Produced by Kevin Handy, Dave Maddock, and the Project
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Produced by Kevin Handy, Dave Maddock, and the Project
The Conquest Of Fear
With A New Introduction By
Henry C. Link
- Fear And The Life-Principle
- The Life-Principle And God
- God And His Self-Expression
- God’S Self-Expression And The Mind Of To-Day
- The Mind Of To-Day And The World As It Is
- The World As It Is And The False God Of Fear
- The False God Of Fear And The Fear Of Death
- The Fear Of Death And Abundance Of Life
by Henry C. Link, Ph.D.
Author of The Rediscovery Of Man, The Return To Religion, etc.
There are many books which give some help to many people. There are books which give a set of rules, or even one master rule, by which to meet the problems of life. This is not such a book. It suggests no simple recipe for the conquest of fear. Instead, it presents, what all too few of us to-day possess, a philosophy of life.
Moreover, in contrast to the dominant thinking of our age, which is materialistic, King’s philosophy is spiritual and religious. Indeed, the ideas in this book are so profoundly different from the commonly accepted ideas of our times that they will come as a shock to many readers. One purpose of this introduction is to prepare the reader for such a shock.
I have said that the dominant thinking of our age is materialistic, and by that I mean also physical. Let me illustrate this broad statement with reference to the subject of fears alone. The conquest of fear has gone on year after year chiefly through physical means. Physical pain has always been one of the great sources of fear. Now ether and other anaesthetics have eliminated the chief pains of major operations. Older people can still remember their fear of the dentist, when killing a nerve or pulling a tooth caused excruciating pain. Now local anaesthetics even in minor troubles have made dentistry almost painless. We have not conquered these fears of pain—rather their cause has been removed.
Twilight sleep, the artificial sleep to alleviate the pains of childbirth, is the perfect expression of the scientific and materialistic elimination of fear. By a chemical blackout of the mind, a dimming of the conscious self, the person is enabled to escape the necessity of facing and conquering fear through his own resources.
I am not condemning the physical alleviation of pain or the progress of physical science. I am only describing a trend, and that is the growing emphasis on the elimination of fears by science rather than on their conquest by the individual.
Illness has always been a great source of fear, and still is. The dread of cancer is one of the terrifying fears of our time and fortunes are spent in cancer research and education. The Conquest of Fear was written as a result of the author’s threatened total blindness. He faced a fact for which there seemed no physical remedy—hence his great need for a spiritual conquest of this great fear.
And yet, year by year, physical science has been eliminating or reducing the dangers of sickness. Vaccines for the prevention of the dread disease, small-pox, are now a matter of course. Vaccines and specifics against the deadly tetanus, against typhoid fever, diphtheria, syphilis, and other fearful diseases have become commonplace. The fear of pneumonia has been almost eliminated through the discoveries of the miraculous sulpha drugs. Science has done wonders toward the elimination of such fears. A man need hardly conquer the fear of any particular sickness—there is left for his conquest chiefly the fear of dying.
In addition to physical disease, our civilization has now developed mental ailments of all kinds. These include a large category of fears called phobias—claustrophobia, agoraphobia, photophobia, altaphobia, phonophobia, etc.
Three fields or professions, other than religion and philosophy, have sought to deal with these fears, the psychiatric, the psychoanalytic, and the psychological. The medical psychiatric profession has naturally emphasized physical remedies beginning with sedatives and bromides to induce artificial relaxation and ending up with lobectomy or the complete cutting off of the frontal lobes of the brain, the centers of man’s highest thought processes. Between these two extremes are the shock treatments in which an injection of insulin or metrazol into the blood stream causes the person to fall into a sort of epileptic fit during which he loses consciousness. Through a series of such shock treatments some of the higher nerve centers or nerve pathways are destroyed. By this process a person’s fears may also be eliminated and he may be permanently or temporarily cured. In short, the person does not conquer the fears in his mind; the psychiatrist or neurologist, by physically destroying a part of the person’s brain, destroys also the fears.
How strongly this physical approach has taken hold of people was made plain to me through an article of mine on how to conquer fears. The emphasis in this article was on how people could overcome their fears and worries through their own efforts. To illustrate the opposite extreme, I mentioned the brain operations and shock treatments by which psychiatry now often deals with fears. Among the many people who wrote to me as a result of this article, the majority inquired where they could obtain such an operation! To such extremes have many people gone in their desire to eliminate fear by physical means rather than conquer it through their own spiritual powers.
The psychoanalyst deals with a person’s phobias through what seems like an intellectual or rational process. According to psychoanalysis, phobias or fears are due to some buried or subconscious complex. By daily or frequent talks with a psychoanalyst for a period of six months or a year, a person’s subconscious disturbance may be brought to light, and if so, the fear is supposed automatically to disappear. Even if true, this process is a highly materialistic one, at least in the sense that only people who can spend thousands of dollars can afford such treatments.
The psychologist, as well as some psychiatrists who have studied normal psychology, regard many fears as normal experiences which the individual can cope with largely through his own resources and with very little help in the way of visits or treatment. The trouble arises in the case of those people who have no personal resources to draw on. Their lives are so lacking in spiritual power, or so full of intellectual scepticism and distrust, that they cannot help themselves. They have no religious convictions or certainties by which to obtain leverage in their struggles. They have no firm philosophy of life on which they or those who would help them can lay hold. They are putty in the hands of the fears and forces that beset them from without.
The psychologist and the psychiatrist both find it difficult to do much to help such a person. And yet, this is the kind of person our civilization and education tends increasingly to produce. By the physical elimination of the causes of fear we have gradually undermined man’s inner resources for the conquest of fear.
This materialistic trend has received a new impetus from the fields of political science, economics, and sociology. A dozen years ago economic disaster threatened to stampede the nation. Millions who had lost their jobs began to fear penury and want. Millions who still had jobs feared that they would lose them. Other millions began to fear the loss of their money and possessions. Rich and poor, becoming afraid that the country was going to pieces, rushed to the banks to withdraw their savings and brought on the nation-wide bank closings. Those were days when everyone knew paralyzing fears.
