FRAYED NERVES
and SELF-CONTROL

“The Kingdom of God is within you.” .

This is an age of high-strung nerves. We all talk of them, and excuse ourselves for them, and claim that we should have due allowance made for them.
          We claim indulgence for them because we say (with a certain amount of justification), that with all the terrible stress and strain of the modern world, and particularly at the present time when pain and anxiety and sorrow are stalking the earth, and financial anxiety is blended with a hundred fears for friends and dear ones, who, like our¬selves are involved in the chaos and disaster that has over¬whelmed modern civilization—well, if one did not suffer to a certain extent from frayed nerves as a result of it all, one would be either more than human or less than human.

THE EXCUSE.
We excuse ourselves for these frayed nerves of ours; for we maintain that when we are in the tense, nervous condition in which we inevitably find ourselves, owing to the aforementioned strain and stress of life in the Twentieth Century, we should certainly be excused for any little lapses from the generally accepted standards of conduct and temper. After all how could we possibly be expected to behave with our usual calm, urbanity, and self-control when a hundred and one demons of worry, fear and trouble are dogging our footsteps ?
          The modern man or woman is almost invariably like that unhappy pedestrian, of whom Coleridge sings,
          who . . on a lonesome road
          Doth walk, in fear and dread
          And having once turned found, walks on.
          And turns no more his head
          Because he knows a frightful fiend
          Doth close behind him tread.
          So we excuse ourselves, and explain ourselves, and justify ourselves to others and to ourselves, with the catch cry of “modern life,” and all that it entails; and if now and then we blame ourselves for being tempera¬mental (which is a polite name for being bad tempered) or irritable (which is a more candid name for the same thing), we at the same time save the situation by alleging, or inferring, that in such an age, in such circumstances, under such fierce pressure of events, you really could hardly, in fairness, expect anything else.

OUR UNRULY MOODS.
So we study our moods with a certain proprietory interest, and a wide margin of self pity, which is really self justification. We psychoanalyse them. Psychoanalysis has a really fascinating collection of new and clever phrases, words and expressions; and we explain, with the assistance of a new dictionary of words and terms, exactly why we are as we are.
          We have a little private collection of phobias, or neuroses, or complexes, and really make out quite a clever case for ourselves on occasion. Well, it is a trying age to live in, with its roar of bombs and roll of gunfire, and rattle of traffic, and clicking of type-writers and hooting of motors, and blast of jazz music, with a terrible and cataclysmic background of slumps and booms, and panic, and wars, and terrors.
          It is true that amid it all crooners croon their agonies of soul like dogs wailing on a moonlight night, and parent medicine vendors of infallible remedies, and ama¬teur psychologists talk high sounding phrases about men¬talities, and complexes, and the depths of the sub-consious; and real psychologists pull us to pieces, and put us neatly together again; and materialists tell us all is evil and we must grin and bear it, or snarl and bear it, as the case may be; and Christian Scientists assure us there is no evil save in our own minds—though by what mischance it found it’s lodgement there, they never succeed in explaining; and Arnold Bennett tells us “how to live on twenty four hours a day,” and how to manage the human machine; and we read and even mark, and say how excellent, but we do not learn and inwardly digest.
          Then come certain theologians to tell us we are hope¬lessly wicked, and will surely be lost eternally unless we do and believe as they tell us; while meantime other theologians tell us we are really the salt of the earth and all is well.
          In fact we are recruited, and enrolled, and lectured, and enlisted, and bullied, and persuaded, and scared and soothed, and petted and kicked, and promised and disappointed, and managed, and advised, and threatened until we begin to wonder where we are, what we are doing, whither we are drifting, and what it is really all about.
          Thus, the actual pressure of terrible terrifying things is about us on every side. So perhaps it is little wonder that some of us suffer from nerves a great deal, and all of us probably to some extent.
          The question is, since we all of us have to live in this trying, wonderful, terrible, and extraordinary age, — what can we do about it ?
          If I venture to suggest a few simple things I do so with apologies for saying a great deal that is obvious, in the modest but remote hope that among them may be something that may be useful to someone.

