Part 1 out of 4
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NERVES AND COMMON SENSE
ANNIE PAYSON CALL
_Author of "Power Through Repose,"
"As a Matter of Course,"
"The Freedom of Life," etc._
_NEW AND ENLARGED EDITION_
MANY of these articles first appeared in "The Ladies' Home Journal,"
and I am glad to take this opportunity of thanking Mr. Edward
Bok--the editor--for his very helpful and suggestive titles.
ANNIE PAYSON CALL.
I. HABIT AND NERVOUS STRAIN
II. HOW WOMEN CAN KEEP FROM BEING NERVOUS
III. "YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW I AM RUSHED"
IV. "WHY DOES MRS. SMITH GET ON MY NERVES?"
V. THE TRYING MEMBER OF THE FAMILY
VI. IRRITABLE HUSBANDS
VII. QUIET _vs._ CHRONIC EXCITEMENT
VIII. THE TIRED EMPHASIS
IX. HOW TO BE ILL AND GET WELL
X. IS PHYSICAL CULTURE GOOD FOR GIRLS?
XI. WORKING RESTFULLY
XII. IMAGINARY VACATIONS
XIII. THE WOMAN AT THE NEXT DESK
XIV. TELEPHONES AND TELEPHONING
XV. DON'T TALK
XVI. "WHY FUSS SO MUCH ABOUT WHAT I EAT?"
XVII. TAKE CARE OF YOUR STOMACH
XVIII. ABOUT FACES
XIX. ABOUT VOICES
XX. ABOUT FRIGHTS
XXII. HOW TO SEW EASILY
XXIII. DO NOT HURRY
XXIV. THE CARE OF AN INVALID
XXV. THE HABIT OF ILLNESS
XXVI. WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES ME SO NERVOUS?
XXVII. POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE EFFORT
XVIII. HUMAN DUST
XXIX. PLAIN EVERY-DAY COMMON SENSE
XXX. A SUMMING UP
_Habit and Nervous Strain_
PEOPLE form habits which cause nervous strain. When these habits
have fixed themselves for long enough upon their victims, the nerves
give way and severe depression or some other form of nervous
prostration is the result. If such an illness turns the attention to
its cause, and so starts the sufferer toward a radical change from
habits which cause nervous strain to habits which bring nervous
strength, then the illness can be the beginning of better and
permanent health. If, however, there simply is an enforced rest,
without any intelligent understanding of the trouble, the invalid
gets "well" only to drag out a miserable existence or to get very
Although any nervous suffering is worth while if it is the means of
teaching us how to avoid nervous strain, it certainly is far
preferable to avoid the strain without the extreme pain of a nervous
To point out many of these pernicious habits and to suggest a
practical remedy for each and all of them is the aim of this book,
and for that reason common examples in various phases of every-day
life are used as illustrations.
When there is no organic trouble there can be no doubt that _defects
of character, inherited or acquired, are at the root of all nervous
illness._ If this can once be generally recognized and acknowledged,
especially by the sufferers themselves, we are in a fair way toward
eliminating such illness entirely.
The trouble is people suffer from mortification and an unwillingness
to look their bad habits in the face. They have not learned that
humiliation can be wholesome, sound, and healthy, and so they keep
themselves in a mess of a fog because they will not face the shame
necessary to get out of it. They would rather be ill and suffering,
and believe themselves to have strong characters than to look the
weakness of their characters in the face, own up to them like men,
and come out into open fresh air with healthy nerves which will gain
in strength as they live.
Any intelligent man or woman who thinks a bit for himself can see
the stupidity of this mistaken choice at a glance, and seeing it
will act against it and thus do so much toward bringing light to all
nervously prostrated humanity.
We can talk about faith cure, Christian Science, mind cure,
hypnotism, psychotherapeutics, or any other forms of nerve cure
which at the very best can only give the man a gentle shunt toward
the middle of the stream of life. Once assured of the truth, the man
must hold himself in the clean wholesomeness of it by actively
working for his own strength of character _from his own initiative._
There can be no other permanent cure.
I say that strength of character must grow from our own initiative,
and I should add that it must be from our own initiative that we
come to recognize and actively believe that we are dependent upon a
power not our own and our real strength comes from ceasing to be an
obstruction to that power. The work of not interfering with our best
health, moral and physical, means hard fighting and steady,
never-ending vigilance. But it pays--it more than pays! And, it
seems to me, this prevailing trouble of nervous strain which is so
much with us now can be the means of guiding all men and women
toward more solid health than has ever been known before. _But we
must work for it!_ We must give up expecting to be cured.
_How Women can keep from being Nervous_
MANY people suffer unnecessarily from "nerves" just for the want of
a little knowledge of how to adjust themselves in order that the
nerves may get well. As an example, I have in mind a little woman
who had been ill for eight years--eight of what might have been the
best years of her life--all because neither she nor her family knew
the straight road toward getting well. Now that she has found the
path she has gained health wonderfully in six months, and promises
to be better than ever before in her life.
Let me tell you how she became ill and then I can explain her
process of getting well again. One night she was overtired and could
not get to sleep, and became very much annoyed at various noises
that were about the house. Just after she had succeeded in stopping
one noise she would go back to bed and hear several others. Finally,
she was so worked up and nervously strained over the noises that her
hearing became exaggerated, and she was troubled by noises that
other people would not have even heard; so she managed to keep
herself awake all night.
The next day the strain of the overfatigue was, of course, very much
increased, not only by the wakeful night, but also by the annoyance
which had kept her awake. The family were distressed that she should
not have slept all night; talked a great deal about it, and called
in the doctor.
The woman's strained nerves were on edge all day, so that her
feelings were easily hurt, and her brothers and sisters became, as
they thought, justly impatient at what they considered her silly
babyishness. This, of course, roused her to more strain. The
overcare and the feeble, unintelligent sympathy that she had from
some members of her family kept her weak and self-centered, and the
ignorant, selfish impatience with which the others treated her
increased her nervous strain. After this there followed various
other worries and a personal sense of annoyance--all of which made
her more nervous.
Then--the stomach and brain are so closely associated--her digestion
began to cause her discomfort: a lump in her stomach, her food
"would not digest," and various other symptoms, all of which mean
strained and overwrought nerves, although they are more often
attributed merely to a disordered stomach. She worried as to what
she had better eat and what she had better not eat. If her stomach
was tired and some simple food disagreed with her all the discomfort
was attributed to the food, instead of to the real cause,--a tired
stomach,--and the cause back of that,--strained nerves. The
consequence was that one kind of wholesome food after another was
cut off as being impossible for her to eat. Anything that this poor
little invalid did not like about circumstances or people she felt
ugly and cried over. Finally, the entire family were centered about
her illness, either in overcare or annoyance.
You see, she kept constantly repeating her brain impression of
overfatigue: first annoyance because she stayed awake; then
annoyance at noises; then excited distress that she should have
stayed awake all night; then resistance and anger at other people
who interfered with her. Over and over that brain impression of
nervous illness was repeated by the woman herself and people about
her until she seemed settled into it for the rest of her life. It
was like expecting a sore to get well while it was constantly being
rubbed and irritated. A woman might have the healthiest blood in the
world, but if she cut herself and then rubbed and irritated the cut,
and put salt in it, it would be impossible for it to heal.
Now let me tell you how this little woman got well. The first thing
she did was to take some very simple relaxing exercises while she
was lying in bed. She raised her arms very slowly and as loosely as
she could from the elbow and then her hands from the wrist, and
stretched and relaxed her fingers steadily, then dropped her hand
and forearm heavily, and felt it drop slowly at first, then quickly
and quietly, with its own weight. She tried to shut her eyes like a
baby going to sleep, and followed that with long, gentle, quiet
breaths. These and other exercises gave her an impression of quiet
relaxation so that she became more sensitive to superfluous tension.
When she felt annoyed at noises she easily noticed that in response
to the annoyance her whole body became tense and strained. After she
had done her exercises and felt quiet and rested something would
happen or some one would say something that went against the grain,
and quick as a wink all the good of the exercises would be gone and
she would be tight and strained again, and nervously irritated.
Very soon she saw clearly that she must learn to drop the habit of
physical strain if she wanted to get well; but she also learned what
was more--far more--important than that: that _she must conquer the
cause of the strain or she could never permanently drop it._ She saw
that the cause was resentment and resistance to the noises--the
circumstances, the people, and all the variety of things that had
"made her nervous."
Then she began her steady journey toward strong nerves and a
wholesome, happy life. She began the process of changing her brain
impressions. If she heard noises that annoyed her she would use her
will to direct her attention toward dropping resistance to the
noises, and in order to drop her mental resistance she gave her
attention to loosening out the bodily contractions. Finally she
became interested in the new process as in a series of deep and true
experiments. Of course her living and intelligent interest enabled
her to gain very much faster, for she not only enjoyed her growing
freedom, but she also enjoyed seeing her experiments work. Nature
always tends toward health, and if we stop interfering with her she
will get us well.
There is just this difference between the healing of a physical sore
and the healing of strained and irritated nerves With the one our
bodies are healed, and things go on in them about the same as
before. With the other, every use of the will to free ourselves from
the irritation and its cause not only enables us to get free from
the nervous illness, but in addition brings us new nerve vigor.
When nervous illness is met deeply enough and in the normal way, the
result is that the nerves become stronger than ever before.
