SPIRIT AND BODY
Horatio W. Dresser
Spiritual Health and Healing
IN the endeavor to learn just how the spirit controls the body, it is important to note that man may either give assent to bodily tendencies or refrain from such desires. Thus he may be either slave or master, in the one case apparently without any control over his body at all, in the other with every evidence of such control. Whichever way he turns, and whether seeming to control his body or not, his assent or endeavor to control becomes an attitude which gathers its like and influences the body, an attitude which continues to be effective in that way until checked by a stronger activity than that of the tendency in question.
The body is adapted to receive the living forces which flow in from the spirit in such a way that man may act spontaneously, scarcely aware that his bodily organism conditions his spiritual life. But inasmuch as spirit and body act as one, whatever interferes at one point interferes more or less in all; for example, when a toothache or some other pain localized in a small region upsets the customary activities of daily life as a whole. Hence it comes about that the spirit feels the weight of bodily interference and seems to have no power to withstand the obstacles or enticements of the flesh. To learn that the spirit possesses entire control and impels the body to do whatever it does is to become aware of the activities by which the spirit has unwittingly permitted divine forces making for health and purity to be interfered with.
If the inner life is in a state of rebellion, distraught by anxieties and tensions, the spirit by yielding to these states and permitting them to increase thereby gives assent to their expression in the body, with all the consequences that may ensue. In a sense man still rules his flesh even when given over to the greatest lusts, for the flesh always obediently portrays man’s feelings and carries out his desires. This subservience will continue as long as man so wills. The source of evil is not in the flesh, as the medieval Christians thought. There is no reason to mortify the flesh. We make no headway while we attribute either the trouble or the efficiency to the body. To do this is to be submissively a prisoner of the flesh. Nor do we make progress while we conciliate and indulge the body, on the ground that the flesh is strong and the spirit weak. One could not ask for more faithful servants than these remarkably responsive bodies of ours, adapted as they are to the slightest change of attitude on our part. There is plainly a great difference between a life of self-gratification and one of self-control. Yet, strange as it may seem, either condition reveals the supremacy of the spirit. Control at the centre means control all through, and sometimes mere assent to a bodily desire is the equivalent of control. The same power which weakly submits would suffice to give man a strong hold in the beginnings of self-mastery.
To adopt this deeper clue to the relationship of the spirit and body is not to advocate the short and easy road to health advertised by those who regard “wrong thoughts” as the only causes of disease. For a man might mend his thoughts in part and still give his will over to evil desires in other respects, or he might indulge in idealistic affirmations in one direction without endeavoring to change his bodily life in conformity thereto. Man is not essentially an assemblage of thoughts, despite the fact that in large measure he tends to make of himself what he thinks and by giving himself to directions of mind experiences the consequences of his own mental acts. He is more truly a will, a centre of desires and affection, with a prevailing love. It is this dominant desire which gives direction to his thoughts. He is influenced most by that which he steadily wills to be. If you can touch him at heart so that he is willing to turn from his old mode of life, opening his whole nature to receive the powers that make for goodness and health, then indeed his thoughts will conform, his mental imagery will be called into play, his emotions will correspond, and his external life will begin to show signs of change. So in the case of the nervous person, the creature of tensions and anxieties, there is no radical cure save through a spiritual process which readies the centre, induces a fundamental change through cultivation of the life which leads to nerve-control and moderate well-balanced outward deeds.
To attain health and freedom one may well bestow the usual care upon the body, attending to its nourishment according to the most approved ideas, giving it abundant exercise, observing the conditions which men in their prudence have discovered. Indeed, one who is seeking health by spiritual means would naturally go farther than this, noting in detail those physical conditions which most favor the spirit in the effort to regain full sanity and control. One would expect the spiritual idealist to undergo a change of tastes, steadily bringing the physical life up to the standard. Some of these results would came about spontaneously, and a man would find himself no longer caring for luxuries and means of gratification which formerly expressed his servitude.
Yet the involuntary consequences are not always enough. Some must work and co-operate from the outside as faithfully as possible to make the physical organism a more fitting vehicle of expression. Many of us are so external, so little aware of the inner life, that we can best adopt the appropriate inner attitude if we first make an external change, just as one feels stronger in mind by standing erect in a position which suggests and commands strength. To begin in this way is not necessarily to put emphasis upon external things, is not to yield one’s powers of thought or will. One may begin at either end and work toward the other. In any event one makes such changes for the benefit of the spirit, that the whole life may correspond with the spiritual ideal. To co-operate from without by breathing deeply, taking exercises, and eating pure food, is to open the organism for receiving the inflow of spiritual life from within.
There is in fact no reason for making light of the laws and conditions of natural healing, for the divine ideal coincides with these. All healing in the sense of the restoration of function or wasted tissue has a natural basis. In so far as the organism is restored the spirit has free expression. The spirit, by overcoming fear, anxiety, exciting emotions, haunting mental pictures and weak attitudes, removes the inner resistances to these natural restorative processes. The resistances overcome, the next step is the substitution of attitudes which actively co-operate with powers making for health. Such co-operation means opening the way for free passage of life from within outward. There is a sense in which all power resides in the external form, that is, when life has this freedom to course through to the extremities so that the natural garment may perfectly express the spirit. The increasing health of the organism ought to be the regular accomplishment of man’s growth in spiritual things. Perfect health would thus be perfect expression of an inner life according to the spiritual order.
It is not primarily a question of supremacy over the flesh as if the body contained nothing friendly to the spirit. The body contains nothing unfriendly save what man himself has generated in it. It needs regeneration with man’s own spiritual rebirth. It needs to be purified with the purification that is thorough. To try to make out that it is pure while neglecting to purify the spirit would be absurd. To ignore it as if it were unreal is to make ready for more trouble. Its true reality is the rightful privilege of the servant carrying out the behests of its master. Every instinct, function, organ, is good in its proper place; and all its organs and functions are for man’s health and freedom.
True health for the body, in contrast with either physical methods which reach past way or mental alleviations which promise freedom through “demonstrating over” the body, depends upon recognition of the source of power and reality in the body. Since the interiors of the body make one or act as one with the interiors of the mind, when those of the mind are turned toward the divine source of power those of the body turn in like manner. Thus to turn in spirit toward the sources is to begin to regain the pristine condition of openness which means perfect health. The more truly we understand this law of inner turning and outer response, the less attention we need give to the details of the process. It will then be a question of lifting the spirit more and more into unison with the divine Spirit, that harmony may increase from more to more.
As one writer puts it, “No living thing has life apart from God. All life is an influx from Him who is life itself; it is variously manifested in different living things because of the difference in the forms into which it is received. Man’s life is conveyed primarily to the soul and through it to the body, which has the appearance of life only while the spirit dwells in it. Perfect health results when the inflowing life from the Lord is received fully and freely. This is possible only when His laws are observed on both the natural and the spiritual planes. . . . Even more essential than care of the body on the natural plane is the observance of the laws of God on the spiritual plane. Since life flows into the body through the soul, the body can receive a full normal influx only when the life of the soul is in accordance with spiritual laws. Even the people who do not understand this truth recognize the tremendous influence which the mental state exerts upon the bodily condition and emphasize the importance of encouraging only kind and elevating thoughts and of cultivating a serene spirit.”
It has also been pointed out by those who understand this truth in part that “physical health does not necessarily prove the presence of spiritual health nor physical ill-health the lack of it.” That is to say, man’s external life receives influences from the external world, and his physical condition may differ greatly from his spiritual state. Hence it happens that people who are almost devoid of spirituality are in robust health while others who are spiritual have frail or diseased bodies. Many have been mystified by this break in the correspondence between inner and outer conditions. It has been pointed out by some that the individual in ill-health is not always directly responsible. He may not personally have been guilty of the transgression of laws by which his condition has been brought about, but may be suffering from acts of his parents and of the society in which he lives through failure to provide pure water, sanitation and food inspection, and to guard against epidemics and pestilences. Someone else has pointed out that therefore “sick people are not morally responsible for their diseases; if they were, sinners would always be ill and saints would always be well; and human freedom would be lost, for no one could do wrong nor think falsity without immediately suffering physical harm as a result, and he could not proceed far in evil courses without meeting an early end in physical death.”
Strangely enough, however, this qualification is so urged that the value of the idea of spiritual healing is wholly lost, and there is no resource left save to depend solely upon medical treatment in the conventional way. It is argued, for example, that since there are two distinct worlds, the natural and the spiritual, each with its sources of power, the body receives life or energy from the one, the spirit from the other; and there are natural laws governing the life of the body, spiritual laws for the spirit. “Obedience to the former gives the body harmony with its environment, or physical health. Therefore saints and sinners are alike benefited by the shining of the sun on earth, and may share together the blessings or the curses of natural law. . . . Thus bodily conditions are the basis of health and disease, in common with all material conditions as a basis of earthly blessings or hardships.”