AUTO-SUGGESTION.
Forgive me for starting with the familiar catch word autosuggestion. It is terribly overworked these days — in theory; very much under-worked in actual practice.
          We use it to explain or to condemn the weaknesses of others. We admit it’s enormous power for good or ill — in others. We advise others to practice it for their own good, and to stop auto-suggesting themselves into the blues, or the gruesome despairs which seize upon them.
          In all this sound advice to our friends and acquaintances we admit the power of it. But how many of us really make use of it on ourselves ?
          Auto-suggestion can be such a useful thing. We can use it to soothe our nerves, and quiet our souls, and when we do so we are accomplishing several useful things.
          In the first place we are learning – concentration — which most of us lack woefully.
          In the second place we are disciplining our minds—those minds which we can control if we learn to do so.
          Thirdly by concentrating on any idea, or resolution, or mental picture which is good, healthy, useful and true we are arming our reason with it’s most powerful weapon.

REASON TAKES A HAND.
Your reason tells you that a certain thing is right or wrong. You can by a little persistent concentration in the right direction, strengthen what you know to be right, and obliterate what you know to be wrong.
          But do you do it ?
          No. You are rather like the friend you meet: and you tell him you are suffering from a bad head-ache, or a severe liver attack. He says: “My dear fellow, I have the most wonderful remedy for that.” He tells you all about it and how splendid it is.
          A few days later you meet him and he tells you that he has a severe headache or a bad liver attack. You naturally ask him, “What about the wonderful remedy you were telling me about ?” And he replies that he can’t be bothered taking medicine. So we prescribe wonderful mental remedies, and spiritual tonics for our friends, and as a rule our friends say we are very clever fellows—but don’t follow the advice—and we ourselves don’t take our own prescription.

MENTAL PICTURES.
Auto-suggestion is a good thing, and if persisted in can produce veritable miracles. But remember it always works by mental pictures, and mental pictures are the blue prints, the mental blue prints in the drawing office of the soul. So the blue prints of thought are what your mind works from, and reproduces in the form of life. To use a simple illustration: if you happen to suffer from insomnia, do not put your auto-suggestion into the form of saying “I won’t lie awake—I will not be sleepless . . .”
          If you do, you are forming a mental picture of your¬self awake and sleepless.
          Do not proceed to say “I will go to sleep—I will go to sleep.”
          If you do, you will be so pre-occupied by exercising your will that sleep will effectually desert you. The true auto-suggestion for insomnia is the quietly, sleepy and persistent repetition of some such phrase as “I am going to sleep — to sleep — to sleep.”
          Thus the mental blue print—the mental picture of yourself as sleeping is graven deeper and deeper on the sub-concious mind, and the sub-concious mind will pro¬ceed to work out the details of the transaction.
          If you suffer from bad temper, don’t fight it by say¬ing “I won’t be bad tempered.” —That is only making more vivid the mental picture of yourself as bad tem¬pered. Mental pictures are plans to which the energies conform. Put it the other way — “I am becoming even tempered — no matter what happens I shall be good tempered.”
          If a particular trouble haunts you, do not say “ I am not going to be worried or troubled about that, (whatever that may be)—learn to think of the trouble in terms of ridicule, quiet amusement or indifference, until if and when the thought of it arises in your mind you greet it with a quiet smile of derision, or the cold glance of the utter indifference which you know it really deserves.
          Undesirable thoughts are like undesirable aquaintances. They cannot bear being laughed at, or treated as the silly non-entities they really are. They fade out.

CAPTAIN OF YOUR SOUL.
Always remember that you are master in your own soul, your own mind, and that to assert that mastery, for good, is the real essence of all real life and all real religion. This is a trying age, and a trying time in which to live. It is our duty to others, and to ourselves, to keep our heads, and keep calm, and not to waste energy in futile worry. High strung nerves are like high strung violin strings—they tend to break, and it is easier to replace your broken E string than to repair a nervous break-down. G is the lowest tensioned violin string but it sounds the deepest note. It hardly ever breaks.
          ‘E’ is the high emotional string and most sensible violinists slacken it when the instrument is not in use to relieve the Strain upon it.
          Learn to slacken your nerves; to say periodically in that inner room of your mind “Quiet ! Quiet ! Quiet !”
          “Be still and know that I am God” was the message the Hebrew seer and mystic brought back from the silences, as the Divine message. To be still, to have the art of bidding a mental turmoil or a nerve storm to die into peace and calm, is the first step to gaining that deeper peace in which the sense of things immortal and invisible comes like a quiet touch from the Eternities of a fevered soul.
          Christ had that supreme ability, and felt that necessity. He used to get out of the heat and dust and argument, and the cross currents of hatred and competition in the city-—out to the Mount of Olives, to quiet, amid the deep shadows of the ancient trees, in the moon-drenched silence and beauty of the night. But the power of those times of relaxation and communion with God remained with Him, in the benediction of a grand serenity of soul when He went forth into the strife and bitterness, and joys, and sorrows of the world.
          Yes ! High strung nerves can be gently slackened off. It's part of your duty to your Soul, yourself, to effect that slackening, that release of tension.

DO YOU EXAGGERATE ?
But if you have some really great trouble—what then ? It is no use pretending that it is not there, for there it is, in grim reality. What is one to do about it ?
          First and foremost, look at it quite fairly, squarely and calmly, and ask yourself how far you are perchance exaggerating it mentally.
          Do not be annoyed at the suggestion. There are many people who do exaggerate troubles, and make bad worse — sometimes by brooding upon them, re-living them, refusing to let them fade, re-visualising them perpetually.
          At the first sign that the pain is getting less they are stricken with a sense of disloyalty; they are filled with self-reproach because the bitterness is abating, the shadow showing signs of lifting. The pain is getting less, and so they set to work to tear open the wound afresh.
          Others take a morbid delight in magnifying troubles. They would be insulted probably at the suggestion, and yet it is true. In some cases there is a certain satisfaction derived from the notice, the publicity, the sympathy with which they are surrounded. They find themselves centres of attention and interest. They, who have just been ordinary folk up to now, are suddenly invested with a certain sad romantic importance. The temptation to do a certain amount of posing, and to play up to it all is irresistible.
          There is also at work the yearning for sympathy; for trouble has the effect, in many cases, of breaking through the mantle of reserve in which we generally wrap ourselves. For once we can “let go” — the repressions of emotion are released. It's a relief; so much of a relief that the person concerned is loth to abandon it, and retire into the shell of commonplace conventions of speech, and expression.
          There are certain people to whom it does us good to talk, when we have troubles and worries, and want to get them out of the mind. Psychologists call the process catharsis — purging, getting rid of the mental stoppage by talking about, and re-living the incident.
          The very fact that you are able to tell somebody else, all about some hidden tragedy, some trouble or sin is often the first step to new and happier life. So it is said of friends that they double our joy and halve our sorrows.
          On the other hand, there is moderation in all things, and if someone is encouraged or allowed to continually harp on some theme of loss of sorrow, then instead of curing the trouble they are painting it more vividly, engraving it more deeply on the mind.

SIDE-TRACKING TROUBLE.
The first thing to ask yourself quietly and candidly in the case of any trouble is, How far am I magnifying it ? Having answered that question candidly and honestly, follow it by a second — Can it be remedied ? If so — how ?
          Set about the task of finding the way out. The cure in that case is clearly work, not worry; for worry is the helpless running round and round that gets us nowhere.
          Worry is waste of time, temper, energy, vitality, opportunity. It is a crime against your own soul. If the thing that is troubling you cannot be got rid of; if it must perforce keep you company on life’s journey then you must come to terms with it somehow, minimise it’s ill effects, extract it’s sting.
          Oh, but what charmingly simple advice — and how difficult to follow ! Not by any means easy; but it can be done. How many men and women have to face years of life with some hidden tragedy or some incurable disease ? They have to face life—and they do face it with a magnificent heroism. They fight the spectres of the mind and lay them, or the agony of physical pain, and overcome it.
          One of the best examples of that spirit was the way in which Lord Avebury (better known to many under his earlier title of Sir John Lubbock—author of “The Pleasures of Life,” and wonderful writer on insect life,) faced his final illness. Smitten with an obscure and in¬curable form of anemia, he knew he could never recover, but his scientific mind at once became intensely interested in the way in which the disease worked it's fatal course. He studied himself with the same interest which he had displayed in ants and bees, and in his profession of banking. Never a word of complaint; and he writes:
          “We are supposed to have 3½ litres of blood—i.e. 3,500,000 cubic centimetres; each cubic centimetre contains 5,000,000 corpuscles.
          One ought to have 3,500,000 x 5,000,000=17,500,000,000.
          So I have eight billion, eight hundred thousand too few. No wonder I am ill !”
          He went on working for all sorts of philanthropic and political reforms to the end of his life. To alter the well known lines, he was bloodless, but unbowed, and unbroken.

