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Mental Life

WE are now in possession of a general way of thinking about the objective and subjective realms of existence. The universe is a system of natural objects and mental beings individually made known to us through consciousness. Every thing, every individual is related through this universal system. The objective world seems to be composed of independent forms and hard substances. Yet all forms are transient. The dense material dissipates into invisible gases and chemical elements; and we find nothing permanent until we turn to the realm of the invisible and persistent Power which is revealed through these shifting forms. Even the constant qualities of matter must have their basis in a more substantial Reality in order to be constant at all. Matter is eternal only so far as it purposefully belongs to the universe which manifests this self-existent Reality. It is law-governed because that Reality is unchangeable, it has no meaning until we view it as part of the very consciousness, the objectified life of God Himself, of the God who is in His world, immanent in evolution and in the human soul.

The Reality revealed through the outer and inner worlds, then, is one. Everything exists by virtue of the presence of God; and we, existing in Him, contemplate and know His manifestations, in part. We do not simply feel matter as composed of distinct objects. We do not simply feel sensations of light, heat, and cold. An object, a blow, a sense of warmth, does not come directly to the soul. The object must be understood, the blow must be perceived and reported, the feeling of warmth must be translated into an idea. We feel, and also know that we feel, force or matter in some of its forms. The simple act of feeling and knowing implies the existence not only of an objective world from which our sensations come, but of a conscious being to whom that world is made known. These very words become intelligible to the reader only so far as they call up ideas; and back of these ideas, following one another in rapid succession in the reader’s consciousness, is the reader himself contemplating, pondering these ideas, and associating them with whatever ideas reflective experience as already made clear.

Even the materialist, in affirming that matter alone exists, is stating a product of reason. He has put certain ideas together, and evolved them into a system. This system of ideas is absorbing.

It is his habitual mode of thought and colours his entire conscious experience. As a natural consequence, he neglects one aspect of that experience. He forgets the nature of ideas, affirms that mind is a mere “flame,” a product or outgrowth of matter. But even in admitting this he surrenders the stronghold of materialism, since by his own admission this “ flame’’ is conscious; and consciousness is the fundamental fact of existence. It involves all that we are, all that we know, desire, and feel, the whole universe, and the great Thinker himself.

An essential point in all this is the fact that a portion of everything that man sees, feels, hears, or in any way experiences is due to his understanding, from the moment his discriminating consciousness is quickened. The world becomes comprehensible to him as fast as he himself develops to comprehend it. Gradually his emotions and his knowledge play a greater and greater part in his life, until he develops a personal atmosphere, which projects itself into the objective world. Impulse and imagination sometimes give place to reason, but thought is no less influential, man is as truly leading a life of mind.

All this is so readily forgotten that it needs constant emphasis and repetition. Man forgets that he is a soul with a body, that he is primarily a conscious being, contemplating ideas and influenced by thought. Yet, consciously or unconsciously, some idea is always prominent with him. He is always devoted to something. He shapes and controls life by his thought. Yet, just because the influence of thought is constant and is a fact of the commonest experience, man is unmindful of its power, of the real nature of his life. He seems to be leading a material life, and accordingly permits himself to be overcome by that which is material. But even here it is belief that governs his conduct. As a conscious being, he could be governed by nothing less than consciousness. Every act of conduct is due to a direction of mind; and the mind shapes the conduct, draws to itself whatever corresponds to the desire or thought, as truly as a magnet attracts particles of iron. As this may not yet be fully evident, it is well to consider the influence of thought at some length; for in this neglected factor of human experience we shall find the greatest help in the problems of daily life.