History will record the fact that these fears were met, not by conquest, not by drawing on the moral resources and inner fortitude of the American citizen, but by a collection of wholesale materialistic schemes. These schemes included such devices as inflating the dollar, raising prices, expanding the government debt, paying farmers not to produce crops, government housing projects, and many others. The fears of unemployment and poverty in old age were to be eliminated wholesale through a planned economy, a new social order. By an elaborate system of book-keeping called Social Security, a whole nation was to win freedom from want and freedom from fear.
But while we were building our smug little house of Social Security, the whole world was crashing around us. Instead of achieving local security we find ourselves now in the midst of world-wide insecurity. Far from having eliminated the economic causes of fear, we now find these causes multiplied many times. To the fear of losing our money is now added the fear of losing our sons. To the fear of losing our jobs is added the fear of losing our lives. To the fear of depression and inflation is added the fear of losing the very freedoms for which the war is being fought.
At last we see, or are on the point of seeing, that materialism breeds worse fears than it cures; that economics and sociology create more social problems than they solve; that science makes it possible to destroy wealth and lives much faster than it can build them. It took years of science to achieve the airplane and to eliminate people’s fear of flying. Now, suddenly, the airplane has become the greatest source of destruction and of fear on the globe. Cities which were decades in the building are blasted out of being in a night. Millions of people must regulate their lives in fear of these dread visitors.
This is the background against which the conquest of fear presents its philosophy of courage and of hope. It is a philosophy diametrically opposed to the dominant beliefs and practices of our materialistic age. One hesitates to use the words spiritual and moral because they have become catch words. Nevertheless, King’s philosophy is a spiritual and a moral one, and the reader will gain from it a clearer concept of what these words really mean.
When I remember my reactions to the first portion of this book, I can readily picture the impatience and even scorn of many intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals. Because of its emphasis on the religious nature of the universe and on the spiritual power of the individual, it may seem to them naïve. Because of its consistent condemnation of Mammon, of materialism and the economic-sociological interpretation of life, it may seem to them old-fashioned. Actually, the book is highly sophisticated and is more novel to-day than the day it was written because since that time we have strayed twenty years further from the truth.
One day I was having luncheon with a man who, during the course of the conversation, remarked: “I want to tell you how much I enjoyed your latest book,—” As almost any writer would, I pricked up my ears expectantly.
“Yes,” he went on, “I got a great deal out of your recent book, but the book which helped me more than any I have ever read is a book called The Conquest of Fear, by Basil King. Do you happen to know it?”
“Know it!” I exclaimed. “I not only know it, I am just on the point of writing an introduction to a new edition of the book. Would you mind telling me how it helped you?”
He thereupon related how, at a certain period of his life, he had left an excellent position to take a new one which seemed more promising. It soon developed that the difficulties of this position were such as to make his success seem almost hopeless. He became obsessed with the idea that the people with whom he had to deal were “out to get him.” His fears of the job and of his associates grew to the point where a nervous breakdown seemed inevitable.
One day his daughter told him that she needed a book in her school work which he remembered having packed in a box that had been stored in the attic and not yet opened. When he opened the box, the first book which he picked up was The Conquest of Fear. It was evidently one of those books which had somehow come into the possession of his family, but which he had never read.
This time, however, he sat down in the attic and began to read it. During the course of the next year or so he read it carefully not once but four or five times. “It marked the turning point in my life,” he told me. “It enabled me to conquer the fears which were threatening to ruin me at the time, and it gave me a philosophy which has stood me in good stead ever since.”
A philosophy which marked the turning point in his life and which has stood him in good stead ever since! The Conquest of Fear offers such a philosophy not only to individuals suffering from fears peculiar to them, but to a world of individuals suffering, or about to suffer, from the collapse of world-wide materialism. In this day of chaos and uncertainty, here is the modern version of the parable of the man who built his house upon a rock instead of on the sand: “and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not for it was founded upon a rock.”
H. C. L.
Fear And The Life-Principle
When I say that during most of my conscious life I have been a prey to fears I take it for granted that I am expressing the case of the majority of people. I cannot remember the time when a dread of one kind or another was not in the air. In childhood it was the fear of going to bed, of that mysterious time when regular life was still going on downstairs, while I was buried alive under sheets and blankets. Later it was the fear of school, the first contact of the tender little soul with life’s crudeness. Later still there was the experience which all of us know of waking in the morning with a feeling of dismay at what we have to do on getting up; the obvious duties in which perhaps we have grown stale; the things we have neglected; those in which we have made mistakes; those as to which we have wilfully done wrong; those which weary or bore or annoy or discourage us. Sometimes there are more serious things still: bereavements, or frightfully adverse conditions, or hardships we never expected brought on us by someone else.
It is unnecessary to catalogue these situations, since we all at times in our lives have to face them daily. Fear dogs one of us in one way and another in another, but everyone in some way.
Look at the people you run up against in the course of a few hours. Everyone is living or working in fear. The mother is afraid for her children. The father is afraid for his business. The clerk is afraid for his job. The worker is afraid of his boss or his competitor. There is hardly a man who is not afraid that some other man will do him a bad turn. There is hardly a woman who is not afraid that things she craves may be denied her, or that what she loves may be snatched away. There is not a home or an office or a factory or a school or a church in which some hang-dog apprehension is not eating at the hearts of the men, women, and children who go in and out. I am ready to guess that all the miseries wrought by sin and sickness put together would not equal those we bring on ourselves by the means which perhaps we do least to counteract. We are not sick all the time; we are not sinning all the time; but all the time all of us—or practically all of us—are afraid of someone or something. If, therefore, one has the feeblest contribution to make to the defeat of such a foe it becomes difficult to withhold it.
