Issues of Life
HENRY NELSON WIEMAN
Chapter III: Maximum Energy for Living
ALL living requires energy. Living might be defined as transformation of energy into activities of thinking, feeling, and behavior. The more abundantly we live, the more energy is consumed. The more life we pack into a month or a year or into seventy years, the more energy is used. All experience uses up energy. To think, to love, to dream, to rejoice or sorrow or aspire or formulate ideals requires energy. The more we feel, the more rich and full our experiences are, the more energy we must have.
The first drain upon our vital energies is made for the physiological processes—the beating of the heart, the action of the lungs, the work of the stomach, and the movements of the body. The thinking and feeling and planning and hoping that make up our conscious life must take the energy that is left over after the physiological activities have taken what they must have. A simple experiment will prove this. Let a man become so exhausted that he cannot think or feel, so that his consciousness becomes nothing but a dull blur, still he can keep on putting one foot in front of the other to walk, or work his arms up and down on a pump handle. His heart
will continue to beat and lungs to function. An expert swimmer can still keep his body afloat even after he is so weary that his mind scarcely thinks or feels. Therefore we must have a surplus age of energy if we are to have that richness and clarity and scope of conscious experience which constitute all the value of life that we are able to appreciate.
How can we increase to the utmost that stream of transforming energy which constitutes life? This problem divides into two parts. There is, first, the biochemical problem and, second, the psychological problem. It is the psychological problem that we shall consider. The biochemical is no less important, but we must leave that to the physiologist and the physician. Certain physiological facts we must acknowledge, however, as the basic sources from which all our vital energies are derived. But after acknowledging these we shall give our attention wholly to the problem of how to release, conserve, focus, and apply this energy in such a way as to get the utmost possible amount of life out of it. This last is a psychological, social, moral, and religious problem.
THE BIOCHEMICAL PROBLEM
There are three physical or biochemical facts about the sources of vital energy which we shall mention and then go on to the psychological problem of how to release and use this energy
after it has been made available for life by the biochemical processes.
The first physical fact to note is that all our energy must be gotten from our environment— from the food we eat, the air we breathe, sunlight, etc. There is no “spiritual” source of energy other than this environment. There are spiritual factors, that is, moral, religious, social, involved in the total problem of how to achieve maximum energy for living, as we shall see. But there is no spiritual source of energy which can be a substitute for or a supplement to the food, air, and sunlight. Here, again, a simple experiment will demonstrate the fact. Just remove the oxygen from the immediate environment of the most spiritual person you can discover and in less than half an hour he will. not have enough energy to think, aspire, hope, pray, or have any feeling mystic or otherwise. Hence physical conditions are indispensable.
The second fact of this order to note is good health. Other things being equal, the better the health, the more energy for living there will be. But other things are not always equal. Sometimes a sickly person has far more energy of life than a healthy one. You have here a person abounding in good health, and there a Person afflicted with much illness; but if this afflicted person meets the psychological conditions we shall later mention which yield maximum energy for living, while the healthy person
does not, the sickly person may be more dynamic than the other.
The third biochemical condition of energy is native constitution. Some people are so constituted physiologically that they can transform more swiftly and in greater quantity the raw materials of food, air, and other chemical components into the mental and physical activities of living. This is not primarily a matter of size or health. It has, rather, to do with the way the glands function. The viscera—heart, lungs, stomach, and other vital organs of such a person—have greater capacity for that kind of chemical transformation which is life. Sometimes a very small person will have vastly more energy than a man who is a mountain of flesh and bone. This native capacity for the chemical transformation of life cannot be cultivated or developed. It is the way a person is made physiologically. A Theodore Roosevelt, or a Mussolini, or a Lloyd George is born that way. They can improve their health, as Roosevelt did. Above all, they can cultivate those psychological conditions which make for maximum energy. But the native constitution, so far as we know, cannot be changed. But here again the man who may have huge capacity for this chemical transformation of life may not have nearly so much energy available for living as another man with very limited native capacity if this other man meets the psychological conditions which we are
going to consider. If the man with great vitality does not rightly conserve, release, focus, and apply his energies, that richness and fullness of life which might have been his will pass him by while the man with limited native capacity, if he does meet these conditions, will live the more abounding life.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM
After we have secured the physical environment which is most conducive to maximum energy for living, and have built up our health, and have our native endowment of vitality, we still have the great problem of using these in such a way as to live to the utmost by means of them. The great problem of maximum energy for living has not been solved until we have met these further requirements.
