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Chapter 12 – The Art of Living
"Our lives are songs;
God writes the words.
And we set them to music at leisure;
And the song is sad, or the song is glad
As we choose to fashion the measure." "We must write the song,
Whatever the words,
Whatever the rhyme or meter,
And if it be sad, we must make it glad,
And if sweet, we must make it sweeter."
THE philosophy of New Thought offers a key to the essential life–the life worthwhile. New Thought is a philosophy of life. It leads man out of the labyrinths of weakness, doubt, and darkness into the sunlight of hope, strength, and courage.
The art of living is the art of thinking, for life has no values except as thought molds them– except as thought creates ideals for the individual to shape and pattern his life after. How we shall live is the most momentous question for man’s thought and consideration. It is paramount because during its existence we mold character, either good or bad, which is the only asset we carry away at its close.
Life is not built to any fixed plan. One ideal will not suffice for all lives. Individuals cannot follow the same guide, because all persons differ and the orbits of their respective lives cannot be the same. Each person is endowed with some distinct and superior quality. The real purpose of his life should be to develop that gift and bring it into activity and expression.
We must, therefore, begin with the proposition that life is an individual function, a problem for each person to work out in the manner best suited to his own individuality. Each must be shaped by his own ideal. Each must follow his own line of cleavage.
The inquiry is often made, What is the ultimate purpose in life? Of course, millions would say that the real object in life is to observe certain formulas and requirements that will secure one a safe place in the next world when death ensues. But this does not answer the question or satisfy the inquiring mind.
Every man has one supreme ideal. Every man is turning his thought toward the future, with the hope of reaching one great result. What is this inward longing, what is all this striving, the labors of life, what is the goal of all man’s efforts, but happiness? Ultimate happiness is the motive power of life. The search for happiness, however, should be distinguished from the search for pleasure.
No two persons will agree on what constitutes ultimate happiness. Therefore no common ideal can be set up and established, by which to reach that desired state. One may think wealth to be the direct means of producing happiness, another travel. another work, another duty and service. We all map out and travel different roads to arrive at the one desired result. The essential fact is not what we may think will be productive of happiness, for the greater part of our thinking along these lines is defective and illusory; but the important thought for consideration is what, in fact, will lead us to the coveted goal.
Our lives and energies are largely wasted in an endeavor to follow our ideals of happiness. We spend the larger portion of life in discovering and laying aside out cherished illusions and discarded ideals. Our greatest illusions, the ones that most monopolize our thought and energies, are those we treasure of happiness. They fade away and vanish as we travel along the highways of life. After all, we gain much wisdom from Nature. If we have eyes to see, or ears to hear she will furnish guides that will pilot us safely toward the essential life, which in its last analysis and ultimate meaning is a life of happiness.
Happiness has been defined as the warm glow of a heart at peace with itself. How to find happiness as here defined, how to possess it, how to make it our own, is one of the great arts and secrets of life. To study the art of living, we should begin with certain fundamental truths which form the basis of all constructive thought about life. Without these fundamentals we can only travel the rugged and difficult path of experience. We should know something of the laws that enter into life, that shape and give it destiny, before we can bring intelligence and understanding to a discussion of the art of living.
Without a study of the nature of man, the mysterious power of the mind which controls him, something of our relationship with Nature and the universe, the law or causation, the greatness of man, our approach to a knowledge of the essential life will be slow and tedious. We might as well try to sail the trackless seas without compass and without chart, as to sail life’s seas without these pilots.
We should begin with the law of causation, the law of cause and effect, written everywhere in Nature. This law enters into life in every moment of time. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. This law is as absolute in the regulation of mind and thought as in directing the orderly movements of the physical universe. Man is under the dominion of law, and every thought is manifested in outward life.
Life is ruled by a spiritual helmsman.Truth exacts constructive thinking. Thought is the great factor in life. Right thought means right living. Constructive thought means constructive life. Negative thought means an empty and negative life.
