PEACE in one’s self — peace well-founded and making a strong background which is always there, quiet and steady, behind the disturbances of the surface — is most difficult to find. How many times have we seen men and women suffering, suffering intensely, and really wanting to do right, who remain in restless pain because of some form of selfish disappointment which they do not themselves realize, and if an effort to point out the real cause of their disturbance is made, they would rather suffer than acknowledge it — or so it seems.
I have seen a woman raving with jealousy, and calling it all sorts of names except the right one. First she called it indignation that her friend should be disturbed by these other people when she needed rest or time for her work. Secondly, virtuous surprise and pain that her friend should fail to see in such people the forms of selfishness that were to her so hideous. On and on she went, from one cause to another, — every cause that she could find except the right one. One day her friend timidly suggested “jealousy,” and the shower of details of indignant denial that came down upon her was not easy to meet.
Sometimes people are battered in their spirits more harmfully by the hard stones of selfish words than ever bodies were hurt by stones taken from the ground. It is surprising, too, to see the fearful hardness of so-called “love” when it does not get its own way.
You can tell spurious peace from real peace in yourself by giving it a test. Suppose you feel happy and quiet and something comes unexpectedly in the way of a cherished desire; watch yourself; if your whole mood changes at once, and you cannot get back the quiet state, you may label your peace as spurious and be glad you are rid of it. If you are disturbed and restless, and are looking for the cause, and want to insist upon this cause or that cause or the other, and no one of the causes you find give you any relief when you have acknowledged it, you may be sure it is not the cause.
Let me tell you this, which is true. I know it is true because I have seen it proved many times. If we are restless and unhappy and find the true cause in ourselves, and refuse persistently to act or speak or think from that cause, peace comes to us.
Take the woman who was jealous, — if she had turned about and looked the jealousy squarely in the face, and seen it in all its hideousness, and then used her will to refuse to act or to speak or to think from it, — she would have become a quiet, happy woman instead of going about with her brain in a mess and her whole nervous system in a constant turmoil. I do not say that the work of exterminating the jealousy would have been an easy one — but until she saw what it was, she could not even begin to get clear. She might have gone about with efforts of kindness to serve this person and that person. She might have worked herself sick to save another from over-fatigue. She might have thought of doing one hundred good things and done them. There would never be lasting peace for her until she had faced her jealousy and refused to be dominated by it.
Sometimes I think our besetting sins have consciousness enough in themselves to hide behind screens and keep out of sight in order that we may not recognize them, because they know that if once they are really recognized by the soul they are plaguing, they will have to go. And then again they can be bold as bold can be, for they know their victim would never be willing to face them, so they can use him in all possible ways and keep him restless and unhappy, always turning him away from true causes by means of his own selfishness.
I have seen people excited and wretched with indignation for this cause and that cause and the other, as they said, when really it was their own pride and self-importance that was tearing them to pieces. If only one could take such people by their shoulders, and with loving interest for their freedom help them to see the pride, and get their intelligent acknowledgment of it, sometimes it would prick the bubble of their suffering at once, and open the way for real peace to come to them.
Pride, self-importance, jealousy, personal sensitiveness, contempt, — are some of the arch fiends that keep us in the torture of restless suffering. How curious it is to see one who speaks almost habitually from contempt getting roused and indignant because of the contempt of another. How many times we see people angry with others because of the very faults which they have themselves: and they are sincere, too. If you could at any time show them that these very forms of selfishness which they were angrily decrying were even more exaggerated in themselves, they would be very truly surprised, — sometimes very humbly surprised.
It is the faults within ourselves that we are neither facing nor shunning
that keep us away from peace.
A woman suggested to a friend who lived with her that it would help very much toward quiet regularity in the family if she were on time to her meals.