The first of these further requirements is an adequate stimulus. No man has the energy for living the richest life of which he is capable until he has been exposed to the stimulus which can unlock the sluice gates of energy that are in him. Many a man has lived his whole life through and has never discovered his own potential power, never had the great experiences he might have had, nor done the things he might have done, and never even dreamed that it was in him to live in such a magnificent manner, all because he never found the stimulus which could awaken all his powers. One cannot release his
utmost resources of energy by mere determination. He cannot do it by gritting his teeth and clenching his fist and resolving that he will. He must have the stimulus that will tap the reservoirs deep within him and reach down pervasively into the cells and the ganglia, the glands and the viscera, where the ultimate dynamos are. Then only will the energy be available for scope and vividness and fullness of life.
When I was a boy we had a cow called Old Blossom. She would not hurt a fly. We children could climb on her back and between her legs. But one time I was gone from home for two weeks and on my return my younger brother met mine with his eyes as big as saucers.
“Don’t you dare go into the pasture. Old Blossom has a calf, and she’ll hook you.”
“Aw, who’s afraid of Old Blossom,” I said. “I’m not afraid of Old Blossom.”
I climbed the fence and started toward her. She had her calf beside her, sure enough. As I approached I noticed that she watched me with peculiar intentness, not at all like Old Blossom was wont to do. That made me just a little uncomfortable, but I kept coming. When I got within fifteen or twenty feet, she lowered her horns and started after me. There was a fence about five feet high which I never jumped before or since. But Old Blossom provided the needed stimulus. I cleared that fence with daylight under me.
Horns and hoofs are not the only stimulus which life can provide. An object of love is better. Old Blossom’s calf stimulated her energies until her life took on a power and richness, no doubt, that it never had before. But some sort of stimulus everyone must have if he is ever to reach the floodtide of life which his native constitution, health, and environmental conditions make possible. A mere spurt of physiological effort due to threatening horns will serve to show what a stimulus can do, but we must have a stimulus which is more pervasive and continuous and hence will quicken all the powers throughout long stretches of living. If we do not find it, we shall never discover our powers and will never live to that abounding measure that we might.
The stimulation of which we speak must not be confused with excitement. Excitement does not release energy for rich living and great achievement. On the contrary, it consumes energy in mere waste. In excitement one muscle is pulling against the other, one impulse is blocking the other. Energy is used up in inner friction. The power is not delivered to the wheels of achievement and rich and clarified experience. One is merely blocking himself and exhausting his energies in trying to overcome his own self-imposed obstructions.
The stimulation which yields abounding life does not produce excitement and confusion, but,
rather, a deep inner peace. The energy of life is not like the stream which dashes against the rocks and foams against the banks, but, rather, like the great river which moves in peace and power to float the ships and turn the wheels. When the proper stimulus is found many impulses are quickened, but they are quickened harmoniously. Each propulsion sustains and promotes the other. Thus the powers of the individual do not obstruct one another, but release and magnify one another. Energy, instead of being consumed in friction, is fulfilled in rich experience and magnitude of accomplishment.
The second requirement for maximum energy is rest. Many a man goes through life without ever discovering the riches of experience and power of achievement which might be his because he is always half worn out. He is never completely rested with all his vitality restored and ready for use. He is always frazzled and nervous. The great art of relaxation and rest must be cultivated until a man can recuperate and regain his bounce and gusto. A man ought to be able to lie down at any time during the day or night to relax for fifteen minutes to half an hour. He need not go to sleep, although if he can, so much the better. But he ought to be able to shut his eyes and lie in complete passivity while the innumerable cells of his body build up again their reduced stores of energy.
