandoned. Motion and heat are correlated or mutually interchangeable, the one into the other. More than a century ago, John Locke said, “Heat is a very brisk agitation of the insensible parts of an object which produces in us that sensation from which we denominate the object hot, so that what in our sensation is heat, in the object is nothing but motion.” This theory was maintained by Bacon, Newton, Count Rumford, Sir Humphrey Davy and others. As light and sound are occasioned by a vibration of a subtle medium pervading all bodies, so heat is caused by a similar movement. Our affectional states, by passing outward to the bodily organism according to the law of correspondence, generate therein the peculiar motion that constitutes the essence of animal heat or the vital force. Love is the only moving power in the universe. Do we not tacitly recognize this in our language? Desire and affection are derivations of the love, and these have received the general name of emotions, a word which implies a moving of the mind, an excitement or agitation of the sensibility.

But by what motions are the vital processes carried on? There are myriads of them sensible and insensible. First we have the systole and diastole of the heart, the contraction of the veins and arteries, and the harmonious action of the respiratory apparatus, including the lungs, diaphragm, and the muscles that move the ribs in breathing. In the organic vital phenomena are included digestion, assimilation, absorbtion, circulation, nutrition, secretion, and excretion, and all these are motions among the particles and atoms. All the muscular fibres and tissues, by their irritability or excitability, respond to the movements of the will or love, and this susceptibility they possess from this source alone. Motion is correlated to life, and corresponds to it. Hence the established efficiency of the Swedish movements, both single and duplicated, as a curative agency. When the body dies, it beoomee cold and motionless at the same time, and it is only when this is the case, that it can be pronounced with certainty to be void of life.

To recapitulate what we have said in this chapter, life is love, — a truth of far-reaching importance, and pregnant with meaning. But heat corresponds to love, and in the bodily organism is the ultimation of it, and the essence of heat is motion. All the motions of the material universe owe their origin chiefly to the heat emanating from the myriads of suns that float in the depths of space. The fixed stars are only remoter suns, and, according to Pouillet, we derive almost as much heat from them as from the center of our system. Here is the source of the motions that are constantly taking place in the world we inhabit. Were the influence of the sun’s heat to be withdrawn from our earth, there would be sepulchral stillness, and a suspension of all motion at once. The world would be a motionless and lifeless mass. But wherever there is motion, there is some living love behind it as its cause, from the trembling of a leaf in the breeze, to the revolutions of a planet; from the contraction of a muscular fibre to the victorious march of an army. In the universe all is motion, because the Lord’s all-animating love and all-pervading life are in it, and all the movements of creation, from the fall of a sparrow to the ceaseless heavings of the ocean, and the flight of the viewless winds, are but the “stirrings of deep divinity within.” All created things in the countless worlds that float in space, respond in harmony with the pulsations of the infinite heart of God, and motion is coeval with the divine life. Heat and light, like love and truth, are not to be classed among things created or creatable.

There never was a time when space was an infinite void, and nothing stirred throughout its silent depths, and Deity dwelt alone in the solitude of His own eternity. Where He has been in time or space, there has been love, and life, and heat, and where these are, there must be motion. What has been, always will be. Ages, issuing from the dim distance of an eternity past, rush to be swallowed up in an eternity to come. In this endless procession of centuries and dispensations, each proclaims as it sweeps by with all its changes, and its voice dies away in silence, like the hush of winds at the close of day, “God is the one and only Life.” With this sublime and weighty utterance, the vail is lifted from life’s profoundest mysteries. All science is drifting the human mind towards the recognition of this universal truth. If we question things created, and , ask them why they exist, they answer, “Because God is love, and love is life and where that life breathes, there must be joyous being to share the irrepressible bliss of the Divine Mind. For in Him we live, and move, and have our being.”

It is a truth of great practical value in a system of Mental Hygiene that every external degree of our complex being is affected by the state of the internal degrees. The external derives its vital activity from something interior to it, and the movements of the external are correspondences of the more internal or spiritual force, or, to use the popular scientific language of the day, they are mutually correlated, and act and react upon each other. To illustrate this, let us begin with the sensuous range of the mind which we have shown to be the spiritual body. Sensation is not life, for the external senses may all be closed, or their action suspended, and life not be extinct. This is the case with man in sleep, in the trance, in swooning and synocope, and with hybernating animals, during their torpitude in winter. All the varieties of sensation may be reduced to the sense of touch or feeling, which is the universal sense, and belongs to the love. It is the love, or vital force, acting upon the lowest or outermost plane of the mind. The action of the senses serves to open, or excite to their appropriate movement, the minute and invisible organic vessels of the external man, so as to render the body receptive of the influent life from the internal mind. They are an intermediate principle through which life passes outward to the external organism.