The foregoing discussion was necessarily somewhat abstruse. But we now turn to a line of reasoning wherein the evidence is easier to follow. All that is needed to put the mind on the track of unlimited evidence is to give it an impetus in this direction. In the profoundest sense all our thinking, all our conduct, is regulated by our directions of mind; and what we most need in any case is a new perspective. We are ever seeking to break free from imprisoning directions of mind. When we have had a “spell,” a fit of “the blues,” we realise retrospectively that we “got into a wrong direction.” All our objectionable states, all that we seek to be free from, belongs in part at least under this head. For although action must follow a changed direction, the chances are that when we have changed the direction of mind we shall modify our conduct. Your infatuated daughter or son whom you would set
free, is in a “wrong direction.” There are emotional states concerned, but if you persuade your child to look at the situation differently, the emotions will change. The dogmatic friend who will not reason will nevertheless respond to love, and with love will come a new vision. Thus we might pass the whole of life in review and everywhere find exemplifications of the same law.

The artificial methods of reasoning of which we have spoken are directions away from life; the solution, we found, was to turn back to life. And what is duality of self but the downward and upward directions whereby the same facts are viewed? The pessimistic attitude is the direction into, especially the direction into the flesh, down deep in sensation. All the world is changed when the vision is turned upwards. And so with the conclusions of the preceding chapter. When we have thought ourselves into the conscious world, we may turn and look out, not in any sense imprisoned. The point of view in a word is, to start with consciousness and then see all things in the foreground of that, within that. Our analysis is removing the scales from our eyes that we may see ourselves as we really are in the act of life, not as our materialistic opinions would make us out to be. In our thoughtless years we think we are free. When we begin to think we discover that instead of seeing things as they were we were really seeing only what the habitual state of mind made possible.

It is clear that the impression made upon us by a given experience depends largely upon the opinion we put into it. Let a company of people of varied tastes, prejudices, and education read a thoughtful book, listen to a speaker of decided opinions, or attend an entertainment of considerable merit, and their comments will display a wonderful variety of opinion. Diametrically opposed opinions on political, religious, and philosophical questions have been maintained ever since man began to reflect. A slight or a very marked divergence of opinion separates mankind into little groups and sects the world over. Each sect offers its opinions as truth. Everywhere people accept and are influenced by opinions with surprising readiness. Thousands of people have been made miserable and thrown into a state of excitement because in their fear and ignorance they accepted the teachings of dogmatic theology about sin and a future state, to say nothing of slavery to medical opinion and the untold suffering that has grown out of it. The credulity of human nature is one of its profoundest weaknesses; and I need only refer to it to suggest its bearing on our mental life. It is a guiding factor with the majority of people, and opens the door to the control of the weak by the clever, the strong, and the unprincipled. Every one is deceived at times through eagerness to believe rather than to understand, and the influence of prejudice is so subtle that only the keenest and most discerning minds are able to eliminate it to any marked degree.

We are so accustomed to obey certain ideas that we are scarcely aware of their power over us, or how true it is that “the world is what we make it.” We are born with a set of ideas, born members of sects and parties in which theory, practice, and prejudice have become one. Our religion, education, and even our fears are prepared for us by other minds. Every opportunity is given us to develop in traditional directions, and it is deemed almost blasphemous to have ideas of our own. Even if in later life one is quickened in a new direction, it is almost impossible to overcome and cast aside these deeply rooted opinions and prejudices.

We seldom pause to question our beliefs. Prejudice will not permit it. People, as a rule, prefer to accept an opinion without attempting to prove or disprove it. They are bored—and it is a most lamentable fact—they are bored by reasons and proof. It seems never to have occurred to them that man is free, and sure of his own individuality and the truth, only so far as he has gone with a rational process of thought. The tendency to think for one’s self—the sanest and most helpful tendency in man—is crushed out in its infancy; and our whole system of traditional religion tends to shape man’s belief for him. It is only when some unusually original or self-reliant thinker breaks through the hard-and-fast lines of rut-bound thinking that any ideas of fundamental value are given to the world. The non-sectarian and unprejudiced man of science is a very late product of evolution; and even he is prejudiced against many religious doctrines, and as rigorously excludes all facts that lie without the boundaries of natural science as the most bigoted conservative rules out the doctrines of the radical. The love of truth is not yet strong enough to lead us to seek universal truth rather than particular opinion. We think we know. Preconception blinds our eyes on every hand. We give credit to this man or this sect, as though there could be a monopoly of truth, when a little reflection would show that truth is universal, and does not hold because any man enunciates it, because any sect champions it, but because it is implied in the nature of all things and persons.