The kind and quality of thought determines the kind and quality of life. Thought is expressed in the personality and molds the outward circumstances of life. It is manifested in life’s results. We receive that which is our due; nothing more, nothing less. We pay the price; we do not get something for nothing. We take out of life only what we put in. Only as we take to life a full soul, do we live a full life. If we carry into life an empty soul, our reward is a desolate and barren life. Life yields only what it receives. These truths should sink deep into the understanding as they light the pathway that leads to the art of living.
It follows as a natural sequence that the violation of these laws brings its own swift and relentless punishment. If we break them, Nature sets up her impediments, we are frustrated in our efforts, we fail to reach the real in life. The converse is also true. If we keep them, Nature smiles her approval and we reach out toward the constructive and essential in life.
Then, everywhere we are reminded of the unity of life, that universal life and intelligence that pervade the universe, manifesting and expressing itself in all objective Nature–the grass blade, the flower, the bird, and in man–reaching its highest manifestation in human life.
When we come into the realization of this fact and feel the growing import of its truth, Nature seems a little kinder, the flower has a new meaning, man appears greater, our fellow-man a little nearer, and Nature puts on a more human aspect. We can feel harmonious vibrations everywhere, and see revelations of splendor, beauty, and meaning in every bud and leaf. It enlarges our conceptions of life to find ourselves linked to the Great Oversoul that is forever seeking unfoldment and expression in our lives. This thought is creative. It awakens within us an inspiration for development and achievement. It places before us an ideal, to lead us along the upper pathway of life. The consciousness of this truth enlarges man’s spiritual and mental vision. It is a starting-point on the journey toward the real achievements of life. It gives one courage to grapple with the larger problems of life and efficiency to solve them wisely.
Then, too, life is individual and each person must follow his own path. Be yourself, live your own life, is the message of the great in every age. Man makes himself miserable by attempting to follow the blazed trail of others. Man can only work to one pattern, and that one is his own. Be yourself. Remember that you are an infinite soul and that no human standard will serve you as an ideal. Think your own thoughts, even though they jostle the entrenched thoughts of the ages.
The essential life is not found by traveling the path of conventionalities. It is only discovered as one revolves around his own axis. The conventional life is only a seeming life, a counterfeit, and never a true life. Following the ideal of another accounts largely for the misfits in life, the human derelicts that infest the world. As man is self-reliant, he is strong; as he is dependent, he is weak.
We forget to look within for the true source of all wisdom, for “the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” “It is only as a man puts off from himself all external support, and stands alone, that I see him to be strong and to prevail.” From the divinity within we gain the philosophic instinct correctly to appraise life’s values. We are all subject to illusions. Day and night they dog our footsteps. They are ever with us. The mirages of life lure us on and on, over many a dreary league.
We cherish the illusion that the never-resting impulse, or divine urge within, can be stilled and satisfied. Tenaciously we cling to this alluring sophism. The divine unrest is a part of ourselves and cannot be satisfied. It is the divine seeking the divine; it is the infinite within trying to find expression, which the finite cannot satisfy. In vain we search the world for something to satisfy this eternal longing. We foolishly believe that wealth, travel, society, excitement, intellectual attainments, will still this tumult of the soul. We forget that we are playing the temporary and finite against the eternal and infinite. We offer to the soul the toys and playthings of time, the trifling expedients of the hour. Their effect is momentary only, they vanish before the soul’s returning tides. We cannot still that infinite and surging force, the soul’s wanderlust, that forever pushes and impels us onward to new experiences, into new currents, but we can modify, mold, and refine it until it will lead us along the ascending scale of life. We may direct the soul’s urge from the prose of life into the realms of poetry and beauty. We may change the desire for the tangible into a hunger for the possession of the intangible, but the great soul within forever speaks. When the divine throbs cease and the soul’s tumult is stilled, man will be in peace and harmony with God.