But even with a view to conquering fear I should not presume to offer to others ideas worked out purely for myself had I not been so invited. I do not affirm that I have conquered fear, but only that in self-defence I have been obliged to do something in that direction. I take it for granted that what goes in that direction will go all the way if pursued with perseverance and good will. Having thus made some simple experiments—chiefly mental—with what to me are effective results, I can hardly refuse to tell what they have been when others are so good as to ask me.
And in making this attempt I must write from my own experience. No other method would be worth while. The mere exposition of a thesis would have little or no value. It is a case in which nothing can be helpful to others which has not been demonstrated for oneself, even though the demonstration be but partial.
In writing from my own experience I must ask the reader’s pardon if I seem egoistic or autobiographical. Without taking oneself too smugly or too seriously one finds it the only way of reproducing the thing that has happened in one’s own life and which one actually knows.
And when I speak above of ideas worked out purely for myself I do not, of course, mean that these ideas are original with me. All I have done has been to put ideas through the mill of my own mind, co-ordinating them to suit my own needs. The ideas themselves come from many sources. Some of these sources are, so deep in the past that I could no longer trace them; some are so recent that I know the day and hour when they revealed themselves, like brooks in the way. It would be possible to say to the reader, “I owe this to such and such a teaching, and that to such and such a man,” only that references of the kind would be tedious. I fall back on what Emerson says: “Thought is the property of him who can entertain it; and of him who can adequately place it. A certain awkwardness marks the use of borrowed thoughts; but, as soon as we have learned what to do with them, they become our own. Thus all originality is relative.” The thoughts that I shall express are my own to the extent that I have lived them—or tried to live them—though the wind that bloweth where it listeth may have brought them to my mind.
Nor do I think for a moment that what I have found helpful to me must of necessity be helpful to everyone. It may be helpful to someone. That is the limit of my hope. It is simple fact that no one can greatly help anyone else. The utmost we can do is to throw out an idea here and there which another may seize, and by which he may help himself. Borrowed help has the awkwardness which Emerson attributes to borrowed thoughts. It is only when a concept has lain for a time in a man’s being, germinated there, and sprung into active life, that it is of much use to him; but by that time it has become his own. The kingdom of heaven must begin within oneself or we shall probably not find it anywhere.
These pages will contain, then, no recipe for the conquest of fear; they will offer, with much misgiving and diffidence, no more than the record of what one individual has done toward conquering it. This record is presented merely for what it is worth. It may be worth nothing. On the other hand, someone may find it worth something, and in that case all that the writer hopes for will be attained.
As a matter of fact, in my own case the reaction against fear was from the beginning more or less instinctive. With the first exercise of the reasoning faculty I tried to argue against the emotion. I remember that as a little boy I was afraid of a certain dog that barked at me when I went to a certain house to which I was sent perhaps two or three times a week. The house had a driveway, and from the minute of passing the entrance my knees trembled under me. But even then, I recall, it seemed to me that this terror was an incongruous thing in life, that it had no rightful place there, and that, if the world was what my elders told me it was, there must be in it a law of peace and harmony which as yet I hadn’t arrived at. I cannot say that when the dog barked this reasoning did more than nerve me to drag my quaking limbs up to the doorstep, whence my enemy, a Skye terrier, invariably took flight.
During a somewhat stormy childhood and boyhood, in which there was a good deal of emotional stress, I never got beyond this point. Specific troubles were not few, and by the time I reached early manhood a habit of looking for them had been established. “What’s it going to be now?” became a formula of anticipation before every new event. New events presented themselves most frequently as menaces. Hopes rarely loomed up without accompanying probabilities of disappointment. One adopted the plan of “expecting disappointment” as a means of cheating the “jinx.” I am not painting my early life as any darker than most lives. It was, I fancy, as bright as the average life of youth.
But, contrary to what is generally held, I venture to think that youth is not a specially happy period. Because young people rarely voice their troubles we are likely to think them serene and unafraid. That has not been my experience either with them or of them. While it is true that cares of a certain type increase with age the knowledge of how to deal with them increases, or ought to increase, in the same progression. With no practical experience to support them the young are up against the unknown and problematical—occupation, marriage, sexual urge, life in general—around which clings that terror of the dark which frightened them in childhood. Home training, school training, college training, religious training, social influences of every kind, throw the emphasis on dangers rather than on securities, so that the young life emerges into a haunted world. Some are reckless of these dangers, some grow hardened to them, some enjoy the tussle with them, some turn their minds away from them, while others, chiefly the imaginative or the intellectual, shrink from them with the discomfort which, as years go on, becomes worry, anxiety, foreboding, or any other of the many forms of care.
My own life followed what I assume to be the usual course, though in saying this I am anxious not to give an exaggerated impression. It was the usual course, not an unusual one. “There’s always something” came to be a common mental phrase, and the something was, as a rule, not cheering. Neither, as a rule, was it terrible. It was just something—a sense of the carking hanging over life, and now and then turning to a real mischance or a heartache.
It strikes me as strange, on looking back, that so little attempt was made to combat fear by religion. In fact, as far as I know, little attempt was made to combat fear in any way. One’s attention was not called to it otherwise than as a wholly inevitable state. You were born subject to fear as you were born subject to death, and that was an end of it.
Brought up in an atmosphere in which religion was our main preoccupation, I cannot recall ever hearing it appealed to as a counteragent to this most persistent enemy of man. In dealing with your daily dreads you simply counted God out. Either He had nothing to do with them or He brought them upon you. In any case His intervention on your behalf was not supposed to be in this world, and to look for rewards from Him here and now was considered a form of impiety. You were to be willing to serve God for naught; after which unexpected favours might be accorded you, but you were to hope for nothing as a right. I do not say that this is what I was taught; it was what I understood; but to the best of my memory it was the general understanding round about me. In my fight against fear, in as far as I made one, God was for many years of no help to me, or of no help of which I was aware. I shall return to the point later in telling how I came to “discover God” for myself, but not quite the same God, or not quite the same concept of God, which my youthful mind had supposed to be the only one.
