By Charles G. Leland.
"By carrying calves Milo, 'tis said, grew
Until with ease he bore a bull along."
It is, I believe, unquestionable that, if he ever lived, a man who had attained to absolute control over his own mind, must have been the most enviable of mortals. MONTAIGNE illustrates such an ideal being by a quotation from VIRGIL:
"Velut rupes vastum quæ prodit in æquor
Obvia ventorum furiis, exposta que ponto,
Vim cunctum atque minas perfert cælique marisque
Ipsa immota manens."
"He as a rock among vast billows stood,
Scorning loud winds and the wild raging flood,
And firm remaining, all the force defies,
From the grim threatening seas and thundering skies."
And MONTAIGNE also doubted whether such self-control was possible. He remarks of it:
"Let us never attempt these Examples; we shall never come up to them. This is too much and too rude for our common souls to undergo. CATO indeed gave up the noblest Life that ever was upon this account, but it is for us meaner spirited men to fly from the storm as far as we can."
Is it? I may have thought so once, but I begin to believe that in this darkness a new strange light is beginning to show itself. The victory may be won far more easily than the rather indolent and timid Essayist ever imagined. MONTAIGNE, and many more, believed that absolute self-control is only to be obtained by iron effort, heroic and terrible exertion a conception based on bygone History, which is all a record of battles of man against man, or man with the Devil. Now the world is beginning slowly to make an ideal of peace, and disbelieve in the Devil. Science is attempting to teach us that from any beginning, however small, great results are sure to be obtained if resolutely followed up and fully developed.
It requires thought to realize what a man gifted to some degree with culture and common sense must enjoy who can review the past without pain, and regard the present with perfect assurance that come what may he need have no fear or fluttering of the heart. Spenser has asked in "The Fate of the Butterfly":
"What more felicity can fall to creature
Than to enjoy delight with liberty?"
To which one may truly reply that all delight is fitful and uncertain unless bound or blended with the power to be indifferent to involuntary annoying emotions, and that self-command is in itself the highest mental pleasure, or one which surpasses all of any kind. He who does not overestimate the value of money or anything earthly is really richer than the millionaire. There is a foolish story told by COMBE in his Physiology of a man who had the supernatural gift of never feeling any pain, be it from cold, hunger, heat, or accident. The rain beat upon him in vain, the keenest north wind did not chill him he was fearless and free. But this immunity was coupled with an inability to feel pleasure his wine or ale was no more to his palate than water, and he could not feel the kiss of his child; and so we are told that he was soon desirous to become a creature subject to all physical sensations as before. But it is, as I said, a foolish tale, because it reduces all that is worth living for to being warm or enjoying taste. His mind was not affected, but that goes for nothing in such sheer sensuality. However, a man without losing his tastes or appetites may train his Will to so master Emotion as to enjoy delight with liberty, and also exclude what constitutes the majority of all suffering with man.
It is a truth that there is very often an extremely easy, simple and prosaic way to attain many an end, which has always been supposed to require stupendous efforts. In an Italian fairy tale a prince besieges a castle with an army trumpets blowing, banners waving, and all the pomp and circumstances of war to obtain a beautiful heroine who is meanwhile carried away by a rival who knew of a subterranean passage. Hitherto, as I have already said, men have sought for self-control only by means of heroic exertion, or by besieging the castle from without; the simple system of Forethought and Self-Suggestion enables one, as it were, to steal or slip away with ease by night and in darkness that fairest of princesses, La Volonté, or the Will.
For he who wills to be equable and indifferent to the small and involuntary annoyances, teasing memories, irritating trifles, which constitute the chief trouble in life to most folk, can bring it about, in small measure at first and in due time to greater perfection. And by perseverance this rivulet may to a river run, the river fall into a mighty lake, and this in time rush to the roaring sea; that is to say, from bearing with indifference or quite evading attacks of ennui, we may come to enduring great afflictions with little suffering.
Note that I do not say that we can come to bearing all the bereavements, losses, and trials of life with absolute indifference. Herein MONTAIGNE and the Stoics of old were well nigh foolish to imagine such an impossible and indeed undesirable ideal. But it may be that two men are afflicted by the same domestic loss, and one with a weak nature is well nigh crushed by it, gives himself up to endless weeping and perhaps never recovers from it, while another with quite as deep feelings, but far wiser, rallies, and by vigorous exertion makes the grief a stimulus to exertion, so that while the former is demoralized, the latter is strengthened. There is an habitual state of mind by which a man while knowing his losses fully can endure them better than others, and this endurance will be greatest in him who has already cultivated it assiduously in minor matters. He who has swam in the river can swim in the sea; he who can hear a door bang without starting can listen to a cannon without jumping.
The method which I have described in this work will enable any person gifted with perseverance to make an equable or calm state of mind habitual, moderately at first, more so by practice. And when this is attained the experimenter can progress rapidly in the path. It is precisely the same as in learning a minor art, the pupil who can design a pattern (which corresponds to Foresight or plan), only requires, as in wood-carving or repoussé, to be trained by very easy process to become familiar with the use and feel of the tools, after which all that remains to be done is to keep on at what the pupil can do without the least difficulty. Well begun and well run in the end will be well done.
But glorious and marvelous is the power of him who has habituated himself by easy exercise of Will to brush away the minor, meaningless and petty cares of life, such as, however, prey on most of us; for unto him great griefs are no harder to endure than the getting a coat splashed is to an ordinary man.
This is taken from The Mystic Will.
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