To be able thus to relax at any time of need is a high art which may take years to master. Like any other art one can learn it only by practice, but certain things can be done to promote it. For example, the wrong kind of stimulus will destroy the ability to rest. If one relies upon tea or coffee for his stimulus, or any other drug, he cannot rest when he needs it. He is artificially depleting his vital reserves and can-not restore them until the effects of the drug wear off, often leaving some poison which saps further the vital resources. Or if the stimulus produces excitement, rather than a lifelong and pervasive devotion which gathers momentum with the years, his ability to relax will be impaired.
It is often said that Edison, in the days of his prime, slept only four hours in the twenty-four. But his intimate friends knew that was a joke. To be sure, he slept only four consecutive hours, but during all the rest of the twenty, at any time he needed it, he would recline in a big chair or lie flat on his back, close his eyes and take a cat nap for fifteen minutes or so, then up and at it again with restored vigor and driving power. He would do this as many times in the day as he found it helpful. Napoleon also did this but not sufficiently to maintain his powers, for he was losing his grip at the age when he should have been at his best.
Some, as we have noted, have far greater re-
serves of vital energy than others and so may not feel the need of rest as much as a man of more limited capacity. But if they do not feel the need, it is because they are not living to the utmost of their powers. They may excel others, but they are falling short of what they might attain. And what is far more likely, the people who say they do not need these periods of relaxation simply do not know how incapacitated they are. It is exceedingly easy to flatter and deceive ourselves by making ourselves believe we are not as other men and so do not need the rest they need to keep ourselves at time optimum of our powers.
The third requirement is energy conserving habits. Habits must be organized and established in such a way that the vital energies will be poured down between the conserving banks of these habits and not wasted by spreading out into the swamps and deserts where it will be evaporated or lie in useless puddles or sink into the sand. We must have habits which enable us to throw off those distractions which lead us hither and thither in futile activities which accomplish nothing and get nowhere. How, for example, do we read the newspaper in the morning? The paper must be read. It is dangerous not to read the paper. But the newspaper can consume an enormous amount of time and energy which is wholly wasted unless it is read aright, with habits of mind which conserve and
direct the mental processes, the direction of the eyes, the turning of the pages. There are habits of taking recreation, habits of using the automobile, habits of dressing and washing, habits of meeting people and conversing, habits which dissipate energy so that it is not available for living, so that at the end of three-score years one has used up all the energy at his command and yet has never lived beyond the mere borders of life. The rich and throbbing center of life he has never reached, because he never established those habits which would so conserve and direct his energy as to make it yield rich experience and high achievement.
This must be a matter of habit. It cannot be left to free decision in each occasion. The distractions and impulses are too multitudinous and the complexity of life is too vast to treat it by free decision in each case. Also the process of making up the mind is itself a costly use of energy, and in so far as that expenditure can be saved by established habits, energy is conserved for wider experiences. “Take care of your habits when you are young and they will take care of you when you are old:” However, one never becomes old as long as he is reconstructing and developing and perfecting his system of habits. One becomes old only when he ceases to amplify and improve his system of habits. It requires twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years to develop a system of habits which will enable a man to live
the abundant and masterful life. If he does not constantly through the first fifty years of his life examine, reconstruct, improve, and multiply the habits that widen, enrich, and direct his experience of life, he will never reach the summit of his powers. That high plateau of mastery and vision which comes in the fifties and sixties will never be his. For some that high plateau extends into the seventies and eighties. Michelson, physicist of the University of Chicago, winner of the Nobel prize, was champion tennis player of the faculty when he was in his seventies. He also painted pictures, played the violin, composed music, and continued his experimental investigations into the speed of light. Only a lifetime given to the progressive organization of a system of habits which conserve and magnify the amount of energy available for rich experience and high achievement could reach three quarters of a century with banners waving in such fashion.
As the world becomes more complex and the distracting lures of life multiply, this need of a protecting and conserving shell of habit becomes increasingly urgent. With the movie on the corner, the colored supplement at my elbow, the glamorous stories in the popular monthly, with the insistent advertisements which lure to every sort of diversion, I shall find myself jumping hither and thither, achieving nothing, experiencing nothing of depth and beauty, simply tearing
down with my left hand what my right hand accomplishes, unless I build up a system of habits which conserve and shape my life to fruitful ends. These habits must be not merely of body, but of mind. Indeed, they must be primarily of mind. Without them one cannot do anything with beauty and mastery. He cannot be alert, or good humored, or courteous, unless he has developed the needed habits.