At the same time it was to a small detail in my religious training—or to be more exact in the explanation of the Bible given me as a boy—that I harked back when it became plain to me that either I must conquer fear or fear must conquer me. Having fallen into my mind like a seed, it lay for well on to thirty years with no sign of germination, till that “need,” of which I shall have more to say presently, called it into life.
Let me state in a few words how the need made itself pressing.
It was, as life goes, a tolerably dark hour. I was on the borderland between young manhood and early middle age. For some years I had been losing my sight, on top of which came one of those troubles with the thyroid gland which medical science still finds obscure. For reasons which I need not go into I was spending an autumn at Versailles in France, unoccupied and alone.
If you know Versailles you know that it combines all that civilisation has to offer of beauty, magnificence, and mournfulness. A day’s visit from Paris will give you an inkling of this, but only an inkling. To get it all you must live there, to be interpenetrated by its glory of decay. It is always the autumn of the spirit at Versailles, even in summer, even in spring; but in the autumn of the year the autumnal emotion of the soul is poignant beyond expression. Sad gardens stretch into sad parks; sad parks into storied and haunting forests. Long avenues lead to forgotten châteaux mellowing into ruin. Ghostly white statues astonish you far in the depths of woods where the wild things are now the most frequent visitors. A Temple of Love—pillared, Corinthian, lovely—lost in a glade to which lovers have probably not come in a hundred years—will remind you that there were once happy people where now the friendliest sound is that of the wood-chopper’s axe or the horn of some far-away hunt. All the old tales of passion, ambition, feud, hatred, violence, lust, and intrigue are softened here to an aching sense of pity. At night you will hear the castle clock, which is said never once to have failed to strike the hour since Louis the Fourteenth put it in its place, tolling away your life as it has tolled away epochs.
Amid these surroundings a man ill, lonely, threatened with blindness, can easily feel what I may call the spiritual challenge of the ages. He must either be strong and rule; or he must be weak and go down. He must get the dominion over circumstance, or circumstance must get the dominion over him. To be merely knocked about by fate and submit to it, even in the case of seemingly inevitable physical infirmity, began to strike me as unworthy of a man.
It is one thing, however, to feel the impulse to get up and do something, and another to see what you can get up and do. For a time the spectre of fear had me in its power. The physical facts couldn’t be denied, and beyond the physical facts I could discern nothing. It was conceivable that one might react against a mental condition; but to react against a mysterious malady coupled with possibly approaching blindness was hardly to be thought of. When one added one’s incapacity to work and earn a living, with all that that implies, it seemed as if it would take the faith that moves mountains to throw off the weight oppressing me. It is true that to move mountains you only need faith as a grain of mustard seed, but as far as one can judge not many of us have that much.
It was then that my mind went back all of a sudden to the kernel planted so many years before, in my island home, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. If I become prolix over this it is only that I want to show how often it happens to parents, teachers, and others who deal with children, to throw out a thought which after lying dormant for years will become a factor in the life. Had it not been for the few words spoken then I should not, as far as I can see, now have such mastery over self as I have since attained—not very much—but I should not be writing these lines.
My boyhood was placed in the times when Darwin’s “Origin of Species” and “Descent of Man” had thrown the scientific and religious worlds into convulsion. The struggle between the old ideas and the new calls for no more than a reference here; but the teacher to whom I owe most was one who, while valuing the old, saw only an enrichment in the new, explaining the Bible in that spirit. So it happened that he spoke one day of the extraordinary ingenuity of the life-principle, which somehow came to the earth, in adapting itself to perpetually new conditions.
Nothing defeated it. For millions of years it was threatened by climatic changes, by the lack of food, by the ferocity of fellow-creatures. Heat, cold, flood, drought, earthquake, and volcanic eruption were forever against it. Struggling from stage to stage upward from the slime a new danger was always to it a new incentive to finding a new resource.
Pursued through the water it sought the land. Pursued on the land it sought the air. Pursued in the air it developed fleetness of wing, and in fleetness of wing a capacity for soaring, circling, balancing, dipping, and swinging on itself of which the grace must not blind us to the marvellous power of invention.
In other words, the impulses leading to the origin of species proclaim a resourcefulness on the part of what we call life which we have every reason to think inexhaustible. Whatever the Fount of Being from which the life-principle first came into the waters of our earth there is no question but that with it came a conquest-principle as well. Had it been possible to exterminate the life-principle it would never have gone further than the age which saw the extinction of the great reptiles. The great reptiles went, but the life-principle stayed on, with the ability to assume, within our limited observation, all the forms between the bacillus and the elephant, while as to what lies beyond our observation the possibilities are infinite.
Long before it works up to man we see this amazing force stemming an uncountable number of attacks, and meeting ruinous conditions with daring contrivances. For one kind of danger it develops a shell, for another a sting, for another a poison, for another a protective colouration. To breathe in the sea it puts forth gills, and makes lungs for itself when stranded on the land. In glacial cold it finds the means of growing fur; when heat and cold assail it by turns it packs itself with feathers; when climates become temperate it produces hair. For the creature which keeps to the water it webs the foot; for that which takes to the trees it makes the toes prehensile; for the one which learns to stand erect and run along the ground it flattens the sole, making it steady and supporting. To resist, to survive, to win through, is the end to which the life-principle sets itself with such singleness of aim as to unfold a wealth of potentiality astounding to us in looking backward.
This was the idea which came back to me that autumn at Versailles, and from which in the course of time I drew my conclusions.
Briefly, those conclusions were to the effect that as individuals we need difficulties to overcome, and that fear is a stimulus to overcoming them. Otherwise expressed, fear loses much of its fearfulness when we see it as the summons to putting forth new energies. Unless we were conscious of the energies such a call would not reach us. The creatures preceding man could have felt no misgiving, since they lacked the imagination essential to a dread. Such fear as they were equal to must have seized them in paroxysms of terror when calamities threatened to overwhelm them. If they made good their escape no trace of the fear remained behind, the brain having little or no power of retention. We may take it for granted that the pterodactyl and the trachodon had none of the foreboding based on experience which destroys the peace of man.
