It was on the moral side and in my own person, that I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man. . . .
With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence,
I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth . . . that
* Robert Louis Stevenson
"We have done those things which we ought not to have done, and we have left undone those things which we ought to have done." — A Sunday-by-Sunday confession with vast numbers of people. It ought to do some good, one would think. If it doesn't, why doesn't it?
Partly because we do not say to ourselves and make quite clear to ourselves just what things we have done that we should not, and just what things we have left undone that we should have done.
And partly because we go on to make the fatal and self-libelous remark: "And there is no health in us." You cannot repeat a statement like that without its sinking into character and paralyzing the will. Moreover if there is no health in us, it would logically follow that we are not responsible for anything we do and that no blame attaches to our conduct.
There certainly is no health in us unless we bring ourselves to the bar every day and call up into the full light what we have done that we ought not to have done, and what we have neglected that we ought to have done. For in the quiet steady contemplation of these things done and omitted, the will begins to stir and come forth. It gathers strength day by day, gets in among our failings, begins to wrestle with them and finally, perhaps to our astonishment, breaks their backs. Contemplation of other peoples' faults is usually a mischievous and fruitless waste of time; but honest contemplation and self-acknowledgment of our own begins to wilt them at once. But they are difficult to see because we are so familiar with their appearance. We do things quite calmly and accustomedly which, if we saw them done by someone else, would fill us with contempt or horror. "That's an awful old hat you wear on the streets," someone says to us one day. And we take it off and look at it in a new way. "Why, so it is," we say, "I'd never thought of it before."
We go on wearing it, but we look at it every day in the new way. And at last we can't stand it any more and throw it away. Then we find, on going to the hatter's, that all the while we were looking so disapprovingly at the old hat a picture of the sort of hat we ought to have was unconsciously growing up in our minds. We recognize the like of it in the window of the hatter's and immediately go in and put it on and wear it in peace thereafter.
The great thing is to contemplate our hat daily as if it were someone else that was contemplating it. As if it were someone else; for we know, all of us, that we wear hats in the back streets and alleys of our lives that we would not like seen on any account and which we wish others never to guess that we possess at all.
Now the Psalmist libelously asserts that man's real nature, man's heart is "desperately wicked." We refuse this doctrine and say on the contrary that man's real nature must be divine and spiritual, a form of consciousness so glorious that those few who have found it, have almost lost grip of language in their attempt to describe it. This higher nature is the real one because it is eternal. The other, the lower, that which comes out at times in unashamed nakedness, is not eternal, for its essence is of the body.
We live then between two natures, and can choose with which we will gradually, more and more, ally ourselves. But we do not know really much of either. We know little in ourselves of the extremes of degradation and wickedness of which the lower nature, encouraged or left unrestrained, is capable; though the crime columns of the newspaper and the Hyde of Stevenson's story, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, will help us to study what lies latent at the lower pole of our being.
And of the higher, with its vast possibilities of power and joy and knowledge, we know as little. We may perhaps speak of conscience as the higher nature, and so it is. But that is the mere entering wedge-point, with infinitely more to follow if we would let it. We stand on the rungs of a ladder of which one end is up among the highest heights of eternal light, and the other down in the abysses of matter. The heights are; the depths are. Of which of them shall we finally say, as evolution draws to its climax, I am this?
Paul spoke of man as compound of body, soul and spirit. We may say, Divine nature, animal-material nature, and between the two, the mind-self nature, what we mean when we say 7. It is this middle one that passes up and down the ladder, now nearing the Divine and getting inspiration of all sorts from it, now coming down into the power of the animal. When it comes down altogether, once and for all, breaking connection with the Divine, then you get something so depraved and degenerate or so coldly criminal in its self-seeking that it has no further real right to the title of man. But when it goes steadily upwards by conquering the animal, achieving at last the final victory, you have one of the great figures that shine as lights over human history, the great teachers and world-reformers.
So we must make man at least threefold in his completeness, recognizing ourselves, as we know ourselves, to be the middle of the three.
The mind in most of us is mostly prisoner. Not so much prisoner in the body, for that is its present proper place; but prisoner of the body. The joy of full mental freedom is a state we have never begun to reach. The mind is manifestly not free when something from the lower nature can summon or occupy it at any moment. Perhaps the nearest state to freedom that we can readily imagine is that of the mind of the musician or poet when the intense light and power of their inspiration is upon them and they forget all else than the message they are preparing. But it is short-lived, and when you meet them on the street or at dinner, you are not likely to notice anything remarkable, indeed, they may be decidedly small and commonplace and now and then even contemptible personalities. Human nature is very complex and subtle, and there is always the duality to be reckoned with. The lower can often even use the upper for its own ends.
So now we have translated Paul's "body, soul, and spirit," into body, mind or personal thinking self, and the light. And of course, by body Paul did not mean so much weight of flesh and bone, but the effect of the body on the mind, the demand of the body for the gratification of its impulses. These demands are primarily very simple. They are demands for all kinds of bodily sensation, and you see them in their simplest form in the animal. Nor are they, in their essentials, evil. In the animal they arise, are satisfied, and pass out of sight till the natural time for their recurrence.
But in man there is memory, imagination, and thought such as no animal has. The mind keeps the memory of past body-pleasures, sensations, and so develops sensation into sensualism; it throws the memory forward into anticipation of more; it develops everything to an unnatural degree of vividness, and may end in entire slavery to the appetites it has thus encouraged.
Selfishness has here its sole root. For the demand of the bodily appetites is for themselves to be gratified. And when the mind identifies itself with all these, it takes on the keynote of their selfishness, their pure and unmixed self-seeking. To the extent that the mind is dominated by these things, to that extent is it incapable of higher work. No one ever attains the glory of his full possibilities while the mind is anywhere dominated from below or while any selfishness remains. For again, selfishness is domination from below. It is man's enemy, the enemy of his possibilities.
We are not all going to be musicians or poets. "There be gifts many." But we are all going to be crowned sometime, in this or some future incarnation, with the light that belongs to us, as, for a few moments now and then, the musician and the poet are crowned with the light that belongs to them. Each of us has a gift waiting latent in him, a message special to him, for humanity. And humanity, human life, will never attain its splendor till all have reached and are giving their gifts, their messages.
A man can gradually displace thoughts that connect him with his lower nature, by thoughts that connect him with his higher, thus mounting the ladder. As he does this, day by day, the light comes in, little by little, and at last floods him all through. The keynote of his mind is raised, till at last it reaches that of his higher nature and there is unison. He feels in himself the pulse of the heart of the universe. As Paul wrote to his pupils, "I travail, I have no rest, till the Christos be born in you." The Christos, for each of us, is himself united with his light.
Of course there are all degrees of this inner, richer life, ranging from that touch of it which we all have, whenever we have done a kindly and unselfish act, to its utmost realization. We all know of the touch of the fuller life that we can thus get, the sense of some inner approval or benediction. Some have gone so far on this path that in their eyes you can see that glow and depth which tells you that the new flower is opening.
But as we mostly do not know what is the significance of this feeling, we do not follow it up to the great victory, the great transformation. We are content to oscillate from one part of our nature to another and perhaps tolerate some gross failing which makes progress impossible. There lies the secret of the strange duality of human conduct.
Action is begotten of thinking. What a man thinks, so finally he does and becomes. While there is a fine thought, there cannot be a bad one; while the heart glows there cannot be an evil deed. Mind and heart work each upon the other and we can begin with either. If we constantly try to keep the mind full of better thoughts and noble intentions, the lower impulses begin to find the door of the mind closed to them, and if they get in there is less room and gradually less and less welcome.
The key to this transformation of character lies in thought, in constructing an ideal of oneself. Indeed if from time to time, at quiet moments in the day or at night, one withdraws as it were from one's acting self and contemplates what it has recently done, calmly, critically, in the light of what one would like to have done, in the light of our ideal of noble manhood; if one searches one's thought and conduct — then in this retrospect the will awakens and begins then and there to effect the transformation. That it has done so we know later from our increased and increasing power to surmount those failings upon which we turned our searchlight. By so much as we are weakening the self of matter, we are strengthening the Christos self. The very life of man's lower nature, the impulse nature, the sensual nature, depends on his accepting it as himself and going with it. But when he stands back from it and contemplates it, by that act he is becoming another self, higher, the self of his ideals.
How different is this creative sort of self-examination from that which is usually called 'examination of conscience,' the reckoning over of one's sins — which some, in special religious systems of training, are taught to do even every hour. "What sins have I committed?" Thus looked at with a microscope, the sins that 'I' commit show up as very numerous and heinous. 'I' am a creature sinful to the core and irredeemable by any effort I unaided can make. This self-humiliation may perhaps result in the disappearance of fleshly and passional failings, but all the time one has been creating in his imagination a picture of himself as a creature who can know nothing and, of himself, achieve nothing. He has negated the dignity and power of his real self.
But if, in examining his own deeds and thoughts one does not say, "I did this or that that I know was wrong and unworthy," but rather, "I permitted this or that, I let myself be overborne by impulse from below" — then he is already finding and asserting himself as a self that need not be overborne, that need not yield, that can take up its own power and remodel its own life and conduct and thought. The human thinking self is a ray of the Great Light, the Great Self that sustains and fills the world, the one divine energy. That is our common higher nature. We grow by assimilation of more and more of that into our thinking nature, which thus slowly becomes the Christos self and is no more under the domination of the forces below. We raise the mind little by little by finding and creating thoughts that glow and radiate, the "pure, strong, unselfish thought that raises the whole being to the heights of light," as Katherine Tingley put it, transforming the mind little by little, day by day, till at last it reaches reunion with the Great Light.
Back Issues Menu