The fourth requirement is co-operative adjustment to the environment. A vast amount of energy is wasted in fuming and fretting over environmental conditions, both physical and social. If the weather does not suit me, I can fret, but the fretting only makes the trouble worse. If the bus does not come when I wait for it, I can stew, but there is nothing gained thereby. The chief problem arises, however, when we come to dealing with other people. We can win their co-operation or their antagonism. We can win the co-operation or antagonism of physical conditions and of animals also. But the stakes at issue are magnified many fold when we come to dealing with persons. Some men are so gifted in winning the co-operation of others that wherever they go their fellows rush forward to pick them up and carry them on their shoulders to whatever high end is in sight.
This grace and winsomeness and capacity for CO-operative adjustment to the social environment is partly a matter of native endowment and
partly a matter of early training over which the individual may have no control. All that may lie behind him as an asset or liability. But there is much that lies within our powers. We can cultivate and highly develop the art of co-operative adjustment or the reverse.
There are times when we must fight. Perhaps there are times when every man ought to fight. But ninety-nine out of every hundred, perhaps nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand of the fights which we think are altogether holy and righteous and demanded as a matter of honor, would never have been necessary at all if we had not been so cocksure of our own way or so egotistic or so blind to the interests of others, or so lacking in plain courtesy or deficient in any one of a thousand different ways. Every time a fight is fought which could have been avoided without loss of value, there is a great waste of vital energy. For fighting is destructive and wasteful. An unnecessary fight is a luxury altogether too costly. Of course the word “fight” can be used to apply to undertakings which are not wasteful and destructive, but that is not its original and simplest meaning. Even when we win a fight we lose, if the same end or a much better end could have been attained without the fight. Co-operative adjustment to the environment not only serves in most cases to achieve the end, but it is creative and yields still higher and better ends than were anticipated. We won
the last Great War, but everyone knows that in that war the victors lost as well as the defeated.
There are two ways of getting through a locked door. One way is to smash it down with an ax. You can get through that way. But you will probably be arrested and may have to pay a fine. You will make enemies and Irritate people. The door will have to be repaired. Thus the striving of life toward higher ends will be dragged down and hindered. But there is another way of getting through the door and that is to find the key that will fit the lock. Then you simply insert the key, turn it and the great door, no matter how massive and sheathed with steel, will swing upon its hinges and you can pass through without any of that commotion and irritation and wastage of life.
In dealing with Mr. Jones, no matter how obstructive and truculent he may seem, there is often a key to his heart if I can find it. If I can unlock the door instead of smashing it down, there is something more gained than conservation of energy. Often there is a creative synthesis of energies which is productive of unforeseen riches. There is a myth to the effect that the cave man won his wife by knocking her down with a club. But we have a better way. We use a ring instead of a club. Whether it be committees, institutions, customs, or my lady love, they will drag me down or lift me up according to the way in which I adjust to them. There are
two ways of adjusting to them: the way of the ax and the club; the way of the ring and the key.
In childhood and adolescence one often feels it necessary to start a fight merely to show his independence and manliness. One must irritate others and be ostentatiously authoritative in order to demonstrate to himself and to the world that he is not a weakling. He does it because he is not quite sure. In fact, it is the only way he can make himself think he is not a weakling. The man who always insists that he is boss in his own home is having a hard time to make the fact sufficiently evident.
A young friend of mine living twelve miles out from Los Angeles had this art of co-operative adjustment. He received a telephone call from the hospital where his wife was, saying that a baby had just been born to them. He jumped into his little Ford car and drove it as fast as it would go, which was thirty-five miles an hour. Wildly excited he forgot all about the traffic regulations. As he was banging and rattling along a traffic officer rode up behind him, and forced him to stop.
“What do you mean?” said the officer. “Twenty miles is the limit and you are going thirty-five.”