Often the effect of nervous strain in women is constant talking.
Talk--talk--talk, and mostly about themselves, their ailments, their
worries, and the hindrances that are put in their way to prevent
their getting well. This talking is not a relief, as people
sometimes feel. It is a direct waste of vigor. But the waste would
be greater if the talk were repressed. The only real help comes when
the talker herself recognizes the strain of her talk and "loosens"
People must find themselves out to get well--really well--from
nervous suffering. The cause of nervous strain is so often in the
character and in the way we meet circumstances and people that it
seems essential to recognize our mistakes in that direction, and to
face them squarely before we can do our part toward removing the
causes of any nervous illness.
Remember it is not circumstances that keep us ill. It is not people
that cause our illness. It is not our environment that overcomes us.
It is the way we face and deal with circumstances, with people, and
with environment that keeps our nerves irritated or keeps them quiet
and wholesome and steady.
Let me tell the story of two men, both of whom were brought low by
severe nervous breakdown. One complained of his environment,
complained of circumstances, complained of people. Everything and
every one was the cause of his suffering, except himself. The result
was that he weakened his brain by the constant willful and enforced
strain, so that what little health he regained was the result of
Nature's steady and powerful tendency toward health, and in spite of
the man himself.
The other man--to give a practical instance--returned from a journey
taken in order to regain the strength which he had lost from not
knowing how to work. His business agent met him at the railroad
station with a piece of very bad news. Instead of being frightened
and resisting and contracting in every nerve of his body, he took it
at once as an opportunity to drop resistance. He had learned to
relax his body, and by doing relaxing and quieting exercises over
and over he had given himself a brain impression of quiet and "let
go" which he could recall at will. Instead of expressing distress at
the bad news he used his will at once to drop resistance and relax;
and, to the surprise of his informant, who had felt that he must
break his bad news as easily as possible, he said "Anything else?"
Yes, there was another piece of news about as bad as the first. "Go
on," answered the man who had been sick with nerves; "tell me
And so he did, until he had told him five different things which
were about as disagreeable and painful to hear as could have been.
For every bit of news our friend used his will with decision to drop
the resistance, which would, of course, at once arise in response to
all that seemed to go against him.
He had, of course, to work at intervals for long afterward to keep
free from the resistance; but the habit is getting more and more
established as life goes on with him, and the result is a brain
clearer than ever before in his life, a power of nerve which is a
surprise to every one about him, and a most successful business
The success in business is, however, a minor matter. His brain would
have cleared and his nerve strengthened just the same if what might
be called the business luck had continued to go against him, as it
seemed to do for the first few months after his recovery. That
everything did go against him for some time was the greatest
blessing he could have had. The way he met all the reverses
increased his nerve power steadily and consistently.
These two men are fair examples of two extremes. The first one did
not know how to meet life. If he had had the opportunity to learn he
might have done as well as the other. The second had worked and
studied to help himself out of nerves, and had found the true secret
of doing it.
Some men, however, and, I regret to say, more women, have the
weakening habit so strong upon them that they are unwilling to learn
how to get well, even when they have the opportunity. It seems so
strange to see people suffer intensely--and be unwilling to face and
follow the only way that will lead them out of their torture.
The trouble is we want our own way and nervous health, too, and with
those who have once broken down nervously the only chance of
permanent health is through learning to drop the strain of
resistance when things do not go their way. This is proved over and
over by the constant relapse into "nerves" which comes to those who
have simply been healed over. Even with those who appear to have
been well for some time, if they have not acquired the habit of
dropping their mental and physical tension you can always detect an
overcare for themselves which means dormant fear--or even active
fear in the background.
There are some wounds which the surgeons keep open, even though the
process is most painful, because they know that to heal really they
must heal from the inside. Healing over on the outside only means
decay underneath, and eventual death. This is in most cases exactly
synonymous with the healing of broken-down nerves. They must be
healed in causes to be permanently cured. Sometimes the change that
comes in the process is so great that it is like reversing an
If the little woman whom I mentioned first had practiced relaxing
and quieting exercises every day for years, and had not used the
quiet impression gained by the exercises to help her in dropping
mental resistances, she never would have gained her health.
Concentrating steadily on dropping the tension of the body is very
radically helpful in dropping resistance from the mind, and the
right idea is to do the exercises over and over until the impression
of quiet openness is, by constant repetition, so strong with us that
we can recall it at will whenever we need it. Finally, after
repeated tests, we gain the habit of meeting the difficulties of
life without strain--first in little ways, and then in larger ways.
The most quieting, relaxing, and strengthening of all exercises for
the nerves comes in deep and rhythmic breathing, and in voice
exercises in connection with it. Nervous strain is more evident in a
voice than in any other expressive part of man or woman. It
sometimes seems as if all other relaxing exercises were mainly
useful because of opening a way for us to breathe better. There is a
pressure on every part of the body when we inhale, and a consequent
reaction when we exhale, and the more passive the body is when we
take our deep breaths the more freely and quietly the blood can
circulate all the way through it, and, of course, all nervous and
muscular contraction impairs circulation, and all impaired
circulation emphasizes nervous contraction.
To any one who is suffering from "nerves," in a lesser or greater
degree, it could not fail to be of very great help to take half an
hour in the morning, lie flat on the back, with the body as loose
and heavy as it can be made, and then study taking gentle, quiet,
and rhythmic breaths, long and short. Try to have the body so loose
and open and responsive that it will open as you inhale and relax as
you exhale, just as a rubber bag would. Of course, it will take
time, but the refreshing quiet is sure to come if the practice is
repeated regularly for a long enough time, and eventually we would
no more miss it than we would go without our dinner.
We must be careful after each deep, long breath to rest quietly and
let our lungs do as they please. Be careful to begin the breaths
delicately and gently, to inhale with the same gentleness with which
we begin, and to make the change from inhaling to exhaling with the
greatest delicacy possible--keeping the body loose.
For the shorter breaths we can count three, or five, or ten to
inhale, and the same number to exhale, until we have the rhythm
established, and then go on breathing without counting, as if we
were sound asleep. Always aim for gentleness and delicacy. If we
have not half an hour to spare to lie quietly and breathe we can
practice the breathing while we walk. It is wonderful how we detect
strain and resistance in our breath, and the restfulness which comes
when we breathe so gently that the breath seems to come and go
without our volition brings new life with it.
We must expect to gain slowly and be patient; we must remember that
nerves always get well by ups and downs, and use our wills to make
every down lead to a higher up. If we want the lasting benefit, or
any real benefit at all when we get the brain impression of quiet
freedom from these breathing exercises, we must insist upon
recalling that impression every time a test comes, and face the
circumstances, or the person, or the duty with a voluntary
insistence upon a quiet, open brain, rather than a tense, resistant
It will come hard at first, but we are sure to get there if we keep
steadily at it, for it is really the Law of the Lord God Almighty
that we are learning to obey, and this process of learning gives us
steadily an enlarged appreciation of what trust in the Lord really
is. There is no trust without obedience, and an intelligent
obedience begets trust. The nerves touch the soul on one side and
the body on the other, and we must work for freedom of soul and body
in response to spiritual and physical law if we want to get sick
nerves well. If we do not remember always a childlike attitude
toward the Lord the best nerve training is only an easy way of being
To sum it all up--if you want to learn to help yourself out of
"nerves" learn to rest when you rest and to work without strain when
you work; learn to loosen out of the muscular contractions which the
nerves cause; learn to drop the mental resistances which cause the
"nerves," and which take the form of anger, resentment, worry,
anxiety, impatience, annoyance, or self-pity; eat only nourishing
food, eat it slowly, and chew it well; breathe the freshest air you
can, and breathe it deeply, gently, and rhythmically; take what
healthy, vigorous exercise you find possible; do your daily work to
the best of your ability; give your attention so entirely to the
process of gaining health for the sake of your work and other people
that you have no mind left with which to complain of being ill, and
see that all this effort aims toward a more intelligent obedience to
and trustfulness in the Power that gives us life. Wholesome,
sustained concentration is in the very essence of healthy nerves.
_"You Have no Idea how I am Rushed"_
A WOMAN can feel rushed when she is sitting perfectly still and has
really nothing whatever to do. A woman can feel at leisure when she
is working diligently at something, with a hundred other things
waiting to be done when the time comes. It is not all we have to do
that gives us the rushed feeling; it is the way we do what is before
us. It is the attitude we take toward our work.
Now this rushed feeling in the brain and nerves is intensely
oppressive. Many women, and men too, suffer from it keenly, and they
suffer the more because they do not recognize that that feeling of
rush is really entirely distinct from what they have to do; in truth
it has nothing whatever to do with it.
I have seen a woman suffer painfully with the sense of being pushed
for time when she had only two things to do in the whole day, and
those two things at most need not take more than an hour each. This
same woman was always crying for rest. I never knew, before I saw
her, that women could get just as abnormal in their efforts to rest
as in their insistence upon overwork. This little lady never rested
when she went to rest; she would lie on the bed for hours in a state
of strain about resting that was enough to tire any ordinarily
healthy woman. One friend used to tell her that she was an inebriate
on resting. It is perhaps needless to say that she was a nervous
invalid, and in the process of gaining her health she had to be set
to work and kept at work. Many and many a time she has cried and
begged for rest when it was not rest she needed at all: it was work.
She has started off to some good, healthy work crying and sobbing at
the cruelty that made her go, and has returned from the work as
happy and healthy, apparently, as a little child. Then she could go
to rest and rest to some purpose. She had been busy in wholesome
action and the normal reaction came in her rest. As she grew more
naturally interested in her work she rested less and less, and she
rested better and better because she had something to rest from and
something to rest for.
Now she does only a normal amount of resting, but gets new life from
every moment of rest she takes; before, all her rest only made her
want more rest and kept her always in the strain of fatigue. And
what might seem to many a very curious result is that as the
abnormal desire for rest disappeared the rushed feeling disappeared,
There is no one thing that American women need more than a healthy
habit of rest, but it has got to be real rest, not strained nor
Another example of this effort at rest which is a sham and a strain
is the woman who insists upon taking a certain time every day in
which to rest. She insists upon doing everything quietly and
with--as she thinks--a sense of leisure, and yet she keeps the whole
household in a sense of turmoil and does not know it. She sits
complacently in her pose of prompt action, quietness and rest, and
has a tornado all about her. She is so deluded in her own idea of
herself that she does not observe the tornado, and yet she has
caused it. Everybody in her household is tired out with her demands,
and she herself is ill, chronically ill. But she thinks she is at
peace, and she is annoyed that others should be tired.
If this woman could open and let out her own interior tornado, which
she has kept frozen in there by her false attitude of restful quiet,
she would be more ill for a time, but it might open her eyes to the
true state of things and enable her to rest to some purpose and to
allow her household to rest, too.
It seems, at first thought, strange that in this country, when the
right habit of rest is so greatly needed, that the strain of rest
should have become in late years one of the greatest defects. On
second thought, however, we see that it is a perfectly rational
result. We have strained to work and strained to play and strained
to live for so long that when the need for rest gets so imperative
that we feel we must rest the habit of strain is so upon us that we
strain to rest. And what does such "rest" amount to? What strength
does it bring us? What enlightenment do we get from it?
With the little lady of whom I first spoke rest was a
steadily-weakening process. She was resting her body straight toward
its grave. When a body rests and rests the circulation gets more and
more sluggish until it breeds disease in the weakest organ, and then
the physicians seem inclined to give their attention to the disease,
and not to the cause of the abnormal strain which was behind the
disease. Again, as we have seen, the abnormal, rushed feeling can
exist just as painfully with too much and the wrong kind of rest as
with too much work and the wrong way of working.
We have been, as a nation, inclined toward "Americanitis" for so
long now that children and children's children have inherited a
sense of rush, and they suffer intensely from it with a perfectly
clear understanding of the fact that they have nothing whatever to
hurry about. This is quite as true of men as it is of women. In such
cases the first care should be not to fasten this sense of rush on
to anything; the second care should be to go to work to cure it, to
relax out of that contraction--just as you would work to cure
twitching St. Vitus's dance, or any other nervous habit.
Many women will get up and dress in the morning as if they had to
catch a train, and they will come in to breakfast as if it were a
steamer for the other side of the world that they had to get, and no
other steamer went for six months. They do not know that they are in
a rush and a hurry, and they do not find it out until the strain has
been on them for so long that they get nervously ill from it--and
then they find themselves suffering from "that rushed feeling."
Watch some women in an argument pushing, actually rushing, to prove
themselves right; they will hardly let their opponent have an
opportunity to speak, much less will they stop to consider what he
says and see if by chance he may not be right and they wrong.
The rushing habit is not by any means in the fact of doing many
things. It asserts itself in our brains in talking, in writing, in
thinking. How many of us, I wonder, have what might be called a
quiet working brain? Most of us do not even know the standard of a
brain that thinks and talks and lives quietly: a brain that never
pushes and never rushes, or, if by any chance it is led into pushing
or rushing, is so wholesomely sensitive that it drops the push or
the rush as a bare hand would drop a red-hot coal.
None of us can appreciate the weakening power of this strained habit
of rush until we have, by the use of our own wills, directed our
minds toward finding a normal habit of quiet, and yet I do not in
the least exaggerate when I say that its weakening effect on the
brain and nerves is frightful.
And again I repeat, the rushed feeling has nothing whatever to do
with the work before us. A woman can feel quite as rushed when she
has nothing to do as when she is extremely busy.
"But," some one says, "may I not feel pressed for time when I have
more to do than I can possibly put into the time before me ?"
Oh, yes, yes--you can feel normally pressed for time; and because of
this pressure you can arrange in your mind what best to leave
undone, and so relieve the pressure. If one thing seems as important
to do as another you can make up your mind that of course you can
only do what you have time for, and the remainder must go. You
cannot do what you have time to do so well if you are worrying about
what you have no time for. There need be no abnormal sense of rush
Just as Nature tends toward health, Nature tends toward rest--toward
the right kind of rest; and if we have lost the true knack of
resting we can just as surely find it as a sunflower can find the
sun. It is not something artificial that we are trying to learn--it
is something natural and alive, something that belongs to us, and
our own best instinct will come to our aid in finding it if we will
only first turn our attention toward finding our own best instinct.
We must have something to rest from, and we must have something to
rest for, if we want to find the real power of rest. Then we must
learn to let go of our nerves and our muscles, to leave everything
in our bodies open and passive so that our circulation can have its
own best way. But we must have had some activity in order to have
given our circulation a fair start before we can expect it to do its
best when we are passive.
Then, what is most important, we must learn to drop all effort of
our minds if we want to know how to rest; and that is difficult. We
can do it best by keeping our minds concentrated on something simple
and quiet and wholesome. For instance, you feel tired and rushed and
you can have half an hour in which to rest and get rid of the rush.
Suppose you lie down on the bed and imagine yourself a turbulent
lake after a storm. The storm is dying down, dying down, until by
and by there is no wind, only little dashing waves that the wind has
left. Then the waves quiet down steadily, more and more, until
finally they are only ripples on the water. Then no ripples, but the
water is as still as glass. The sun goes down. The sky glows.
Twilight comes. One star appears, and green banks and trees and sky
and stars are all reflected in the quiet mirror of the lake, and you
are the lake, and you are quiet and refreshed and rested and ready
to get up and go on with your work--to go on with it, too, better
and more quietly than when you left it.
Or, another way to quiet your mind and to let your imagination help
you to a better rest is to float on the top of a turbulent sea and
then to sink down, down, down until you get into the still water at
the bottom of the sea. We all know that, no matter how furious the
sea is on the surface, not far below the surface it is absolutely
still. It is very restful to go down there in imagination.
Whatever choice we may make to quiet our minds and our bodies, as
soon as we begin to concentrate we must not be surprised if
intruding thoughts are at first constantly crowding to get in. We
must simply let them come. Let them come, and pay no attention to
I knew of a woman who was nervously ill, and some organs of her body
were weakened very much by the illness. She made-up her mind to rest
herself well and she did so. Every day she would rest for three
hours; she said to herself, "I will rest an hour on my left side, an
hour on my right side, and an hour on my back." And she did that for
days and days. When she lay on one side she had a very attractive
tree to look at. When she lay on the other she had an interesting
picture before her. When she lay on her back she had the sky and
several trees to see through a window in front of the bed. She grew
steadily better every week--she had something to rest for. She was
resting to get well. If she had rested and complained of her illness
I doubt if she would have been well to-day. She simply refused to
take the unpleasant sensations into consideration except for the
sake of resting out of them. When she was well enough to take a
little active exercise she knew she could rest better and get well
faster for that, and she insisted upon taking the exercise, although
at first she had to do it with the greatest care. Now that this
woman is well she knows how to rest and she knows how to work better
than ever before.
For normal rest we need the long sleep of night. For shorter rests
which we may take during the day, often opportunity comes at most
unexpected times and in most unexpected ways, and we must be ready
to take advantage of it. We need also the habit of working
restfully. This habit of course enables us to rest truly when we are
only resting, and again the habit of resting normally helps us to
A wise old lady said: "My dear, you cannot exaggerate the
unimportance of things." She expressed even more, perhaps, than she
It is our habit of exaggerating the importance of things that keeps
us hurried and rushed. It is our habit of exaggerating the
importance of ourselves that makes us hold the strain of life so
intensely. If we would be content to do one thing at a time, and
concentrate on that one thing until it came time to do the next
thing, it would astonish us to see how much we should accomplish. A
healthy concentration is at the root of working restfully and of
resting restfully, for a healthy concentration means dropping
everything that interferes.
I know there are women who read this article who will say; "Oh, yes,
that is all very well for some women, but it does not apply in the
least to a woman who has my responsibilities, or to a woman who has
to work as I have to work."
My answer to that is: "Dear lady, you are the very one to whom it
The more work we have to do, the harder our lives are, the more we
need the best possible principles to lighten our work and to
enlighten our lives. We are here in the world at school and we do
not want to stay in the primary classes.
The harder our lives are and the more we are handicapped the more
truly we can learn to make every limitation an opportunity--and if
we persistently do that through circumstances, no matter how severe,
the nearer we are to getting our diploma. To gain our freedom from
the rushed feeling, to find a quiet mind in place of an unquiet one,
is worth working hard for through any number of difficulties. And
think of the benefit such a quiet mind could be to other people!
Especially if the quiet mind were the mind of a woman, for, at the
present day, think what a contrast she would be to other women!
