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trained; it can be made as obedient as a sporting dog, and by similar
methods. In the meantime the indispensable preparation for brain
discipline is to form the habit of regarding one's brain as an
instrument exterior to one's self, like a tongue or a foot.



The brain is a highly quaint organism. Let me say at once, lest I should
be cannonaded by physiologists, psychologists, or metaphysicians, that
by the 'brain' I mean the faculty which reasons and which gives orders
to the muscles. I mean exactly what the plain man means by the brain.
The brain is the diplomatist which arranges relations between our
instinctive self and the universe, and it fulfils its mission when it
provides for the maximum of freedom to the instincts with the minimum of
friction. It argues with the instincts. It takes them on one side and
points out the unwisdom of certain performances. It catches them by the
coat-tails when they are about to make fools of themselves. 'Don't
drink all that iced champagne at a draught,' it says to one instinct;
'we may die of it.' 'Don't catch that rude fellow one in the eye,' it
says to another instinct; 'he is more powerful than us.' It is, in fact,
a majestic spectacle of common sense. And yet it has the most
extraordinary lapses. It is just like that man - we all know him and
consult him - who is a continual fount of excellent, sagacious advice on
everything, but who somehow cannot bring his sagacity to bear on his own
personal career.

In the matter of its own special activities the brain is usually
undisciplined and unreliable. We never know what it will do next. We
give it some work to do, say, as we are walking along the street to the
office. Perhaps it has to devise some scheme for making £150 suffice for
£200, or perhaps it has to plan out the heads of a very important
letter. We meet a pretty woman, and away that undisciplined, sagacious
brain runs after her, dropping the scheme or the draft letter, and
amusing itself with aspirations or regrets for half an hour, an hour,
sometimes a day. The serious part of our instinctive self feebly
remonstrates, but without effect. Or it may be that we have suffered a
great disappointment, which is definite and hopeless. Will the brain,
like a sensible creature, leave that disappointment alone, and instead
of living in the past live in the present or the future? Not it! Though
it knows perfectly well that it is wasting its time and casting a very
painful and utterly unnecessary gloom over itself and us, it can so
little control its unhealthy morbid appetite that no expostulations will
induce it to behave rationally. Or perhaps, after a confabulation with
the soul, it has been decided that when next a certain harmful instinct
comes into play the brain shall firmly interfere. 'Yes,' says the
brain, 'I really will watch that.' But when the moment arrives, is the
brain on the spot? The brain has probably forgotten the affair entirely,
or remembered it too late; or sighs, as the victorious instinct knocks
it on the head: 'Well, _next_ time!'

All this, and much more that every reader can supply from his own
exciting souvenirs, is absurd and ridiculous on the part of the brain.
It is a conclusive proof that the brain is out of condition, idle as a
nigger, capricious as an actor-manager, and eaten to the core with loose
habits. Therefore the brain must be put into training. It is the most
important part of the human machine by which the soul expresses and
develops itself, and it must learn good habits. And primarily it must be
taught obedience. Obedience can only be taught by imposing one's will,
by the sheer force of volition. And the brain must be mastered by
will-power. The beginning of wise living lies in the control of the
brain by the will; so that the brain may act according to the precepts
which the brain itself gives. With an obedient disciplined brain a man
may live always right up to the standard of his best moments.