But the young man had that way about him.
“Why—why, my wife’s in the hospital and we’ve just had a baby, and I—I—I gotta see her.”
“Huh! What’s the address?”
The young man gave the address.
“All right,” said the officer. “Follow me!”
He started down the street with his siren shrieking until the hills echoed. The traffic opened up before that siren as the Red Sea before the rod of Moses. The way was white and open before him. The young man took the corners on two wheels and the ruts in mid air and reached the hospital in time to get his wife’s first smile.
In dealing with a traffic officer it is necessary to practice co-operative adjustment to the environment. In dealing with any human being that is necessary. It is a great art. Success in life probably depends more upon this art than upon anything else. The road is clear and open before him who knows how to win the Co-operation of his fellow man. Two men start with the same ability in every other respect or, it may be, one has much less ability except in this one particular. But if this one excels in ability to enter into co-operative adjustment with his environment, the years will find him far on the road to the high places.
The last and most important of the requirements for maximum energy is a life-purpose. If it is rightly cultivated, it provides all the other four requirements which we have mentioned. We have stated what is needed in order to have
maximum energy for living, but we have not indicated how these needs can be supplied. How can one get the needed stimulus, the ability to rest, the requisite habits and the art of co-operative adjustment to his environment? These four questions will be answered in describing the way to organize all the activities of a life under a sovereign purpose.
When the activities of a life are organized under the sovereignty of one supreme devotion, each activity supports the others, inner conflict and friction are removed, maximum stimulus is operative, all habits pull together and distractions are excluded, and, if the purpose is of the right sort, co-operative adjustment to the environment is promoted.
If you put one foot in front of the other and then the second foot in front, and do this continuously for hours at a time it is very exhausting. We call it walking, but when we do it that way we are not walking anywhere. There is no organization of activities under a ruling purpose. But if we make exactly the same motions with the purpose of going somewhere to receive a million dollars, we do not become weary nearly so quickly. The toxins of fatigue actually do not accumulate so rapidly in the organism if we walk with a purpose.
When I was a boy of twelve or thirteen I remember walking home from school beneath the blazing sun of a June day, in the afternoon, over
a long stretch of hot sandy road without a tree or shade of any sort, after eating an early breakfast and a light lunch and playing hard during each recess and noon. It seemed as though I could not keep myself going unless I fixed my eye on some weed or stick or spot upon the ground not too far in the distance and pretended I was not going any farther than that, and then, when I got there, setting the mark on ahead and playing the same game. But if I should suddenly remember that at home there was a watermelon on ice or a freezer of ice cream, or anything else interesting, but especially if it was something good to eat, niy weariness would fall from me like a mantle, and I could walk quite jubilantly all the way.
Working a saw up and down and driving a hammer are wearisome, but if you make those same motions with the purpose of building a little cabin in your summer camp, fatigue does not overtake so soon.
Just as there is increase of energy for living when the simple activities of walking are organized under a ruling purpose, so likewise when all the activities of a whole lifetime are so organized, there is still greater store of vital energy made available. This ruling passion may be very humble, but if the whole life is organized under it, there is maximum energy. Some Bethlehem star to follow and we find our powers released.
It is plain that such a purpose will give us the needed stimulus. But merely to have such a purpose is not sufficient. One must foster it. From time to time he must go apart and be alone and there relax. He must relax in the sense of allowing all the petty and superficial preoccupations to fall away and leave the mind free and naked and fully exposed. These minor matters must engage our time and effort most of the time, for they are the necessary building stones in any large enterprise. But the danger is that we shall become so absorbed in the stones that we shall lose all sense of the building as a whole. It is necessary, therefore, to drop the stones occasionally and withdraw and expose our total personality to the stimulus of the sovereign purpose of our lives. We must yield ourselves to the lift and lure of it until all time currents of our life swing into alignment. If the driving thrust of life is not to fail we must renew our vision of the spires and spaces of that high emprise in which the daily task is but a minor part. Thus life-purpose solves the problem of a stimulus.
