"The Winning of the Best"
by Ralph Waldo Trine
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Which Way is Life Leaning?
"The optimist fell ten stories
And at each window bar
He shouted to his friends—
'All right so far.'"
WAS he, as one is now and then inclined to think, a silly-pated fool, or was there some basis for the feeling which inspired his utterance? In other words, are those to whom life seems so bright, buoyant, even and interesting, in distinction from those to whom it seems so dark and complex and uncertain, to be described by this same, or by some kindred term?"One who never turned his back, but marched breast forward.
Then, there are those who have exchanged fears and forebodings, gloom, and at least apparent despair, with their many times attendant bodily ailments, for peace and health and strength and newness of power. In other words they have come into a newness of life that is, to speak mildly, most interesting, and in some cases quite miraculous both to themselves and to their friends and acquaintances.
Is it pure imagination? Then is imagination rather a good thing to have? Especially as in such vast numbers of cases these things last. It is true moreover of people of not any one peculiar trend of mind and thought and life, but of people of all descriptions and all types and so-called stations in life. Is it merely a difference of temperament that life seems so gloomy and uncertain and get-no-where to some, and so buoyant and certain and straight-to-the-mark like, to others? If so, is there somehow or somewhere a power to change or alter temperament?
A part of what we might term the optimist's philosophy is—If you can mend a situation mend it; if you can't mend it, forget it. Is it good philosophy or is it foolishness?
To me the term optimist marks the man or the woman of energy and common sense, in distinction from the one of either supine inactivity or that will allow himself or herself to get, as we say, all "balled-up," when in reality there is no occasion for it. Moreover if this one was a silly-pated fool, then was Browning also when he wrote:
Never doubted clouds would break.
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake."
Was Samuel Johnson? when he said: "The habit of looking at the bright side of things is worth more than a thousand a year." Was Lowell? when he said: "Let us be of good cheer, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those that never come." Or again, is G. K. Chesterton? when he says: "The optimist is a better reformer than the pessimist: and the man who believes life to be excellent is the one who alters it most." Or, looking at the matter in a really serious manner,—has the optimist something that the other fellow hasn't ?
Personally I believe in the absolute reign of law, and in nothing, perhaps, more fully than in the law of cause and effect, the same as I believe that all life is from within out, and as is the inner, therefore, so always and necessarily is the outer.
A few days ago, a friend who sees much of all phases of life, and whose daily work many times takes him among those whose lives and whose hardships and sufferings, both mental and physical, would cause ordinarily the stoutest heart that witnesses them to grow downcast and sceptical, said: "It's a good thing, after all, for one to have a little philosophy in his life; there are times when it stands him in right good hand."
Where is there a philosophy of real value that the average individual can get hold of—a philosophy that will give results—a philosophy that as we say, will make good? Judging from all the philosophical and religious systems in the world, it would seem that every man and woman could have no want whatever along this line. Or, are they so complex, or are they so mixed with other things that so obscure their real working and vitalising portions, that we average mortals don't know just how to get hold of them?
Undoubtedly many of them are sadly in need of some simplifying process, or some process that will extract the really vital portions from the great mass of verbiage that enshrouds them, or from the great mass of extraneous matter that has crept in, practically to engulf them.
The skilled machinist is, I believe, continually on the alert to simplify the splendid specimen of modern machinery, by the elimination of every possible part that is not absolutely essential to its performing its real functions. To me whatever in philosophy, in religion, or in any code of life principles has use,—can be applied and used in the everyday problems of our common work-a-day life, is of value, and whatever hasn't, is not only valueless, but is, moreover, a positive detriment, in that it tends to keep from us the real vital laws and forces that, as we say, do the work. To me, if we consider terms not too technically, philosophy and religion are very similar and, in a sense, the same. They have also a very similar characteristic when we endeavour to apply to them both this great principle of use.
I was reading only yesterday a portion of a very able sermon on the Sunday editorial page of one of our great dailies, in which the writer made a very strong plea for the value of allegiance to Truth, and the value of allegiance to Religion. Nowhere, however, was there a word said in regard to just what was meant by "truth" or what was meant by "religion." I dare say the sermon was of as little real practical value to ninety-nine out of every hundred readers as it was to me.
We read now and then that one of the great secrets of life is "Adjustment." Again, that the secret of life is "Harmony." Granting this, is there some great truth, some great central truth, so to speak, that we can adjust ourselves—our daily lives—to? Some great central truth that we can square our lives by? Said one of the world's greatest teachers: "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Is there some understandable, some universal truth or principle that all can accept, and that all lives can be squared by?