To teach a child obedience you tell it to do something, and you see that
that something is done. The same with the brain. Here is the foundation
of an efficient life and the antidote for the tendency to make a fool of
oneself. It is marvellously simple. Say to your brain: 'From 9 o'clock
to 9.30 this morning you must dwell without ceasing on a particular
topic which I will give you.' Now, it doesn't matter what this topic
is - the point is to control and invigorate the brain by exercise - but
you may just as well give it a useful topic to think over as a futile
one. You might give it this: 'My brain is my servant. I am not the
play-thing of my brain.' Let it concentrate on these statements for
thirty minutes. 'What?' you cry. 'Is this the way to an efficient life?
Why, there's nothing in it!' Simple as it may appear, this _is_ the way,
and it is the only way. As for there being nothing in it, try it. I
guarantee that you will fail to keep your brain concentrated on the
given idea for thirty seconds - let alone thirty minutes. You will find
your brain conducting itself in a manner which would be comic were it
not tragic. Your first experiments will result in disheartening failure,
for to exact from the brain, at will and by will, concentration on a
given idea for even so short a period as half an hour is an exceedingly
difficult feat - and a fatiguing! It needs perseverance. It needs a
terrible obstinacy on the part of the will. That brain of yours will be
hopping about all over the place, and every time it hops you must bring
it back by force to its original position. You must absolutely compel it
to ignore every idea except the one which you have selected for its
attention. You cannot hope to triumph all at once. But you can hope to
triumph. There is no royal road to the control of the brain. There is no
patent dodge about it, and no complicated function which a plain person
may not comprehend. It is simply a question of: 'I will, _I_ will, and I
_will_.' (Italics here are indispensable.)

Let me resume. Efficient living, living up to one's best standard,
getting the last ounce of power out of the machine with the minimum of
friction: these things depend on the disciplined and vigorous condition
of the brain. The brain can be disciplined by learning the habit of
obedience. And it can learn the habit of obedience by the practice of
concentration. Disciplinary concentration, though nothing could have
the air of being simpler, is the basis of the whole structure. This fact
must be grasped imaginatively; it must be seen and felt. The more
regularly concentration is practised, the more firmly will the
imagination grasp the effects of it, both direct and indirect. After but
a few days of honest trying in the exercise which I have indicated, you
will perceive its influence. You will grow accustomed to the idea, at
first strange in its novelty, of the brain being external to the supreme
force which is _you_, and in subjection to that force. You will, as a
not very distant possibility, see yourself in possession of the power to
switch your brain on and off in a particular subject as you switch
electricity on and off in a particular room. The brain will get used to
the straight paths of obedience. And - a remarkable phenomenon - it will,
by the mere practice of obedience, become less forgetful and more
effective. It will not so frequently give way to an instinct that takes
it by surprise. In a word, it will have received a general tonic. With a
brain that is improving every day you can set about the perfecting of
the machine in a scientific manner.



As soon as the will has got the upper hand of the brain - as soon as it
can say to the brain, with a fair certainty of being obeyed: 'Do this.
Think along these lines, and continue to do so without wandering until I
give you leave to stop' - then is the time arrived when the perfecting of
the human machine may be undertaken in a large and comprehensive spirit,
as a city council undertakes the purification and reconstruction of a
city. The tremendous possibilities of an obedient brain will be
perceived immediately we begin to reflect upon what we mean by our
'character.' Now, a person's character is, and can be, nothing else but
the total result of his habits of thought. A person is benevolent
because he habitually thinks benevolently. A person is idle because his
thoughts dwell habitually on the instant pleasures of idleness. It is
true that everybody is born with certain predispositions, and that these
predispositions influence very strongly the early formation of habits of
thought. But the fact remains that the character is built by
long-continued habits of thought. If the mature edifice of character
usually shows in an exaggerated form the peculiarities of the original
predisposition, this merely indicates a probability that the slow
erection of the edifice has proceeded at haphazard, and that reason has
not presided over it. A child may be born with a tendency to bent
shoulders. If nothing is done, if on the contrary he becomes a clerk and
abhors gymnastics, his shoulders will develop an excessive roundness,
entirely through habit. Whereas, if his will, guided by his reason, had
compelled the formation of a corrective physical habit, his shoulders
might have been, if not quite straight, nearly so. Thus a physical
habit! The same with a mental habit.