Knowing these truths, understanding these fundamentals, we are better fitted to enter upon the active experiences of life. The lawyer must be skilled in the fundamentals of the law before he can intelligently enter upon the practice of his profession. So man should have knowledge of the underlying principles of life before he can safely enter into its activities or find its satisfying realities. Only then is he able to turn away from the illusions and phantoms that crowd his path.
Discrimination is a large part of the work of life–weighing, judging, and appraising its eventualities. Discrimination is judging, elimination is acting; they are the judicial and executive functions of man. Our years are spent in discarding the unessentials for the essential, the unreal for the real, the false for the true, the shadow for the substance. How much of life we waste in clinging to negatives! How little we use in reaching out toward the positives!
Life is the little time allotted wherein we may learn how to live. The most of us have learned little when we are well past life’s meridian. We struggle without purpose or plan. We falter and stumble on the way. The selfish man learns nothing of the art of living, because he is a stranger to the finer things of life. Only the unselfish know these–they do good for the love of doing, they make the world bright with their very presence.
Man is slow to learn that peace and satisfaction come only from constructive work. His place in Nature is that of a builder. Until he builds he feels not the joy of living, the delights of accomplishment. He that causes two grass blades to grow where only one grew before, has added something to the world. He is a co-partner with Nature, he feels satisfaction. Every constructive act brings its own reward; every non-constructive, its own disappointment. What salary would tempt you to sit at a desk in idleness for a year? Nature is constructive and progressive–her processes ever tend toward growth and perfection. Something in us responds to the constructive and building forces in Nature. Our only real satisfaction is in accomplishment.
Wealth has no rewards to compete with the joy of giving expression to the inner visions of the soul. The poet, the artist, the thinker, find their joy in creating, in giving expression to their ideals. The creator of ideals alone is immortal. When all else passes away, his creations alone survive. His work may not bring gold, but it brings something far more precious, because he has given expression to the promptings of a soul. Ideas alone are deathless.
The work of life that creates, that gives expression, that adds substance, that pushes the world a little farther along, that makes it a little better, that inspires in someone a new hope, that lights up some darkened pathway, is the life worthwhile–the life that brings peace and satisfaction to the soul.
To know the art of living we must know much of Nature. Until we catch its deeper meanings, until it kindles in us a sense of beauty, of order, of proportion and sublimity, the valuable ideals of life have evaded us. When we can recognize an intelligence back of the rose, possessing a spirit of sense and beauty; when we can discern the symmetry and proportion of the tree, the grandeur of the landscape, the splendor of the sunset, as the expression and handiwork of a divine intelligence, we recognize a kinship with the grass blade and flower and feel the touch of the universal soul.
A kinder impulse stirs our nature, the grosser things of life fade away, the finer instincts rule and govern our lives. Without these conceptions, how commonplace is life, how little Nature yields! We live in the midst of beauty and see it not; we are encompassed by music and hear it not. Life’s melodies are wasted on the unheeding soul. “See deep enough,” says Carlyle, “and you see musically; the heart of Nature being everywhere music.” We miss the value of Nature’s ideals, we reject her best gifts to man, we spurn her richest bounties, we enjoy only the common things of life.
Of all servitudes known to man, the most debasing is that of spiritual servitude, the slavery to dogmas, creeds, and institutions. After that, the most oppressive servitude is the tyranny of things, and the great majority of mankind voluntarily bend their necks to its galling yoke. Things are masters of men; things, not mind, not soul, are the controlling factors in life. The love of things overshadows the love of humanity. We carry our gifts to the shrine of things. We bestow our care, our patience and industry on things. Things monopolize thought, they dominate life. Things have their value and their limitations. Their use and value must not be unduly minimized, neither must they be overvalued. Things are obedient servants, but harsh task-masters. They are good or bad according as they serve or as they master. Beautiful things awaken beauty in the soul when it is attuned to beauty. When not so attuned, they awaken rather the feelings of vanity and display.