I believe most profoundly that the optimist has something that the other fellow hasn't. If it is a common sense, get-some-where and more-than-a-day optimism, I believe that its possessor has found primarily two great facts. The one is that there is a Science of Thought. The other is what might be termed the fact of the Divinity of Human Life—the element of Divinity with insights and powers that are greater than the ordinary human.
The Creative Power of Thought
AND what do we mean by a Science of Thought? Its funda- mental principle is the fact that thoughts are forces, that like creates like, and like attracts like, and for one to govern their thinking, therefore, is to determine their life.
We are now finding that a definite active thought is a force, the same as electricity is a force, the same as vibration is a force, or rather as certain forms of vibration are productive of certain forms of force. They have form and quality and power, which we are now beginning to determine in our very laboratory experiments; although, up to the present time, we have learned more perhaps of their influences and effects than we have definitely of their qualities. We know definitely already a great deal of their effects in habit-forming, in character-building, and their effects in bodybuilding, the same as we have discovered definitely certain great laws in connection with their influences upon others. We have reached the stage of what may properly be called "scientific mind and body-building" through the agency of thought. As we think, so we become—cause, effect. Necessarily is it true, then—as is the inner, so always and inevitably is the outer.
There is the hopeful, optimistic type of thought, which to whatever extent indulged, gradually increases the power for this type of thought. It has the effect of aiding greatly in the accomplishment of whatever we set out to do, the same as it has most potent and powerful influences in inducing health and strength and vigour in connection with all bodily organs and functions. It is what may be termed the normal, natural, creative type of thought.
On the other hand, there is the fearing, vacillating, the sort of negative type of thought that has the influence of crippling our energies, stealing success in advance from our endeavours, the same as it has a depressing, sort of closing up, deadening effect upon all bodily functions and powers.
We are finding scientifically true "as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." Along whatever line the mind sets itself does it attract unseen elements that induce it to grow gradually more and more along that line, as well as elements that aid it in accomplishing its set purpose.
There is in connection with thought a law that we are now beginning to understand, that may be termed "the drawing power of mind." We are continually attracting to us, from both the seen and the unseen sides of life, influences and conditions corresponding with the types of thought we most habitually allow to take form in our minds, and that we consequently most habitually live with.
"Birds of a feather flock together" is a very old statement. But birds of a feather flock together because like attracts like. For one to govern their thinking, then, is not only to determine their own life, but to determine also those that they attracts to them, their acquaintances and, eventually, their friends and comp- anions.
The hopeful, confident, successful type of thought not only attracts to us success, but it also attracts to us successful people, those whose lives are dominated by the same type or trend of thought. They, in turn, become of help to us, and we to them. So, as we give in thought, we also get back again.
Not only are our accomplishments determined by our prevailing types of thought, but our influence upon others is determined in this same way. Those who come in personal contact with us are influenced invariably, though many times unconsciously, by our prevailing types of thought. If we are hopeful, we inspire hope—we radiate hope and encouragement and strength, so to speak. If we have a feeling of friendship and good-will and helpfulness—love—we inspire these same qualities in others, and the same types of warming and life-giving thought-forces come back in turn to us from them. It is, therefore, scientifically true that as a man gives he gets.
We are all influenced, and whether conscious of it or not, by the prevailing mental and emotional states and conditions of those with whom we come in contact. It was Henry Ward Beecher who said:
"There are persons so radiant, so genial, so kind, so pleasure-bearing, that you instinctively feel in their presence that they do you good; whose coming into a room is like the bringing of a lamp there."
We use the term personal magnetism. Careful analysis will generally reveal the fact that personal magnetism is the outcome of clean, positive, cheerful, sympathetic, and helpful types of thought, that have gradually built certain qualities into the life of the one entertaining them, and that are instinctively felt by all those with whom he or she comes in contact. I have never yet known of one of a fearing, negative, critical, self-centered and self-seeking type of thought to have, to any appreciable degree, the quality that we term "personal magnetism."
If we are small and critical we inspire and call from others the small and critical type of thought and act. If we hate we inspire hatred, and, with its chilling, killing qualities, it will turn back to us again. If we live in envy of those who are doing things, we are dwarfing powers within us that, if rightly cultivated and grown, would enable us likewise to do things, and thus remove any cause for envy. If we love we inspire love, and the warming, ennobling, uplifting influences of love will come back to us. We can hinder and retard another by holding him or her in the thought of weakness or failure, the same as we can hinder or retard our own efforts.
"Keep your courage up, and you'll do," was Stevenson's way, perhaps unconsciously, of stating this law. Mrs. Wiggs also, perhaps unconsciously, stated it when she said: "When things first got to goin' wrong with me, I says: 'O Lord, whatever comes, keep me from gittin sour!' Since then I've made it a practice to put all my worries down in the bottom of my heart, then sit on the lid an' smile." And again, when she said: "Don't you go and git sorry fer yerself. That's one thing I can't stand in nobody. Ther's always lots of other folks you kin be sorry fer 'stead of yerself. Ain't you proud you ain't got a harelip? Why, that one thought is enough to keep me from ever gittin' sorry fer myself."
It's the man or the woman who does not allow himself or herself to get, as the expression is, "all balled up," who generally arrives, and who also wears. Those who do allow it are generally the greatest hindrances there are in the world to themselves, and they are likewise a hindrance to others. Certainly, others are influenced, and generally badly influ- enced, by the uncertain, excitable and non-productive type of thought that emanates as an atmosphere from them. To keep calm and quiet within—and the mouth closed—and to look forward with hope and faith and courage, and with the dogged determination of still finding the best when the illusions break or show cracks, is the mark of the man or the woman who will finally win out.
Again, there is that rather large aggregation of people who are allowing happiness to remain away from them, and from those surrounding them, by giving undue attention to little, non-essential things, instead of seeing the fundamentals that are alone worth the attention of a normal, clear-cut type of man or woman.
Such large amounts, whole cargoes, we might say, of peace and harmony are allowed to escape from such vast numbers of families because some member or members do not understand the significance of this important fact. How many millions of parents, especially mothers, in the world's history, could have been saved hours and, in the aggregate, years of worry, senseless, useless worry, if they had realised the importance of this in connection with their children!
Then there comes that more pronounced and decided enemy and assassin of human endeavour and happiness—or, rather, two kindred ones, but always closely enough allied to be called twins—fear and worry. The mysterious, or the marvellous feature of these, to me, is always the fact that by them nothing is ever to be gained, but much is always to be lost. Fear always has the influence of neutralising normal healthy endeavour and action, sometimes to the extent of paralysing it fully, the same as it has on all bodily functions and powers.
Much the same is true in regard to worry, both in connection with human activity and endeavour, as well as in connection with various bodily organs and functions, though in connection with the latter its action is more of a slow corroding and poisoning, rather than of a neutralising or paralysing nature. If anything were to be gained by either, one could easily see why they have such an almost universal hold on human life. But when we once fully realise, as every normal-minded person can, that by them nothing is to be gained, but everything to be lost, we can see how thoroughly foolish and expensive they are.
There are vast numbers of people everywhere today who are given to them, and who are paying their continual heavy tolls, who could do nothing more valuable in all the world than to set about in a very definite way to think this proposition over; and, instead of further drifting under their influence, set sail and rudder straight for a point where these will be left forever behind. Not that one can always change a habit instantly, but it is essential to realise that when one is drifting they will likely continue to drift indefinitely, unless they set out in the direction of the point at which they want eventually to arrive.
To set the face in the right direction, and then simply to travel on, unmindful and never discouraged by even frequent relapses by the way, is the secret of all human achievement.
Fear and worry and all kindred mental states are so expensive that no man, woman, or child can afford to give them a dominating or even the slightest hold in his or her life. They will grow if we indulge them; they will depart—in time completely—if we are really determined that we can't afford them.
There are untold numbers among us who are suffering various bodily ailments that have been induced, many times unconsciously on their part, by these two great filchers of human health and, therefore, of happiness. Fear invariably paralyses healthy action; worry corrodes and pulls down the organism. If not quick-acting, as in cases now and then they are, they have always the slow-poisoning influence.
Long-continued grief at any real or apparent loss will do the same. Anger, jealousy, malice, a brooding disposition of any type, will do the same—each has its own peculiar corroding, poisoning, tearing down effects. A close-fisted, hoarding, stingy disposition will have also similar effects.
Wise is he who determines early to do away forever with the companionship of the two twins. They are black fellows. They never help us. They never work, they never clean for us, but in their pails they carry always poison. Why not good-night, then, to the Black Twins!
To bid goodbye to fear and worry, opening all doors and windows to hope and faith which always induce courage, which in turn is always productive of normal healthy action, and then coupling this with rightly directed endeavour, can work a complete reformation, even to a revolution, in any life within even twelve month months; and twelve months pass, as we all realise, oh! so quickly.
Not that there are no problems, and hard and distressing circumstances, and even tragedies, that come into our common lives, but the very fact that these do come is the great reason why we should equip ourselves with the best agencies to meet and to master them, to leave them behind and, as quickly as possible,—then to forget them. Faith, hope, courage, and cheerfulness all along the way are the agencies that will stand by us successfully to meet, to master, to get the good from each experience; then to pass on and completely forget the distressing portions.
