[WilliamJames] Lectures 4-5, third and final chunk

Eric Purdy epurdy at uchicago.edu
Mon Feb 17 02:17:07 CST 2014

The mind-curers have given the widest scope to this sort of experience.
They have demonstrated that a form of regeneration by relaxing, by letting
go, psychologically indistinguishable from the Lutheran justification by
faith and the Wesleyan acceptance of free grace, is within the reach of
persons who have no conviction of sin and care nothing for the Lutheran
theology. It is but giving your little private convulsive self a rest, and
finding that a greater Self is there. The results, slow or sudden, or great
or small, of the combined optimism and expectancy, the regenerative
phenomena which ensue on the abandonment of effort, remain firm facts of
human nature, no matter whether we adopt a theistic, a
pantheistic-idealistic, or a medical-materialistic view of their ultimate
causal explanation.[23]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_IV_%26_V#cite_note-p111-23>

When we take up the phenomena of revivalistic conversion, we shall learn
something more about all this. Meanwhile I will say a brief word about the
mind-curer's *methods*.

They are of course largely suggestive. The suggestive influence of
environment plays an enormous part in all spiritual education. But the word
'suggestion,' having acquired official status, is unfortunately already
beginning to play in many quarters the part of a wet blanket upon
investigation, being used to fend off all inquiry into the varying
susceptibilities of individual cases. 'Suggestion' is only another name for
the power of ideas, *so far as they prove efficacious over belief and
conduct*. Ideas efficacious over some people prove inefficacious over
others. Ideas efficacious at some times and in some human surroundings are
not so at other times and elsewhere. The ideas of Christian churches are
not efficacious in the therapeutic direction to-day, whatever they may have
been in earlier centuries; and when the whole question is as to why the
salt has lost its savor here or gained it there, the mere blank waving of
the word 'suggestion' as if it were a banner gives no light. Dr. Goddard,
whose candid psychological essay on Faith Cures ascribes them to nothing
but ordinary suggestion, concludes by saying that "Religion [and by this he
seems to mean our popular Christianity] has in it all there is in mental
therapeutics, and has it in its best form. Living up to [our religious]
ideas will do anything for us that can be done." And this in spite of the
actual fact that the popular Christianity does absolutely *nothing*, or did
nothing until mind-cure came to the

An idea, to be suggestive, must come to the individual with the force of a
revelation. The mind-cure with its gospel of healthy-mindedness has come as
a revelation to many whose hearts the church Christianity had left
hardened. It has let loose their springs of higher life. In what can the
originality of any religious movement consist, save in finding a channel,
until then sealed up, through which those springs may be set free in some
group of human beings?

The force of personal faith, enthusiasm, and example, and above all the
force of novelty, are always the prime suggestive agency in this kind of
success. If mind-cure should ever become official, respectable, and
intrenched, these elements of suggestive efficacy will be lost. In its
acuter stages every religion must be a homeless Arab of the desert. The
church knows this well enough, with its everlasting inner struggle of the
acute religion of the few against the chronic religion of the many,
indurated into an obstructiveness worse than that which irreligion opposes
to the movings of the Spirit. "We may pray," says Jonathan Edwards,
"concerning all those saints that are not lively Christians, that they may
either be enlivened, or taken away; if that be true that is often said by
some at this day, that these cold dead saints do more hurt than natural
men, and lead more souls to hell, and that it would be well for mankind if
they were all dead."[25]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_IV_%26_V#cite_note-25>

The next condition of success is the apparent existence, in large numbers,
of minds who unite healthy-mindedness with readiness for regeneration by
letting go. Protestantism has been too pessimistic as regards the natural
man, Catholicism has been too legalistic and moralistic, for either the one
or the other to appeal in any generous way to the type of character formed
of this peculiar mingling of elements. However few of us here present may
belong to such a type, it is now evident that it forms a specific moral
combination, well represented in the world.