It also helps us solve the problem of rest and relaxation. This, we repeat, is an art which for most people must be cultivated with diligent and long-continued practice. But the kind of stimulus we have described gives the sort of inner peace which is conducive to relaxation when it is needed. The many distracting little things
which goad and worry and irritate are what destroy the capacity to rest. It is impossible to put these out of mind sufficiently to get our needed rest unless we have access to some vision of a far purpose which gives peace and makes these little matters fall into proper perspective. On every summit there is rest, said Goethe. Most of the time we must struggle through the ravines and underbrush of inconsequential detail. But if we have before us the vision of a calm, high summit and can lift our gaze to it and get the details in proper perspective, we find rest. The organization of detail under the lure of high purpose gives order and peace to the mind and makes it more easy to relax.
Also the habits which conserve energy can be developed only under the control of such a purpose. It is impossible to develop an inclusive system of habits which will keep out wasteful dissipations and distractions and which will canalize the vital stream into a single channel so that rich experience is attained, unless one has some governing purpose that can draw into itself all our activities. But with such a purpose to give him direction and provide a standard one can periodically examine his habits as a mechanic goes over the machinery of an automobile to see what is wrong. He can discover what reconstruction of habits and personal attitudes may be required, and can establish this recon-
structed attitude as a motor set by autosuggestion.
We do not mean to suggest that a man will always be able to discover what is wrong with himself or always be able to set it right when he does discover it. There is no possible way by which anyone can suddenly leap to infallibility and absolute perfection. All we can ever hope to do is to make some improvement, and that is all we claim for these suggestions and all anyone has a right to claim for any suggestions.
Co-operative adjustment to environment also depends upon life-purpose, but it must be the right kind of purpose. Some lives are dominated by a major objective that puts them at cross purposes with large sections of their physical, animal, and social environment. Others find an object of supreme devotion which gives them a sense of profound co-operative adjustment to their world. All conflict cannot be abolished. But there are two kinds of conflict. There are instrumental conflict and ultimate conflict. Instrumental conflict is instrumental to a more profound and inclusive co-operation. Ultimate conflict makes co-operation more restricted and more superficial.
There is an ideal order which is already actualized to some degree in existence which yields the most profound and inclusive community and mutual support between all human individuals and between all men and their total environ-
ment. That does not mean necessarily that if this order were completely actualized it would reduce everything in the universe to a perfect system of harmony and mutual support. Neither does it mean that it would be a static order. On the contrary, if it is to yield that kind of vivid, variegated, and progressive experience which is essential to the distinctively human way of living, it would have to be an order that in many respects was constantly undergoing reconstruction and development, breaking down at places and being remade. But whatever may be the exact nature of that order, and however restricted or inclusive of all being it may be, it seems to be logically inescapable that there is some order which would constitute the greatest value which human kind can experience when, and if, human beings conformed to it. Furthermore, it seems manifest from the empirical evidence of life that this order must be one of cooperative adjustment between many living organisms, physical conditions, and meanings. Now, conflict which is directed to the end of clearing the way for the establishment of such an order of maximum value is instrumental conflict.
A life-purpose which enables an individual to enter into most profound co-operative adjustment with other individuals and with his world must be a purpose which conforms to the order we have just described. A purpose which does
so conform will be essentially inclusive of the greatest good of other men as well as representing the greatest good for the individual who adheres to it. A man who is dominated by such a purpose will find it much easier to cultivate cooperative adjustment to his environment than a man who has a different sort of purpose or none at all. He may lack that native grace and culture that come from birth and early training and in so far as he does lack these it is a great loss. But with a purpose which can be fulfilled only by promoting the ultimate welfare of others, his mood will be shaped and his life molded in such a way as to lead him to many subtle and creative harmonies with the world of men. His very conflicts, if carefully controlled and constantly criticized in the light of his major objective in life, may often lead to wider cooperation and deeper community of life with those whom he is forced for a time to oppose.