To adopt this view literally would be to draw such distinctions between the natural world and the spiritual that we would completely lose sight of the great idea of the dynamic, life-giving influx from God. This view also ignores the fact that more depends upon the spirit’s way of taking the conditions of life than on those conditions. We are indeed subject to external influences directly affecting the body. We are also subject to social influences without number, to the “mental atmospheres,” the crowd-spirit, to suggestion, to waves of mental influence. Psychical influences also affect us. There are spheres on spheres of influence. But the modern devotee of spiritual healing assures us that the primary consideration is the sphere of influences to which we become open all depends upon the point of contact, and the attitude adopted. Thus an undesirable inheritance tending toward disease is an opportunity to test our mettle. Back of the inheritance is the disposition or temperament. Possibly the entire environment, favorable or unfavorable, is for the testing of the spirit.
However dependent the body may be upon natural forces, its equilibrium is readily upset by fear, the nervous system becomes weak and tremulous, the normal rhythms of the heart and lungs are interfered with, and it has even been said that toxins are generated in the tissue, devitalizing the blood for body-building. More significant still, the equilibrium is rapidly restored when fear and other exciting emotions are overcome through the regaining of inner control and an affirmative attitude. The worst of all emotions is hate. It has been said that if a person could hate intensely and steadily for one hour, exhaustion or death would ensue. Contrariwise, the most helpful of all emotions is love, and love alone has sufficed to save the lives of both children and adults. What we are concerned with is those spiritual states which, while co-operating with the natural restorative forces of the body at their best, also open the spirit to the more direct incoming of divine power.
We note, too, that while sinners, also athletes and others in perfect physical health, may be as open as anyone to natural forces such as sun light, when illnesses come like dread spectres from the outside world there is no power of inner resistance and a man’s apparently splendid health counts for naught. On the other hand, a person with a frail physique but with spiritual understanding which he applies and spiritual power which he uses, may stem a tide which would sweep a physically strong man down to death. Thus the man who is apparently weakest and most severely handicapped by his “unfortunate inheritance,” may through self-knowledge and mastery over his organism develop very great power in meeting conditions tending to produce disease. Far more important than external conditions, whatever they may be, is a man’s way of meeting them.
To dwell upon the adverse external conditions and one’s servitude to them would be to find the mind overwhelmed and apparently helpless. But those who have proved the power of the spirit over the body have practically ignored the secondary conditions of disease, discounting even the fact of inheritance, and have faced what was before them with positive determination to conquer. The results they have achieved lead one to believe that the primary consideration is always the spirit’s way of taking life.
One person will submissively yield to a physical illness, or an injury due to a fall or broken bone, taking immediately to his bed and lying there as if his attitude in the matter had nothing whatever to do with the physical condition. Thus he will yield his body completely, without knowing that he is submitting it. But another person, while observing all the conditions that are prudent, so that the injured member may be put in order and be healed, will in every way co-operate with nature in spirit and be up and about the first moment his victorious spirit will permit. Another will go further still and actively co-operate in spirit because of knowledge of his true estate as a spiritual being open to divine life from within.
The virtuous man will have a great advantage on account of the purity of his life. It is a moral privilege to be well, and true moral obedience is of the inner life. The so-called saint may lack the faintest conception of the divine influx as an immediate resource in times of every sort of trouble. The saint makes a virtue of a few activities only, ignoring the law of expression through the external life as true evidence of inner harmony. Some saints also make a virtue of resignation to bodily ills, as if God preferred to have us suffer in a meek spirit. The so-called sinner may have advanced much further in real victory over hypocrisy, may have a control over the bodily organism which might well cause the saint to become envious. These matters can never be understood, therefore, by observation of the body alone, nor by study of the influences and conditions by which it is environed. What we must know in order to understand the law is the state of the spirit, its measure of control, its actual development, its openness to life. Restraint, discipline, is not necessarily a virtue; nor are all men sinners who possess freedom of expression, spontaneity or obedience to life. All these matters must be reassessed in the light of the spiritual standard of health.
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Spiritual Health and Healing
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