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Power through repose
Annie Payson Call
First digital edition 2017 by Gianluca Ruffini
CHAPTER I. THE GUIDANCE OF THE BODY
CHAPTER II. PERVERSIONS IN THE GUIDANCE OF THE BODY
CHAPTER III. REST IN SLEEP
CHAPTER IV. OTHER FORMS OF REST
CHAPTER V. THE USE OF THE BRAIN
CHAPTER VI. THE BRAIN IN ITS DIRECTION OF THE BODY
CHAPTER VII. THE DIRECTION OF THE BODY IN LOCOMOTION
CHAPTER VIII. NERVOUS STRAIN IN PAIN AND SICKNESS
CHAPTER IX. NERVOUS STRAIN IN THE EMOTIONS
CHAPTER X. NATURE’S TEACHING
CHAPTER XI. THE CHILD AS AN IDEAL
CHAPTER XII. TRAINING FOR REST
CHAPTER XIII. TRAINING FOR MOTION
CHAPTER XIV. MIND TRAINING
CHAPTER XV. ARTISTIC CONSIDERATIONS
CHAPTER XVI. TESTS
CHAPTER XVII. THE RATIONAL CARE OF SELF
CHAPTER XVIII. OUR RELATIONS WITH OTHERS
CHAPTER XIX. THE USE OF THE WILL
CHAPTER I. THE GUIDANCE OF THE BODY
THE literature relating to the care of the human body is already very extensive. Much has been written about the body’s proper food, the air it should breathe, the clothing by which it should be protected, the best methods of its development. That literature needs but little added to it, until we, as rational beings, come nearer to obeying the laws which it discloses, and to feeling daily the help which comes from that obedience.
It is of the better use, the truer guidance of this machine, that I wish specially to write. Although attention is constantly called to the fact of its misuse, as in neglected rest and in over-strain, in all the unlimited variety which the perverted ingenuity of a clever people has devised, it seems never to have come to any one’s mind that this strain in all things, small and great, is something that can be and should be studiously abandoned, with as regular a process of training, from the first simple steps to those more complex, as is required in the work for the development of muscular strength. When a perversion of Nature’s laws has continued from generation to generation, we, of the ninth or tenth generation, can by no possibility jump back into the place where the laws can work normally through us, even though our eyes have been opened to a full recognition of such perversion. We must climb back to an orderly life, step by step, and the compensation is large in the constantly growing realization of the greatness of the laws we have been disobeying. The appreciation of the power of a natural law, as it works through us, is one of the keenest pleasures that can come to man in this life.
The general impression seems to be that common-sense should lead us to a better use of our machines at once. Whereas, common-sense will not bring a true power of guiding the muscles, any more than it will cause the muscles’ development, unless having the common-sense to see the need, we realize with it the necessity for cutting a path and walking in it. For the muscles’ development, several paths have been cut, and many who are in need are walking in them, but, to the average man, the road to the best kind of muscular development still remains closed. The only training now in use is followed by sleight-of-hand performers, acrobats, or other jugglers, and that is limited to the professional needs of its followers.
Again, as the muscles are guided by means of the nerves, a training for the guidance of the muscles means, so far as the physique is concerned, first, a training for the better use of the nervous force. The nervous system is so wonderful in its present power for good or ill, so wonderful in its possible power either way, and so much more wonderful as we realize what we do not know about it, that it is not surprising that it is looked upon with awe. Neither is it strange that it seems to many, especially the ignorant, a subject to be shunned. It is not uncommon for a mother, whose daughter is suffering, and may be on the verge of nervous prostration because of her misused nerves, to say, “I do not want my daughter to know that she has nerves.” The poor child knows it already in the wrong way. It is certainly better that she should know her nerves by learning a wholesome, natural use of them. The mother’s remark is common with many men and women when speaking of themselves, common with teachers when talking to or of their pupils. It is of course quite natural that it should be a prevailing idea, because hitherto the mention of nerves by man or woman has generally meant perverted nerves, and to dwell on our perversions, except long enough to shun them, is certainly unwholesome in the extreme.
CHAPTER II. PERVERSIONS IN THE GUIDANCE OF THE BODY
SO, evident are the various, the numberless perversions of our powers in the misuse of the machine, that it seems almost unnecessary to write of them. And yet, from another point of view, it is very necessary; for superabundant as they are, thrusting their evil results upon us every day in painful ways, still we have eyes and see not, ears and hear not, and for want of a fuller realization of these most grievous mistakes, we are in danger of plunging more and more deeply into the snarls to which they bring us. From nervous prostration to melancholia, or other forms of insanity, is not so long a step.