It is not, What are the conditions in any life? but how a person meets whatever conditions arise, that determines whether he or she is a creature or a master of circumstances, that determines whether he or she has backbone and stamina, and withal good common sense in connection with their life problems.
Cheerfulness, looking always on the bright side of things, determined always to stand in the sunshine, rather than in the shadow—this it is that makes life, with its knotty problems, continually easier. It's the "oil of gladness" that helps in doing the work. It is productive also of the influence that mysteriously escapes from our lives, that helps the friend, and the neighbour also, with their problems. It's a great help for us sometimes to remember that the neighbour has their problems also. And then the neighbour around on the next corner likewise, and——
To take a cheerful, hopeful, optimistic, never-down-in-the-mouth, but courage-always-up attitude of mind, is to set in, and to keep in continual operation, subtle, silent forces that are working along the lines we are going, and that open the way for us to arrive.
They are the forces that are working for us continual good if we are but wise enough to recognise them and put them into operation. They are waiting always to be appropriated by us if we have an understanding sufficient to enable us to recognise and appropriate them.
"It is a part of my religion to look well after the cheerfulness of life, and let the dismals shift for themselves," said Alcott.
The world today is filled with heroes, heroes in the common life, but greater are they than any General, because the General ordinarily isn't out on the fields of continual fighting. They are the men and the women who are meeting their problems, many times distressing, and hard to understand, but always with courage up, always with a smile on their lips—even when hearts are sad—saying little, if anything, because they are too big, or because they haven't time for wanting sympathy, and also because they are not sufficiently selfish to grow the habit of intruding their problems and their troubles upon others.
That we be men and women, although we stumble often and fall, is undoubtedly what Marcus Aurelius had in mind when so many years ago he said: "Be not discouraged, or out of humour, because practice falls short of precept in some particulars. If you happen to be beaten, come on again, and be glad if most of your acts are worthy of human nature. Love that to which you return, and do not go, like a schoolboy to his master, with an ill-will." It was Horace who said: "The mind that is cheerful in its present state will be adverse to all solicitudes for the future, and will meet the bitter occurrences of life with a placid smile."
A similar thought was that of Aristotle: "Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility, but through greatness of mind."
St. Francis (de Sales) struck squarely and helpfully at one of the great principles of life when he said: "Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow, and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations."
We are now beginning to realise that happiness is a duty, and that the one who is not happy—if not chronically, at least primarily so—has either failed to grasp some of the essential principles and forces in life, or that his or her courage isn't up. Happiness is a normal and natural condition, and something is radically wrong with every life where it doesn't play at least a predominating part. Such a life fails also in performing its duty towards its neighbour as it should perform it. It is apt to be a hindrance rather than a help in this, our common journey.
It was Stevenson who said: "A happy man or woman is a better thing to find than a five-pound note. He or she is a radiating focus of good-will, and their entrance into a room is as though another candle had been lighted. We need not care whether they could prove the forty-seventh proposition. They do a better thing than that; they practically demonstrate the great theorem of the liveableness of life."
But Humanity is brave, so brave we will find if we search carefully—and even at times perchance if we look within—as to fill us with admiration for this rather common and, at times, queer and questionable thing we call Human Nature. Hope and courage and sympathy and trust are great producers, and they are great factors in a man's doing his duty, as well as his having the joy of achievement. "Never to tire," said Amiel, "never to grow cold; to be patient, sympathetic, tender; to look for the budding flower and the opening heart; to hope always like God; to love always—this is Duty."
No, an optimistic philosophy rightly understood, does not teach that life is merely a long, even holiday, that there are no minor strains in what might be termed its daily music, no problems to be solved, no bread to be earned, no tired bodies that welcome the rest of the night, no burdens to be shared with friend, neighbour, relative.
It does teach that we should always look for the best there is, and always expect to find it, and that we should never allow ourselves to indulge in fears and forebodings, and to stand trembling and helpless when the problem arises, when the distressing circumstance presents itself, when the work is to be done, and perchance the sorrow or bereavement to be borne. It teaches also to turn never a deaf, but always a ready ear to the friend's or neighbour's signal of distress. It equips us with the weapons to face such conditions when they arise, and to so direct them that they work for our advantage and our good, instead of against us.
If we adopt a philosophy that recognises the working always of the law of cause and effect, instead of mere blind chance happening, then we believe that everything that comes into our lives has its part to play, and it is our portion to meet whatever comes in such a way that it will serve its highest purposes in our lives.