First of all we must find it. We must find what in all the world we most want to do. The mistake many of us make is to assume that we know at the start what we most want to do. As a matter of fact, it is most difficult for an individual to discover what gives him greatest satisfaction. How can I know that I like ice cream if I have never tasted it, or beautiful music if I have never cultivated my ear by listening to it,
or great poetry if I have never disciplined mind audi imagination to the point where the beauty of it can dawn upon me? And how can I know that farming is for me the most delightful occupation if I have never had opportunity to practice farming for a time sufficient to apprehend all that it truly involves? And so with any other occupation.
However, when we speak of life-purpose we do not mean merely a profession. A profession is generally just a means. It provides the instruments and opportunities for doing what we want to do. But what gives us greatest joy is not merely playing the part of some profession. It is, rather, accomplishing something of significance for the total movement of human life. If it can likewise be a contribution to something of cosmic significance, so much the more stirring it must be. A man has seventy years to live, and lie wants to make the biggest dent he can in that time. How and where can he do it? That is the problem. What kind of striving can give to my life its greatest meaning? It must be something which gives joy to me, for if I practice law or medicine or enter the ministry out of a sense of duty, but without finding any great satisfaction in it myself, I have made a mistake. I may think I am serving the world by sacrificing myself, but I am not, because I cannot do effectively and fruitfully what I do not enjoy doing.
To find that toward which all my activities
must aim I shall listen to what others say about myself and about the needs and opportunities of my time. I shall read, I shall observe, I shall ponder these many things in my heart. But one tiling I must certainly do. I must give opportunity for the deep, hidden subconscious propulsion of my nature to assert itself and come to consciousness. That is often difficult. How can it be done? By a kind of worshipful, meditative waiting, in which one quietly hearkens until the call of the world and the deepest desire of his own heart merge into a single demand. Waiting before the Highest fosters inarticulate aspiration.
These quiet times are very important. The distractions and cross currents then subside and the deeper urge can rise to the level of consciousness and the total personality recover the single unified thrust of life. The eddies and backwash of superficial conscious projects can be drawn into the central current. Whether one finds his ruling purpose at such a time or not, such seasons of relaxation and aspiration will promote the discovery.
After finding a life-purpose one must foster it. If he does not, he will lose it. It is not likely that he will deliberately renounce it. But in the throng and press of life he will shift a little here and compromise a little there and all the while the drag of the current will be pulling him farther and farther out of his course until at last, after the years have passed, he will find
himself far down here when he should be yonder far upstream.
In order to avoid this gradual surrender to the shifting currents of the moment one must dedicate himself anew to the vocation of his choice. He must have seasons when he exposes himself again to the gripping power of his chosen calling. Above all he must occasionally put into clear and definite words just what this is which he is striving above all else in the world to do. What is it that I am trying to do in sixty or seventy years of life? I must be able to state it. This statement of it should change as the years go by, for the purpose ought to grow. It is well to have some formula or ritual by which self-dedication to it is renewed. One might recommit himself to it by some such words as these: Every impulse of flesh, resource of experience, and power of personality is aroused, mobilized, and dedicated to this high calling—then specify as accurately as possible just what it is. This can be repeated over and over several times until it becomes deeply established as a personal attitude. Thins the purpose of a lifetime is fostered.
After fostering it one must guard it from the ills that will surely beset it. One of these is the lure of success and another the lure of wealth, when these two lures can be distinguished at all. Some things bring quick success if they are done well. Other things bring success only after many years of devoted effort. As an athlete or a
dancer or a movie actor or almost any kind of an entertainer, one can win great glory in early youth if he is gifted and diligent. But the kinds of work which bring quick success are generally trivial. The more important undertakings of life require many years to bring to fulfillment, and hence success does not begin to show itself until youth is past.
Here, then, is the great temptation. Can you keep true to your chosen work through the years when others pass you by, when quick success comes to those who choose easier ways and more trivial tasks, when your old classmates and associates look back at you with pitying condescension and say: “Well, he’s a good fellow. He keeps plugging along. But it’s strange how he never seems to get anywhere. But he’s a good fellow”—can you hold on through that? That is the test. There will come times when you wonder whether you can hold on. Then comes the crisis. One year, two years, three years, and still the break does not come. Can you hold true to your chosen way of life?