What we call civilized man is in part a barbarian; he has not conquered the love of display, the wild barbaric strain in his own nature. We instinctively crave display; we assume the superior attitude; we love to dazzle with gaudy splendor. For want of riches within, we worship riches without. Lacking charms of soul, we love to charm with external splendor. We imitate royalty, that employs pomp and circumstance to dazzle the multitude. We parade apparel and jewels for the same vulgar effect.
Men have not learned that externals cannot bring permanent satisfaction and content, that they are only for an hour and then pass away before the higher demands of the soul. When they have found the peace and serenity that come from within, that externals cannot give, they have caught a glimpse of the art of living. When man has learned to be alone, but not lonely, isolated but not alone, to be content without luxury, tranquil in adversity, hopeful in defeat, he has become master over things and knows something of the art of living.
Many make possessions the chief purpose in life and mistakenly believe that these furnish the real basis of living. It is true wealth gives opportunities, but how often does it blight the finer instincts and impulses of the soul. Gold sometimes develops a metallic quality in the soul, which rings only with the cold, unfeeling sound of the metal. Some men use the dollar as the yardstick to measure life’s values. They do not discover the finer sensibilities or the real friendships of life. The dollar friendship vibrates only to the selfish touch. What do the worshipers of Midas know of the finer impulses of the soul, of the comradeship and riches of culture, of the joy of giving, of the peace of the tranquil soul? The soul is bankrupt in the presence of riches. The glitter of conventionality is as cold as the Arctic stream. Money alone does not pay returns on life. The real dividends on life are love, service, friendship, the good, the true, the beautiful. These bring that inner peace to the soul, that surpasseth understanding and expression.
Before we discover the true art of living or the secret of the essential life, we must learn to exercise a fine judgment and tolerance in adjusting and tranquilizing the contingencies of life. Until we are able to judge others with the same consideration and judicial fairness that we employ in judging ourselves, we lack the essential qualities of a well-developed life. Until then we have not learned the secret of avoiding the conflicts and antagonisms of life. We must be able to view life’s facts from another’s standpoint. We must judge him and ourselves by the same rules and standards. This is not an easy task. It requires a fine judicial temperament to submerge self to the point where the scales of justice will evenly balance between ourselves and another. It requires a fine discipline to develop these qualities to that state of perfection. With most of us self outweighs all other considerations in pronouncing the judgments of life. But in the last analysis the standard of even justice is the only rule to employ in dealing with our fellow-man. Unless we adopt it, we shall in time disown our own judgments.
You say it is impossible to overcome the lingering relic of selfishness in us, so that we can deal as justly with our fellow as ourselves. Why should it be? The difficulty lies in our inability to view situations from the same angle as our fellow-man. We criticize others for not observing the square deal. Yet most of us merit the same censure. It is the little fellow in life who can see only his own rights. It is only the big man who can say, I am wrong.
The difficulties of life arise largely out of trifles. The little rift widens into a gulf that might have been bridged over with a word or a smile. The sad tragedies of domestic life usually begin with the trivial. We are too proud to retreat–too stubborn to yield –and so the breaches of life widen. A little word of kindness, a little look of love, might have healed them all. How useless and uncalled for are the usual tragedies of life!
One of life’s most valuable secrets is to avoid conflicts and contentions. Prevention, in troubles as in disease, is always the best remedy. Prevention is more effective and acts more speedily than cures. Too often we condemn without knowing the facts. We view situations from one angle only. Our judgments are based on imperfect knowledge. How little we know of the circumstances and environments that influence men’s acts. We cannot always see or understand the silent forces that shape situations and events. Yet we are always quick to judge. How much better to exercise a little charity, a little patience, and a little consideration, in our travels along the paths of life. A little tolerance would soothe and tranquilize the passions of men, the streams of life would run a little more smoothly and the world would move a little farther toward the goal of peace.