When a woman's mind is turbulent it is the worst kind of turbulence.
When it is quiet we can almost say it is the best kind of quiet,
_Why does Mrs. Smith get on My Nerves?_
IF you want to know the true answer to this question it is "because
you are unwilling that Mrs. Smith should be herself." You want her
to be just like you, or, if not just like you, you want her to be
just as you would best like her.
I have seen a woman so annoyed that she could not eat her supper
because another woman ate sugar on baked beans. When this woman told
me later what it was that had taken away her appetite she added:
"And isn't it absurd? Why shouldn't Mrs. Smith eat sugar on baked
beans? It does not hurt me. I do not have to taste the sugar on the
beans; but is it such an odd thing to do. It seems to me such bad
manners that I just get so mad I can't eat!"
Now, could there be anything more absurd than that? To see a woman
annoyed; to see her recognize that she was uselessly and foolishly
annoyed, and yet to see that she makes not the slightest effort to
get over her annoyance.
It is like the woman who discovered that she spoke aloud in church,
and was so surprised that she exclaimed: "Why, I spoke out loud in
church!" and then, again surprised, she cried: "Why, I keep speaking
aloud in church!"--and it did not occur to her to stop.
My friend would have refused an invitation to supper, I truly
believe, if she had known that Mrs. Smith would be there and her
hostess would have baked beans. She was really a slave to Mrs.
Smith's way of eating baked beans.
"Well, I do not blame her," I hear some reader say; "it is entirely
out of place to eat sugar on baked beans. Why shouldn't she be
I answer: "Why should she be annoyed? Will her annoyance stop Mrs.
Smith's eating sugar on baked beans? Will she in any way--selfish or
otherwise--be the gainer for her annoyance? Furthermore, if it were
the custom to eat sugar on baked beans, as it is the custom to put
sugar in coffee, this woman would not have been annoyed at all. It
was simply the fact of seeing Mrs. Smith digress from the ordinary
course of life that annoyed her."
It is the same thing that makes a horse shy. The horse does not say
to himself, "There is a large carriage, moving with no horse to pull
it, with nothing to push it, with--so far as I can see--no motive
power at all. How weird that is! How frightful!"--and, with a
quickly beating heart, jump aside and caper in scared excitement. A
horse when he first sees an automobile gets an impression on his
brain which is entirely out of his ordinary course of
impressions--it is as if some one suddenly and unexpectedly struck
him, and he shies and jumps. The horse is annoyed, but he does not
know what it is that annoys him. Now, when a horse shies you drive
him away from the automobile and quiet him down, and then, if you
are a good trainer, you drive him back again right in front of that
car or some other one, and you repeat the process until the
automobile becomes an ordinary impression to him, and he is no
longer afraid of it.
There is, however, just this difference between a woman and a horse:
the woman has her own free will behind her annoyance, and a horse
has not. If my friend had asked Mrs. Smith to supper twice a week,
and had served baked beans each time and herself passed her the
sugar with careful courtesy, and if she had done it all deliberately
for the sake of getting over her annoyance, she would probably have
only increased it until the strain would have got on her nerves much
more seriously than Mrs. Smith ever had. Not only that, but she
would have found herself resisting other people's peculiarities more
than ever before; I have seen people in nervous prostration from
causes no more serious than that, on the surface. It is the habit of
resistance and resentment back of the surface annoyance which is the
serious cause of many a woman's attack of nerves.
Every woman is a slave to every other woman who annoys her. She is
tied to each separate woman who has got on her nerves by a wire
which is pulling, pulling the nervous force right out of her. And it
is not the other woman's fault--it is her own. The wire is pulling,
whether or not we are seeing or thinking of the other woman, for,
having once been annoyed by her, the contraction is right there in
our brains. It is just so much deposited strain in our nervous
systems which will stay there until we, of our own free wills, have
yielded out of it.
The horse was not resenting nor resisting the automobile; therefore
the strain of his fright was at once removed when the automobile
became an ordinary impression. A woman, when she gets a new
impression that she does not like, resents and resists it with her
will, and she has got to get in behind that resistance and drop it
with her will before she is a free woman.
To be sure, there are many disagreeable things that annoy for a
time, and then, as the expression goes, we get hardened to them. But
few of us know that this hardening is just so much packed resistance
which is going to show itself later in some unpleasant form and make
us ill in mind or body. We have got to yield, yield, yield out of
every bit of resistance and resentment to other people if we want to
be free. No reasoning about it is going to do us any good. No
passing back and forth in front of it is going to free us. We must
yield first and then we can see clearly and reason justly. We must
yield first and then we can go back and forth in front of it, and it
will only be a reminder to yield every time until the habit of
yielding has become habitual and the strength of nerve and strength
of character developed by means of the yielding have been
Let me explain more fully what I mean by "yielding." Every
annoyance, resistance, or feeling of resentment contracts us in some
way physically; if we turn our attention toward dropping that
physical contraction, with a real desire to get rid of the
resistance behind it, we shall find that dropping the physical
strain opens the way to drop the mental and moral strain, and when
we have really dropped the strain we invariably find reason and
justice and even generosity toward others waiting to come to us.
There is one important thing to be looked out for in this normal
process of freeing ourselves from other people. A young girl said
once to her teacher: "I got mad the other day and I relaxed, and the
more I relaxed the madder I got!"
"Did you want to get over the anger?" asked the teacher.
"No, I didn't," was the prompt and ready answer.
Of course, as this child relaxed out of the tension of her anger,
there was only more anger to take its place, and the more she
relaxed the more free her nerves were to take the impression of the
anger hoarded up in her; consequently it was as she said: the more
she relaxed the "madder" she got. Later, this same little girl came
to understand fully that she must have a real desire to get over her
anger in order to have better feelings come up after she had dropped
the contraction of the anger.
I know of a woman who has been holding such steady hatred for
certain other people that the strain of it has kept her ill. And it
is all a matter of feeling: first, that these people have interfered
with her welfare; second, that they differ from her in opinion.
Every once in a while her hatred finds a vent and spends itself in
tears and bitter words. Then, after the external relief of letting
out her pent-up feeling, she closes up again and one would think
from her voice and manner--if one did not look very deep in--that
she had only kindliness for every one. But she stays nervously ill
How could she do otherwise with that strain in her? If she were
constitutionally a strong woman this strain of hatred would have
worn on her, though possibly not have made her really ill; but,
being naturally sensitive and delicate, the strain has kept her an
"Mother, I can't stand Maria," one daughter says to her mother, and
when inquiry is made the mother finds that what her daughter "cannot
stand" is ways that differ from her own. Sometimes, however, they
are very disagreeable ways which are exactly like the ways of the
person who cannot stand them. If one person is imperious and
demanding she will get especially annoyed at another person for
being imperious and demanding, without a suspicion that she is
objecting vehemently to a reflection of herself.
There are two ways in which people get on our nerves. The first way
lies in their difference from us in habit--in little things and in
big things; their habits are not our habits. Their habits may be all
right, and our habits may be all right, but they are "different."
Why should we not be willing to have them different? Is there any
reason for it except the very empty one that we consciously and
unconsciously want every one else to be just like us, or to believe
just as we do, or to behave just as we do? And what sense is there
"I cannot stand Mrs. So-and-so; she gets into a rocking-chair and
rocks and rocks until I feel as if I should go crazy!" some one
says. But why not let Mrs. So-and-so rock? It is her chair while she
is in it, and her rocking. Why need it touch us at all?
"But," I hear a hundred women say, "it gets on our nerves; how can
we help its getting on our nerves?" The answer to that is: "Drop it
off your nerves." I know many women who have tried it and who have
succeeded, and who are now profiting by the relief. Sometimes the
process to such freedom is a long one; sometimes it is a short one;
but, either way, the very effort toward it brings nervous strength,
as well as strength of character.
Take the woman who rocks. Practically every time she rocks you
should relax, actually and consciously relax your muscles and your
nerves. The woman who rocks need not know you are relaxing; it all
can be done from inside. Watch and you will find your muscles
strained and tense with resistance to the rocking. Go to work
practically to drop every bit of strain that you observe. As you
drop the grossest strain it will make you more sensitive to the
finer strain and you can drop that--and it is even possiple that you
may seek the woman who rocks, in order to practice on her and get
free from the habit of resisting more quickly.
This seems comical--almost ridiculous--to think of seeking an
annoyance in order to get rid of it; but, after laughing at it
first, look at the idea seriously, and you will see it is common
sense. When you have learned to relax to the woman who rocks you
have learned to relax to other similar annoyances. You have been
working on a principle that applies generally. You have acquired a
good habit which can never really fail you.
If my friend had invited Mrs. Smith to supper and served baked beans
for the sake of relaxing out of the tension of her resistance to the
sugar, then she could have conquered that resistance. But to try to
conquer an annoyance like that without knowing how to yield in some
way would be, so far as I know, an impossibility. Of course, we
would prefer that our friends should not have any disagreeable,
ill-bred, personal ways, but we can go through the world without
resisting them, and there is no chance of helping any one out of
them through our own resistances.
On the other hand a way may open by which the woman's attention is
called to the very unhealthy habit of rocking--or eating sugar on
beans--if we are ready, without resistance, to point it out to her.
