With most of us there is no great depth to the self-disease if it is only stopped in time. When once we are well started in the wholesome practice of getting rid of ourselves, the process is rapid. A thorough freedom from self once gained, we find ourselves quite companionable, which, though paradoxical, is without doubt a truth.
“That freedom of the soul,” writes Fenelon, “which looks straight onward in its path, losing no time to reason upon its steps, to study them, or to dwell upon those already taken, is true simplicity.” We recognize a mistake, correct it, go on and forget. If it appears again, correct it again. Irritation at the second or at any number of reappearances only increases the brain-impression of the mistake, and makes the tendency to future error greater.
If opportunity arises to do a good action, take advantage of it, and silently decline the disadvantage of having your attention riveted to it by the praise of others.
A man who is constantly analyzing his physical state is called a hypochondriac. What shall we call the man who is constantly analyzing his moral state? As the hypochondriac loses all sense of health in holding the impression of disease, so the other gradually loses the sense of wholesome relation to himself and to others.
If a man obeyed the laws of health as a matter of course, and turned back every time Nature convicted him of disobedience, he would never feel the need of self-analysis so far as his physical state was concerned. Just so far as a man obeys higher laws as a matter of course, and uses every mistake to enable him to know the laws better, is morbid introspection out of the question with him.
“Man, know thyself!” but, being sure of the desire to know thyself, do not be impatient at slow progress; pay little attention to the process, and forget thyself, except when remembering is necessary to a better forgetting.
To live at real peace with ourselves, we must surely let every little evil imp of selfishness show himself, and not have any skulking around corners. Recognize him for his full worthless-ness, call him by his right name, and move off. Having called him by his right name, our severity with ourselves for harboring him is unnecessary. To be gentle with ourselves is quite as important as to be gentle with others. Great nervous suffering is caused by this over-severity to one’s self, and freedom is never accomplished by that means. Many of us are not severe enough, but very many are too severe. One mistake is quite as bad as the other, and as disastrous in its effects.
If we would regard our own state less, or careless whether we were happy or unhappy, our freedom from self would be gained more rapidly.
As a man intensely interested in some special work does not notice the weather, so we, if we once get hold of the immense interest there may be in living, are not moved to any depth by changes in the clouds of our personal state. We take our moods as a matter of course, and look beyond to interests that are greater. Self may be a great burden if we allow it. It is only a clear window through which we see and are seen, if we are free. And the repose of such freedom must be beyond our conception until we have found it. To be absolutely certain that we know ourselves at any time is one great impediment to reaching such rest. Every bit of self-knowledge gained makes us more doubtful as to knowledge to come. It would surprise most of us to see how really unimportant we are. As a part of the universe, our importance increases just in proportion to the laws that work through us; but this self-importance is lost to us entirely in our greater recognition of the laws. As we gain in the sensitive recognition of universal laws, every petty bit of self-contraction disappears as darkness before the rising of the sun.