Again and again after all our wanderings through the fields of philosophy we come back to the wonderful bit of wisdom, spoken nineteen centuries ago, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” How little do we reckon with this great truth in the strifes and tragedies of life. In these few words the Gentle Master spoke a universal truth. We forget that if we judge, we shall be judged. If we send out judgements, we invite judgements. If we judge harshly, we are judged harshly; we solicit what we send. This law is but an exemplification of the law of giving. We receive what we give, nothing more. It is the law of attraction. We attract that which we send; like attracts like. Until we employ this philosophy in meeting the situations in life, in adjusting its relations, we are still strangers to the art of living and cannot feel the joys and delights of the life essential.
A good memory is essential to a well-rounded life. Without it we cannot cultivate and practice that fine sense of gratitude that good breeding and true culture require. Memory should retain impressions of the pleasant, worthy, and agreeable events of life. It should also be trained to forget those things that bring with them a train of sad and disagreeable reminiscences. Some things in life are too sacred to forget–the memories of childhood, of family, of friends, the kindnesses and pleasantries of life. Such memories are constructive and keep alive the finer instincts of the soul. Likewise the memories of the disagreeable experiences of life are destructive and disturb the peace and serenity of the soul.
We should cultivate the art of forgetting, as well as the art of remembering. Discrimination is necessary in training the forces and powers of memory. Forgetting the unpleasant and disagreeable incidents of life, the memories of wrongs and injuries, and retaining in their place only the agreeable and pleasant, is one of the valuable arts of life.
Forgetting and remembering–the one is as fine an art as the other. A good memory is a fine forgetting. It is the ability to leave off the useless for the useful, the sad for the pleasant, hatred for love, the deformed for the beautiful. It is planting in the subconscious a rose instead of a thistle, a seed of kindness instead of hatred, which in due time will blossom forth in the full radiance of their beauty, in the personality, life, and character of the individual.
We cannot live a well-rounded life until we are able to eliminate and banish fears, anxieties, worries, and frettings from our minds. These negatives do not add any strength or value to life, but on the contrary undermine and sap the energies and potencies of mind. They impair the judgement and unfit it for its highest duties and functions. They introduce confusion and disturbances into the mind, when calmness and strength are the primal qualities necessary for the solution of our problems. When we live in an atmosphere of serenity and calmness, we gain poise and confidence to carry with us into our daily tasks; we give our faculties opportunity to act and bring to the solution of life’s problems the highest degree of efficiency.
We live in the great present, the eternal now, the grandest epoch in all the ages. Our ideals must be great, to harmonize with the ; great present. We cannot live the full life by taking our standards from the past. We must feel the thrill of the present, to develop the best within us.
As this is the age of progress, an age of development, our lives must be kindled by the same spirit, to meet life’s demands and requirements. The age gives much and requires much. It imposes a great responsibility on every actor in life’s drama. If we act well our part, we must accept the responsibilities imposed, in whatever walk of life. They give man strength, courage, and wisdom properly to solve life’s problems.
Let us pick up these threads of philosophy and weave them into the web and woof of the fabric of life. Let us realize that the constructive is the only life; that to create is a joy; that to build is life’s purpose and man’s function.
Let us each remember that the latent possibilities of a divine soul are inherent within us, slumbering perhaps, but only waiting to be called into development and expression.
Let us remember that we may create, that we may build, that we may be a positive force in the world, that we may lift the burden from some struggling life, that we may radiate joy and kindness, gratitude and love from our lives, that we may leave the world a little brighter and mankind a little better than we found them.
Let us not forget that a man hears the sweet symphonies of life only as he listens to the voice of his own soul; that he walks in the paths of peace only as they are illumined by the light within; that he sees the facts of life aright only as he trusts his own inner vision; that these are the true pilots to guide us safely over the fretted seas of life.
Let us build to these ideals and the world will move forward, some life will be made a little happier, some pathway will be strewn with roses, and we shall feel the glow of a heart at peace with itself.
Finally, face the end with equanimity and unfaltering step, and as you gaze across the borderland to the infinite paths that stretch away before you, inviting you to higher achievement, to greater accomplishment, may you feel the conscious joy of a life well spent and that you have mastered the art of living.
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