THE HEROIC IN ORDINARY LIFE.
This is a time when many a poor soul is torn and stricken, and nerves are stretched till the breaking point seems as if it must be reached. Noise, horror, racket, confusion, and the shadow of death. Everyone is admiring the spirit of the people of England and other countries: the spirit that carries on despite high strung-nerves, and the terrific strain and storm of events.
          But, we might all be surprised if we knew how much of the essentially heroic is very near to us all every day of life, hidden under the quiet exterior, masked behind the smiling faces, or camoflaged by the conventional demeanour of ordinary people. What dramas of silent heroisms, what strange tangles of thoughts and emotion are going on within the very ordinary looking people whom you meet in tram or bus, in shop or street, at evening party, or in office or workshop.
          Sometimes the mask is removed for a little space and then you may possibly know something of what may lie hidden from ordinary eyes in the soul of your fellow man or woman.
          There are many heroes and heroines in the battle of Life for whom there is neither medal nor mention in despatches, and many saints who merit a place in the calendar far more than some who have been fitted out With ecclesiastical haloes. They are the people whose lives are the consecration of the world. They put up the value of our existence here. They show us something of it’s diviner possibilities.
          After all its one of our first duties in this seething suffering age in which our lives have been placed— one of our first duties as Christians, as good citizens, as members of the great human brotherhood, to keep a stout heart, and a cheerful face in life, whatever it may bring us.
          Lindsay Gordon’s words still ring true to the finest and best in human nature.
          Life is mostly froth and bubble, Two things stand like stone, Kindness in another's trouble, Courage in your own.
          Courage, kindness, charity: the kindness which soothes many a trouble; the charity which forgives many a defect in others, and, which may, we trust, in God’s mercy, cover some of the defects in ourselves; and the courage which faces life and death, time and eternity, perchance with high strung nerves, but with the faith which Christ taught us that even out of the blood and sweat and sorrow of the world something shall, under God providence, be extracted that is worth the while.
          That nothing walks with aimless feet,
          That not one life shall be destroyed
          Or cast as rubbish to the void,
          When God has made the pile complete.

MAKING AND TAKING OPPORTUNITY.
We frequently talk as if life were a fixed affair with which we are inexorably confronted, and as if we have to wait and wait until opportunity shapes itself obligingly in some favourable form. Many people seem to look on existence as a vast corridor with rooms opening out from it; we wander along, try this door and that, find most of them locked, and at last find one that opens at our touch. So we enter to find this or that adventure ready-made, waiting for us. It may be pleasant or unpleasant, desirable or the reverse. We may walk into a gathering of friends or of foes, a scene of worry, confusion, hate and bad temper, or one of joy and peace. The open door of opportunity may lead us to success or failure, safety or destruction.
          If it happens to be a nasty, undesirable situation which we discover, we escape as soon as possible—if we can—and wander disconsolately down the vast corri¬dor of destiny looking for the next door ajar and hoping it will bring us better luck. That is the sort of fatalistic view of life which a great many people hold. There is an element of truth in it; but it is not the whole truth. In fact it is one of those dangerous half-truths that cause so much trouble.
          You see, with half-truths you generally take the half that suits you best; that is which suits what you want to prove, or plead, or demonstrate. You fill it in like a blank cheque. You fill in the blank in the situation with what happens to be convenient to your mood.
          It is true of life to say that things lie to your hand ready-made; but it not the whole truth.
          It is true that we are the victims of circumstances; but it is only half the truth.
          It is true that many doors in the corridor of Life are open ready for you to step in; but it is only half the truth.
          The rest of the truth is that there are other doors which we might open with a little trouble; and that of the open doors, we can decide which we will pass by, and which we will pass through.
          There is a certain qualification; namely, that we each of us have a certain degree of choice as to what we will do, and how we will behave in any given set of circumstances when we have landed into them.
          Do not say “There was the situation. That's what I said or did. How could I help it ? I was the victim of circumstances.”