Fear, as we understand it, was in itself a signal of advance. It could only have begun with the exercise of reason. Arrived at the rudiments of memory the creature must have been able to perceive, however dimly, that the thing which had happened might happen again. Adding the first stirrings of imagination he must have constructed possible events in which the danger would come from the same causes as before. With the faculties to remember, to reason, and to imagine all at work we reach the first stages of man.
Man was born into fear in that he was born into a world of which most of the energies were set against him. He was a lone thing fighting his own battle. The instinct for association which made the mammals different from other animals didn’t help him much, since association did not bring mutual help as a matter of course, and never has done so. A man could count on no one but himself. Not only were prodigious natural forces always menacing him with destruction; not only was the beast his enemy and he the enemy of the beast; but his hand was against his fellow-man and his fellow-man’s hand against him. This mutual hostility followed men in their first groupings into communities, and only to a degree have we lived it down in the twentieth century.
Perhaps this conviction that a man’s strength lay in standing single-handed against circumstance was the first small discovery I made in my own fight with fear. Looking back on the developments which had brought man into the world I saw a marvellous power of getting round difficulties when you couldn’t cut through them. Just as a river which cannot flow over a rock can glide about its feet and turn it into a picturesque promontory, so I recognised in myself an inborn human faculty for “sidestepping” that which blocked my way, when I couldn’t break it down.
I left Versailles with just that much to the good—a perception that the ages had bequeathed me a store of abilities which I was allowing to lie latent. Moving into Paris, to more cheerful surroundings, I took up again the writing of the book I had abandoned more than a year previously. After long seclusion I began to see a few people, finding them responsive and welcoming. My object in stating these unimportant details is merely to show that in proportion as I ceased to show fear the life-principle hastened to my aid. Little by little I came to the belief that the world about me was a system of co-operative friendliness, and that it was my part to use it in that way.
To use it in that way was not easy. I was so accustomed to the thought of Nature as a complex of self-seeking cruelties, the strong preying on the weak, and the weak defenceless, that the mere idea of its containing a ruling co-operative principle seemed at times far-fetched. To the common opinion of the day, my own included, the conception of a universe that would come to a man’s aid the minute a man came to his own was too much like a fairy tale. It may indeed be a fairy tale. All I know is that in my own case it is the way in which it seems to have worked. I think I have caught a glimpse of a constructive use for that which I had previously thought of as only destructive and terrible.
This is what I mean. The life-principle having, through unknown millions of years, developed the conquest-principle by meeting difficulties and overcoming them, the difficulties had a value. To man, especially, the menace of Nature, the ferocity of the beast, and the enmity of his fellow-man furnished the incentive to his upward climb. Had all been easy he would have stayed where he was. He would never have called mental powers to his physical aid, nor appealed to spiritual faculties when the mental fell short of his requirements. Spurred on by a necessity which grew more urgent in proportion as the life-principle widened its scope, the conquest-principle became an impulse which would brook no denying. Man grew by it; but the fact remains that he would not have grown had there been nothing for him to struggle with.
To me it seems basic to the getting rid of fear to know that our trials, of whatever nature, are not motiveless. In our present stage of development we could hardly do without them. So often looking like mere ugly excrescences on life they are in reality the branches by which we catch on and climb. They are not obstacles to happiness for the reason that the only satisfying happiness we are equal to as yet is that of wrestling with the difficult and overcoming it. Every call of duty has its place in this ideal; every irksome job, every wearisome responsibility. The fact that we are not always aware of it in no way annuls the other fact that it is so. Boredom, monotony, drudgery, bereavement, loneliness, all the clamour of unsatisfied ambitions and aching sensibilities, have their share in this divine yearning of the spirit to grasp what as yet is beyond its reach. All of that hacking of the man to fit the job rather than the shaping of the job to fit the man, which is, I imagine, the source of most of the discontent on earth, has its place here, as well as the hundreds of things we shouldn’t do if we were not compelled to. Whatever summons us to conflict summons us to life, and life, as we learn from a glance at the past, never shirks the challenge.
It never shirks the challenge, and, what is more, it never fails to find the expedient by which the new demand is to be satisfied. To the conquest of fear that plank must be foundational. As far as we can learn there never was an emergency yet which the life-principle was not equipped to meet. When all existing methods had been used up it invented new ones; when seemingly at the end of its new resources it was only beginning to go on again.
The deduction I make is this, that a law which was operative on such a scale before man had come into the world at all must be still more effective now that we can help to carry it out. The life-principle is not less ingenious than it ever was, while the conquest-principle must have widely expanded. It is an axiom in all progress that the more we conquer the more easily we conquer. We form a habit of conquering as insistent as any other habit. Victory becomes, to some degree, a state of mind. Knowing ourselves superior to the anxieties, troubles, and worries which obsess us, we are superior. It is a question of attitude in confronting them. It is more mental than it is material. To be in harmony with the life-principle and the conquest-principle is to be in harmony with power; and to be in harmony with power is to be strong as a matter of course.
The individual is thus at liberty to say: “The force which never failed before is not likely to fail in my case. The fertility of resource which circumvented every kind of obstacle to make me what I am—a vertebrate, breathing, walking, thinking entity, capable of some creative expression of my own—will probably not fall short now that I have immediate use for it. Of what I get from the past, prehistoric and historic, perhaps the most subtle distillation is the fact that so far is the life-principle from balking at need, need is essential to its activity. Where there is no need it seems to be quiescent; where there is something to be met, contended with, and overcome, it is furiously ‘on the job.’ That life-principle is my principle. It is the seed from which I spring. It is my blood, my breath, my brain. I cannot cut myself off from it; it cannot cut itself off from me. Having formed the mastodon to meet one set of needs and the butterfly to meet another, it will form, something to meet mine, even if something altogether new. The new—or what seems new to me—is apparently the medium in which it is most at home. It repeats itself never—not in two rosebuds, not in two snowflakes. Who am I that I should be overlooked by it, or miss being made the expression of its infinite energies?”
