A MAN once grasped a very hot poker with his hand, and although he cried out with pain, held on to the poker. His friend called out to him to drop it, whereupon the man indignantly cried out the more.
“Drop it? How can you expect me to think of dropping it with pain like this? I tell you when a man is suffering, as I am, he can think of nothing but the pain.”
And the more indignant he was, the tighter he held on to the poker, and the more he cried out with pain.
This story in itself is ridiculous, but it is startlingly true as an illustration of what people are doing every day.
There is an instinct in us to drop every hot poker at once; and probably we should be able to drop any other form of unnecessary disagreeable sensation as soon as possible, if we had not lost that wholesome instinct through want of use. As it is, we must learn to re-acquire the lost faculty by the deliberate use of our intelligence and will.
It is as if we had lost our freedom and needed to be shown the way back to it, step by step., The process is slow but very interesting, if we are in earnest; and when, after wandering in the bypaths, we finally strike the true road, we find our lost faculty waiting for us, and all that we have learned in reaching it is so much added power.
But at present we are dealing in the main with a world which has no suspicion of such instincts or faculties as these, and is suffering along in blind helplessness. A man will drop a hot poker as soon as he feels it burn, but he will tighten his muscles and hold on to a cold in his head so persistently that he only gets rid of it at all because nature is stronger than he is, and carries it off in spite of him.
How common it is to see a woman entirely wrapped up, with a handkerchief held to her nose, the whole body as tense as it can be, wondering “Why does it take so long to get rid of this cold?” To get free from a severe cold there should be open and clear circulation throughout the whole body. The more the circulation is impeded, the longer the cold will last. To begin with, the cold itself impedes the circulation; and if, in addition, we offer resistance to the very idea of having a cold, we tighten our nerves and our bodies and thereby impede our circulation still further. It is curious that the more we resist a cold the more we hold on to it, but it is a very evident fact; and so is its logical corollary, that the less we resist it the sooner it leaves us.
It would seem absurd to people who do not understand, to say: “I have caught cold, I must relax and let it go through me.”
But the literal truth is that when we relax, we open the channels of circulation in our bodies, and so allow the cold to be carried off. In addition to the relaxing, long, quiet breaths help the circulation still more, and so help the cold to go off sooner.
In the same way people resist pain and hold on to it; when they are attacked with severe pain, they at once devote their entire attention to the sensation of pain, instead of devoting it to the best means of getting relief. They double themselves up tight, and hold on to the place that hurts. Then all the nervous force tends toward the sore place and the tension retards the circulation and makes it difficult for nature to cure the pain, as she would spontaneously if she were only allowed to have her own way.
I once knew a little girl who, whenever she hit one elbow, would at once deliberately rub the other. She said that she had discovered that it took her mind away from the elbow that hurt, and so stopped its hurting sooner. The use of a counterirritant is not uncommon with good physicians, but the counter-irritant only does what is much more effectually accomplished when the patient uses his will and intelligence to remove the original irritant by ceasing to resist it.
A man who was troubled with spasmodic contraction of the throat once went to a doctor in alarm and distress. The doctor told him that, in any case, nothing worse than fainting could happen to him, and that, if he fainted away, his throat would be relieved, because the fainting would relax the muscles of the throat, and the only trouble with it was contraction. Singularly, it did not seem to occur to the doctor that the man might be taught to relax his throat by the use of his own will, instead of having to faint away in order that nature might do it for him. Nature would be just as ready to help us if we were intelligent, as when she has to knock us down, in order that she may do for us what we do not know enough to do for ourselves.
There is no illness that could not be much helped by quiet relaxing on the part of the patient, so as to allow nature and remedial agencies to do their work more easily.
That which keeps relief away in the case of the cold, of pain, and of many illnesses, is the contraction of the nerves and muscles of the body, which impedes the curative power of its healing forces. The contraction of the nerves and muscles of the body is caused by resistance in the mind, and resistance in the mind is unwillingness: unwillingness to endure the distress of the cold, the pain, or the illness, whatever it may be; and the more unwilling we are to suffer from illness, the more we are hindering nature from bringing about a cure.
One of the greatest difficulties in life is illness when the hands are full of work, and of business requiring attention. In many eases the strain and anxiety, which causes resistance to the illness, is even more severe, and makes more trouble than the illness itself.
Suppose, for instance, that a man is taken down with the measles, when he feels that he ought to be at his office, and that his absence may result in serious loss to himself and others. If he begins by letting go, in his body and in his mind, and realizing that the illness is beyond his own power, it will soon occur to him that he might as well turn his illness to account by getting a good rest out of it. In this frame of mind his chances of early recovery will be increased, and he may even get up from his illness with so much new life and with his mind so much refreshed as to make up, in part, for his temporary absence from business. But, on the other hand, if he resists, worries, complains and gets irritable, he irritates his nervous system and, by so doing is likely to bring on any. one of the disagreeable troubles that are known to follow measles; and thus he may keep himself housed for weeks, perhaps months, instead of days.
Another advantage in dropping all resistance to illness, is that the relaxation encourages a restful attitude of mind, which enables us to take the right amount of time for recovery, and so prevents either a possible relapse, or our feeling only half well for a long time, when we might have felt wholly well from the time we first began to take up our life again. Indeed the advantages of nonresistance in such cases are innumerable, and there are no advantages whatever in resistance and unwillingness.
Clear as these things must be to any intelligent person whose attention is turned in the right direction, it seems most singular that not in one case in a thousand are they deliberately practiced. People seem to have lost their common sense with regard to them, because for generations the desire for having our own way has held us in bondage, and confused our standard of freedom; more than that, it has befogged our sense of natural law, and the result is that we painfully fight to make water run up hill when, if we were to give one quiet look, we should see that better things could be accomplished, and our own sense of freedom become keener, by being content to let the water quietly run down and find its own level.
It is not normal to be ill and to be kept from our everyday use, but it is still less normal for a healthy, intelligent mind to keep its body ill longer than is necessary by resisting the fact of illness. Every disease, though it is abnormal in itself, may frequently be kept within bounds by a certain normal course of conduct, and, if our suffering from the disease itself is unavoidable, by far our wisest course is to stand aside, so to speak, and let it take its own course, using all necessary remedies and precautions in order that the attack may be as mild as possible.
Many readers, although they see the common sense of such non-resistance, will find it difficult to practice it, because of their inheritances and personal habits.
The man who held the hot poker only needed to drop it with his fingers; the man who is taken ill only needs to be willing with his mind and to relax with his nerves in order to hasten his recovery.
A very useful practice is to talk to ourselves so quietly and earnestly as to convince our brains of the true helpfulness of being willing and of the impediment of our unwillingness. Tell the truth to yourself over and over, quietly and without emotion, and steadily and firmly contradict every temptation to think that it is impossible not to resist. If men could once be convinced of the very real and wonderful power they have of teaching their own brains, and exacting obedience from them, the resulting new life and ability for use would make the world much happier and stronger.
This power of separating the clear, quiet common sense in ourselves from the turbulent, willful rebellion and resistance, and so quieting our selfish natures and compelling them to normal behavior, is truly latent in us all. It may be difficult at first to use it, especially in cases of strong, perverted natures and fixed habits, because in such cases our resistances are harder and more interior, but if we keep steadily on, aiming in the right direction, — if we persist in the practice of keeping ourselves separate from our unproductive turbulences, and of teaching our brains what we know to be the truth, we shall finally find ourselves walking on level ground, instead of climbing painfully up hill. Then we shall be only grateful for all the hard work which was the means of bringing us into the clear air of freedom.
There could not be a better opportunity to begin our training in non-resistance than that which illness affords.