Hurry, Worry, and Irritability
PROBABLY most people have had the experience of hurrying to a train with the feeling that something held them back, but not many have observed that their muscles, under such conditions, actually do pull them back.
If any one wants to prove the correctness of this observation let him watch himself, especially if it is necessary for him to go downstairs to get to the station, while he is walking down the steps. The drawing back or contracting of the muscles, as if they were intelligently trying to prevent us from reaching the train on time, is most remarkable. Of course all that impeding contraction comes from resistance, and it seems at first sight very strange that we should resist the accomplishment of the very thing we want to do. Why should I resist the idea of catching a train, when at the same time I am most anxious to do so? Why should my muscles reflect that resistance by contracting, so that they directly impede my progress? It seems a most singular case of a house divided against itself for me to want to take a train, and for my own muscles, which are given me for my command, to refuse to take me there, so that I move toward the train with an involuntary effort away from it. But when the truth is recognized, all this muscular contraction is easily explained. What we are resisting is not the fact of taking the train, but the possibility of losing it. That resistance reflects itself upon our muscles and causes them to contract. Although this is a practical truth, it takes us some time to realize that the fear of losing the train is often the only thing that prevents our catching it. If we could once learn this fact thoroughly, and live from our clearer knowledge, it would be one of the greatest helps toward taking all things in life quietly and without necessary strain. For the fact holds good in all hurry. It is the fear of not accomplishing what is before us in time that holds us back from its accomplishment.
This is so helpful and so useful a truth that I feel it necessary to repeat it in many ways. Fear brings resistance, resistance impedes our progress. Our faculties are paralyzed by lack of confidence, and confidence is the result of a true consciousness of our powers when in harmony with law. Often the fear of not accomplishing what is before us is the only thing that stands in our way.
If we put all hurry, whether it be an immediate hurry to catch a train, or the hurry of years toward the accomplishment of the main objects of our lives, — if we put it all under. the clear light of this truth, it will eventually relieve us of a strain which is robbing our vitality to no end.
First, the times that we must hurry should be minimized. In nine cases out of ten the necessity for hurry comes only from our own attitude of mind, and from no real need whatever. In the tenth case we must learn to hurry with our muscles, and not with our nerves, or, I might better say, we must hurry without excitement. To hurry quietly is to most people an unknown thing, but when hurry is a necessity, the process of successive effort in it should be pleasant and refreshing.
If in the act of needful hurry we are constantly teaching ourselves to stop resistance by saying over and over, through whatever we may be doing, “I am perfectly willing to lose that train, I am willing to lose it, I am willing to lose it,” that will help to remove the resistance, and so help us to learn how to make haste quietly.
But the reader will say, “How can I make myself willing when I am not willing?”
The answer is that if you know that your unwillingness to lose the train is preventing you from catching it, you certainly will see the efficacy of being willing, and you will do all in your power toward yielding to common sense. Unwillingness is resistance, — resistance in the mind contracts the muscles, and such contraction prevents our using the muscles freely and easily. Therefore let us be willing.
Of course there, is. a lazy, selfish indifference to catching a train, or accomplishing anything else, which leaves the tendency to hurry out of some temperaments altogether, but with that kind of a person we are not dealing now. And such indifference is the absolute opposite of the wholesome indifference in which there is no touch of laziness or selfishness.
If we want to avoid hurry we must get the habit of hurry out of our brains, and cut ourselves off, patiently and kindly, from the atmosphere of hurry about us. The habit gets so strong a hold of the nerves, and is impressed upon them so forcibly as a steady tendency, that it can be detected by a close observer even in a person who is lying on a lounge in the full belief that he is resting. It shows itself especially in the breathing. A wise athlete has said that our normal breathing should consist of six breaths to one minute. If the reader will try this rate of breathing, the slowness of it will surprise him. Six breaths to one minute seem to make the breathing unnecessarily slow, and just double that seems about the right number for ordinary people; and the habit of breathing at this slower rate is a great help, from a physical standpoint, toward erasing the tendency to hurry.
One of the most restful exercises any one can take is to lie at full length on a bed or lounge and to inhale and exhale, at a perfectly even, slow rate, for half an hour. It makes the exercise more restful if another person counts for the breathing, say, ten slowly and quickly to inhale, and ten to exhale, with a little pause to give time for a quiet change from one breath to another.
Resistance, which is the mental source of hurry, is equally at the root of that most harmful emotion — the habit of worrying. And the same truths which must be learned and practised to free ourselves of the one habit are applicable to the other.
Take the simple example of a child who worries over his lessons. Children illustrate the principle especially well, because they are so responsive that, if you meet them quietly with the truth in difficulties of this kind they recognize its value and apply it very quickly, and it takes them, comparatively, a very little time to get free.
If you think of telling a child that the moment he finds himself worrying about his lesson he should close his book and say: “I do not care whether I get this lesson or not.”
And then, when he has actually persuaded himself that he does not care, that he should open his book and study, — it would seem, at first sight, that he would find it difficult to understand you; but, on the contrary, a child understands more quickly than older people, for the child has not had time to establish himself so firmly in the evil habit.
I have in mind a little girl in whom the habit had begun of worrying lest she should fail in her lessons, especially in her Latin. Her mother sent her to be taught how not to worry. The teacher, after giving her some idea of the common sense of not worrying, taught her quieting exercises which she practised every day; and when one day, in the midst of one of her lessons, Margaret seemed very quiet and restful, the teacher asked: “Margaret, could you worry about your Latin now if you tried?”