What this reasoning did for me from the start was to give me a new attitude toward the multifold activity we call life. I saw it as containing a principle that would work with me if I could work with it. My working with it was the main point, since it was working with me always. Exactly what that principle was I could not at the time have said; I merely recognised it as being there.
The method of working with it was simple in idea, however difficult in practice. It was a question of my own orientation. I had to get mentally into harmony with the people and conditions I found about me. I was not to distrust them; still less was I to run away from them. I was to make a parable of my childish experience with the Skye terrier, assuming that life was organised to do me good. I remembered how many times the Bible begins some bit of pleading or injunction with the words, “Fear not.” Other similar appeals came back to me. “Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong I fear not.”1 “Quit yourselves like men; be strong.”2 “O man greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be unto thee! Be strong, yea, be Strong.”3 When, at some occasional test, dismay or self-pity took hold of me I formed a habit of saying to myself, in our expressive American idiom: “This is your special stunt. It’s up to you to do this thing just as if you had all the facilities. Go at it boldly, and you’ll find unexpected forces closing round you and Coming to your aid.”
Which is just what I did find. To an amazing degree people were friendly, while conditions became easier. Fear diminished because I had fewer things to be afraid of. Having fewer things to be afraid of my mind was clearer for work. Work becoming not only more of a resource but more remunerative as well, all life grew brighter. Fear was not overcome; I had only made a more or less hesitating stand against it; but even from doing that I got positive results.
The Life-Principle And God
It is obvious that one could not dwell much on the power of the life-principle without coming sooner or later to the thought of God. As already hinted, I did not come to it at once because my conception of God made Him of so little use to me.
And yet, in popular phraseology, I had “served” God all my life. That is, brought up in an atmosphere in which the Church was a divinely instituted system for utilising God, I served the system, without getting much beyond the surface plane of what were technically known as “services.” When trial came such services offered me an anodyne, but not a cure.
The first suggestion, that my concept of God might not be sufficient to my needs came out of a conversation in New York. It was with a lady whom I met but that once, within a year or two after my experience at Versailles. I have forgotten how we chanced on the subject, but I remember that she asked me these questions:
“When you think of God how do you think of Him? How do you picture Him? What does He seem like?”
Trying to reply I recognised a certain naivete, a certain childishness, in my words even as I uttered them. In my thoughts I saw God as three supernal men, seated on three supernal thrones, enshrined in some vague celestial portion of space which I denominated Heaven. Between Him and me there was an incalculable distance which He could bridge but I could not. Always He had me at the disadvantage that He saw what I did, heard what I said, read what I thought, punishing me for everything amiss, while I could reach Him only by the uncertain telephony of what I understood as prayer. Even then my telephone worked imperfectly. Either the help I implored wasn’t good for me, or my voice couldn’t soar to His throne.
The lady smiled, but said nothing. The smile was significant. It made me feel that a God who was no more than what I had described could hardly be the Universal Father, and set me to thinking on my own account.
I wish it were possible to speak of God without the implication of dealing with religion. By this I mean that I am anxious to keep religion out of this whole subject of the conquest of fear. The minute you touch on religion, as commonly understood, you reach the sectarian. The minute you reach the sectarian you start enmities. The minute you start enmities you get mental discords. And the minute you get mental discords no stand against fear is possible.
But I mean a little more than this. Man, as at present developed, has shown that he hardly knows what to do with religion, or where to put it in his life. This is especially true of the Caucasian, the least spiritually intelligent of all the great types of our race. Fundamentally the white man is hostile to religion. He attacks it as a bull a red cloak, goring it, stamping on it, tearing it to shreds. With the Caucasian as he is this fury is instinctive. Recognising religion as the foe of the materialistic ideal he has made his own he does his best to render it ineffective.
Of this we need no better illustration than the state of what we conventionally know as Christendom. Christendom as we see it is a purely Caucasian phase of man’s struggle upward, with Caucasian merits and Caucasian defects. Nowhere is its defectiveness more visible than in what the Caucasian has made of the teaching of Jesus Christ. It was probably a misfortune for the world that almost from the beginning that teaching passed into Caucasian guardianship. I see in the New Testament no indication on the part of Our Lord and the Apostles of wishing to separate themselves from Semitic co-operation. The former taught daily in the Temple; the latter, as they went about the world, made the synagogue the base of all their missions. The responsibility for the breach is not under discussion here. It is enough to note that it took place, and that Caucasian materialism was thus deprived of a counteragent in Hebrew spiritual wisdom. Had this corrective maintained its place it is possible that religion might now be a pervasive element in the Caucasian’s life instead of being pigeon-holed.
The Caucasian pigeon-holes God. Otherwise expressed, he keeps God in a specially labelled compartment of life, to be brought out for occasional use, and put back when the need is over. It is difficult to mention God to a Caucasian reader without inducing an artificial frame of mind. As there are people who put on for strangers and guests an affected, unnatural politeness different from their usual breezy spontaneity, so the Caucasian assumes at the thought of God a mental habit which can only be described as sanctimonious. God is not natural to the Caucasian; the Caucasian is not natural with God. The mere concept takes him into regions in which he feels uneasy. He may call his uneasiness reserve or reverence, or by some other dignified name; but at bottom it is neither more nor less than uneasiness. To minimise this distress he relegates God to special days, to special hours, to services and ceremonials. He can thus wear and bear his uncomfortable cloak of gravity for special times, after which he can be himself again. To appeal to God otherwise than according to the tacitly accepted protocol is to the average Caucasian either annoying or in bad form.