The more closely we examine the development of original predispositions,
the more clearly we shall see that this development is not inevitable,
is not a process which works itself out independently according to
mysterious, ruthless laws which we cannot understand. For instance, the
effect of an original predisposition may be destroyed by an accidental
shock. A young man with an inherited tendency to alcohol may develop
into a stern teetotaller through the shock caused by seeing his drunken
father strike his mother; whereas, if his father had chanced to be
affectionate in drink, the son might have ended in the gutter. No
ruthless law here! It is notorious, also, that natures are sometimes
completely changed in their development by chance momentary contact
with natures stronger than themselves. 'From that day I resolved - ' etc.
You know the phrase. Often the resolve is not kept; but often it is
kept. A spark has inflamed the will. The burning will has tyrannised
over the brain. New habits have been formed. And the result looks just
like a miracle.

Now, if these great transformations can be brought about by accident,
cannot similar transformations be brought about by a reasonable design?
At any rate, if one starts to bring them about, one starts with the
assurance that transformations are not impossible, since they have
occurred. One starts also in the full knowledge of the influence of
habit on life. Take any one of your own habits, mental or physical. You
will be able to recall the time when that habit did not exist, or if it
did exist it was scarcely perceptible. And you will discover that
nearly all your habits have been formed unconsciously, by daily
repetitions which bore no relation to a general plan, and which you
practised not noticing. You will be compelled to admit that your
'character,' as it is to-day, is a structure that has been built almost
without the aid of an architect; higgledy-piggledy, anyhow. But
occasionally the architect did step in and design something. Here and
there among your habits you will find one that you consciously and of
deliberate purpose initiated and persevered with - doubtless owing to
some happy influence. What is the difference between that conscious
habit and the unconscious habits? None whatever as regards its effect on
the sum of your character. It may be the strongest of all your habits.
The only quality that differentiates it from the others is that it has a
definite object (most likely a good object), and that it wholly or
partially fulfils that object. There is not a man who reads these lines
but has, in this detail or that, proved in himself that the will,
forcing the brain to repeat the same action again and again, can modify
the shape of his character as a sculptor modifies the shape of damp

But if a grown man's character is developing from day to day (as it is),
if nine-tenths of the development is due to unconscious action and
one-tenth to conscious action, and if the one-tenth conscious is the
most satisfactory part of the total result; why, in the name of common
sense, henceforward, should not nine-tenths, instead of one-tenth, be
due to conscious action? What is there to prevent this agreeable
consummation? There is nothing whatever to prevent it - except
insubordination on the part of the brain. And insubordination of the
brain can be cured, as I have previously shown. When I see men unhappy
and inefficient in the craft of _living_, from sheer, crass inattention
to their own development; when I see misshapen men building up
businesses and empires, and never stopping to build up themselves; when
I see dreary men expending precisely the same energy on teaching a dog
to walk on its hind-legs as would brighten the whole colour of their own
lives, I feel as if I wanted to give up the ghost, so ridiculous, so
fatuous does the spectacle seem! But, of course, I do not give up the
ghost. The paroxysm passes. Only I really must cry out: 'Can't you see
what you're missing? Can't you see that you're missing the most
interesting thing on earth, far more interesting than businesses,
empires, and dogs? Doesn't it strike you how clumsy and short-sighted
you are - working always with an inferior machine when you might have a
smooth-gliding perfection? Doesn't it strike you how badly you are
treating yourself?'

Listen, you confirmed grumbler, you who make the evening meal hideous
with complaints against destiny - for it is you I will single out. Are
you aware what people are saying about you behind your back? They are
saying that you render yourself and your family miserable by the habit
which has grown on you of always grumbling. 'Surely it isn't as bad as
that?' you protest. Yes, it is just as bad as that. You say: 'The fact
is, I know it's absurd to grumble. But I'm like that. I've tried to stop
it, and I can't!' How have you tried to stop it? 'Well, I've made up my
mind several times to fight against it, but I never succeed. This is
strictly between ourselves. I don't usually admit that I'm a grumbler.'
Considering that you grumble for about an hour and a half every day of
your life, it was sanguine, my dear sir, to expect to cure such a habit
by means of a solitary intention, formed at intervals in the brain and
then forgotten. No! You must do more than that. If you will daily fix
your brain firmly for half an hour on the truth (you know it to be a
truth) that grumbling is absurd and futile, your brain will henceforward
begin to form a habit in that direction; it will begin to be moulded to
the idea that grumbling is absurd and futile. In odd moments, when it
isn't thinking of anything in particular, it will suddenly remember that
grumbling is absurd and futile. When you sit down to the meal and open
your mouth to say: 'I can't think what my ass of a partner means by - '
it will remember that grumbling is absurd and futile, and will alter the
arrangement of your throat, teeth, and tongue, so that you will say:
'What fine weather we're having!' In brief, it will remember
involuntarily, by a new habit. All who look into their experience will
admit that the failure to replace old habits by new ones is due to the
fact that at the critical moment the brain does not remember; it simply
forgets. The practice of concentration will cure that. All depends on
regular concentration. This grumbling is an instance, though chosen not
quite at hazard.