It has been shown by recent physiological investigations, that sensations excite to increased activity the secreting organs in a perceptible degree; also that they affect the action of both the involuntary and voluntary muscles, for the interior spiritual forces are correlative of the organic forces, or transmutable into them. Sensations increase the action of the heart, and in a degree proportioned to their intensity, and recent physiological inquiries imply not only that contraction of the heart is excited by every sensation, but also that the muscular fibers, throughout the whole vascular system, are at the same time more or less contracted. The rate of breathing is visibly augmented both by pleasurable and painful impressions on the nerves, when they reach any intensity. It has even been shown that inspiration becomes more frequent on transition from darkness into sunshine, and the sensation of light renders the body more positively vital.

It is not too much to suppose that the time will come in the progressive development of the New Age, when the action of all the organs can be regulated by means of sensation, so as either to increase or lower their vital tone. Some slight and apparently insignificant sensations, as an excitement of the nerves of touch by tickling, are followed by almost incontrollable movements of the voluntary muscles, as those of the arms or legs. Violent pains cause violent struggles and contortions, and great pleasure is attended with equally noticeable movements. The effect of sensation upon the muscular tissue, is seen in the sudden start that follows a loud sound, the wry face produced by the taste of anything disagreeable, the jerk with which the hand or foot is snatched out of hot water, and the instinctive drawing back and turning sway from an offensive odor. All thess instances are illustrations of the transformation of feeling, which belongs to our inner nature, into muscular motion. There is a definite quantitative relation between them, as it is manifest that the force of the bodily action is proportioned to the quantity of the sensation. Torpidity of the senses must always be attended with a lowering of the vital force of the body, and a loosening of the connection of the mind with it. There is a sanative influence in the appropriate delights of each of the senses. They have an important hygienic value. He who understands their effect, can sometimes prescribe them as the best remedial agency. To ignore their pleasures and mortify them, under the influence of a morbid religious asceticism, is to enter the gloomy highway of disease and death. Their enjoyment, in the highest degree, is the normal state of man in the present stage of our endless existence.

If we take the emotions, — which are a more internal action of the love than sensation, — we find their effect upon the bodily organism equally marked. Emotions of only moderate intensity, generate little beyond a slight degree of the excitement of the heart and the vascular system, and this is necessarily attended with increased action of the glandular organs. Certain states of the affections or feelings change the character of the secretions. A fit of passion has been known so to affect the milk of the mother as to throw her child into convulsions. The saliva of the dog is so altered by his being enraged as to render his bite poisonous. All the emotions and passions affect, by the law of correspondence or correlation, all the secreting organs. But the emotions are a spiritual force, and in passing outward to the material organism are transmuted into physiological movements and muscular action. Certain bodily motions are only the equivalence of certain mental states. Witness the frowns, stampings. strikings, and threatening attitudes of anger, the frantic struggles of terror, the wringing of the hands and swaying of the body back and forth of grief, the smiles of satisfaction, and the dancings of great delight. To leap for joy is a common expression, but the movement of the body is the effect of the inward mental state and is only its ultimate expression. The emotion or excitement of the love, is the cause. These effects are only more visible, but no more real, than those organic movements which we can not perceive. Every change of our feelings or our affective life, is followed by a corresspondent change in the functional action of all the vital organs.

There is no emotive or affectional state of more importance in Mental Hygiene, than the proper action of the sexual instinct. The cerebral organ of its manifestation is in the cerebellum. This brain is also the organ of the involuntary, or, what has been improprly called, the vegative life. Comte includes all the involuntary phychological processes under the term nutrition, and locates its organ in the center of the cerebellum. It is evident that an inharmonious or over-excitement of the sexual emotion must draw into itself and expend too large a share of the vital force of the cerebellum, and consequently lower the tone of all the involuntary organs. Here in the spiritual root of more diseases of body and mind than can be traced to any one source. The sexual and cojugal love is most intimately connected with the inmost life of the spirit, and is the fountain of more happiness or misery than originates with any other affection, according as it is properly controlled, or left to a disorderly activity and indulgence. The part of our mental organism that imparts life to a new human being, must be in a high degree vital, and come near the creative force. The whole train of the diseases of the reproductive organs, constituting a large proportion of the cases of chronic ailments, are caused by a want of harmony here, and their relief is only temporary and deceptive, until this department of the spiritual nature is restored to order. The superior value of the magnetic, or, more properly, the psychological method of treatment, arises from the perfect control which it has over the ·mental states, the affective and emotive life of the patient, and thus extends its healing force into the realm of spiritual causation, and touches the spring of the body’s vitality.

If the doctrine of this chapter is accepted as truth by the intuitive reason, it will show, in a clear light, the importance of properly regulating the affections and the whole emotional nature. A loss of harmony here is the secret spring of most, if not all, of the thitreen hundred diseases described in works on Noslogy. If life is love, then all the phygiological processes must be modified by our affectional states. There are some of the noblest and purest of earth’s inhabitants, both male snd female, who are slowly but surely marching to the cemetery, from a blasted, withered state of the social affections — dying from disappointed and unsatisfied love. They are numbered by legions, and are found within and without the conjugal relation. This pathological mental state, lowers the tone of all the organic functions. This atrophy of the soul enfeebles the vital movements of the whole body, and the body sinks under disease, like a tender plant smitten with an untimely frost. Drugs are powerless to reach the seat of the trouble. The remedy must be spiritual.

