A Common-Sense View of the Mind Cure, by Laura M. Westall, , at sacred-texts.com
THERE is a great deal going on around us of which we are wholly unconscious, for the reason that nature has set limits to our perceptive powers. There are sounds which we never hear, sights which we never see, things which we can not touch, etc.
The explanation usually given is that all the forces of nature, such as light, heat, sound, and electricity, have a vibratory motion, but our brains are able to react only upon a limited number of such vibrations--those within a certain range. When they exceed that limit--that is, greatly increase or diminish the vibratory rate--we either do not perceive them at all or else they occasion us physical
discomfort. Thus, a low sound has a slow rate of vibration; we do not hear it distinctly; a shrill sound has a high rate of vibration, and if near at hand is unpleasant or hard to endure.
A block of marble is cold, but one can hold his hand upon it comfortably; a block of ice is very cold and if one attempts to hold his hand upon it, he experiences an unpleasant sensation. The sound of a violin is agreeable, but the sound of a steamboat whistle gives a sensation of pain.
So then those vibrations which are within a certain range we find pleasant, but those that exceed that range we find painful.
Pain, then, must be an unpleasant sensation, and sensations are always mental. Hence pain must be mental.
Now, in chapter first it was noted that a stimulus or sense-impression made on the brain first resolved itself into sensation--we feel before we think. Thus, I touch a hot iron. The impression made upon
the nerves in my finger-tips must travel up the arm to the brain, where another impression is made. That impression gives rise to a feeling or sensation in consciousness, and then the mind says: "That iron is hot. I have burned my finger. Oh, how it hurts!"
A strong impression was made on the delicate nerve-tissue of the brain, too strong to be agreeable, and the mind calls it pain. But not until consciousness perceived the stimulus did I feel the pain or know that I had burned my hand.
So, you see, not only is pain a sensation, but it must be mentally perceived before we know that it is pain. In other words, pain is mentally perceived sensation. It matters not whether the sensations originate externally or internally, the fact remains.
An illustration or two will make this clear.
Suppose you are suffering with neuralgia,
but having tickets to the theater and being eager to hear some noted actor, you resolve to go. Now, when you take your seat you will perhaps think that you will not be able to sit through the performance. But the curtain rises. The beauty of the stage-setting and the movement of the drama absorb your attention, and not until the curtain falls do you feel any pain. Why? Because your mind has been so absorbed by what was passing on the stage that you did not think about your pain and hence did not perceive it.
Again: You are prostrated by a headache. Somebody below stairs or in the next house cries "Fire!" and instantly you are on your feet, your whole mind absorbed in locating the fire and aiding to extinguish it. And not once, till the excitement subsides, do you remember your pain. Where was it when you were not thinking of it?
Obviously we have to think pain before we know that it is pain, and so we are
obliged to conclude that pain is not in the nerves or organs or tissues of the body, but in the perceiving mind--that is, it is mental--a recognized or perceived sensation.
You may say, "Don't you suppose I know when I have a pain in my foot?" Yet the pain is not in the foot; it is a perceived sensation which imagination refers to the foot.
How can that be? Thus: The nerves in your foot for some reason or other are irritated; they protest and that starts a vital current up the nerves of the leg to the brain and there a corresponding irritation is set up. The mind perceives the irritation and then imagination steps in and refers it to the source of the irritation. The cells in the brain which correspond with the foot are in telegraphic communication with one another, and thus it is very natural to infer that the pain is where the primary irritation is; whereas we perceive the irritation and call it pain.
If one has not thought about this matter, it may seem improbable, but there are not wanting facts to substantiate it.
For instance, if you should sever the nerve-trunk in the leg and thus interrupt communication with the brain, your foot might be pinched or pricked or burned and you would feel no pain. Or if you should cut the nerve between the little finger and the brain, the surgeon might amputate your little finger and yet you would feel no pain.
Or your arm might be rendered cataleptic by "suggestion," and you would not then feel a pin which was passed through the skin.
On the other hand, if the cells in the brain which correspond with the foot were irritated in some way, you would think you had a pain in the foot. Even if the foot were amputated, you would think you had a pain in the imaginary foot or where it used to be. Again, you may have a
pain in one knee, or think you have, and develop a sympathetic pain in the other knee. But if the pain is in the knee, why the sympathetic pain? Simply because the brain area which corresponds with and governs both knees is irritated, and imagination does the rest.
So there is really no escape; pain is mental, or a perceived sensation.
Well, if pain is mental, the more one thinks about it the more he suffers, which every one knows is true. To fix the attention upon it, as we have seen, is to give it a stronger hold upon the mind. Therefore, if one diverts his mind from himself, he diminishes his sufferings.
Some say, ignore pain. This is excellent advice if one can follow it. "There's the rub." The difficulty is that the immediate effect of severe pain is temporarily to unbalance first the brain, then the mind. It acts very much like a strong emotion. The brain-cells seem to be
paralyzed, the reasoning powers, self-control, and will are temporarily submerged, and thus the door is open for emotion. And it comes, cavorting to the front like a war-horse. See how quickly fear and imagination begin to work! Note how unreasonable and irritable and weak-willed the average person is under the influence of pain. Therefore, one must have a well-disciplined mind and strong will to be able to ignore severe pain.
Yet it is moral cowardice to be always whimpering when one is hurt. And the more one yields to pain, the more it enslaves him; the more difficult it is for him to "rise above it." How, then, shall we crack this nut?
Undoubtedly, it is necessary to cultivate moral heroism. If we teach ourselves to make light of trivial discomforts, we may, by degrees, so discipline our minds as to be able to master great ones. If one persistently fights back at it, he will by
degrees lessen the receptivity of the upper brain (cortex) and thus throw the stimulus back upon the lower part of the brain, of whose operations we are unconscious. By persistently refusing to admit it, one may prevent it from gaining so great a power over his mind; it rebounds from the seat of consciousness as a ball rebounds from an unyielding wall. Thus, in time, a measurable degree of control will be acquired over the seat of consciousness; it does not respond so quickly to that particular stimulus.
Needless to say it can not be done in a day, but it is a moral victory, a phase of self-mastery well worth working for, and above the price of rubies.