Personally, I believe that nothing ever comes by chance, that everything comes through the operation of law, although many times we are not able to see the cause that has produced or that is producing such results. Moreover, I believe that whatever comes has its part to play, its mission to fulfill, and that if we can not always see it we may not do unwisely in having faith that the time will come when we will eventually rejoice that each thing came as it came. If we can preserve this attitude, then when the difficult thing is before us, its sting will be drawn, and our faith, insight, and courage to meet it wisely, and to get the best there is from it, will be increased many times a hundredfold.
We should be lenient in judging another, and we should be lenient in judging ourselves. From my own stumblings and errors and fallings I have come to the place where my only question in regard to another is, Which way is he looking? Not, how much has he groped and stumbled and fallen, the same as myself; but is his face now turned in the right direction, and is he genuinely endeavouring to keep it there? If he is wise enough, when he falls, to linger there only long enough to get his lesson, and long-headed enough to learn it quickly and go on, even his stumbling becomes an asset, and it is a mere matter of time before he reaches a very certain destination. The bright child doesn't have to be burned continually. The wise man or woman learns his or her lessons quickly and goes on. "Don't worry when you stumble—remember, a worm is about the only thing that can't fall down," some one has said most admirably.
We can all afford to be exceedingly charitable towards others. The fact that every one of us has their failings, and also the fact that every one of us has stumbled and fallen—and at times fallen flat—gives us a very broad basis for that admirable and kingly quality—charity. While each of us is in his or her present incomplete state we should be very slow to judge another.
It may uncover the hypocrite in us more quickly than we may be aware; and to condemn another is, if we will consider it in this light for but a very brief moment, richly and consummately asinine. "To speak wisely," it has been said, "may not always be easy, but not to speak ill requires only silence." We need more sympathy in our common life. It is always a mark of wisdom. It expands the individual life also into the other lives around him.
It is well that we work each for our own individual good. Anyone, however, who stops there will find that they can never reach their highest individual good unless they take also an interest—and not merely a sentimental, but an active interest—in the lives and in the welfare of those about them. "Help thou thy brother's boat across, and, lo! thine own has reached the shore," says the Hindoo proverb.
There must be the general as well as the individual good, and only he who is aiding it is realising the best for himself. "I have noticed," said Uncle Eben, "dat de man who gits so selfish dat he can't think o' nobody 'cept hisse'f, ginerally looks like he war thinkin' of sumpin' disagreeable."
One of the great laws of life is giving—we term it service. Service for others is just as essential to our real happiness and to our highest welfare as is the fact that we work for our own individual welfare. No man lives to himself alone. No man can live to himself alone. The Order of the Universe has been written from time immemorial against it. There is no man who has ever found happiness by striving for it directly. It never has and it never can come that way. Why? Simply because the very laws of the universe are against it. It was Charles Kingsley who sang so truly:
"Friends, in this world of hurry and work and sudden end.
If a thought comes quick of doing a kindness to a friend,
Do it that very instant! don't put it off—don't wait!
What's the use of doing a kindness if you do it a day too late!"
A man may become wealthy, he may become very wealthy in the sense o£ acquiring money. He may become a millionaire, and even many times over, by working for it directly. But very common men have done that. Indeed, many of a low type have done it. We now have sense enough not to call these great men. Careful analysis will show, in every case, that it requires service for one's fellow-men to constitute a great man. The man who is working for greatness alone is the man who ordinarily never achieves it.
It is the man who has his mind and heart centered on accomplishing the thing that is in some way serving or that is to serve his fellow-men, who may some day be elevated by the silent vote to the position of greatness. So, there is no such thing as finding happiness by seeking for it directly. It comes always through the operation of a great and universally established law—by the sympathy, the care, the consideration we render to others.
The higher types of happiness will never come by seeking for them directly. A real interest in the affairs of others makes for a generous, wholesome, inclusive and, therefore, broad and happy life. The life that is sharing in the interests, the welfare, and the happiness of others is the one that is continually expanding in beauty and in power and, therefore, in happiness.
The little, the equivocal, the small, the exclusive, the pure self-seeker, are never among those genuinely happy. As Henry Drummond once said, they are on the wrong track. The large-hearted, the sympathetic, those always ready with the helping hand are the ones who have found the road.
Joy in another's success not only indicates always the large type, but it indicates that they in turn are worthy of success themselves. And if they are not always what we term a success in some given field, or art, or in acquiring wealth, they are a success in the greatest of arts, the Art of Living. They are also a success in that the joy and happiness of others enters into and becomes a portion of their own lives.
Half the heartaches of the world would be banished, and half its burdens would be lifted, if every life were habitually tuned to this deep but simply expressed sentiment by Emily Dickinson:
"The Winning of the Best" by Ralph Waldo Trine
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