Finally, mind-cure has made what in our protestant countries is an
unprecedentedly great use of the subconscious life. To their reasoned
advice and dogmatic assertion, its founders have added systematic exercise
in passive relaxation, concentration, and meditation, and have even invoked
something like hypnotic practice. I quote some passages at random:--
"The value, the potency of ideals is the great practical truth on which the
New Thought most strongly insists,--the development namely from within
outward, from small to
one's thought should be centred on the ideal outcome, even
though this trust be literally like a step in the
attain the ability thus effectively to direct the mind, the New
advises the practice of concentration, or in other words, the attainment of
self-control. One is to learn to marshal the tendencies of the mind, so
that they may be held together as a unit by the chosen ideal. To this end,
one should set apart times for silent meditation, by one's self, preferably
in a room where the surroundings are favorable to spiritual thought. In New
Thought terms, this is called 'entering the

"The time will come when in the busy office or on the noisy street you can
enter into the silence by simply drawing the mantle of your own thoughts
about you and realizing that there and everywhere the Spirit of Infinite
Life, Love, Wisdom, Peace, Power, and Plenty is guiding, keeping,
protecting, leading you. This is the spirit of continual
of the most intuitive men we ever met had a desk at a city office
several other gentlemen were doing business constantly, and often talking
loudly. Entirely undisturbed by the many various sounds about him, this
self-centred faithful man would, in any moment of perplexity, draw the
curtains of privacy so completely about him that he would be as fully
inclosed in his own psychic aura, and thereby as effectually removed from
all distractions, as though he were alone in some primeval wood. Taking his
difficulty with him into the mystic silence in the form of a direct
question, to which he expected a certain answer, he would remain utterly
passive until the reply came, and never once through many years' experience
did he find himself disappointed or

Wherein, I should like to know, does this *intrinsically* differ from the
practice of 'recollection' which plays so great a part in Catholic
discipline? Otherwise called the practice of the presence of God (and so
known among ourselves, as for instance in Jeremy Taylor), it is thus
defined by the eminent teacher Alvarez de Paz in his work on Contemplation.
"It is the recollection of God, the thought of God, which in all places and
circumstances makes us see him present, lets us commune respectfully and
lovingly with him, and fills us with desire and affection for him. ... Would
you escape from every ill? Never lose this recollection of God, neither in
prosperity nor in adversity, nor on any occasion whichsoever it be. Invoke
not, to excuse yourself from this duty, either the difficulty or the
importance of your business, for you can always remember that God sees you,
that you are under his eye. If a thousand times an hour you forget him,
reanimate a thousand times the recollection. If you cannot practice this
exercise continuously, at least make yourself as familiar with it as
possible; and, like unto those who in a rigorous winter draw near the fire
as often as they can, go as often as you can to that ardent fire which will
warm your soul."[31]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_IV_%26_V#cite_note-31>

All the external associations of the Catholic discipline are of course
unlike anything in mind-cure thought, but the purely spiritual part of the
exercise is identical in both communions, and in both communions those who
urge it write with authority, for they have evidently experienced in their
own persons that whereof they tell. Compare again some mind-cure
"High, healthful, pure thinking can be encouraged, promoted, and
strengthened. Its current can be turned upon grand ideals until it forms a
habit and wears a channel. By means of such discipline the mental horizon
can be flooded with the sunshine of beauty, wholeness, and harmony. To
inaugurate pure and lofty thinking may at first seem difficult, even almost
mechanical, but perseverance will at length render it easy, then pleasant,
and finally delightful.

"The soul's real world is that which it has built of its thoughts, mental
states, and imaginations. If we *will*, we can turn our backs upon the
lower and sensuous plane, and lift ourselves into the realm of the
spiritual and Real, and there gain a residence. The assumption of states of
expectancy and receptivity will attract spiritual sunshine, and it will
flow in as naturally as air inclines to a vacuum. ... Whenever the thought is
not occupied with one's daily duty or profession, it should be sent aloft
into the spiritual atmosphere. There are quiet leisure moments by day, and
wakeful hours at night, when this wholesome and delightful exercise may be
engaged in to great advantage. If one who has never made any systematic
effort to lift and control the thought-forces will, for a single month,
earnestly pursue the course here suggested, he will be surprised and
delighted at the result, and nothing will induce him to go back to
careless, aimless, and superficial thinking. At such favorable seasons the
outside world, with all its current of daily events, is barred out, and one
goes into the silent sanctuary of the inner temple of soul to commune and
aspire. The spiritual hearing becomes delicately sensitive, so that the
'still, small voice' is audible, the tumultuous waves of external sense are
hushed, and there is a great calm. The ego gradually becomes conscious that
it is face to face with the Divine Presence; that mighty, healing, loving,
Fatherly life which is nearer to us than we are to ourselves. There is contact
with the Parent-Soul, and an influx of life, love, virtue, health, and
happiness from the Inexhaustible