And if no way opens we have at least put ourselves out of bondage to
her. The second way in which other people get on our nerves is more
serious and more difficult. Mrs. So-and-so may be doing very
wrong--really very wrong; or some one who is nearly related to us
may be doing very wrong--and it may be our most earnest and sincere
desire to set him right. In such cases the strain is more intense
because we really have right on our side, in our opinion, if not in
our attitude toward the other person. Then, to recognize that if
some one else chooses to do wrong it is none of our business is one
of the most difficult things to do--for a woman, especially.
It is more difficult to recognize practically that, in so far as it
may be our business, we can best put ourselves in a position to
enable the other person to see his own mistake by dropping all
personal resistance to it and all personal strain about it. Even a
mother with her son can help him to be a man much more truly if she
stops worrying about and resisting his unmanliness.
"But," I hear some one say, "that all seems like such cold
indifference." Not at all--not at all. Such freedom from strain can
be found only through a more actively affectionate interest in
others. The more we truly love another, the more thoroughly we
respect that other's individuality.
The other so-called love is only love of possession and love of
having our own way. It is not really love at all; it is sugar-coated
tyranny. And when one sugar-coated tyrant' antagonizes herself
against another sugar-coated tyrant the strain is severe indeed, and
nothing good is ever accomplished.
The Roman infantry fought with a fixed amount of space about each
soldier, and found that the greater freedom of individual activity
enabled them to fight better and to conquer their foes. This
symbolizes happily the process of getting people off our nerves. Let
us give each one a wide margin and thus preserve a good margin for
We rub up against other people's nerves by getting too near to
them--not too near to their real selves, but too near, so to speak,
to their nervous systems. There have been quarrels between good
people just because one phase of nervous irritability roused
another. Let things in other people go until you have entirely
dropped your strain about them--then it will be clear enough what to
do and what to say, or what not to do and what not to say. People in
the world cannot get on our nerves unless we allow them to do so.
_The Trying Member of the Family_
"TOMMY, don't do that. You know it annoys your grandfather."
"Well, why should he be annoyed? I am doing nothing wrong."
"I know that, and it hurts me to ask you, but you know how he will
feel if he sees you doing it, and you know that troubles me."
Reluctantly and sullenly Tommy stopped. Tommy's mother looked
strained and worried and discontented. Tommy had an expression on
his face akin to that of a smouldering volcano.
If any one had taken a good look at the grandfather it would have
been very clear that Tommy was his own grandson, and that the old
man and the child were acting and reacting upon one another in a way
that was harmful to both; although the injury was, of course, worse
to the child, for the grandfather had toughened. The grandfather
thought he loved his little grandson, and the grandson, at times,
would not have acknowledged that he did not love his grandfather. At
other times, with childish frankness, he said he "hated him."
But the worst of this situation was that although the mother loved
her son, and loved her father, and sincerely thought that she was
the family peacemaker, she was all the time fanning the antagonism.
Here is a contrast to this little story An old uncle came into the
family of his nephew to live, late in life, and with a record behind
him of whims and crotchets in the extreme. The father and mother
talked it over. Uncle James must come. He had lost all his money.
There was no one else to look after him and they could not afford to
support him elsewhere where he would be comfortable. They took it
into account, without offence, that it was probably just as much a
cross to Uncle James to come as it was to them to have him. They
took no pose of magnanimity such as: "Of course we must be good and
offer Uncle James a home," and "How good we are to do it!" Uncle
James was to come because it was the only thing for him to do. The
necessity was to be faced and fought and conquered, and they had
three strong, self-willed little children to face it with them. They
had sense enough to see that if faced rightly it would do only good
to the children, but if made a burden to groan over it would make
their home a "hornets' nest." They agreed to say nothing to the
children about Uncle James's peculiarities, but to await
Children are always delighted at a visit from a relative, and they
welcomed their great-uncle with pleasure. It was not three days,
however, before every one of the three was crying with dislike and
hurt feelings and anger. Then was the time to begin the campaign.
The mother, with a happy face, called the three children to her, and
said "Now listen, children. Do you suppose I like Uncle James's
irritability any better than you do?"
"No," came in a chorus; "we don't see how you stand it, Mother."
Then she said: "Now look here, boys, do you suppose that Uncle James
likes his snapping any better than we do?"
"If he does not like it why does he do it?" answered the boys.
"I cannot tell you that; that is his business and not yours or
mine," said the mother; "but I can prove to you that he does not
like it. Bobby, do you remember how you snapped at your brother
yesterday, when he accidentally knocked your house over?"
"Yes!" replied Bobby.
"Did you feel comfortable after it?" "You bet I didn't," was the
"Well," answered the mother, "you boys stop and think just how
disagreeable it is inside of you when you snap, and then think how
it would be if you had to feel like that as much as Uncle James
"By golly, but that would be bad," said the twelve-year-old.
"Now, boys," went on the mother, "you want to relieve Uncle James's
disagreeable feelings all you can, and don't you see that you
increase them when you do things to annoy him? His snappish
feelings are just like a sore that is smarting and aching all the
time, and when you get in their way it hurts as if you rubbed the
sore. Keep out of his way when you can, and when you can't and he
snaps at you, say: 'I beg your pardon, sir,' like gentlemen, and
stop doing what annoys him; or get out of his way as soon as you
Uncle James never became less snappish. But the upright, manly
courtesy of those boys toward him was like fresh air on a mountain,
especially because it had become a habit and was all as a matter of
course. The father and mother realized that Uncle James had,
unconsciously, made men of their boys as nothing else in the world
could have done, and had trained them so that they would grow up
tolerant and courteous toward all human peculiarities.
Many times a gracious courtesy toward the "trying member" will
discover good and helpful qualities that we had not guessed before.
Sometimes after a little honest effort we find that it is ourselves
who have been the trying members, and that the other one has been
the member tried. Often it is from two members of the family that
the trying element comes. Two sisters may clash, and they will
generally clash because they are unlike. Suppose one sister moves
and lives in big swings, and the other in minute details. Of course
when these extreme tendencies are accented in each the selfish
temptation is for the larger mind to lapse into carelessness of
details, and for the smaller mind to shrink into pettiness, and as
this process continues the sisters get more and more intolerant of
each other, and farther and farther apart. But if the sister who
moves in the big swings will learn from the other to be careful in
details, and if the smaller mind will allow itself to be enlarged by
learning from the habitually broader view of the other, each will
grow in proportion, and two women who began life as enemies in
temperament can end it as happy friends.
There are similar cases of brothers who clash, but they are not so
evident, for when men do not agree they leave one another alone.
Women do not seem to be able to do that. It is good to leave one
another alone when there is the clashing tendency, but it is better
to conquer the clashing and learn to agree.
So long as the normal course of my life leads me to live with some
one who rubs me the wrong way I am not free until I have learned to
live with that some one in quiet content. I never gain my freedom by
running away. The bondage is in me always, so long as the other
person's presence can rouse it. The only way is to fight it out
inside of one's self. When we can get the co-operation of the other
so much the better. But no one's co-operation is necessary for us to
find our own freedom, and with it an intelligent, tolerant
"Mother, you take that seat. No, not that one, Mother--the sun comes
in that window. Children, move aside and let your grandmother get to
The young woman was very much in earnest in seeing that her mother
had a comfortable seat, that she had not the discomfort of the hot
sun, that the children made way for her so that she could move into
her seat comfortably. All her words were thoughtful and courteous,
but the spirit and the tone of her words were quite the reverse of
courteous. If some listener with his eyes shut had heard the tone
without understanding the words he might easily have thought that
the woman was talking to a little dog.
Poor "Mother" trotted into her seat with the air of a little dog who
was so well trained that he did at once what his mistress ordered.
It was very evident that "Mother's" will had been squeezed out of
her and trampled upon for years by her dutiful daughter, who looked
out always that "Mother" had the best, without the first scrap of
respect for "Mother's" free, human soul.
The grandchildren took the spirit of their mother's words rather
than the words themselves, and treated their grandmother as if she
were a sort of traveling idiot tagged on to them, to whom they had
to be decently respectful whenever their mother's eye was upon them,
and whom they ignored entirely when their mother looked the other
It so happened that I was sitting next to this particular mother who
had been poked into a comfortable seat by her careful daughter. And,
after a number of other suggestions had been poked at her with a
view to adding to her comfort, she turned to me and in a quaint,
confidential way, with the gentle voice of a habitual martyr, and at
the same time a twinkle of humor in her eye, she said "They think,
you know, I don't know anything."
And after that we had a little talk about matters of the day which
proved to me that "Mother" had a mind broader and certainly more
quiet than her daughter. I studied the daughter with interest after
knowing "Mother" better, and her habitual strain of voice and manner
were pathetic. By making a care of her mother instead of a
companion, she was not only guilty of disrespect to a soul which,
however weak it may have been in allowing itself to be directed in
all minor matters, had its own firm principles which were not
overridden nor even disturbed by the daughter's dominance. If the
daughter had only dropped her strain of care and her habit of
"bossing" she would have found a true companion in her mother, and
would have been a healthier and happier woman herself.
In pleasant contrast to this is the story of a family which had an
old father who had lost his mind entirely, and had grown decrepit
and childish in the extreme. The sons and daughters tended him like
a baby and loved him with gentle, tender respect. There was no
embarrassment for his loss of mind, no thought of being distressed
or pained by it, and because his children took their father's state
so quietly and without shame, every guest who came took it in the
same way, and there was no thought of keeping the father out of
sight. He sat in the living-room in his comfortable chair, and
always one child or another was sitting right beside him with a
smiling face. Instead of being a trying member of the family, as
happens in so many cases, this old father seemed to bring content
and rest to his children through their loving care for him.
