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AS A MATTER OF COURSE
ANNIE PAYSON CALL
First digital edition 2017 by Maria Ruggieri
II. PHYSICAL CARE
IV. BRAIN IMPRESSIONS
V. THE TRIVIALITY OF TRIVIALITIES
X. ONE’S SELF
XIII. SENTIMENT VERSUS SENTIMENTALITY
IN climbing a mountain, if we know the path and take it as a matter of course, we are free to enjoy the beauties of the surrounding country. If in the same journey we set a stone in the way and recognize our ability to step over it, we do so at once, and save ourselves from tripping or from useless waste of time and thought as to how we might best go round it.
There are stones upon stones in every-day life which might be stepped over with perfect ease, but which, curiously enough, are considered from all sides and then tripped upon; and the result is a stubbing of the moral toes, and a consequent irritation of the nervous system. Or, if semi-occasionally one of these stones is stepped over as a matter of course, the danger is that attention is immediately called to the action by admiring friends, or by the person himself, in a way so to tickle the nervous system that it amounts to an irritation, and causes him to trip over the next stone, and finally tumble on his nose. Then, if he is not wise enough to pick himself up and walk on with the renewed ability of stepping over future stones, he remains on his nose far longer than is either necessary or advisable.
These various stones in the way do more towards keeping a nervous system in a chronic state of irritation than is imagined. They are what might perhaps be called the outside elements of life. These once normally faced, cease to exist as impediments, dwindle away, and finally disappear altogether.
Thus we are enabled to get nearer the kernel, and have a growing realization of life itself.
Civilization may give a man new freedom, a freedom beyond any power of description or conception, except to those who achieve it, or it may so bind him body and soul that in moments when he recognizes his nervous contractions he would willingly sell his hope of immortality to be a wild horse or tiger for the rest of his days.
These stones in the way are the result of a perversion of civilization, and the cause of much contraction and unnecessary suffering.
There is the physical stone. If the health of the body were attended to as a matter of course, as its cleanliness is attended to by those of us who are more civilized, how much easier life might be! Indeed, the various trippings on, and endeavors to encircle, this physical stone, raise many phantom stones, and the severity of the fall is just as great when one trips over a stone that is not there. Don Quixote was quite exhausted when he had been fighting the windmills. One recognizes over and over the truth spoken by the little girl who, when reprimanded by her father for being fretful, said: “It isn’t me, papa, it’s that banana.”
There is also the over-serious stone; and this, so far from being stepped over or any effort made to encircle it, is often raised to the undue dignity of a throne, and not rested upon. It seems to produce an inability for any sort of recreation, and a scorn of the necessity or the pleasure of being amused. Everyone will admit that recreation is one swing of life’s pendulum; and in proportion to the swing in that direction will be the strength of the swing in the other direction, and vice versa.
One kind of stone which is not the least among the self-made impediments is the microscopic faculty which most of us possess for increasing small, inoffensive pebbles to good-sized rocks. A quiet insistence on seeing these pebbles in their natural size would reduce them shortly to a pile of sand which might be easily smoothed to a level, and add to the comfort of the path. Moods are stones which not only may be stepped over, but kicked right out of the path with a good bold stroke. And the stones of intolerance may be replaced by an open sympathy, an ability to take the other’s point of view, which will bring flowers in the path instead.
In dealing with ourselves and others there are stones innumerable, if one chooses to regard them, and a steadily decreasing number as one steps over and ignores. In our relations with illness and poverty, so-called, the ghosts of stones multiply themselves as the illness or the poverty is allowed to be a limit rather than a guide. And there is nothing that exorcises all such ghosts more truly than a free and open intercourse with little children.
If we take this business of slipping over our various nerve-stones as a matter of course, and not as a matter of sentiment, we get a powerful result just as surely as we get powerful results in obedience to any other practical laws.
In bygone generations men used to fight and kill one another for the most trivial cause. As civilization increased, self-control was magnified into a virtue, and the man who governed himself and allowed his neighbor to escape unslain was regarded as a hero. Subsequently, general slashing was found to be incompatible with a well-ordered community, and forbearance in killing or scratching or any other unseemly manner of attacking an enemy was taken as a matter of course.
Nowadays we do not know how often this old desire to kill is repressed, a brain-impression of hatred thereby intensified, and a nervous irritation caused which has its effect upon the entire disposition. It would hardly be feasible to return to the killing to save the irritation that follows repression; civilization has taken us too far for that. But civilization does not necessarily mean repression. There are many refinements of barbarity in our civilization which might be dropped now, as the coarser expressions of such states were dropped by our ancestors to enable them to reach the present stage of knives and forks and napkins. And inasmuch as we are farther on the way towards a true civilization, our progress should be more rapid than that of our barbaric grandfathers. An increasingly accelerated progress has proved possible in scientific research and discovery; why not, then, in our practical dealings with ourselves and one another?
Does it not seem likely that the various forms of nervous irritation, excitement, or disease may result as much from the repressed savage within us as from the complexity of civilization? The remedy is, not to let the savage have his own way; with many of us, indeed, this would be difficult, because of the generations of repression behind us. It is to cast his skin, so to speak, and rise to another order of living.