The life of God is love. His love is an infinite desire to impart His own good to others. The life of angels is a stream from this only fountain, and partakes of the properties of its source. If we open our hearts to receive the influx of the divine and heavenly life, it will be in us a desire and conatus to impart the good, with which we are blessed, to all who are willing to receive it, and are admissive of it. Such is the true order of life, the normal state of every soul. It is evident we can never attain to the highest well-being of either soul or body, until we come into the divine order of our existence, and employ the activity with which we are endowed, according to the laws of the celestial life. We were made to impart, to be the media through which God’s gifts could be transmitted to others. We are finite receptacles of the divine good and truth. We were not designed to absorb the divine rays, but to reflect them as well — to be each a center of radiation.

One of the most prominent organs in the brain is benevolence. The mental feeling, of which it is the outward instrument, is a desire to impart, to share our good with others. When this divine impulse is perverted in its action, our love terminates in self, add we become the center of our universe. Selfishness is the fruitful root of more moral and physical evil and unhappiness, than any other cause. It is the perversion of the divinest instinct of human nature, a cessation of the pulsations of the central life within us. The only true and happy life on earth, is that of love. Wisdom is divine. Truth is a ray from God. Science and philosophy are a spiritual treasure and desirable possession. Wealth, official station and power, are good in themselves. But the divinest thing in the universe is love — an all-absorbing charity. Blessed is the men in whose inner nature it is the supreme and governing principle, and who has consecrated himself to the good of universal being.

Disease is often only a state of supreme selfishness. It is a law, universal and immutable, that by imparting we receive, and when we cease to impart, we cease to receive, and the stream of our life begins to dry up at the fountain. The candle under a bushel, soon becomes only a smoking wick. To communicate truth to another, quickens our own intellectual life, and renders us receptive of more than we give. There are those who are ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. They are like the dark substances in nature, that absorb all the rays, and never can become transparent and luminous. Give, and it shall be given, is a law that governs in the whole realm of mind. It has its application to every form of good.

There are many unsound mental states, which ultimate themselves, according to the law of spiritual influx, in various diseased bodily conditions, that have their root in this perversion of the true order of our being. Such persons are unhappy, and consequently unhealthy, because in the unnatural state in which they are, they think only of themselves — their own comfort and enjoyment. Insanity, especially in the form of melancholy, is often nothing but selfishness. The brain is inflamed, and there is a congestion of its magnetic life, simply because its magnetism does not flow forth in showers of blessings upon others. The waste, worn out nerve-aura accumulates, because it does not radiate around, making everything happier and better by receiving it. Such unhappy and gloomy souls, we fondly believe, when they put off the eternal envelope, and wake to consciousness in the spiritual wotld, will be cured of their diseased mental state, and their consequent bodily infirmities. But the cure will be effected, not by the breathing of the celestial aura, or reveling in the heavenly aroma wafted by the gales that sweep over celestial landscapes, but by being instructed by angels, and guided by spiritual tutors into the true order of their life.

If we deem ourselves the most miserable of human kind, and our soul the most wretched thing in the universe, it is because we have forgotten others in our insane absorption into self. The remedy is here and now. Make the heart of something outside your own being to leap for joy. Attune your soul in harmony with the Life Divine. Live to love, and then you will delight to live; and health will glow and thrill in every organic structure. Find someone whose condition is unhappy like your own. Lift up your hand and your heart, and pull down a blessing upon his head. The best prescription that man or angel can give to relieve your soul-misery, and the correspondent abnormal physiological state is, Be, like Jesus, everyone’s best friend. Seek to make everybody and everything happy. The good, you intend to others, will come to you in divine measure, more than you give. Get well by curing others. Impart life, communicate from your own stock of vital force to others, and life from God, its sempiternal source, and from the angel-world, will flow in to replenish your store.

To love another so as to long to impart our good and our very life to him, sends a thrill of life through our whole being. It kindles anew the vital fire in the decaying body. This will seem to the world at large, absorbed in their selfish schemes, as an idle dream, a transcendental revery. Medical science, with its antiquated theories, will reject and scout so spiritual a remedy, and still cling to its senseless formulas and deleterious drugs. But we still aver there is more in it, than the science of today is ready to admit. And is it not true, that there is more in heaven and earth, than philosophy ever dreamed of? Has science gone to the utmost boundary of all that is knowable? Is it not time for medicine to take an advanced step? Is it the province of a true philosophy, like the Roman god, Terminus, to eternally watch the old landmarks, lest the boundaries be moved? Are the limits of knowledge forever fixed, or is truth progressive in its endless evolutions? Is there not in every human soul the divine germ of an infinite development, a capacity of an everlasting unfolding? Is the stunted, dwarfish growth of the past centuries, the final goal of the mind’s race-course, and the terminus of the seal in its march of endless progression?


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