Can one guard the purpose of his life from the lure of quick and cheap success? The way to do that is to have these seasons of worshipful meditation, of relaxation and aspiration and renewed dedication, when the deepest propulsion of my nature is stirred anew and all the currents of my life run strong and deep and steady into the channel of my true vocation. A mere handful of
personalities who live such dedicated lives can rule ten thousand, and the ten thousand will never know that they are being ruled. The course of human history is shaped by personalities who can hold to high purpose like that. The far consummations of time are achieved by them. The shifty opportunist and the man who devotes himself to trivial things for the sake of popular acclaim and of wealth that is easily and quickly won, have their reward. Perhaps the great majority will always choose that way and freely confess that they prefer it. Their doom is that they must always live on the superficial surface of life, in the froth and foam, while the deep undercurrents which shape destiny are in the keeping of those who live for the far-reaching and slow-maturing fulfillments. But he who lives for these mighty and slow-moving achievements must have a tenacity which grips to the death and must guard his purpose from the lure of success and wealth until these come and offer themselves to him as he fulfills his true life-purpose.
Furthermore, the purpose of a lifetime must be guarded from the stranglehold of instrumentalities. The means and instruments must not be allowed to thwart the very end for which they are used by becoming so burdensome and numerous that they absorb all the and energy. As the world becomes more complex and instrumentalities are multiplied this danger
increases. A man (or a woman) starts out to make a home. Perhaps that is his chief purpose in life—to make a home as beautiful and as creative of noble personality as can be. But to do that requires many things. He must have a house and lot, if not some acreage. He must have a radio and an automobile and frigidaire. By the time he has gotten all the means and instruments needed to make a home and keeps them furbished and new, he has no time and energy for that community of heart and mind which makes the very substance of a home. Thus the purpose has been throttled by the instrumentalities which were intended to promote it.
I had a roommate in college whose chief purpose was to study, so he gathered all the needed equipment. He procured a large comfortable chair that was thought to be good for study. He got study slippers and a lounging jacket. A book rest was fastened to the arm of the chair to hold the book at the right angle before his eyes. A special lamp was installed and eyeshade, pencils, paper, and revolving bookcase. He would come into the room after the evening meal, take off his coat and put on the jacket, take off his shoes and slip into the slippers, adjust the study lamp, put his book on the book rest, recline in the comfortable chair with his eyeshade over his eyes, and, when everything was perfectly adjusted, he would go to sleep. That is the parable of many a life. So
much time is spent in getting ready to live that living is never achieved. The mounting complexities of the world will strangle the purpose of a lifetime if it is not guarded from them.
Finally, one must guard it from fanaticism. To have an absorbing purpose does not necessarily mean to be a fanatic. One becomes a fanatic if, in pursuit of his purpose, he ignores the interests of others’, or ignores the conditions which must be met to fulfill it, or does not keep it growing in adaption to changing conditions. These are three forms of fanaticism, and it is a constant danger to him who lives a dedicated life.
This danger also is avoided by the method of occasional retirement for self-examination and review, for meditation and hearkening to the still small voices of experience which are drowned In the rush and hurly-burly of life. These still small voices will save us from fanaticism if we take time to hearken to them. I do not see that wistful, pleading look on someone’s face, someone, perhaps, who is very closely associated with me, but whose subtle and inarticulate needs I ignore because I am so absorbed in my own purpose. But in the hour of quiet when I review the experiences of the day and try to sense the movement of all the currents which are shaping my life, and seek to find what is wrong and what needs’ readjustment, then it is most likely that there will come to me that wistful look and those
outstretched pleading hands which I was too busy to observe when the throng and press was upon me. So I am able to mend my ways and modify the focus of my life and thus escape the danger of fanaticism.
In these times also my purpose is able to grow, for these are times of questioning and the gathering of new clues. Thus the danger of a crystallized and rigid purpose is avoided and adaption to changing conditions is made possible. But if I am always driving ahead without taking time for relaxation and reconsideration and seeking out the more subtle and delicate leadings of experience and suggestions for change, I can scarcely escape fanaticism if my purpose is passionate. And my purpose must be passionate if I am to have maximum energy for living.