THE FATAL HALF-TRUTH.
That is arguing from a half truth. It is perfectly true that the situation was so and so. The other half of the matter—whether you acted rightly or wrongly, wisely or foolishly, and whether you could have done nothing else—these are debatable points.
          It was in regard to those very points that the real you, the free you, with the free choice as to how you would face up to the situation, how you would act, how you would tackle it—it was there that your liberty of action or speech came in.
          We all of us have too great a tendency to utter this miserable, victim-of-circumstances whine, this easy excuse that fate did this or that to us, or that God is so unjust and unkind that He thrusts us into this dreadful position. A good many people, who consider them¬selves devout, credit God with doing things which they would bitterly resent as insulting if ascribed to themselves.
          A man joins the R.A.F. That is his own free choice. Having made it he places himself under the yoke of duty and discipline. To that extent his free will has gone. He is ordered on some desperate venture from which he knows he may never come back —Fate if you like. But how he faces up to the dangers and difficult¬ies of the duties imposed, as they arise, he himself decides.
          So it is with you and me. We all of us find ourselves in certain circumstances at the moment. Part of the circumstances are of our own making, the result of our own free choice in the days gone by. If we had been less impulsive, or less cowardly at some crucial moment, if we had been more reasonable, and exercised more foresight, if we had not done this or that we should not be as we are Well, anyhow, here we are, with our own particular little batch of problems, or worries, or difficulties, and a variety of possibilities open to us.
          It is for us now to decide how we are going to face up to what is.

OPEN DOORS.
Opportunity has always plenty of open doors and very often the ready-open door is a booby trap. It's the line of least resistance, so we take it, and frequently the line of least resistance is the line of greatest trouble in the long run.
          The doors of opportunity don’t all open the same way; some of them can be opened with a little skill and perse¬verance, and many of them open the reverse way to what you expect. They open towards you not away from you. You get in a temper and hammer and kick and scream at the door, pushing against it frantically, and the more you push and kick and bawl the tighter you shut it against yourself. If you just drew it quietly towards yourself it would open easily. Your fault for not understanding the door; not the door's fault.
          Life is a series of opportunites. We either take them or don't do so. They wait, passive, by the wayside to see what we are going to do about it.
          Let me tell you a story from real life—the real life of a working man who has worked hard for nearly half a century and is in the evening of his days. He had a bill for rates to meet each year. He also had a daughter whom he trusted. To her each week he gave a few shillings to put into a savings account. The girl spent the money and each week told him it had been duly lodged. The end of the year came; the rates fell due; the girl was told by her father to draw the money: it was not there and she dared not tell him. The girl was terrified- It was very hard indeed to get her to go and tell him what had occurred.
          It fell to my lot to break the news to him. I told him what had happened, and suggested that it was no use being violent about the unfortunate affair and that the girl was really terribly sorry and a good deal frightened. His face grew very haggard and he said very little except to say that it was terribly hard, and he had always done his best by her and the rest of the family. But I could sense volcanic forces working in his mind.
          Eventually I got the two of them together. The girl was cowering, sobbing in a chair. He entered the room and stood framed for a few seconds in the doorway like some accusing figure of Fate, tall, thin, his face working a little with suppressed feelings.
          I wondered what was coming; what torrent of reproach and abuse would issue in a moment from those tight pressed lips. I need not have worried. He crystalised the whole situation into one dramatic sentence:
          “You done it to yourself, girl, not to me.”
          Not for nothing had I thought of him as a figure of fate. In that one phrase he had summed up the self-made doom which all wrong-doing, selfishness and sin invokes. We do it ultimately, not against those whom we injure, but against ourselves.
          It was all enacted in a small back kitchen of a very humble home, and the chief character was a working man with little education, but it moved with the dignity and the calm inevitableness of a Greek tragedy. It epitomised the essence of wisdom. I contrasted it with scenes I had witnessed based on similar circumstances in far higher social circles, some of which had been neither wise nor dignified. Incidentally it had the desired effect on the girl’s life.

WHY DOES GOD NOT INTERFERE ?
We often ask why doesn’t God intervene in human affairs, to make people good, to prevent wrongs and crimes and wars and tragedies. The fact that God does not so intervene causes some people to even doubt His existence.
          Doubtless, since God is omnipotent He could do so. We can only conclude that He refrains from such inter¬vention because he desires character; character is only possible with freedom of choice to do good or evil.
          The further question arises of the way the innocent are involved by the conduct of the wrong doer. That is one of the most tragic things in the world. And yet ask yourself the question,—How could you have any sense of responsibility, or any actual responsibility, if the involving of other people in what you do were ruled out ?
          The opportunist doesn't think particularly of others. He is guided by no fixed principles save the dominant notion of doing what he happens to want to do. But if we are to take a fair and just view of opportunity we must think of others. It's part of our human responsibility—it’s the whole of it. Our crimes, greed, selfishness involve, and must involve others; our neigh¬bour as well as ourselves, our children and our children's children. Tennyson was right when he told us: Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control, These three alone lead life to sovereign power, And those three supremely great qualities in human character depend on the freedom, and the responsi¬bility entrusted to us by God. They would be cancelled if God were continually intervening in the world’s affairs.
          We can only conclude that He regards the evolution of character, and the growth of personality towards self-realisation as the things of paramount importance in human life, and so He grants to us all “the liberty of the sons of God” that we may learn to use it wisely and well.
          Life is a mystery, and we ourselves are mysteries to ourselves. But rightly understood, man is a creature whose main occupation in life is the solving of mysteries, answering questions, finding or attempting to find solutions to riddles. As families we often take great pride and interest in coats of arms and heraldic devices.
          But the appropriate crest for the great family of man would be a query-mark rampant. It is the symbol of all progress, discovery, achievement and advance.

THE GREAT WIRELESS STATION.
Your mind is the wireless set which God has given you to tune-in to the universe, and ultimately with Him¬self, the Heart and Soul of the Universe. You yourself are not that mind. You are greater than it. You, if you choose, are the arbiter. You decide what it shall tune in to. You “twist the knob” and get things out of the programme of existence that are worth while; or you tune in, if it so pleaseth you, to some lying propaganda station that warps truth and facts with subtle skill for certain ends.
          You know that lying propaganda quite well. It deals in facts; but by the time it has done with the facts they would hardly know themselves. But we always have the power, if we choose, to tune in to the things that are eternally and divinely worth the while.
          So in our life, Mind confronts Mystery—the mysteries of Life, Death, Time and Eternity: the mysteries of Pain, Sorrow, Loss, War, Cruelty; the mysteries of God and Nature; the ultimate mystery of ourselves. We have only a limited scale of abilities and gifts and senses to deal with it all. We can, therefore, never hope to reach solutions which are wholly satisfactory, for this life is only part of a great process—only one department of the great factory of character, self, will, soul.
          Yet with the gamut of our present endowments, the limited scales and keyboards of our present life, how much that is really worth the while may be created; how wonderful the harmonies of great and good life: and on the other hand it is, unfortunately, equally true to say how terrible may be the discords caused by the selfish, the spiteful, the thoughtless and the evil.
          The stress and strain of life are great. The need for sane and balanced thought, and for mind and nerves under control is all the greater. The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth comes not by observation—not by decree or acts of Parliament, not by the compulsion of the tyrant, nor the ravings of the dogmatist. It must rise in millions of human hearts: it is within you. It cannot be imposed from the outside, it must be born within the heart of man, and when goodwill, kindness, brotherhood and generosity are there they will express themselves—find their outlet in character, in politics and religion, in our civilization and in our daily life.
          To work for that, to try to live for that is the essence of Christianity as Christ taught and lived it.


The Rev.E.Savill Hicks M.A.(Oxon.)
Minister Dublin Unitarian Church 1910-1962


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