Very often--I might almost say always--the trying member of the
family is trying only because we make her so by our attitude toward
her, let her be grandmother, mother, or maiden aunt. Even the
proverbial mother-in-law grows less difficult as our attitude toward
her is relieved of the strain of detesting everything she does, and
expecting to detest everything that she is going to do. With every
trying friend we have, if we yield to him in all minor matters we
find the settling of essential questions wonderfully less difficult.
A son had a temper and the girl he married had a temper. The mother
loved her son with the selfish love with which so many mothers
burden their children, and thought that he alone of all men had a
right to lose his temper. Consequently she excused her son and
blamed her daughter-in-law. If there were a mild cyclone roused
between the two married people the son would turn to his mother to
hear what a martyr he was and what misfortune he had to bear in
having been so easily mistaken in the woman he married. Thus the
mother-in-law, who felt that she was protecting her poor son, was
really breeding dissension between two people who could have been
the best possible friends all their lives.
The young wife very soon became ashamed of her temper and worked
until she conquered it, but it was not until her mother-in-law had
been out of this world for years that her husband discovered what he
had lost in turning away from his wife's friendship, and it was only
by the happy accident of severe illness that he ever discovered his
mistake at all, and gained freedom from the bondage of his own
temper enough to appreciate his wife.
If, however, the wife had yielded in the beginning not only to her
husband's bad temper but also to the antagonism of her
mother-in-law, which was, of course, annoying in many petty ways,
she might have gained her husband's friendship, and it is possible
that she might, moreover, have gained the friendship of her
The best rule with regard to all trying members of the family is to
yield to them always in non-essentials; and when you disagree in
essentials stick to the principle which you believe to be right, but
stick to it without resistance. Believe your way, but make yourself
willing that the trying member should believe her way. Make an
opportunity of what appears to be a limitation, and, believe me,
your trying member can become a blessing to you.
I go further than that--I truly believe that to make the best of
life every family should have a trying member. When we have no
trying member of our family, and life goes along smoothly, as a
matter of course, the harmony is very liable to be spurious, and a
sudden test will all at once knock such a family into discord, much
to the surprise of every member. When we go through discord to
harmony, and once get into step, we are very likely to keep in step:
Be willing, then, make yourself willing, that the trying member
should be in the way. Hope that she will stay in your family until
you have succeeded in dropping not only all resistance to her being
there, but every resistance to her various ways in detail. Bring her
annoying ways up to your mind voluntarily when you are away from
her. If you do that you will find all the resistances come with them
and you can relax out of the strain then and there. You will find
that when you get home or come down to breakfast in the morning (for
many resistances are voluntarily thrown off in the night) you will
have a pleasanter feeling toward the trying member, and it comes so
spontaneously that you will be surprised yourself at the absence of
the strain of resistance in you.
Believe me when I say this: the yielding in the non-essentials,
singularly enough, gives one strength to refuse to yield in
principles. But we must always remember that if we want to find real
peace, while we refuse to yield in our own principles so long as we
believe them to be true, we must be entirely willing that others
should differ from us in belief.
SUPPOSE your husband got impatient and annoyed with you because you
did not seem to enter heartily into the interests of his work and
sympathize with its cares and responsibilities and soothe him out of
the nervous harassments. Would you not perhaps feel a little sore
that he seemed to expect all from you and to give nothing in return?
I know how many women will say that is all very well, but the
husband and father should feel as much interest in the home and the
children as the wife and mother does. That is, of course, true up to
a certain point, always in general, and when his help is really
necessary in particular. But a man cannot enter into the details of
his wife's duties at home any more than a woman can enter into the
details of her husband's duties at his office.
Then, again, my readers may say: "But a woman's nervous system is
more sensitive than a man's; she needs help and consolation. She
needs to have some one on whom she can lean." Now the answer to that
will probably be surprising, but an intelligent understanding and
comprehension of it would make a very radical difference in the
lives of many men and women who have agreed to live together for
life--for better and for worse.
Now the truth is man's nervous system is quite as sensitive as a
woman's, but the woman's temptation to emotion makes her appear more
sensitive, and her failure to control her emotions ultimately
increases the sensitiveness of her nerves so that they are more
abnormal than her husband's. Even that is not always true The other
day a woman sat in tears and distress telling of the hardness of
heart, the restlessness, the irritability, the thoughtlessness, the
unkindness of her husband. Her face was drawn with suffering. She
insisted that she was not complaining, that it was her deep and
tender love for her husband that made her suffer so. "But it is
killing me, it is killing me," she said, and one who saw her could
well believe it. And if the distress and the great strain upon her
nerves had kept on it certainly would have made her ill, if not have
actually ended her life with a nervous collapse.
The friend in whom she confided sat quietly and heard her through.
She let her pour herself out to the very finish until she stopped
because there was nothing more to say. Then, by means of a series of
gentle, well-adapted questions, she drew from the wife a
recognition--for the first time--of the fact that she really did
nothing whatever for her husband and expected him to do everything
for her. Perhaps she put on a pretty dress for him in order to look
attractive when he came home, but if he did not notice how well she
looked, and was irritable about something in the house, she would be
dissolved in tears because she had not proved attractive and pleased
him. Maybe she had tried to have a dinner that he especially liked;
then if he did not notice the food, and seemed distracted about
something that was worrying him, she would again be dissolved in
tears because he "appreciated nothing that she tried to do for him."
Now it is perfectly true that this husband was irritable and brutal;
he had no more consideration for his wife than he had for any one
else. But his wife was doing all in her power to fan his
irritability into flame and to increase his brutality. She was
attitudinizing in her own mind as a martyr. She was demanding
kindness and attention and sympathy from her husband, and because
she demanded it she never got it.
A woman can demand without demanding imperiously. There is more
selfish demanding in a woman's emotional suffering because her
husband does not do this or that or the other for her sake than
there is in a tornado of man's irritability or anger. You see, a
woman's demanding spirit is covered with the mush of her emotions. A
man's demanding spirit stands out in all its naked ugliness. One is
just as bad as the other. One is just as repulsive as the other.
It is a radical, practical impossibility to bring loving-kindness
out of any one by demanding it. Loving-kindness, thoughtfulness, and
consideration have got to be born spontaneously in a man's own mind
to be anything at all, and no amount of demanding on the part of his
wife can force it.
When this little lady of whom I have been writing found that she had
been demanding from her husband what he really ought to have given
her as a matter of course, and that she had used up all her strength
in suffering because he did not give it, and had used none of her
strength in the effort to be patient and quiet in waiting for him to
come to his senses, she went home and began a new life. She was a
plucky little woman and very intelligent when once her eyes were
opened. She recognized the fact that her suffering was resistance to
her husband's irritable selfishness, and she stopped resisting.
It was a long and hard struggle of days, weeks, and months, but it
brought a very happy reward. When a man is irritable and ugly, and
his wife offers no resistance either in anger or suffering, the
irritability and ugliness react upon himself, and if there is
something better in him he begins to perceive the irritability in
its true colors. That is what happened to this man. As his wife
stopped demanding he began to give. As his wife's nerves became calm
and quiet his nerves quieted and calmed. Finally his wife discovered
that much of his irritability had been roused through nervous
anxiety in regard to his business about which he had told her
nothing whatever because it "was not his way."
There is nothing in the world that so strengthens nerves as the
steady use of the will to drop resistance and useless emotions and
get a quiet control. This woman gained that strength, and to her
surprise one day her husband turned to her with a full account of
all his business troubles and she met his mind quietly, as one
business man might meet another, and without in the least expressing
her pleasure or her surprise. She took all the good change in him as
a matter of course.
Finally one day it came naturally and easily to talk over the past.
She found that her husband from day to day had dreaded coming home.
The truth was that he had dreaded his own irritability as much as he
had dreaded her emotional demanding. But he did not know it--he did
not know what was the matter at all. He simply knew vaguely that he
was a brute, that he felt like a brute, and that he did not know how
to stop being a brute. His wife knew that he was a brute, and at the
same time she felt throughly convinced that she was a suffering
martyr. He was dreading to come home and she was dreading to have
him come home--and there they were in a continuous nightmare. Now
they have left the nightmare far, far behind, and each one knows
that the other has one good friend in the world in whom he or she
can feel entire confidence, and their friendship is growing stronger
and clearer and more normal every day.
It is not the ceremony that makes the marriage: the ceremony only
begins it. Marriage is a slow and careful adjustment. A true story
which illustrates the opposite of this condition is that of a man
and woman who were to all appearances happily married for years.
They were apparently the very closest friends. The man's nerves were
excitable and peculiar, and his wife adjusted herself to them by
indulging them and working in every way to save him from friction.
No woman could stand that constant work of adjustment which was in
reality maladjustment, and this wife's nerves broke down
unexpectedly and completely.
When our nerves get weak we are unable to repress resistance which
in a stronger state we had covered up. This wife, while she had
indulged and protected her husband's peculiarities, had
subconsciously resisted them. When she became ill her subconscious
resistance came to the surface. She surprised herself by growing
impatient with her husband. He, of course; retorted. As she grew
worse he did not find his usual comfort from her care, and instead
of trying to help her to get well he turned his back on her and
complained to another woman. Finally the friction of the two nervous
systems became dangerously intense. Each was equally obstinate, and
there was nothing to do but to separate The woman died of a broken
heart, and the man is probably insane for the rest of his life.