“Why,” the answer came, “I am very seldom late; always — as a child — I have been prompt.” When the fact was shown her that she was less prompt than any one else in the house, she still denied; and when told that if she would face and acknowledge the truth, she would save herself much strain, she answered: “What would you have me do if I am late once or twice, — condemn myself?” And then she added, — because evidently the fact was forcing itself upon her in spite of her resistance to it, — “If I am late seven or eight times, would you have me condemn myself?” And the answer to that is: “No, do not condemn yourself at all, — condemn the fault and refuse to indulge it.”
What brings peace is when we face the selfishness in ourselves squarely in its true form, — acknowledge it, repent of it, and refuse steadily to act or speak or think from it. I say “in its true form” because so keenly do people seem to dislike to know themselves that they will take credit to themselves for acknowledging a wrong, and persistently call it by another name, rather than face the evil in themselves for what it really is. They will say, “I am wrong here,” or “I am wrong there” in minor places, without facing in the least their besetting sin.
If we once got a clear whiff of the fresh air which comes from really acknowledging and repenting, every one would not only face his temptation to selfishness squarely, calling each fault by its right name, but would be interested and anxious to call it by its very worst name, in order that it might be removed entirely, and no taint of it left in the blood.
This woman of whom 1 wrote above is unhappy, fretful and restless. She has inherited extreme selfishness and arrogance. She always gives the wrong reasons for her unhappy states of mind, — either other people or circumstances or her health, — and when, by way of helping her out, it is suggested to her that if she could find the true causes for her troubles, and face them, she would begin to get happy, she exclaims: “Acknowledge — acknowledge? I don’t understand you. I don’t see anything to acknowledge.” And so she goes on fretting and fuming and keeping herself wretched. Hers is an extreme example, I know, but it is not by any means unusual; indeed, so far as my observations go, it is most usual. I have caught myself in the same place too many times not to believe that I see truly when I observe it in other people.
A man who lived in the house with a very disagreeable and difficult person used to dread meeting him in the hall, and when this person was away from home, my friend suffered from dread of his return, until one day it occurred to him that it was not this other person he was dreading, — it was himself! It was his own attitude of heart and mind toward the other that made him suffer, and not the other one at all. That was a release, — and brought relief at once, for he could change his own attitude of mind and he could not change the other person.
I know how difficult it will be for many to believe this fact. “What!” you will say, “am I to blame if I suffer because so-and-so is mean, unkind, rude, and constantly trying to make it hard for me and for other people?” In so far as your suffering is selfish resentment or resistance, you certainly are to blame. Of course there is a sadness for the sake of the others which is full of real affection, — and that is not a fault. But too many times we let ourselves think the suffering is not for our selfish selves. After a while one gets more and more sensitive to the pain of hurt feelings which comes from selfish resistance to discomfort brought by another, and the selfish suffering comes to be early recognized.
I knew a woman who had been treated with great injustice by a friend. She was a good woman, — or wanted to be. She refused to be influenced by resentment. She did every kindness for the friend, and she wondered — when really she had faced everything she could see in herself that resented or resisted — why she could not feel at ease. She was speaking of this to another friend, who casually answered: “You are not willing to be taught by her.” Quick as a wink this woman’s anger came up; she was for a few moments like a tiger. “Taught by her? Taught by her?–a woman who has lied about me and done all she could to injure me in the eyes of other people, — taught by her — indeed!”
No one could be more surprised than this woman at the fierceness of her own anger. When it bad subsided enough for her to think, she saw the truth. She had been feeling “good,” and so superior, because of what she supposed to be her real forgiveness of her friend, and the whole structure was built on a false foundation, — a foundation of a sense of self-importance and superiority which was so much poison, and that is all. There was no humility in it, and there is no virtue, however fine it may appear, that is really anything at all unless humility is behind it.
Can we make our own eyes see? Can we make our own ears hear? Can we make our own food digest? No — no — no. We can only fulfil the conditions so that our eyes will see, our ears will hear, our food will digest. Surely if that is so, we are equally helpless in the matter of our own spiritual intelligence. If we can only fulfil the conditions, and that is work enough, we can take no credit to ourselves for the light that is given us because we do fulfil the conditions; neither can we take credit to ourselves for the power to act according to that light.