When we reach the subject of mysticism, you will undergo so deep an
immersion into these exalted states of consciousness as to be wet all over,
if I may so express myself; and the cold shiver of doubt with which this
little sprinkling may affect you will have long since passed away--doubt, I
mean, as to whether all such writing be not mere abstract talk and rhetoric
set down *pour encourager les autres*. You will then be convinced, I trust,
that these states of consciousness of 'union' form a perfectly definite
class of experiences, of which the soul may occasionally partake, and which
certain persons may live by in a deeper sense than they live by anything
else with which they have acquaintance. This brings me to a general
philosophical reflection with which I should like to pass from the subject
of healthy-mindedness, and close a topic which I fear is already only too
long drawn out. It concerns the relation of all this systematized
healthy-mindedness and mind-cure religion to scientific method and the
scientific life.

In a later lecture I shall have to treat explicitly of the relation of
religion to science on the one hand, and to primeval savage thought on the
other. There are plenty of persons to-day--'scientists' or 'positivists,'
they are fond of calling themselves--who will tell you that religious
thought is a mere survival, an atavistic reversion to a type of
consciousness which humanity in its more enlightened examples has long
since left behind and outgrown. If you ask them to explain themselves more
fully, they will probably say that for primitive thought everything is
conceived of under the form of personality. The savage thinks that things
operate by personal forces, and for the sake of individual ends. For him,
even external nature obeys individual needs and claims, just as if these
were so many elementary powers. Now science, on the other hand, these
positivists say, has proved that personality, so far from being an
elementary force in nature, is but a passive resultant of the really
elementary forces, physical, chemical, physiological, and psycho-physical,
which are all impersonal and general in character. Nothing individual
accomplishes anything in the universe save in so far as it obeys and
exemplifies some universal law. Should you then inquire of them by what
means science has thus supplanted primitive thought, and discredited its
personal way of looking at things, they would undoubtedly say it has been
by the strict use of the method of experimental verification. Follow out
science's conceptions practically, they will say, the conceptions that
ignore personality altogether, and you will always be corroborated. The
world is so made that all your expectations will be experientially verified
so long, and only so long, as you keep the terms from which you infer them
impersonal and universal.

But here we have mind-cure, with her diametrically opposite philosophy,
setting up an exactly identical claim. Live as if I were true, she says,
and every day will practically prove you right. That the controlling
energies of nature are personal, that your own personal thoughts are
forces, that the powers of the universe will directly respond to your
individual appeals and needs, are propositions which your whole bodily and
mental experience will verify. And that experience does largely verify
these primeval religious ideas is proved by the fact that the mind-cure
movement spreads as it does, not by proclamation and assertion simply, but
by palpable experiential results. Here, in the very heyday of science's
authority, it carries on an aggressive warfare against the scientific
philosophy, and succeeds by using science's own peculiar methods and
weapons. Believing that a higher power will take care of us in certain ways
better than we can take care of ourselves, if we only genuinely throw
ourselves upon it and consent to use it, it finds the belief, not only not
impugned, but corroborated by its observation.

How conversions are thus made, and converts confirmed, is evident enough
from the narratives which I have quoted. I will quote yet another couple of
shorter ones to give the matter a perfectly concrete turn. Here is one:--
"One of my first experiences in applying my teaching was two months after I
first saw the healer. I fell, spraining my right ankle, which I had done
once four years before, having then had to use a crutch and elastic anklet
for some months, and carefully guarding it ever since. As soon as I was on
my feet I made the positive suggestion (and felt it through all my being):
'There is nothing but God, all life comes from him perfectly. I cannot be
sprained or hurt, I will let him take care of it.' Well, I never had a
sensation in it, and I walked two miles that day."

The next case not only illustrates experiment and verification, but also
the element of passivity and surrender of which awhile ago I made such

"I went into town to do some shopping one morning, and I had not been gone
long before I began to feel ill. The ill feeling increased rapidly, until I
had pains in all my bones, nausea and faintness, headache, all the symptoms
in short that precede an attack of influenza. I thought that I was going to
have the grippe, epidemic then in Boston, or something worse. The mind-cure
teachings that I had been listening to all the winter thereupon came into
my mind, and I thought that here was an opportunity to test myself. On my
way home I met a friend, and I refrained with some effort from telling her
how I felt. That was the first step gained. I went to bed immediately, and
my husband wished to send for the doctor. But I told him that I would
rather wait until morning and see how I felt. Then followed one of the most
beautiful experiences of my life.