“Yes,” said Margaret, “I am afraid I could.”
Nothing more was said, but she went on with her lessons, and several days after, during the same restful quiet time, the teacher ventured again.
“Now, Margaret, could you worry about your Latin if you tried?”
Then came the emphatic answer, “No, I could not.”
After that the little girl would say: “With the part of me that worries, I do not care whether I get my Latin or not; with the part of me that does not worry, I want to get my Latin very much; therefore I will stay in the part of me that does not worry, and get my Latin.”
A childish argument, and one that may be entirely incomprehensible to many minds, but to those who do comprehend, it represents a very real and practical help.
It is, in most cases, a grave mistake to, reason with a worry. We must first drop the worry, and then do our reasoning. If to drop the worry seems impossible, we can separate ourselves from it enough to prevent it from interfering with our reasoning, very much as if it were neuralgia. There is never any real reason for a worry, because, as we all know, worry never helps us to gain, and often is the cause of our losing, the things which we so much desire.
Sometimes we worry because we are tired, and in that case, if we can recognize the real cause, we should use our wills to withdraw our attention from the object of worry, and to get all possible rest at once, in the confident belief that rest will make things clear, or at least more clear than they were when we were tired. It would be hard to compute the harm that has been done by kindly disposed people in reasoning with the worry of a friend, when the anxiety is increased by fatigue or illness. To reason with one who is tired or ill and worried, only increases the mental strain, and every effort that is made to reason him out of it aggravates the strain; until, finally, the poor brain, through kindly meant effort, has been worked into an extreme state of irritation or even inflammation. For the same reason, a worried mind should not be laughed at. Worries that are aroused by fatigue or illness are often most absurd, but they are not absurd to the mind that is suffering from them, and to make fun of them only brings more pain, and more worry. Gentle, loving attention, with kindly, truthful answers, will always help. By such attention we are really giving no importance to the worry, but only to our friend, with the hope of soothing and quieting him out of his worries, and when he is rested he may see the truth for himself.
We should deal with ourselves, in such cases, as gently as we would with a friend, excepting that we can tell the truth to ourselves more plainly than we can to most friends.
Worrying is resistance, resistance is unwillingness. Unwillingness interferes with whatever we may want to accomplish. To be willing that this, that, or the other should happen seems most difficult, when to our minds, this, that, or the other would bring disaster. And yet if we can once see clearly that worrying resistance tends toward disaster rather than away from it, or, at the very least, takes away our strength and endurance, it is only a matter of time before we become able to drop our resistance altogether. But it is a matter of time; and, when once we are faced toward freedom, we must be patient and steady, and not expect to gain very rapidly. Theirs is indeed a hard lot who have acquired this habit of worry, and persist in doing nothing to gain their freedom.
“Now I have got something to worry about for the rest of my life,” remarked a poor woman once. Her face was set toward worrying; nothing but her own will could have turned it the other way, and yet she deliberately chose not to use it, and so she was fixed and settled in prison for the rest of her life.
To worry is wicked; it is wickedness of a kind that people often do not recognize as such, and they are not fully responsible until they do; but to prove it to be wicked is an easy matter, when once we are faced toward freedom; and, to get over it, as I have said, is a matter of steady, persistent patience.
As for irritability, that is also resistance; but there are two kinds of irritability, — physical and moral.
There is an irritability that comes when we are hungry, if we have eaten something that disagrees with us, if we are cold or tired or uncomfortable from some other physical cause. When we feel that kind of irritability we should ignore it, as we would ignore a little snapping dog across the street, while at the same time removing its cause as quickly as we can. There is nothing that delights the devil more than to scratch a man with the irritability of hunger, and have him respond to it at once by being ugly and rude to a friend; for then the irritation immediately becomes moral, and every bit of selfishness rushes up to join it, and to arouse whatever there may be of evil in the man. It is simple to recognize this merely physical form of irritability, and we should no more allow ourselves to speak, or act, or even think from it, than we should allow ourselves to walk directly into foul air, when the good fresh air is close to us on the other side.
But moral irritability is more serious; that comes from the soul, and is the result of our wanting our own way. The immediate cause may be some physical disturbance, such as noise, or it may be aroused by other petty annoyances, like that of being obliged to wait for some one who is unpunctual, or by disagreement in an argument. There are very many causes for irritability, and we each have our own individual sensitiveness or antipathy, but, whatever the secondary cause, the primary cause is always the same, — resistance or unwillingness to accept our circumstances.
If we are fully willing to be disturbed, we cease to be troubled by the disturbance; if we are willing to wait, we are not annoyed by being kept waiting, and we are in a better, more quiet humor to help our friend to the habit of promptness. if we are willing that another should differ from us in opinion, we can see more clearly either to convince our friend, if he is wrong, –or to admit that he is right, and that we are wrong. The essential condition of good argument is freedom from personal feeling, with the desire only for the truth, — whether it comes from one party or the other.
Hurry, worry, and irritability all come from selfish resistance to the facts of life, and the only permanent cure for the waste of force and the exhausting distress which they entail, is a willingness to accept those facts, whatever they may be, in a spirit of cheerful and reverent obedience to law.