Certainly, repression is only apparent progress. No good physician would allow it in bodily disease, and, on careful observation, the law seems to hold good in other phases of life.
There must be a practical way by which these stones, these survivals of barbaric times, may be stepped over and made finally to disappear.
The first necessity is to take the practical way, and not the sentimental. Thus, true sentiment is found, not lost.
The second is to follow daily, even hourly, the process of stepping over until it comes to be indeed a matter of course. So, little by little, shall we emerge from this mass of abnormal nervous irritation into what is more truly life itself.
II. PHYSICAL CARE
REST, fresh air, exercise, and nourishment, enough of each in proportion to the work done, are the material essentials to a healthy physique. Indeed, so simple is the whole process of physical care, it would seem absurd to write about it at all. The only excuse for such writing is the constant disobedience to natural laws which has resulted from the useless complexity of our civilization.
There is a current of physical order which, if one once gets into it, gives an instinct as to what to do and what to leave undone, as true as the instinct which leads a man to wash his hands when they need it, and to wash them often enough so that they never remain soiled for any length of time, simply because that state is uncomfortable to their owner. Soap and water are not unpleasant to most of us in their process of cleansing; we have to deny ourselves nothing through their use. To keep the digestion in order, it is often necessary to deny ourselves certain sensations of the palate which are pleasant at the time. So by a gradual process of not denying we are swung out of the instinctive nourishment-current, and life is complicated for us either by an amount of thought as to what we should or should not eat, or by irritations which arise from having eaten the wrong food. It is not uncommon to find a mind taken up for some hours in wondering whether that last piece of cake will digest. We can easily see how from this there might be developed a nervous sensitiveness about eating which would prevent the individual from eating even the food that is nourishing. This last is a not unusual form of dyspepsia, a dyspepsia which keeps itself alive on the patient’s want of nourishment.
Fortunately, the process of getting back into the true food-current is not difficult if one will adopt it the trouble is in making the bold plunge. If anything is eaten that is afterwards deemed to have been imprudent, let it disagree. Take the full consequences and bear them like a man, with whatever remedies are found to lighten the painful result. Having made sure through bitter experience that a particular food disagrees, simply do not take it again, and think nothing about it. It does not exist for you. A nervous resistance to any sort of indigestion prolongs the attack and leaves, a brain-impression which not only makes the same trouble more liable to recur, but increases the temptation to eat forbidden fruit. Of course, this is always preceded by a full persuasion that the food is not likely to disagree with us now simply because it did before. And to some extent, this is true. Food that will bring pain and suffering when taken by a tired stomach, may prove entirely nourishing when the stomach is rested and ready for it. In that case, the owner of the stomach has learned once for all never to give his digestive apparatus work to do when it is tired. Send a warm drink as a messenger to say that food is coming later, give yourself a little rest, and then eat your dinner. The fundamental laws of health in eating are very simple; their variations for individual needs must be discovered by each for himself.
“But,” it may be objected, “why make all this fuss, why take so much thought about what I eat or what I do not eat?” The special thought is simply to be taken at first to get into the normal habit, and as a means of forgetting our digestion just as we forget the washing of our hands until we are reminded by some discomfort; whereupon we wash them and forget again. Nature will not allow us to forget. When we are not obeying her laws, she is constantly irritating us in one way or another. It is when we obey, and obey as a matter of course, that she shows herself to be a tender mother, and helps us to a real companionship with her.
Nothing is more amusing, nothing could appeal more to Mother Nature’s sense of humor, than the various devices for exercise which give us a complicated self-consciousness rather than a natural development of our physical powers. Certain simple exercises are most useful, and if the weather is so inclement that they cannot be taken in the open air, it is good to have a well-ventilated hall. Exercise with others, too, is stimulating, and more invigorating when there is air enough and to spare. But there is nothing that shows the subjective, self-conscious state of this generation more than the subjective form which exercise takes. Instead of games and play or a good vigorous walk in the country, there are endless varieties of physical culture, most of it good and helpful if taken as a means to an end, but almost useless as it is taken as an end in itself; for it draws the attention to one’s self and one’s own muscles in a way to make the owner serve the muscle instead of the muscle being made to serve the owner. The more physical exercise can be simplified and made objective, the more it serves its end. To climb a high mountain is admirable exercise, for we have the summit as an end, and the work of climbing is steadily objective, while we get the delicious effect of a freer circulation and all that it means. There might be similar exercises in gymnasiums, and there are, indeed, many exercises where some objective achievement is the end, and the training of a muscle follows as a matter of course. There is the exercise-instinct; we all have it the more perfectly as we obey it. If we have suffered from a series of disobediences, it is a comparatively easy process to work back into obedience.
The fresh-air-instinct is abnormally developed with some of us, but only with some. The popular fear of draughts is one cause of its loss. The fear of a draught will cause a contraction, the contraction will interfere with the circulation, and a cold is the natural result.