"I cannot express it in any other way than to say that I did ' lie down in
the stream of life and let it flow over me.' I gave up all fear of any
impending disease; I was perfectly willing and obedient. There was no
intellectual effort, or train of thought. My dominant idea was: ' Behold
the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me even as thou wilt,' and a perfect
confidence that all would be well, that all *was* well. The creative life
was flowing into me every instant, and I felt myself allied with the
Infinite, in harmony, and full of the peace that passeth understanding.
There was no place in my mind for a jarring body. I had no consciousness of
time or space or persons; but only of love and happiness and faith.}}

"I do not know how long this state lasted, nor when I fell asleep; but when
I woke up in the morning, *I was well.''*

These are exceedingly trivial
in them, if we have anything at all, we have the method of experiment
and verification. For the point I am driving at now, it makes no difference
whether you consider the patients to be deluded victims of their
imagination or not. That they seemed to *themselves* to have been cured by
the experiments tried was enough to make them converts to the system. And
although it is evident that one must be of a certain mental mould to get
such results (for not every one can get thus cured to his own satisfaction
any more than every one can be cured by the first regular practitioner whom
he calls in), yet it would surely be pedantic and over-scrupulous for those
who *can* get their savage and primitive philosophy of mental healing verified
in such experimental ways as this, to give them up at word of command for
more scientific therapeutics. What are we to think of all this? Has science
made too wide a claim?

I believe that the claims of the sectarian scientist are, to say the least,
premature. The experiences which we have been studying during this hour
(and a great many other kinds of religious experiences are like them)
plainly show the universe to be a more many-sided affair than any sect,
even the scientific sect, allows for. What, in the end, are all our
verifications but experiences that agree with more or less isolated systems
of ideas (conceptual systems) that our minds have framed? But why in the
name of common sense need we assume that only one such system of ideas can
be true? The obvious outcome of our total experience is that the world can
be handled according to many systems of ideas, and is so handled by
different men, and will each time give some characteristic kind of profit,
for which he cares, to the handler, while at the same time some other kind
of profit has to be omitted or postponed. Science gives to all of us
telegraphy, electric lighting, and diagnosis, and succeeds in preventing
and curing a certain amount of disease. Religion in the shape of mind-cure
gives to some of us serenity, moral poise, and happiness, and prevents
certain forms of disease as well as science does, or even better in a
certain class of persons. Evidently, then, the science and the religion are
both of them genuine keys for unlocking the world's treasure-house to him
who can use either of them practically. Just as evidently neither is
exhaustive or exclusive of the other's simultaneous use. And why, after
all, may not the world be so complex as to consist of many interpenetrating
spheres of reality, which we can thus approach in alternation by using
conceptions and assuming different attitudes, just as mathematicians handle
the same numerical and spatial facts by geometry, by analytical geometry,
by algebra, by the calculus, or by quaternions, and each time come out
right? On this view religion and science, each verified in its own way from
hour to hour and from life to life, would be co-eternal. Primitive thought,
with its belief in individualized personal forces, seems at any rate as far
as ever from being driven by science from the field to-day. Numbers of
educated people still find it the directest experimental channel by which
to carry on their intercourse with

The case of mind-cure lay so ready to my hand that I could not resist the
temptation of using it to bring these last truths home to your attention,
but I must content myself to-day with this very brief indication. In a
later lecture the relations of religion both to science and to primitive
thought will have to receive much more explicit attention.



(See note to p. 121.)

Case I.--My own experience is this: I had long been ill, and one of the
first results of my illness, a dozen years before, had been a diplopia
which deprived me of the use of my eyes for reading and writing almost
entirely, while a later one had been to shut me out from exercise of any
kind under penalty of immediate and great exhaustion. I had been under the
care of doctors of the highest standing both in Europe and America, men in
whose power to help me I had had great faith, with no or ill result. Then,
at a time when I seemed to be rather rapidly losing ground, I heard some
things that gave me interest enough in mental healing to make me try it; I
had no great hope of getting any good from it--it was a *chance* I tried,
partly because my thought was interested by the new possibility it seemed
to open, partly because it was the only chance I then could see. I went to
X. in Boston, from whom some friends of mine had got, or thought that they
had got, great help; the treatment was a silent one; little was said, and
that little carried no conviction to my mind; whatever influence was
exerted was that of another person's thought or feeling silently projected
on to my unconscious mind, into my nervous system as it were, as we sat
still together. I believed from the start in the *possibility* of such
action, for I knew the power of the mind to shape, helping or hindering,
the body's nerve-activities, and I thought telepathy probable, although
unproved, but I had no belief in it as more than a possibility, and no
strong conviction nor any mystic or religious faith connected with my
thought of it that might have brought imagination strongly into play.