I should like, then, to dissociate the thought of God from the artificial, sanctimonious, preternaturally solemn connotations which the Name is certain to bring up. I want to speak of Him with the same kind of ease as of the life-principle. I repeat, that I never found Him of much use in allaying fear till I released Him from the Caucasian pigeon-hole to see Him, as it were, in the open. Once in the open I got rid, to some degree, of the Caucasian limitations of thinking along the lines of sect, just as in the infinitude of the air you can forget for a minute houses with rooms and walls. The discovery—that is, discovery for myself—that God is Universal, which is not so obvious as it sounds, was, I think, the first great step I made in finding that within that Universal fear should be impossible.
About the same time I chanced on a passage written by Joseph Joubert, an eighteenth-century French Catholic, not so well known to the modern reader as he ought to be, which impressed me deeply.
“L’âme ne peut se mouvoir, s’éveiller, ouvrir les yeux, sans santir Dieu. On sent Dieu avec l’âme comme on sent l’air avec le corps. Oseraije le dire? On connaît Dieu facilement pourvu qu’on ne se contraigne pas à le definir—The soul cannot move, wake, or open the eyes without perceiving God. We perceive God through the soul as we feel air on the body. Dare I say it? We can know God easily so long as we do not feel it necessary to define Him.”
I began to see that, like most Caucasian Christians, I had been laying too much stress on the definition. The Trinity had, so to speak, come between me and the Godhead. I had, unconsciously, attached more importance to God’s being Three than to His being God. Seeing Him as Three I instinctively saw Him as Three Persons. Seeing Him as Three Persons I did not reflect that the word Person as applied to God must be used in a sense wholly different from that in which we employ it with regard to men. To get into what I call the open I had to bring myself to understand that we cannot enclose the Infinite in a shape, or three shapes, resembling in any way the being with digestive organs, arms, and legs, which worked its way up from slime.
That is, in order to “dwell in the secret place of the Most High,”4 where one is immune from fear, I was obliged to give up the habit of embodying God in any form. I had to confess that what is meant by the Three Persons in One God I did not know. Furthermore, I saw no necessity for thinking that I knew, since such knowledge must transcend all scope of the human mind. The formula, if you must have a formula, is one thing; but the turning it into a statute of limitations and applying it to the Illimitable is another.
To make my position clearer, and to avoid the subject of religion, let me add that, inferring from the Bible that there is a Father, a Son, and a Holy Ghost, I did not feel it imperative on my part to go beyond this use of terms. Merely to abstain from definition was like a load taken off my mind. How the Son was begotten of the Father, or the Holy Ghost proceeded from them both, or what eternal mysteries were symbolised in this purely human phraseology, were, it seemed to me, matters with which I need not concern myself, seeing that they passed all my comprehension. Not the Trinity should come first to powers so limited as mine—but God.
It dawned on me, too, that God need not necessarily be to me what He is to others, nor to others what He is to me. Of the Infinite the finite mind can only catch a finite glimpse. I see what I can see; another sees what he can see. The visions may be different, and yet each vision may be true. Just as two painters painting the same landscape will give dissimilar views of it, so two minds contemplating God will take of Him only what each is fitted to receive. Water poured into differently coloured glasses will take on the colour of the cup which it fills, even though it be the self-same water in them all. If I find God for myself I shall probably not behold in Him exactly what anyone else in the whole world or in all time has ever beheld in Him before.
I saw, too, that from a certain point of view the stand of the agnostic is a right one. We cannot know God in the sense of knowing His being or His “Personality,” any more than we can know the essence of the life-principle. Just as we know the life-principle only from what it does, so we know God only from such manifestations of Himself as reach our observation. Everything else is inference. Because we see something of His goodness we infer that He is good; because we experience something of His love we infer that He is loving; because we behold something of His power we infer that He is almighty. It is first of all a matter of drawing our conclusions, and then of making those conclusions the food of the inner spiritual man whose life is independent of the mortal heart and brain. But a sense in which God is “unknowable” to us has to be admitted.
I make this statement now in order not to be misunderstood when later I may say that God must be this or that. Though I shall do so for the sake of brevity it will always be in the sense that, if God is what we have inferred from His manifestations, He must be this or that. In other words, having to some degree worked my own way out of fear I must tell how I came to feel that I know the Unknowable, doing it with the inexact phraseology which is all I find to hand.
Reaching the conclusions noted above I was relieved of the pressure of traditions and instructions. Traditions and instructions helped me in that they built the ship in which I was to put to sea. The discoveries had to be my own. The God of whom I had heard at my mother’s knee, as the phrase goes, had always been shadowy to me; the God who was served by “services” had always seemed remote. A God who should be “my God,” as the psalmists say so often, must, I felt, be found by me myself, through living, searching, suffering, and struggling onward a step or two at a time. “That’s pretty near free-thinking, isn’t it?” a clergyman, to whom I tried to explain myself, once said to me. “No,” I replied; “but it is pretty near thinking free.”
To think freely about God became a first necessity; to think simply a second one. The Universal Father had been almost lost to me behind veil after veil of complexities. The approaches to Him seemed to have been made so roundabout, requiring so many intermediaries. Long before I had dared to think of what I may call emancipation, the “scheme of salvation,” as it was termed, had struck me as an excessively complicated system of machinery, considering the millions upon millions who had need of it. In theory you were told, according to St. Paul, to “come boldly before the throne of the heavenly grace,” but in practice you were expected to do it timidly.
You were expected to do it timidly because the pigeon-holed Caucasian God was represented—unconsciously perhaps—as difficult, ungenial, easily offended. He measured your blindness and weakness by the standard of His own knowledge and almightiness. A puritan God, extremely preoccupied with morals as some people saw them, He was lenient, apparently, to the narrow-minded, the bitter of tongue, and the intolerant in heart. He was not generous. He was merciful only when you paid for His mercy in advance. To a not inconsiderable degree He was the hard Caucasian business man, of whom He was the reflection, only glorified and crowned.