It is a revelation to the majority of people to discover the power of fear in their lives. Fear enters into their religion. It is the basis of the prejudice which stifles inquiry. It enters into every detail of daily life. We are apprehensive, as a race. We picture calamities of every description, and dread the worst. The sensational press supplies constant material for fear. We fear to eat this and that. We dread, anticipate, put ourselves in the attitude to receive what we fear; and we live in constant fear of death. Fear is simply another form of opinion. It runs back to our willingness to believe rather than to think for ourselves.

But the one who knows the law and obeys it without fear, the scientific man or the seer, as truly as the savage, is in a sense erecting his own world from within. The world is as large, as intelligible as man’s ability to interpret it. The artist discovers qualities in the outer world which actually do not exist for other people. He detects certain lights and shades, certain undulations of the landscape, and an endless variety of transformations during the four seasons of the year. A scientific man will discover evidences of glaciation, and read a long and most interesting history from a rock which may be a worthless obstacle to the farmer. Even the beautiful Alps were once deemed so many obstructions to travel before the love of natural scenery was developed. The same scene viewed by the novelist, the historian, the warrior, the man of business, the savage, presents so many different aspects, depending upon the training and the class of facts which serve the purpose of the observer. It may be comical, it may be tragical, it may inspire happiness, sorrow, comfort, dread, chagrin, pity, suggest a thousand different ideas to as many beholders. All these aspects may have some basis in fact, but they are not complete pictures of the outer world. They are individual phases of it. We see things as we are.

The difference, then, is deeper than education alone. There are natural tastes, likes and dislikes, affinities and sentiments, so that the saying “What is one man’s meat is another’s poison” is equally applicable to the inner world. Passion colours the world according to its nature and intensity. Experiences, dispositions, theories, differ, and project themselves into every fact of life. One thinker is persistently optimistic, despite all that life brings of pain and misery; another is no less strong in his pessimism; while a third is so bigoted that he cannot be induced to take a fair view of anything, not even of his own persistently biased nature.

The very fact that the world is so large, that the supreme Reality is known to us only in part, so far as experience has made it known, shows that our interpretations must differ, and that the difference is in us. Indeed, one may seriously question if the limitations of temperament will ever be overcome, if one man can ever describe life except as he sees it, modified by the general knowledge of the race. Perhaps that individuality is fundamental in the purpose of God. If so, it is each one’s duty to cultivate this profoundest individuality, and discover what God means through it, what aspect of life one is best able to interpret. This deeper life in mind must then take the place of the superficial world of opinion. The dogmas and influences of other people must be rigorously excluded until, in moments of quiet reflection, one learns the divine meaning as revealed in the individual man.

Thus the individual thinker penetrates deeper and deeper in his analysis of our life in mind, until his consciousness seems to blend with the universal Thinker, of whose consciousness all life is purposefully a part. His means of knowing the objective world, and the influence of opinion, of prejudice, education, and temperament, prove to him that he lives in mind. But now he discovers a yet deeper reason, and once more happily makes his escape from tile narrowing effects of mere self-consciousness into the greater consciousness of relationship with the Universal.

The difference between one person and another, then, is fundamental. One has only to try to put one’s self imaginatively into the mind of a friend in order to realise this great difference. Let the friend be one’s closest companion, one’s brother or mother, whom one has known intimately from infancy; and even here the transition is impossible. There is something that we cannot grasp, because it is the friend’s experience, and can never be ours. Personality—what is it, whence came it, and what does it mean? Your world and my world, how much alike, yet how dissimilar! How many and varied the aspects of a single personality as presented to different people, all equally true perhaps, all drawn out from a single source under ever-changing conditions! Self exists within self-the social self, the self of impulse and emotion, and the self of reason, the conscious self and the subcon-scious—wherein we view ideas in all their aspects until they become fixed habits of thought—the fleeting ephemeral self, which reveals itself in an endless variety of moods, opinions, and feelings, and the permanent self which we call “soul”— that deeper consciousness which is intimately related to the Supreme Self.

But some aspect of self is always uppermost. To this we are for the moment devoted, and it is this more superficial self or direction of mind that we are most concerned with in this chapter. On the one hand come impressions from the world of matter. On the other come thoughts and influences in the sphere of mind. The two unite in consciousness, and form the world of mental life, our interpretation of the great whole of which we are parts. In the centre exists man. Looking one way, all that he sees is apparently material. Looking in the other, all appears to be mind. When he seeks their unity, he finds it alone in the conscious self which underlies both of these mental directions.

Another aspect of our mental life is well brought out by an article entitled “The Personal Equation in Human Truth,”’ by Reuben Post Halleck, who points out that “our own actions do not raise in us the same feelings as similar actions on the part of others. Egoistic emotion is more or less present with all. Egoistic emotion invariably warps the truth. We do a thing, and it seems all right; another does the same thing, and it seems all wrong. A man of high moral ideal found fault with his neighbour for working on Sunday about a suburban house, The following Sunday men came from the city with a view to purchasing some lots which the moral man was desirous of selling. He took the prospective buyers over the lots with great alacrity, showing the good points. The neighbour reproved the moral man, who became extremely angry. Labourers frequently denounce a trust with great bitterness of feeling, and yet they proceed to form a labour trust with the express purpose of making labour dear and shutting off competition. They refuse to let an outside workman mine coal, except at the risk of his life, although his children may be starving. Do the workmen experience the same feeling of indignation at their own conduct in forming a trust as they do toward other trusts? A woman was one day genuinely indignant because candidates lacking a certain characteristic had been elected members of her club. In less than a week she was trying to secure the admission of a friend who lacked precisely the same quality. No feeling of indignation at her own conduct ruffled that woman’s brow this time. We frequently hear it said, ‘If I were to do as she is doing, how angry she would be!’ There is one test which the majority of persons can apply to themselves. They have told another something in confidence, and have felt indignant because he betrayed that confidence. There are very few persons who have not at some one time in their life betrayed a confidential secret to someone else. Amusing as it seems, it is common to hear a person accuse himself of a breach of trust, saying, as he tells a secret, ‘This was told me in confidence.’ His egoistic emotion will not allow him to say, ‘I am not worthy of confidence,’ although he would unhesitatingly draw that conclusion in the case of another. . . .

“It is confidently remarked that the egoistic emotions cannot warp mathematical truths, for they are inflexible and unerring. Such a statement might do very well in schoolrooms, but it has no place elsewhere. A noted lawyer said: ‘I have a client who is a plaintiff in a damage suit. Now, a damage, if expressed at all, must be mathematically expressed. My client’s damages amount to the sum of two and two, or four. But he cannot possibly add his own two and two of damage without making the sum five. The defendant adds this some two and two and makes the sum three. If it were not for the fact that the emotions of self will not allow men to add units correctly, quite a percentage of my practice would be gone. If men were sure that selfish emotion would not prompt another man to take advantage of them when opportunity offered, a still larger percentage of my practice would be lost.’

“The undoubted fact that our own acts do not cause in us the same emotions as similar acts on the part of others is one of the strangest psychological truths. This legacy from unevolved man, from the times when brute might was the only right, has been handed down to us. This legacy is still a beam of varying size in every human eye. We shall probably long continue to excuse certain acts of our own and of our friends and to criticise our enemies severely for those same deeds. We see this tendency full-fledged in animals. A big, strong dog will take away a bone from a starving dog. A wealthy railroad president and wealthy directors will plan to wreck a rival road whose bonds and stock may constitute a large proportion of the investments of some orphans. These men would experience intense emotion if anyone attempted to steal from a child of theirs. They will steal from the children of others without a qualm. The advance in intelligence has many times served to increase this tendency. Napoleon was a very intelligent man. The promoters of hydra-headed trusts are men of great sagacity. It is nevertheless true that, as a man acquires the habit of reflecting on his own actions, as he by an effort places himself in a neutral position, and from that changed point of view looks at his deeds with another’s eyes, as he puts himself in the place of those whom his acts have inconvenienced or wronged, this brute legacy, so destructive of truth, will grow less and less. But only the possessor of a vivid imagination, either natural or acquired, can ever succeed in doing this. Children who are early taught to regard each act from the point of view of those affected by that act are placed in the royal road to overcome this tendency. A successful businessman recently said that he did not wish his children thus taught, for such training would put them at a disadvantage in the struggle for existence.

“True conceptions are hampered not only by those emotions which are popularly termed peculiarly egoistic, but by all emotion, which a searching investigation shows to rest upon a hidden foundation sunk deep in those feelings which affect the self for weal or woe. All emotion has a twofold aspect in regard to thought and the search for truth. On the one hand, emotion supplies all the interest we feel in any subject, and is thus absolutely necessary for all long continued, earnest thought; on the other hand, there is thus a deflecting power necessarily at work in the centre of every thought. The strong desire to prove a certain theory has led the most honest of men to look at certain facts through coloured glasses. it is often dangerous to consult any medical specialist at first, because he will have a tendency to see unmistakable signs of the complaint which he treats.”

But aside from these subtle deflective tendencies there are many other aspects of our mental life. To consider them is no doubt to enter the realm of the abnormal, the mystical and the doubtful, yet no account of the inner life is complete without at least a suggestion of the part they play. Recent investigations have shown that the study of hypnotism throws much light on the nature of mind. The mind is even more susceptible to hypnotic suggestion than to opinion. Opinion itself often comes in the form of suggestion, and brings hypnotic influence with it. The so-called magnetism that accompanies the spoken word is often more effective than a strong argument. Thus the strong-minded sway the weak; positive leaders draw negative minds about them and new dogmas are forced into fashion. As knowledge of the power of suggestion grows the dangers are greater. Hypnotism itself becomes a cult, in due course, and all kinds of occultism, spiritism, and the like, follow hard upon the new cult. The only resource for those who would know the truth that is well-nigh lost in this mystical confusion is to undertake an investigation as thorough as that of F. W. H. Myers.

It is plain that the conscious self shades gradually into the great realm of the subconscious or “subliminal.” It is no less plain that the saner moments of human life shade gradually into nonsense. A Myers or a James is able to see the truth and state the law; for the majority there is no dividing line between the spiritually sweet and the psychically unsound.

Without specifically inquiring into the phenomena of telepathy, the influence of mind on mind, and of mind on body, it suffices for our present purposes to note that these experiences point to a more intimate relationship than we have suspected. There are far more influences at work in the inner life than any single science or theory takes into account. Our theories lead us to draw sharp lines of demarcation where in actual life there is gradual transition. The popular way of regarding the relationship of mind and matter, namely, as shading off imperceptibly into each other, is in marked contrast, for example, with the view of mind-matter relationship which originated with Descartes. According to the latter view, mind and matter are as sharply contrasted as possible. Each constitutes a little world by itself, the one being purely conscious, the other entirely automatic and mechanical. The theory that mind and matter are parallel, but do not interact, has developed from the days of Descartes until it has become the general scientific way of regarding the question. On the other hand, there are eminent psychologists who still believe in the causal efficacy of consciousness. For example, see the chapter on the “Automaton Theory” by Professor James in the most human treatise on psychology in our literature.* The question is too large to engage us here. The reader is free to reject the foregoing suggestions in regard to the close relationship of mind and body and yet be ready to follow the general trend of the chapter, the purpose of which is to show the unsuspected depth and richness of our life in mind. Whatever the nature of the hazy experiences in the vague outskirts of our normal consciousness, these vague experiences at least play their part in the inner life, and must be taken account of in the present discussion.