I sat quietly with the healer for half an hour each day, at first with no
result; then, after ten days or so, I became quite suddenly and swiftly
conscious of a tide of new energy rising within me, a sense of power to
pass beyond old halting-places, of power to break the bounds that, though
often tried before, had long been veritable walls about my life, too high
to climb. I began to read and walk as I had not done for years, and the
change was sudden, marked, and unmistakable. This tide seemed to mount for
some weeks, three or four perhaps, when, summer having come, I came away,
taking the treatment up again a few months later. The lift I got proved
permanent, and left me slowly gaining ground instead of losing it, but with
this lift the influence seemed in a way to have spent itself, and, though
my confidence in the reality of the power had gained immensely from this
first experience, and should have helped me to make further gain in health
and strength if my belief in it had been the potent factor there, I never
after this got any result at all as striking or as clearly marked as this
which came when I made trial of it first, with little faith and doubtful
expectation. It is difficult to put all the evidence in such a matter into
words, to gather up into a distinct statement all that one bases one's
conclusions on, but I have always felt that I had abundant evidence to
justify (to myself, at least) the conclusion that I came to then, and since
have held to, that the physical change which came at that time was, first,
the result of a change wrought within me by a change of mental state; and,
secondly, that that change of mental state was not, save in a very
secondary way, brought about through the influence of an excited
imagination, or a *consciously* received suggestion of an hypnotic sort.
Lastly, I believe that this change was the result of my receiving
telepathically, and upon a mental stratum quite below the level of
immediate consciousness, a healthier and more energetic attitude, receiving
it from another person whose thought was directed upon me with the
intention of impressing the idea of this attitude upon me. In my case the
disease was distinctly what would be classed as nervous, not organic; but
from such opportunities as I have had of observing, I have come to the
conclusion that the dividing line that has been drawn is an arbitrary one,
the nerves controlling the internal activities and the nutrition of the
body throughout; and I believe that the central nervous system, by starting
and inhibiting local centres, can exercise a vast influence upon disease of
any kind, if it can be brought to bear. In my judgment the question is
simply how to bring it to bear, and I think that the uncertainty and
remarkable differences in the results obtained through mental healing do
but show how ignorant we are as yet of the forces at work and of the means
we should take to make them effective. That these results are not due to
chance coincidences my observation of myself and others makes me sure; that
the conscious mind, the imagination, enters into them as a factor in many
cases is doubtless true, but in many others, and sometimes very
extraordinary ones, it hardly seems to enter in at all. On the whole I am
inclined to think that as the healing action, like the morbid one, springs
from the plane of the normally unconscious mind, so the strongest and most
effective impressions are those which *it* receives, in some as yet
unknown, subtle way, *directly* from a healthier mind whose state, through
a hidden law of sympathy, it reproduces.

Case II.--At the urgent request of friends, and with no faith and hardly any
hope (possibly owing to a previous unsuccessful experience with a Christian
Scientist), our little daughter was placed under the care of a healer, and
cured of a trouble about which the physician had been very discouraging in
his diagnosis. This interested me, and I began studying earnestly the
method and philosophy of this method of healing. Gradually an inner peace
and tranquillity came to me in so positive a way that my manner changed
greatly. My children and friends noticed the change and commented upon it.
All feelings of irritability disappeared. Even the expression of my face
changed noticeably.

I had been bigoted, aggressive, and intolerant in discussion, both in
public and private. I grew broadly tolerant and receptive toward the views
of others. I had been nervous and irritable, coming home two or three times
a week with a sick headache induced, as I then supposed, by dyspepsia and
catarrh. I grew serene and gentle, and the physical troubles entirely
disappeared. I had been in the habit of approaching every business
interview with an almost morbid dread. I now meet every one with confidence
and inner calm.

I may say that the growth has all been toward the elimination of
selfishness. I do not mean simply the grosser, more sensual forms, but
those subtler and generally unrecognized kinds, such as express themselves
in sorrow, grief, regret, envy, etc. It has been in the direction of a
practical, working realization of the immanence of God and the Divinity of
man's true, inner self.

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