THE REFLECTIVE MOOD





The exercise of concentrating the mind (to which at least half an

hour a day should be given) is a mere preliminary, like scales on

the piano. Having acquired power over that most unruly member of

one's complex organism, one has naturally to put it to the yoke.

Useless to possess an obedient mind unless one profits to the

furthest possible degree by its obedience. A prolonged primary

course of study is indicated.



Now as to what this course of study should be there cannot be any

question; there never has been any question. All the sensible

people of all ages are agreed upon it. And it is not literature,

nor is it any other art, nor is it history, nor is it any science.

It is the study of one's self. Man, know thyself. These words are

so hackneyed that verily I blush to write them. Yet they must be

written, for they need to be written. (I take back my blush, being

ashamed of it.) Man, know thyself. I say it out loud. The phrase

is one of those phrases with which everyone is familiar, of which

everyone acknowledges the value, and which only the most sagacious

put into practice. I don't know why. I am entirely convinced that

what is more than anything else lacking in the life of the average

well-intentioned man of to-day is the reflective mood.



We do not reflect. I mean that we do not reflect upon genuinely

important things; upon the problem of our happiness, upon the main

direction in which we are going, upon what life is giving to us,

upon the share which reason has (or has not) in determining our

actions, and upon the relation between our principles and our

conduct.



And yet you are in search of happiness, are you not? Have you

discovered it?



The chances are that you have not. The chances are that you have

already come to believe that happiness is unattainable. But men

have attained it. And they have attained it by realising that

happiness does not spring from the procuring of physical or mental

pleasure, but from the development of reason and the adjustment of

conduct to principles.



I suppose that you will not have the audacity to deny this. And if

you admit it, and still devote no part of your day to the deliberate

consideration of your reason, principles, and conduct, you admit

also that while striving for a certain thing you are regularly

leaving undone the one act which is necessary to the attainment of

that thing.



Now, shall I blush, or will you?



Do not fear that I mean to thrust certain principles upon your

attention. I care not (in this place) what your principles are.

Your principles may induce you to believe in the righteousness of

burglary. I don't mind. All I urge is that a life in which conduct

does not fairly well accord with principles is a silly life; and

that conduct can only be made to accord with principles by means of

daily examination, reflection, and resolution. What leads to the

permanent sorrowfulness of burglars is that their principles are

contrary to burglary. If they genuinely believed in the moral

excellence of burglary, penal servitude would simply mean so many

happy years for them; all martyrs are happy, because their conduct

and their principles agree.



As for reason (which makes conduct, and is not unconnected with the

making of principles), it plays a far smaller part in our lives than

we fancy. We are supposed to be reasonable but we are much more

instinctive than reasonable. And the less we reflect, the less

reasonable we shall be. The next time you get cross with the waiter

because your steak is over-cooked, ask reason to step into the

cabinet-room of your mind, and consult her. She will probably tell

you that the waiter did not cook the steak, and had no control over

the cooking of the steak; and that even if he alone was to blame,

you accomplished nothing good by getting cross; you merely lost your

dignity, looked a fool in the eyes of sensible men, and soured the

waiter, while producing no effect whatever on the steak.



The result of this consultation with reason (for which she makes no

charge) will be that when once more your steak is over-cooked you

will treat the waiter as a fellow-creature, remain quite calm in a

kindly spirit, and politely insist on having a fresh steak. The

gain will be obvious and solid.



In the formation or modification of principles, and the practice of

conduct, much help can be derived from printed books (issued at

sixpence each and upwards). I mentioned in my last chapter Marcus

Aurelius and Epictetus. Certain even more widely known works will

occur at once to the memory. I may also mention Pascal, La Bruyere,

and Emerson. For myself, you do not catch me travelling without my

Marcus Aurelius. Yes, books are valuable. But not reading of books

will take the place of a daily, candid, honest examination of what

one has recently done, and what one is about to do--of a steady

looking at one's self in the face (disconcerting though the sight

may be).



When shall this important business be accomplished? The solitude of

the evening journey home appears to me to be suitable for it. A

reflective mood naturally follows the exertion of having earned the

day's living. Of course if, instead of attending to an elementary

and profoundly important duty, you prefer to read the paper (which

you might just as well read while waiting for your dinner) I have

nothing to say. But attend to it at some time of the day you must.

I now come to the evening hours.





THE REAL FLYING MACHINE. THE RELATIONSHIP WE HAVE WITH CHRIST THROUGH OBEDIENCE. facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback