A Common-Sense View of the Mind Cure, by Laura M. Westall, , at sacred-texts.com
WE think in pictures.
Each idea which is presented to the mind forms a picture. Thus, if I say, "I hear a robin singing," a picture of a redbreast on the branch of a tree, with his throat swelling with song, will probably form in your mind. Or if I should say, "The sea is blue to-day," a vision of a wide expanse of blue water, with white-capped waves shimmering in the sunshine, will appear to you.
Why is this?
We saw in chapter first that it was not so in the beginning; our ability to form mental pictures is due to what is called "association "--object with sound, sound with object, etc.--and that the wider our sense-experience,
especially in early childhood, the greater our ability to form concepts or pictures. We thus get a glimpse of how imagination may be cultivated.
How important it is in life we can in part realize by reflecting how essential it is to art, music, literature, science, invention, and discovery.
Thus: The artist sees mentally his picture or statue as it is to appear before he has touched brush or chisel.
The architect sees the cathedral fully completed "in his mind's eye" before the ground is broken for the foundation.
The musician hears the cadences of his symphony before he has written a line of the score, and did not Columbus have imagination? And Watts, Bell, Darwin, and Marconi?
In fact, starting with the savage who naturally and appropriately exprest his thoughts in "picture-writing," the civilization of to-day has become what it is largely
through the imaginative power of the human mind.
The relation which imagination sustains to the mind is so intimate as hardly to permit of dissociation. It would seem absurd to say imagination is mind, yet if we think in pictures, if the component elements of ideas are pictures, which is imagination and which is mind or thought? Take our concept of God, for instance. Where is the person who can think of God as a pure abstraction? If we take away the form in which imagination clothes our concept, what is left?
This may seem a digression; but in reality it serves to show how impossible it is for us to think except in pictures.
That is why, when we think of ourselves, we form a picture in our minds of ourselves. It differs from the picture others form. No one has the gift to "see himself as others see him," but true or false it is vitally important.
Since every idea must clothe itself in some form, then the influence of ideas upon the mind--that is, the reasoning faculties--must be largely determined by the form in which they present themselves.
For instance: You are walking through the woods and inadvertently step upon a crooked stick which curls up around your ankle. Instantly you think "snake," for a picture of a snake twining around your ankle forms in your mind.
Now, one of two things will happen: If you are in the habit of controlling yourself, acting upon reason rather than impulse, you will stop and investigate. If not, your imagination will swamp your reason, and you will believe "snake," scream, and run.
Or again: Suppose that you array yourself in your finest raiment with a view to attending some social function at which you wish to look your best. Before leaving home, you survey yourself in the mirror
with satisfaction, deciding that your appointments are in perfect taste and harmony, even elegance, and go forth to bewilder all beholders. But arriving on the scene, you meet an acquaintance, who, after looking you over with a critical eye, turns away with an expression which plainly says: "Poor thing! Why doesn't she learn how to dress?"
Immediately you shrink in your own estimation. The mental picture which you have formed of yourself changes color and shape. You no longer see yourself as well-drest, but as shabbily and inartistically arrayed.
Now, suppose that a man forms a mental ideal of himself as fortunate, successful, popular, happy, and well. The mental state which results colors the mental energy and this spreading out over the body creates chemical changes. And thus we have the phenomenon of correspondence. We see it in the expression of the face, voice,
manner, and bearing. He walks with an elastic step. He greets his acquaintances buoyantly. He is at peace with himself and all the world.
But let one form the opposite ideal. Let him picture himself as unfortunate, unsuccessful, unpopular; unhappy, and ill. Do you doubt that a corresponding effect will be produced? Will not his countenance be downcast, his manner shrinking, his step heavy and slow? Will he not appear to feel that he has one foot in the grave?
The simple fact is that to imagination is due most of our suffering. As Hubbard says: "We suffer in proportion as we have imagination."
A little child or an animal recovers very quickly from an injury or illness simply because they lack the imaginative power to conjure up a vision of pain or death. When actual pain ceases, they cease to think about it and to fear or fancy its return.
And this explains why through imagination one may make himself ill or cause his own death. Temperament usually, tho not always, enters into the case. Those persons who have what is called the hysterical temperament have an ill-balanced mind and brain. The emotional nature is apt to be stronger than the intellectual, and so upon very small provocation imagination may submerge reason. Hence a slight pain or uneasiness may be mentally magnified into a mortal disease. Naturally, their sufferings are intense, but they themselves are unwittingly responsible, since they make no effort to control the morbid reaction of the mind.
It is evident, therefore, that uncontrolled imagination unbalances the mind; the images which it presents are distorted; they are not true images. The reasoning faculties are the balance-wheel of the mind. When we are perfectly sane, we submit each idea to the test of reason; but when
emotion or imagination colored by fear has us in its grip we can no longer reason.
For instance: You are passing a lonely graveyard alone, at the mystic hour of midnight. You may not have thought of ghosts at all; indeed, you may regard such a belief as a vulgar superstition. Nevertheless, when a figure clothed in white rises up from among the graves, or appears to do so, and glides toward you, it is ninety-nine chances out of a hundred that you will take to your heels and not trust yourself to look behind.
On the morrow you will be disgusted with yourself. You will recognize that the uncanny sensation caused by association of ideas--graveyards, death, and wandering shades--set your imagination at work and prevented calm judgment from acting. In other words, your mind was unbalanced by the picture which fear caused fancy to paint. We see this often where highly imaginative children are frightened by
some person or thing; it seems almost impossible to convince them that the object is not what they think it is.
Well, "it is a poor rule that won't work both ways." If the power of imagination is so great that it may cause disease, then by that same token it should cure disease. As a matter of fact, no one can faithfully test it without becoming convinced of its usefulness. Since, as we have seen, the body tends constantly to echo the mental picture one entertains of himself, then if one is not well, it is essential that he should overhaul his mental picture-gallery; cast the old "as rubbish to the void," and hang up new ones, fresh from fancy's brush, imagining himself as he wishes to be--fortunate, happy, and well.