*Psychology, vol. I., chap. v.

Now that psychology has become one of the natural sciences and is concerned with the mental states which are found in closest correspondence with bodily conditions, there is all the more reason for free inquiry into the inner life. The most profitable hypothesis for the practical investigator is undoubtedly the popular belief that mind and body interact. It is by putting one’s powers of activity to the test that one most readily learns what theories are unsound, what doctrines are true. To undertake such experiments is to be convinced that there are many more lines of activity and spheres of mental influence than psychology now takes into account. It may not be necessary to investigate the alleged facts of the “pseudo-sciences,” the various “planes” of which theosophy speaks, or delve into
the mysteries of spiritism. But the psychology of the beliefs in such mysterious realms is at least of consequence. A complete science of the inner life would at least complete the circle of psychic influences, and put up sign-boards, as it were, on the borderlands of the occult: “Here theosophy begins.” “That way the Hindu Yogi practices develop.” “ Over yonder are kept the spirits of the mighty dead, ever ready to be summoned.” “This path leads to adeptship, that to mediumship.”

The topography of the inner world thus established, one might at last be able to distinguish the normal from the abnormal. There would be nothing more to fear in the inner world. For knowledge is power, and to see through a mental state is to master it. It might still be true that there are valuable facts to be learned by excusions into the occult. But the question would be, Is the venture worthwhile? People who are profoundly in earnest to help humanity, or who are deeply in love with the religious life, are pretty sure to answer emphatically, No! The best that one brings home from such excursions is a certain acquaintance with the inceptive stages of occultism by the aid of which one is put in a position to warn other people when they are on dangerous ground. There are so many people in these days who have been misled to think that there are hidden powers of great consequence which one may acquire by occult practice, that one needs to utter such warnings very frequently. It is safe to say that there is no “hidden wisdom” which has been secretly handed down through the ages that can for a moment be compared with an ounce of common-sense.

The inner life is not mysterious. The mental powers we are all of us using, out in the broad daylight, as it were, are the greatest and the sanest. It is a question of using these powers more wisely. If there are also subconscious or subliminal activities which may be brought more and more into consciousness and into control, then let this extension of influence grow out of the sanity of common-sense living. One may well wait for sane-minded explorers to develop these resources before engaging to depart very far from the usual round of intellectual activities and earnest Christian living.

The psychologist who, with rigid logic, excludes from his investigations all mental states except those which are parallel with brain phenomena, is not of course in the right attitude to discover whether there are any “higher” mental powers or not. He is a specialist, and his particular field is well worth cultivating. Meanwhile, the man whose life has room for the mentally spontaneous may well become a specialist of another type. His task is to discover what may be wisely accomplished by voluntary mental action. Hence the question of mental influence upon bodily states is for him of prime importance.




Yet oftentimes the discovery of the bondage of mind to matter is of far greater import than the fact of mental influence on bodily condition. Many a man is set free from what he called “himself,” or from what he took to be genuine “spiritual” feeling, by learning that he was harbouring a pathologic condition. We are warned by Professor James not to judge by pathologic conditions but by values, outcomes, results. But it still remains true that a physio-logical state is oftentimes mistaken for a “spiritual” condition. No field of investigation promises to be more fruitful than the sphere of mental bondages to physiological conditions. Already, people are beginning to conclude that crime is oftentimes the mechanical result of diseased bodily condition. Possibly our whole treatment of criminality, and of insanity, too, is on a wrong basis. When we begin to realise how little power the mind has under the conditions of brain life into which the majority are born, we may begin to get some light on the cause and prevention of crime. The average man is a creature of impulses and physical passions. The age of self-control has scarcely begun to dawn, and the age of reason—well, that is very far ahead. *

*The reader is advised to supplement this and the two following chapters by the study of a treatise on psychology such as vol. 1. of Professor William James’s “Principles of Psychology;” “Psychology, Briefer Course,” by the same author, or, “Outlines of Psychology,” by Professor Josiah Royce.


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