Humility brings with it great and increasing power because it only comes to us when we get out of our own light. And we can only get out of our own light by facing squarely the forms of selfishness that are in our systems and refusing steadily to act or to speak or to think from them. Then comes humility and then comes peace. It is not our peace — it is peace in itself, — and we are an open channel for it.
When our Lord said: ” Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you. Not as the world giveth. . . . Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,” He meant what He said. It is practical truth, — the Truth that makes us free.
There is a German doctor who has made himself famous by a method of probing into the consciousness and the subconsciousness of his patients and bringing up the poison, — making them acknowledge that it is there, and so be believes that in that way he forces them to relieve their minds and nerves. It is, I believe, a kind of psychical emetic that he gives. I can see his idea, and follow his reasoning, but I do not see how he can do any permanent good.
Of course it is very generally known now that nervous illness is apt to be the inflammation of the self. It would of course follow that if we can recognize the forms of selfishness that are inflamed, and refuse to be dominated by them, the inflammation would subside and we would get well. But the fault in this method of which I speak is the belief that any man, woman or child can be forced to recognize their selfishness in detail. The selfishness can be pointed out to them, and if they are ready to see it, they will come to see it. But no one can be pushed or pulled or pounded into an intelligent understanding of himself by another man. That is the work God does for us and it is His prerogative. There is no science which can make a process of regeneration.
There is nothing I know that gives one such a growing conviction of the infinite care of a Divine Providence like watching the growth of another soul, — not intrusively watching but respectfully and reverently watching. If we look with a desire to see the selfishness of which we can be conscious, and refuse to be ruled by it, then when that is conquered in its grossest form we are permitted to see it in a finer and more subtle form, and we are permitted to see other forms of selfishness that were not evident to us before. And so, as the process continues, one who is really working for his freedom finds in himself obstructions in one year which he knew nothing about the year before, and expects to find during the following year selfish obstructions that be cannot see at the time.
It is a blessed discovery to find that the hurt feelings of personal sensitiveness are every bit as bad within ourselves as anger; it is a blessed discovery because so long as we are plunged in such grief without an intelligent knowledge of what causes it, we are in the full belief that it is justifiable, and more than that, that we are very much to be pitied and sympathized with. Very few would want the anger in them coddled and petted. The ugly nature of anger is always evident, and we have no doubt but that we should conquer it. But grief — the painful, exquisite grief of personal sensitiveness — who could ever think of that as evil, positive evil? And yet it is, and when once it is recognized it begins to have to the one who is tempted by it a murky, sickish flavor, which seems much more evil in itself than what might be called the poisonous snap of anger.
Blessed is the man or woman who has discovered that spiritually nauseating flavor within his own ” hurt feelings “; — that discovery is the beginning of gaining a happy and vigorous freedom, and any one who feels himself to be on the way to that freedom would leave no stone unturned to help his fellowman, if his fellowman will take his help.
To sum it up: Peace can never be made in ourselves. The only real peace is the peace from God. That can never be ours unless we shun the selfish obstructions to it. We can never shun the selfish obstructions except by finding what they are, facing them squarely, acknowledging them in detail and refusing steadily to act, speak or think from any one of them. Of course the process is slow, and we advance by ups and downs. Sometimes we seem to fall down altogether and are tempted to sit there discouraged. But sooner or later we learn that every time we fall, the right thing to do is to pick ourselves up and go on. Bye and bye we do not fall so far, and later on we probably only trip a little. I imagine that to all eternity we are moving on.
You see when I am proud, or contemptuous, or jealous, or selfishly sensitive, and am calling these things by other names, I am living a lie. No one ever got anywhere really by living a lie, any more than any one ever solved a problem in mathematics by using the wrong figures, and the symbolism of mathematics in relation to spiritual growth is more truly fitting than one can know by merely superficial thought.