Having proved by personal experiment the truth of the first of the two
great principles which concern the human machine - namely, that the brain
is a servant, not a master, and can be controlled - we may now come to
the second. The second is more fundamental than the first, but it can be
of no use until the first is understood and put into practice. The human
machine is an apparatus of brain and muscle for enabling the Ego to
develop freely in the universe by which it is surrounded, without
friction. Its function is to convert the facts of the universe to the
best advantage of the Ego. The facts of the universe are the material
with which it is its business to deal - not the facts of an ideal
universe, but the facts of this universe. Hence, when friction occurs,
when the facts of the universe cease to be of advantage to the Ego, the
fault is in the machine. It is not the solar system that has gone wrong,
but the human machine. Second great principle, therefore: '_In case of
friction, the machine is always at fault_.'

You can control nothing but your own mind. Even your two-year-old babe
may defy you by the instinctive force of its personality. But your own
mind you can control. Your own mind is a sacred enclosure into which
nothing harmful can enter except by your permission. Your own mind has
the power to transmute every external phenomenon to its own purposes. If
happiness arises from cheerfulness, kindliness, and rectitude (and who
will deny it?), what possible combination of circumstances is going to
make you unhappy so long as the machine remains in order? If
self-development consists in the utilisation of one's environment (not
utilisation of somebody else's environment), how can your environment
prevent you from developing? You would look rather foolish without it,
anyway. In that noddle of yours is everything necessary for development,
for the maintaining of dignity, for the achieving of happiness, and you
are absolute lord over the noddle, will you but exercise the powers of
lordship. Why worry about the contents of somebody else's noddle, in
which you can be nothing but an intruder, when you may arrive at a
better result, with absolute certainty, by confining your activities to
your own? 'Look within.' 'The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.' 'Oh,
yes!' you protest. 'All that's old. Epictetus said that. Marcus Aurelius
said that. Christ said that.' They did. I admit it readily. But if you
were ruffled this morning because your motor-omnibus broke down, and
you had to take a cab, then so far as you are concerned these great
teachers lived in vain. You, calling yourself a reasonable man, are
going about dependent for your happiness, dignity, and growth, upon a
thousand things over which you have no control, and the most exquisitely
organised machine for ensuring happiness, dignity, and growth, is
rusting away inside you. And all because you have a sort of notion that
a saying said two thousand years ago cannot be practical.

You remark sagely to your child: 'No, my child, you cannot have that
moon, and you will accomplish nothing by crying for it. Now, here is
this beautiful box of bricks, by means of which you may amuse yourself
while learning many wonderful matters and improving your mind. You must
try to be content with what you have, and to make the best of it. If you
had the moon you wouldn't be any happier.' Then you lie awake half the
night repining because the last post has brought a letter to the effect
that 'the Board cannot entertain your application for,' etc. You say the
two cases are not alike. They are not. Your child has never heard of
Epictetus. On the other hand, justice _is_ the moon. At your age you
surely know that. 'But the Directors _ought_ to have granted my
application,' you insist. Exactly! I agree. But we are not in a universe
of _oughts_. You have a special apparatus within you for dealing with a
universe where _oughts_ are flagrantly disregarded. And you are not
using it. You are lying awake, keeping your wife awake, injuring your
health, injuring hers, losing your dignity and your cheerfulness. Why?
Because you think that these antics and performances will influence the
Board? Because you think that they will put you into a better condition
for dealing with your environment to-morrow? Not a bit. Simply because
the machine is at fault.

