Let us take an instance: unpunctuality-for example, as that is a common form of repetition. If we really want to rid ourselves of the habit, suppose every time we are late we cease to deplore it; make a vivid mental picture of ourselves as being on time at the next appointment; then, with the how and the when clearly impressed upon our minds, there should be an absolute refusal to imagine ourselves anything but early. Surely that would be quite as effective as a constant repetition of the regret we feel at being late, whether this is repeated aloud to others, or only in our own minds. As we place the two processes side by side, the latter certainly has the advantage, and might be tried, until a better is found.
Of course we must beware of getting an impression of promptness which has no ground in reality. It is quite possible for an individual to be habitually and exasperatingly late, with all the air and innocence of unusual punctuality. It would strike us as absurd to see a man painting a house the color he did not like, and go on painting it the same color, to show others and himself that which he detested. Is it not equally absurd for any of us, through the constant expression of regret for a fault, to impress the tendency to it more and more upon the brain? It is intensely sad when the consciousness of evil once committed has so impressed a man with a sense of guilt as to make him steadily undervalue himself and his own powers.
Here is a case where one’s own idea of one’s self is seventy-five per cent below par; and a gentle and consistent encouragement in raising that idea is most necessary before par is reached.
And par, as I understand it, is simple freedom from any fixed idea of one’s self, either good or bad.
If fixed impressions of one’s self are stones in the way, the same certainly holds good with fixed impressions of others. Unpleasant brain-impressions of others are great weights, and greater impediments in the way of clearing our own brains. Suppose So-and-so had such a fault yesterday; it does not follow that he has not rid himself of at least part of it to-day. Why should we hold the brain-impression of his mistake, so that every time we look at him we make it stronger? He is not the gainer thereby, and we certainly are the losers. Repeated brain-impressions of another’s faults prevent our discerning his virtues. We are constantly attributing to him disagreeable motives, which arise solely from our idea of him, and of which he is quite innocent. Not only so, but our mistaken impressions increase his difficulty in rising to the best of himself. For any one whose temperament is in the least sensitive is oppressed by what he feels to be another’s idea of him, until he learns to clear himself of that as well as of other brain-impressions.
It is not uncommon to hear one go over and over a supposed injury, or even small annoyances from others, with the reiterated assertion that he fervently desires to forget such injury or annoyances. This fervent desire to forgive and forget expresses itself by a repeated brain-impression of that which is to be forgiven; and if this is so often repeated in words, how many times more must it be repeated mentally! Thus, the brain-impression is increased until at last forgetting seems out of the question. And forgiving is impossible unless one can at the same time so entirely forget the ill-feeling roused as to place it beyond recall.
Surely, if we realized the force and influence of unpleasant brain-impressions, it would be a simple matter to relax and let them escape, to be replaced by others that are only pleasant It cannot be that we enjoy the discomfort of the disagreeable impressions.
And yet, so curiously perverted is human nature that we often hear a revolting story told with the preface, “Oh, I can’t bear to think of it!” And the whole story is given, with a careful attention to detail which is quite unnecessary, even if there were any reason for telling the story at all, and generally concluded with a repetition of the prefatory exclamation. How many pathetic sights are told of, to no end but the repetition of an unpleasant brain-impression. How many past experiences, past illnesses, are gone over and over, which serve the same worse than useless purpose,–that of repeating and emphasizing the brain-impression.
A little pain is made a big one by persistent dwelling upon it; what might have been a short pain is sometimes lengthened for a lifetime. Similarly, an old pain is brought back by recalling a brain-impression.