It was nothing but the mismanagement of their own and each other's
nerves that made all this terrible trouble. Their love seemed
genuine at first, and could certainly have grown to be really
genuine if they had become truly adjusted. And the saddest part of
the whole story is that they were both peculiarly adapted to be of
use to their fellow-men. During the first years of their life their
home was a delight to all their friends.
Tired nerves are likely to close up a man or make him irritable,
complaining, and ugly, whereas the tendency in a woman is to be
irritable, complaining, and tearful. Now of course when each one is
selfishly looking out for his or her comfort neither one can be
expected to understand the other. The man thinks he is entirely
justified in being annoyed with the woman's tearful, irritable
complaints, and so he is--in a way. The woman thinks that she has a
right to suffer because of her husband's irritable ugliness, and so
she has--in a way. But in the truest way, and the way which appeals
to every one's common sense, neither one has a right to complain of
the other, and each one by right should have first made things
better and clearer in himself and herself.
Human nature is not so bad--really in its essence it is not bad at
all. If we only give the other man a real chance. It is the pushing
and pulling and demanding of one human being toward another that
smother the best in us, and make life a fearful strain. Of course
there is a healthy demanding as well as an unhealthy demanding, but,
so far as l know, the healthy demanding can come only when we are
clear of personal resistance and can demand on the strength of a
true principle and without selfish emotion. There is a kind of
gentle, motherly contempt with which some women speak of their
husbands, which must get on a man's nerves very painfully. It is
intensely and most acutely annoying. And yet I have heard good women
speak in that way over and over again. The gentleness and
motherliness are of course neither of them real in such cases. The
gentle, motherly tone is used to cover up their own sense of
"Poor boy, poor boy," they may say; "a man is really like a child."
So he may be--so he often is childish, and sometimes childish in the
extreme. But where could you find greater and more abject
childishness than in a woman's ungoverned emotions?
A woman must respect the manliness of her husband's soul, and must
cling to her belief in its living existence behind any amount of
selfish, restless irritability, if she is going to find a friend in
him or be a friend to him. She must also know that his nervous
system may be just as sensitive as hers. Sometimes it is more
sensitive, and should be accordingly respected. Demand nothing and
expect nothing, but hold him to his best in your mind and wait.
That is a rule that would work wonderfully if every woman who is
puzzled about her husband's restlessness and lack of interest in
home affairs would apply it steadily and for long enough. It is
impossible to manufacture a happy, sympathetic married life
artificially--impossible! But as each one looks to one's self and
does one's part fully, and then is willing to wait for the other,
the happiness and the sympathy, the better power for work and the
joyful ability to play come--they do come; they are real and alive
and waiting for us as we get clear from the interferences.
"Why doesn't my husband like to stay with me when he comes home? Why
can't we have nice, cozy times together?" a wife asks with sad
longing in her eyes.
And to the same friend the husband (who is, by the way, something of
a pig) says: "I should be glad to stay with Nellie often in the
evening, but she will always talk about her worries, and she worries
about the family in a way that is idiotic. She is always sure that
George will catch the measles because a boy in the next street has
them, and she is always sure that our children do not have the
advantages nor the good manners that other children have. If it is
not one thing it is another; whenever we are alone there is
something to complain of, and her last complaint was about her own
selfishness." Then he laughed at what he considered a good joke, and
in five minutes had forgotten all about her.
This wife, in a weak, selfish little way, was trying to give her
husband her confidence, and her complaint about her own selfishness
was genuine. She wanted his help to get out of it. If he had given
her just a little gracious attention and told her how impossible it
was really to discuss the children when she began the conversation
with whining complaint, she would have allowed herself to be taught
and their intercourse would have improved. On the other hand, if the
wife had realized that her husband came home from the cares of his
business tired and nervous, and if she had talked lightly and easily
on general subjects and tried to follow his interests, when his
nerves were rested and quiet she might have found him ready and able
to give her a little lift with regard to the children.
It is interesting and it is delightful to see how, as we each work
first to bear our own burdens, we not only find ourselves ready and
able to lighten the burdens of others but find others who are
helpful to us.
A woman who finds her husband "so restless and irritable" should
remember that in reality a man's nervous system is just as sensitive
as a woman's, and, with a steady and consistent effort to bear her
own burdens and to work out her own problems, should prepare herself
to lighten her husband's burdens and help to solve his problems;
that is the truest way of bringing him to the place where he will be
glad to share her burdens with her as well as his own.
But we want to remember that there is a radical difference between
indulging another's selfishness, and waiting, with patient yielding,
for him to discover his selfishness himself, and to act unselfishly
from his own free will.
_Quiet vs. Chronic Excitement_
SOME women live in a chronic state of excitement all the time and
they do not find it out until they get ill. Even then they do not
always find it out, and then they get more ill.
It is really much the same with excitable women as with a man who
thinks he must always keep a little stimulant in himself in order to
keep about his work. When a bad habit is established in us we feel
unnatural if we give the habit up for a moment--and we feel natural
when we are in it--but it is poison all the same.
If a woman has a habit of constantly snuffing or clearing her
throat, or rocking a rocking chair, or chattering to whoever may be
near her she would feel unnatural and weird if she were suddenly
wrenched out of any of these things. And yet the poisoning process
goes on just the same.
When it seems immaterial to us that we should be natural we are in a
pretty bad way and the worst of it is we do not know it.
I once took a friend with me into the country who was one of those
women who lived on excitement in every-day life. When she dressed in
the morning she dressed in excitement. She went down to breakfast in
excitement. She went about the most humdrum everyday affairs
excited. Every event in life--little or big--was an excitement to
her--and she went to bed tired out with excitement--over nothing.
We went deep in the woods and in the mountains, full of great
When my friend first got there she was excited about her arrival,
she was excited about the house and the people in it, but in the
middle of the night she jumped up in bed with a groan of torture.
I thought she had been suddenly taken ill and started up quickly
from my end of the room to see what was the trouble.
"Oh, oh," she groaned, "the quiet! It is so quiet!" Her brain which
had been in a whirl of petty excitement felt keen pain when the
normal quiet touched it.
Fortunately this woman had common sense and I could gradually
explain the truth to her, and she acted upon it and got rested and
strong and quiet.
I knew another woman who had been wearing shoes that were too tight
for her and that pinched her toes all together. The first time she
wore shoes that gave her feet room enough the muscles of her feet
hurt her so that she could hardly walk.
Of course, having been cramped into abnormal contraction the process
of expanding to freedom would be painful.
If you had held your fist clenched tight for years, or months, or
even weeks, how it would hurt to open it so that you could have free
use of your fingers.
The same truth holds good with a fist that has been clenched, a foot
that has been pinched, or a brain that has been contracted with
The process leading from the abnormal to the normal is always a
painful one. To stay in the abnormal means blindness, constantly
limiting power and death.
To come out into a normal atmosphere and into a normal way of living
means clearer sight, constantly increasing power, and fresh life.
This habit of excitement is not only contracting to the brain; it
has its effect over the whole body. If there is any organ that is
weaker than any other the excitement eventually shows itself. A
woman may be suffering from indigestion, or she may be running up
large doctor's bills because of either one of a dozen other organic
disturbances, with no suspicion that the cause of the whole trouble
is that the noisy, excited, strained habits of her life have robbed
her body of the vitality it needed to keep it in good running order.
As if an engineer threw his coal all over the road and having no
fuel for his engine wondered that it would not run. Stupid women we
are--most of us!
The trouble is that many of us are so deeply immersed in the habit
of excitement that we do not know it.
It is a healthy thing to test ourselves and to really try to find
ourselves out. It is not only healthy; it is deeply interesting.
If quiet of the woods, or, any other quiet place, makes us fidgety,
we may be sure that our own state is abnormal and we had better go
into the woods as often as possible until we feel ourselves to be a
part of the quiet there.
If we go into the woods and get soothed and quieted and then come
out and get fussed up and excited so that we feel painfully the
contrast between the quiet and our every-day life, then we can know
that we are living in the habit of abnormal excitement and we can
set to work to stop it.
"That is all very well," I hear my readers say, "but how are you
going to stop living in abnormal excitement when every circumstance
and every person about you is full of it and knows nothing else?"
If you really want to do it and would feel interested to make
persistent effort I can give you the recipe and I can promise any
woman that if she perseveres until she has found the way she will
never cease to be grateful.
If you start with the intention of taking the five minutes' search
for quiet every day, do not let your intention be weakened or
yourself discouraged if for some days you see no result at all.
At first it may be that whatever quiet you find will seem so strange
that it will annoy you or make you very nervous, but if you persist
and work right through, the reward will be worth the pains many
Sometimes quieting our minds helps us to quiet our bodies; sometimes
we must quiet our bodies first before we can find the way to a
really quiet mind. The attention of the mind to quiet the body, of
course, reacts back on to the mind, and from there we can pass on to
thinking quietly. Each individual must judge for herself as to the
best way of reaching the quiet. I will give several recipes and you
can take your choice.