It is of course a natural sequence that the decadence of an entire country must follow the waning powers of the individual citizens. Although that seems very much to hint, it cannot be too much when we consider even briefly the results that have already come to us through this very misuse of our own voluntary powers. The advertisements of nerve medicines alone speak loudly to one who studies in the least degree the physical tendencies of the nation. Nothing proves better the artificial state of man, than the artificial means he uses to try to adjust himself to Nature’s laws, means which, in most cases, serve to assist him to keep up a little longer the appearance of natural life. For any simulation of that which is natural must sooner or later lead to nothing, or worse than nothing. Even the rest-cures, the most simple and harmless of the nerve restorers, serve a mistaken end. Patients go with nerves tired and worn out with misuse, commonly called over-work. Through rest, Nature, with the warm, motherly help she is ever ready to bring us, restores the worn body to a normal state; but its owner has not learned to work the machine any better, to drive his horses more naturally, or with a gentler hand. He knows he must take life more easily, but even with a passably good realization of that necessity, he can practice it only to a certain extent; and most occupants of rest-cures find themselves driven back more than once for another “rest.”
Nervous disorders, resulting from overwork are all about us. Extreme nervous prostration is most prevalent. A thoughtful study of the faces around us, and a better understanding of their lives, brings to light many who are living, one might almost say, in a chronic state of nervous prostration, which lasts for years before the break comes. And because of the want of thought, the want of study for a better, more natural use of the machine, few of us appreciate our own possible powers. When with study, the appreciation grows, it is a daily surprise, a constantly increasing delight.
Extreme nervous tension seems to be so peculiarly American, that a German physician coming to this country to practise became puzzled by the variety of nervous disorders he was called upon to help, and finally announced his discovery of a new disease which he chose to call “Americanitis.” And now we suffer from “Americanitis” in all its unlimited varieties. Doctors study it; nerve medicines arise on every side; nervine hospitals establish themselves; and rest-cures innumerable spring up in all directions, but the root of the matter is so comparatively simple that in general it is overlooked entirely.
When illnesses are caused by disobedience to the perfect laws of Nature, a steady, careful obedience to these laws will bring us to a healthful state again.
Nature is so wonderfully kind that if we go one-tenth of the way, she will help us the other nine-tenths. Indeed, she seems to be watching and hoping for a place to get in, so quickly does she take possession of us, if we do but turn toward her ever so little. But instead of adopting her simple laws and following quietly her perfect way, we try by every artificial means to gain a rapid transit back to her dominion, and succeed only in getting farther away from her. Where is the use of taking medicines to give us new strength, while at the same time we are steadily disobeying the very laws from the observance of which alone the strength can come? No medicine can work in a man’s-body while the man’s habits are constantly counteracting it. More harm than good is done in the end. Where is the use of all the quieting medicines, if we only quiet our nerves in order that we may continue to misuse them without their crying out? They will cry out sooner or later; for Nature, who is so quick to help us to the true way of living, loses patience at last, and her punishments are justly severe. Or, we might better say, a law is fixed and immovable, and if we disobey and continue to disobey it, we suffer the consequences.
CHAPTER III. REST IN SLEEP
HOW do we misuse our nervous force? First, let us consider, when should the body be completely at rest? The longest and most perfect rest should be during sleep at night. In sleep, we can accomplish nothing in the way of voluntary activity either of mind or body. Any nervous or muscular effort during sleep is not only useless but worse, it is pure waste of fuel, and results in direct and irreparable harm. Realizing fully that sleep is meant for rest, that the only gain is rest, and that new power for use comes as a consequence, how absurd it seems that we do not abandon ourselves completely to gaining all that Nature would give us through sleep.
Suppose, instead of eating our dinner, we should throw the food out of the window, give it to the dogs, do anything with it but what Nature meant we should, and then wonder why we were not nourished, and why we suffered from faintness and want of strength. It would be no more senseless than the way in which most of us try to sleep now, and then wonder why we are not better rested from eight hours in bed. Only this matter of fatiguing sleep has crept upon us so slowly that we are blind to it. We disobey mechanically all the laws of Nature in sleep, simple as they are, and are so blinded by our own immediate and personal interests, that the habit of not resting when we sleep has grown to such an extent that to return to natural sleep, we must think, study, and practise.
Few who pretend to rest give up entirely to the bed, a dead weight, letting the bed hold them, instead of trying to hold themselves on the bed. Watch, and unless you are an exceptional case (of which happily there are a few), you will be surprised to see how you are holding yourself on the bed, with tense muscles, if not all over, so nearly all over that a little more tension would hardly increase the fatigue with which you are working yourself to sleep.
The spine seems to be the central point of tension it does not give to the bed and rest there easily from end to end; it touches at each end and just so far along from each end as the man or woman who is holding it will permit. The knees are drawn up, the muscles of the legs tense, the hands and arms contracted, and the fingers clinched, either holding the pillow or themselves.
The head, instead of letting the pillow have its full weight, holds itself onto the pillow. The tongue cleaves to the roof of the mouth, the throat muscles are contracted, and the muscles of the face drawn up in one way or another.
This seems like a list of horrors, somewhat exaggerated when we realize that it is of sleep, “Tired Nature’s sweet restorer,” that we are speaking; but indeed, it is only too true.
Of course, cases are not in the majority where the being supposed to enjoy repose is using all these numerous possibilities of contraction. But there are very few who have not, unconsciously, some one or two or half-dozen nervous and muscular strains; and even after they become conscious of the useless contractions, it takes time and watchfulness and patience to relax out of them, the habit so grows upon us. One would think that even though we go to sleep in a tense way, after being once soundly off Nature could gain the advantage over us, and relax the muscles in spite of ourselves; but the habits of inheritance and of years are too much for her. Although she is so constantly gracious and kind, she cannot go out of her way, and we cannot ask her to do so.
How simple it seems to sleep in the right way; and how wholesome it is even to think about it, in contrast to the wrong way into which so many of us have fallen. If we once see clearly the great compensation in getting back to the only way of gaining restful sleep, the process is very simple, although because we were so far out of the right path it often seems slow. But once gained, or even partially gained, one great enemy to healthful, natural nerves is conquered, and has no possibility of power.
Of course, the mind and its rapid and misdirected working is a strong preventive of free nerves, relaxed muscles, and natural sleep. “If I could only stop myself from thinking” is a complaint often heard, and reason or philosophy does not seem to touch it. Even the certain knowledge that nothing is gained by this rapid thought at the wrong time, that very much is lost, makes no impression on the overwrought mind,--often even excites it more, which proves that the trouble, if originally mental, has now gained such a hold upon the physique that it must be attacked there first. The nerves should be trained to enable the body to be an obedient servant to a healthy mind, and the mind in giving its attention to such training gains in normal power of direction.
If you cannot stop thinking, do not try; let your thoughts steam ahead if they will. Only relax your muscles, and as the attention is more and more fixed on the interesting process of letting-go of the muscles (interesting, simply because the end is so well worth gaining), the imps of thought find less and less to take hold of, and the machinery in the head must stop its senseless working, because the mind which allowed it to work has applied itself to something worth accomplishing.
The body should also be at rest in necessary reclining in the day, where of course all the laws of sleep apply. Five minutes of complete rest in that way means greater gain than an hour or three hours taken in the usual manner. I remember watching a woman “resting” on a lounge, propped up with the downiest of pillows, holding her head perfectly erect and in a strained position, when it not only would have been easier to let it fall back on the pillow, but it seemed impossible that she should not let it go; and yet there it was, held erect with an evident strain. Hers is not an unusual case, on the contrary quite a common one. Can we wonder that the German doctor thought he had discovered a new disease? And must he not be already surprised and shocked at the precocious growth of the infant monster which he found and named? “So, prone are mortals to their own damnation, it seems as though a devil’s use were gone.”
There is no better way of learning to overcome these perversions in sleep and similar forms of rest, than to study with careful thought the sleep of a wholesome little child. Having gained the physical freedom necessary to give perfect repose to the body, the quiet, simple dropping of all thought and care can be made more easily possible. So, we can approach again the natural sleep and enjoy consciously the refreshment which through our own babyhood was the unconscious means of giving us daily strength and power for growth.
To take the regular process, first let go of the muscles, that will enable us more easily to drop disturbing thoughts; and as we refuse, without resistance, admittance to the thoughts, the freedom from care for the time will follow, and the rest gained will enable us to awaken with new life for cares to come. This, however, is a habit to be established and thoughtfully cultivated; it cannot be acquired at once. More will be said in future chapters as to the process of gaining the habit.
CHAPTER IV. OTHER FORMS OF REST
DO you hold yourself on the chair, or does the chair hold you? When you are subject to the laws of gravitation give up to them, and feel their strength. Do not resist these laws, as a thousand and one of us do when instead of yielding gently and letting ourselves sink into a chair, we put our bodies rigidly on and then hold them there as if fearing the chair would break if we gave our full weight to it. It is not only unnatural and unrestful, but most awkward. So, in a railroad car. Much, indeed most of the fatigue from a long journey by rail is quite unnecessary, and comes from an unconscious officious effort of trying to carry the train, instead of allowing the train to carry us, or of resisting the motion, instead of relaxing and yielding to it. There is a pleasant rhythm in the motion of the rapidly moving cars which is often restful rather than fatiguing, if we will only let go and abandon ourselves to it. This was strikingly proved by a woman who, having just learned the first principles of relaxation, started on a journey overstrained from mental anxiety. The first effect of the motion was that most disagreeable, faint feeling known as car-sickness. Understanding the cause, she began at once to drop the unnecessary tension, and the faintness left her. Then she commenced an interesting novel, and as she became excited by the plot her muscles were contracted in sympathy (so-called), and the faintness returned in full force, so that she bad to drop the book and relax again; and this process was repeated half-a-dozen times before she could place her body so under control of natural laws that it was possible to read without the artificial tension asserting itself and the car-sickness returning in consequence.
The same law is illustrated in driving. “I cannot drive, it tires me so,” is a common complaint. Why does it tire you? Because instead of yielding entirely and freely to the seat of the carriage first, and then to its motion, you try to help the horses, or to hold yourself still while the carriage is moving. A man should become one with a carriage in driving, as much as one with his horse in riding. Notice the condition in any place where there is excuse for some anxiety, while going rather sharply round a corner, or nearing a railroad track. If your feet are not pressed forcibly against the floor of the carriage, the tension will be somewhere else. You are using nervous force to no earthly purpose, and to great earthly loss. Where any tension is necessary to make things better, it will assert itself naturally and more truly as we learn to drop all useless and harmful tension. Take a patient suffering from nervous prostration for a long drive, and you will bring him back more nervously prostrated; even the fresh air will not counteract the strain that comes from not knowing how to relax to the motion of the carriage.
A large amount of nervous energy is expended unnecessarily while waiting. If we are obliged to wait for any length of time, it does not hurry the minutes or bring that for which we wait to keep nervously strained with impatience; and it does use vital force, and so helps greatly toward “Americanitis.” The strain which comes from an hour’s nervous waiting, when simply to let yourself alone and keep still would answer much better, is often equal to a day’s labor. It must be left to individuals to discover how this applies in their own especial cases, and it will be surprising to see not only how great and how common such strain is, but how comparatively easy it is to drop it. There are of course exceptional times and states when only constant trying and thoughtful watchfulness will bring any marked result.
We have taken a few examples where there is nothing to do but keep quiet, body and brain, from what should be the absolute rest of sleep to the enforced rest of waiting. just one word more in connection with waiting and driving. You must catch a certain train. Not having time to trust to your legs or the cars, you hastily take a cab. You will in your anxiety keep up exactly the same strain that you would have had in walking, as if you could help the carriage along, or as if reaching the station in time depended upon your keeping a rigid spine and tense muscles. You have hired the carriage to take you, and any activity on your part is quite unnecessary until you reach the station; why not keep quiet and let the horses do the work, and the driver attend to his business?
It would be easy to fill a small volume with examples of the way in which we are walking directly into nervous prostration; examples only of this one variety of disobedience, namely, of the laws of rest. And to give illustrations of all the varieties of disobedience to Nature’s laws in activity would fill not one small book, but several large ones; and then, unless we improve, a year-book of new examples of nervous strain could be published. But fortunately, if we are nervous and short-sighted, we have a good share of brain and commonsense when it is once appealed to, and a few examples will open our eyes and set us thinking, to real and practical results.
CHAPTER V. THE USE OF THE BRAIN
LET us now consider instances where the brain alone is used, and the other parts of the body have nothing to do but keep quiet and let the brain do its work. Take thinking, for instance. Most of us think with the throat so contracted that it is surprising there is room enough to let the breath through, the tongue held firmly, and the jaw muscles set as if suffering from an acute attack of lockjaw. Each has his own favorite tension in the act of meditation, although we are most generous in the force given to the jaw and throat. The same superfluous tension may be observed in one engaged in silent reading; and the force of the strain increases in proportion to the interest or profundity of the matter read. It is certainly clear, without a knowledge of anatomy or physiology, that for pure, unadulterated thinking, only the brain is needed; and if vital force is given to other parts of the body to hold them in unnatural contraction; we not only expend it extravagantly, but we rob the brain of its own. When, for purely mental work, all the activity is given to the brain, and the body left free and passive, the concentration is better, conclusions are reached with more satisfaction, and the reaction, after the work is over, is healthy and refreshing.