In certain cases we do make use of our machines (as well as their sad
condition of neglect will allow), but in other cases we behave in an
extraordinarily irrational manner. Thus if we sally out and get caught
in a heavy shower we do not, unless very far gone in foolishness, sit
down and curse the weather. We put up our umbrella, if we have one, and
if not we hurry home. We may grumble, but it is not serious grumbling;
we accept the shower as a fact of the universe, and control ourselves.
Thus also, if by a sudden catastrophe we lose somebody who is important
to us, we grieve, but we control ourselves, recognising one of those
hazards of destiny from which not even millionaires are exempt. And the
result on our Ego is usually to improve it in essential respects. But
there are other strokes of destiny, other facts of the universe,
against which we protest as a child protests when deprived of the moon.

Take the case of an individual with an imperfect idea of honesty. Now,
that individual is the consequence of his father and mother and his
environment, and his father and mother of theirs, and so backwards to
the single-celled protoplasm. That individual is a result of the cosmic
order, the inevitable product of cause and effect. We know that. We must
admit that he is just as much a fact of the universe as a shower of rain
or a storm at sea that swallows a ship. We freely grant in the abstract
that there must be, at the present stage of evolution, a certain number
of persons with unfair minds. We are quite ready to contemplate such an
individual with philosophy - until it happens that, in the course of the
progress of the solar system, he runs up against ourselves. Then listen
to the outcry! Listen to the continual explosions of a righteous man
aggrieved! The individual may be our clerk, cashier, son, father,
brother, partner, wife, employer. We are ill-used! We are being treated
unfairly! We kick; we scream. We nourish the inward sense of grievance
that eats the core out of content. We sit down in the rain. We decline
to think of umbrellas, or to run to shelter.

We care not that that individual is a fact which the universe has been
slowly manufacturing for millions of years. Our attitude implies that we
want eternity to roll back and begin again, in such wise that we at any
rate shall not be disturbed. Though we have a machine for the
transmutation of facts into food for our growth, we do not dream of
using it. But, we say, he is doing us harm! Where? In our minds. He has
robbed us of our peace, our comfort, our happiness, our good temper.
Even if he has, we might just as well inveigh against a shower. But has
he? What was our brain doing while this naughty person stepped in and
robbed us of the only possessions worth having? No, no! It is not that
he has done us harm - the one cheerful item in a universe of stony facts
is that no one can harm anybody except himself - it is merely that we
have been silly, precisely as silly as if we had taken a seat in the
rain with a folded umbrella by our side.... The machine is at fault. I
fancy we are now obtaining glimpses of what that phrase really means.



It is in intercourse - social, sentimental, or business - with one's
fellows that the qualities and the condition of the human machine are
put to the test and strained. That part of my life which I conduct by
myself, without reference - or at any rate without direct reference - to
others, I can usually manage in such a way that the gods do not
positively weep at the spectacle thereof. My environment is simpler,
less puzzling, when I am alone, my calm and my self-control less liable
to violent fluctuations. Impossible to be disturbed by a chair!
Impossible that a chair should get on one's nerves! Impossible to blame
a chair for not being as reasonable, as archangelic as I am myself! But
when it comes to people!... Well, that is
'living,' then! The art of life, the art of extracting all its power
from the human machine, does not lie chiefly in processes of
bookish-culture, nor in contemplations of the beauty and majesty of
existence. It lies chiefly in keeping the peace, the whole peace, and
nothing but the peace, with those with whom one is 'thrown.' Is it in
sitting ecstatic over Shelley, Shakespeare, or Herbert Spencer, solitary
in my room of a night, that I am 'improving myself' and learning to
live? Or is it in watching over all my daily human contacts? Do not seek

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Online LibraryArnold BennettThe Human Machine → online text (page 2 of 6)