It will be evident, of course, that I am not speaking of “the Father” of the New Testament, nor of the official teaching of any church or theology. To the rank and file of Caucasians “the Father” of the New Testament is very little known, while the official teaching of churches and theologies is so hard to explain that not much of it gets over to the masses of those willing to subscribe to it. I refer only to the impression on the mind of the man in the street; and to the man in the street God, as he understands Him, is neither a very friendly nor a very comprehensible element in life. Instead of mitigating fear He adds to it, not in the Biblical sense of “fearing God,” but in that of sheer animal distrust.
While turning these things over in my mind I got some help from two of the words most currently in Christian use. I had long known that the English equivalents of the Latin equivalents of the terms the New Testament writers used gave but a distorted idea of the original sense; but I had let that knowledge lie fallow.
The first of these words was Repentance. In these syllables there is almost no hint of the idea which fell from the evangelistic pen, while the word has been soaked in emotional and sentimental associations it was never intended to be mixed with. The Metanoia; which painted a sober, reflective turning of the mind, had been so overcharged with the dramatic that sober, reflective people could hardly use the expression any more. Repentance had come to have so strong a gloss of the hysterical as to be almost discredited by men of common sense. It was a relief, therefore, to remember that it implied no more than a turning to God by a process of thought; and that a process of thought would find Him.
The other word was Salvation. Here again our term of Latin derivation gives no more than the faintest impression of the beauty beyond beauty in that which the sacred writer used. Soteria—a Safe Return! That is all. Nothing complicated; nothing high-strung; nothing casuistical. Only a—Safe Return! Yet all human experience can be read into the little phrase, with all human liberty to wander—and come back. True, one son may never leave the Father’s home, so that all that it contains is his; but there is no restraint on the other son from getting his knowledge as he will, even to the extent of becoming a prodigal. The essential is in the Safe Return, the Soteria, when the harlots and the husks have been tried and found wanting.
I do not exaggerate when I say that the simplicity of these conceptions was so refreshing as almost to give me a new life. One could say to God, with the psalmist, “Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance”—and mean it. One could conceive of it as possible to turn toward Him—and reach, the objective. The way was open; the access was free; the progress as rapid as thought could make it. One could think of oneself as knowing God, and be aware of no forcing of the note.
“We can know God easily so long as we do not feel it necessary to define Him.” Once having grasped this truth I began to see how natural knowing God became. The difficulty of the forced, of the artificial, of the mere assent to what other people say, of which the Caucasian to his credit is always impatient, seemed by degrees to melt away from me. No longer defining God I no longer tried to know Him in senses obviously impossible. I ceased trying to imagine Him. Seeing Him as infinite, eternal, changeless, formless because transcending form, and indescribable because transcending words and thoughts, I could give myself up to finding Him in the ways in which He would naturally be revealed to me.
These, of course, were in His qualities and His works.
Let me speak of the latter first.
I think light was the medium through which I at once felt myself to be seeing God. By this I mean nothing pantheistic—not that the light was God—but God’s first and most evident great sign. Then there was the restful darkness. There were the moon and the stars, “the hosts of heaven,” as the Hebrews aptly called them, becoming more and more amazing as an expression of God the more we learn how to read them. Then there were the elements, the purifying wind, the fruitful rain, the exhilaration of snow-storms, the action and reaction from heat and cold. Then there was beauty: first, the beauty of the earth, of mountains, of seas, and all waters, of meadows, grainfields, orchards, gardens, and all growing things; then, the beauty of sound, from the soughing of the wind in the pines to the song of the hermit-thrush. There was the beauty wrought by man, music, painting, literature, and all art. There were the myriad forms of life. There were kindness and friendship and family affection and fun—but the time would fail me! God being the summing up of all good things, since all good things proceed from Him, must be seen by me in all good things it I am to see Him at all.
I had heard from childhood of a world in which God was seen, and of another world, this world, in which He was not seen. I came to the conclusion that there was no such fantastic, unnatural division in what we call creation—that there was only one world—the world in which God is seen. “The soul cannot move, wake, or open the eyes without perceiving God.” It is a question of physical vision, with spiritual comprehension.
Seeing God breaking through all that I had previously thought of as barriers, it was easy to begin to think of Him as Universal. I say begin to think, because God’s Infinitude had been only a word to me hitherto, not a quality realised and felt. I do not presume to say that to any adequate degree I feel and realise it now; but the habit of looking on every good thing as a sign of His activity cannot but bring Him close to me.
That is my chief point with regard to the Infinite—that it must be here. As I used to think of infinity I saw it stretching to boundless reaches away from me; but only from the point of view of present Good being present God did the value of the Infinite come to lie in its nearness rather than in its power of filling unimaginable space. On my part it was inverse mental action, seeking God where I was capable of finding Him, and not in regions I could never range.
But having grasped the fact that the Universal, wherever else it was, must be with me the purely abstract became a living influence. I felt this the more when to the concept of Infinitude I added that of Intelligence. I use the much-worked word intelligence because there is no other; but when one thinks for a second of what must be the understanding of an Infinite Mind, intelligence as a descriptive term becomes absurdly inadequate.
This was the next fact which, if I may so express myself, I made my own—that not only the Universal is ever with me, but that it is ever with me with ever-active concern. There was a time when it was hard for me to believe that a Mind busied with the immensities of the universe could come down to such trivial affairs as mine. Important as I might be to myself I could hardly be otherwise than lost amid the billions of forms of life which had come into existence through the ages. To the Three in One, on the Great White Throne, in the far-away Heaven, I must be a negligible thing, except when I forced myself on the divine attention. Even then it was hardly conceivable that, with whole solar systems to regulate, I could claim more than a passing glance from the all-seeing eye.
But to an Infinite Mind bathing me round and round I must be as much the object of regard as any solar system. To such a Mind nothing is small,