First, to quiet the body:--
1. Lie still and see how quietly you can breathe.
2. Sit still and let your head droop very slowly forward until
finally it hangs down with its whole weight. Then lift it up very,
very slowly and feel as if you pushed it all the way up from the
lower part of your spine, or, better still, as if it grew up, so
that you feel the slow, creeping, soothing motion all the way up
your spine while your head is coming up, and do not let your head
come to an entirely erect position until your chest is as high as
you can hold it comfortably. When your head is erect take a long,
quiet breath and drop it again. You can probably drop it and raise
it twice in the five minutes. Later on it should take the whole five
minutes to drop it and raise it once and an extra two minutes for
the long breath.
When you have dropped your head as far as you can, pause for a full
minute without moving at all and feel heavy; then begin at the lower
part of your spine and very slowly start to raise it. Be careful not
to hold your breath, and watch to breathe as easily and quietly as
you can while your head is moving.
If this exercise hurts the back of your neck or any part of your
spine, don't be troubled by it, but go right ahead and you will soon
come to where it not only does not hurt, but is very restful.
When you have reached an erect position again stay there
quietly--first take long gentle breaths and let them get shorter and
shorter until they are a good natural length, then forget your
breathing altogether and sit still as if you never had moved, you
never were going to move, and you never wanted to move.
This emphasizes the good natural quiet in your brain and so makes
you more sensitive to unquiet.
Gradually you will get the habit of catching yourself in states of
unnecessary excitement; at such times you cannot go off by yourself
and go through the exercises. You cannot even stop where you are and
go through them, but you can recall the impression made on your
brain at the time you did them and in that way rule out your
excitement and gain the real power that should be in its place.
So little by little the state of excitement becomes as unpleasant as
a cloud of dust on a windy day and the quiet is as pleasant as under
the trees on top of a hill in the best kind of a June day.
The trouble is so many of us live in a cloud of dust that we do not
suspect even the existence of the June day, but if we are fortunate
enough once or twice even to get to sneezing from the dust, and so
to recognize its unpleasantness, then we want to look carefully to
see if there is not a way out of it.
It is then that we can get the beginning of the real quiet which is
the normal atmosphere of every human being.
But we must persist for a long time before we can feel established
in the quiet itself. What is worth having is worth working for--and
the more it is worth having, the harder work is required to get it.
Nerves form habits, and our nerves not only get the habit of living
in the dust, but the nerves of all about us have the same habit. So
that when at first we begin to get into clear air, we may almost
dislike it, and rush back into the dust again, because we and our
friends are accustomed to it.
All that bad habit has to be fought, and conquered, and there are
many difficulties in the way of persistence, but the reward is worth
it all, as I hope to show in later articles.
I remember once walking in a crowded street where the people were
hurrying and rushing, where every one's face was drawn and knotted,
and nobody seemed to be having a good time. Suddenly and
unexpectedly I saw a man coming toward me with a face so quiet that
it showed out like a little bit of calm in a tornado. He looked like
a common, every-day man of the world, so far as his dress and
general bearing went, and his features were not at all unusual, but
his expression was so full of quiet interest as to be the greatest
contrast to those about him. He was not thinking his own thoughts
either--he was one of the crowd and a busy, interested observer.
He might have said, "You silly geese, what are you making all this
fuss about, you can do it much better if you will go more easily."
If that was his thought it came from a very kindly sense of humor,
and he gave me a new realization of what it meant, practically, to
be in the world and not of it.
If you are in the world you can live, and observe, and take a much
better part in its workings. If you are of it, you are simply
whirled in an eddy of dust, however you may pose to yourself or to
_The Tired Emphasis_
"I AM so tired, so tired--I go to bed tired, I get up tired, and I
am tired all the time."
How many women--how many hundred women, how many thousand women--say
that to themselves and to others constantly.
It is perfectly true; they are tired all the time; they do go to bed
tired and get up tired and stay tired all day.
If, however, they could only know how very much they increase their
fatigue by their constant mental emphasis of it, and if at the same
time they could turn their wills in the direction of decreasing the
fatigue, instead of emphasizing it, a very large percentage of the
tired feeling could be done away with altogether.
Many women would gladly make more of an effort in the direction of
rest if they knew how, and I propose in this article to give a
prescription for the cure of the tired emphasis which, if followed,
will bring happy results.
When you go to bed at night, no matter how tired you feel, instead
of thinking how tired you are, think how good it is that you can go
to bed to get rested.
It will probably seem absurd to you at first. You may say to
yourself: "How ridiculous, going to bed to get rested, when I have
only one short night to rest in, and one or two weeks in bed would
not rest me thoroughly."
The answer to that is that if you have only one night in which to
rest, you want to make the most of that night, and if you carry the
tired emphasis to bed with you you are really holding on to the
This is as practically true as if you stepped into a bog and then
sat in it and looked forlorn and said. "What a terrible thing it is
that I should be in a bog like this; just think of having to sit in
a black, muddy bog all the time," and staying there you made no
effort whatever to get out of it, even though there was dry land
right in front of you.
Again you may answer: "But in my tired bog there is no dry land in
front of me, none at all."
I say to that, there is much more dry land than you think--if you
will open your eyes--and to open your eyes you must make an effort.
No one knows, who has not tried, what a good strong effort will do
in the right direction, when we have been living and slipping back
in the wrong direction.
The results of such efforts seem at times wonderful to those who
have learned the right direction for the first time.
To get rid of the tired emphasis when we have been fixed in it, a
very strong effort is necessary at first, and gradually it gets
easier, and easier, until we have cast off the tired emphasis
entirely and have the habit of looking toward rest.
We must say to ourselves with decision in so many words, and must
think the meaning of the words and insist upon it: "I am very tired.
Yes, of course, I am very tired, but I am going to bed to get
There are a hundred little individual ways that we can talk to
ourselves, and turn ourselves toward rest, at the end of the day
when the time comes to rest.
One way to begin, which is necessary to most of us, is to stop
resisting the tired. Every complaint of fatigue, whether it is
merely in our own minds, or is made to others, is full of
resistance, and resistance to any sort of fatigue emphasizes it
That is why it is good to say to ourselves: "Yes, I am tired; I am
awfully tired. I am willing to be tired."
When we have used our wills to drop the nervous and muscular
contractions that the fatigue has caused, we can add with more
emphasis and more meaning, "and I am going to bed to get rested."
Some one could say just here: "That is all very well for an
ordinarily tired person, but it would never do me any good. I am too
tired even to try it."
The answer to that is, the more tired you are, the more you need to
try it, and the more interesting the experiment will be.
Also the very effort of your brain needed to cast off the tired
emphasis will be new to you, and thought in a new direction is
always restful in itself. Having learned to cast off the tired
emphasis when we go to bed at night, we can gradually learn to cast
it off before we go to meals, and at odd opportunities throughout
The more tired we are, the more we need to minimize our fatigue by
the intelligent use of our own wills.
Who cares for a game that is simple and easy? Who cares for a game
when you beat as a matter of course, and without any effort on your
part at all?
Whoever cares for games at all cares most for good, stiff ones,
where, when you have beaten, you can feel that you have really
accomplished something; and when you have not beaten, you have at
least learned points that will enable you to beat the next time, or
the next to the next time--or sometime. And everyone who really
loves a game wants to stick to it until he has conquered and is
Why not wake up, and realize that same interest and courage in this
biggest game of all--this game of life?
We must play it!
Few of us are cowards enough to put ourselves out of it. Unless we
play it and obey the rules we do not really play at all.
Many of us do not know the rules, but it is our place to look about
and find them out.
Many more of us think that we can play the game better if we make up
rules of our own, and leave out whatever regular rules we do know,
that do not suit our convenience.
But that never works.
It only sometimes seems to work; and although plain common sense
shows us over and over that the game played according to our own
ideas amounts to nothing, it is strange to see how many work and
push to play the game in their own way instead of in the game's way.
It is strange to see how many shove blindly in this direction, and
that direction, to cut their way through a jungle, when there is the
path just by them, if they will take it.
Most of us do not know our own power because we would rather stay in
a ditch and complain.
Strength begets strength, and we can only find our greater power, by
using intelligently, and steadily, the power we have.
_How to be Ill and get Well_
ILLNESS seems to be one of the hardest things to happen to a busy
woman. Especially hard is it when a woman must live from hand to
mouth, and so much illness means, almost literally, so much less
Sometimes one is taken so suddenly and seriously ill that it is
impossible to think of whether one has food and shelter or not; one
must just be taken care of or die. It does not seem to matter which
at the time.
Then another must meet the difficulty. It is the little nagging
illnesses that make the trouble--just enough to keep a woman at home
a week or ten days or more, and deprive her of wages which she might
have been receiving, and which she very much needs.
These are the illnesses that are hard to bear.
Many a woman has suffered through an illness like this, which has
dragged out from day to day, and finally left her pale and weak, to
return to her work with much less strength than she needs for what
is before her.
After forcing herself to work day after day, her strength comes back
so slowly, that she appears to go through another illness, on her
feet, and "in the harness," before she can really call herself well
There are a few clear points which, if intelligently comprehended,
could teach one how to meet an illness, and if persistently acted
upon, would not only shorten it, but would lighten the convalescence
so that when the invalid returned to her work she would feel
stronger than before she was taken ill.
When one is taken with a petty illness, if it is met in an
intelligent way, the result can be a good rest, and one feels much