The Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science

Chapter 12. The Will

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THE Will is of such primary importance that the student should be on his guard against any mistake as to the position which it holds in the mental economy. Many writers and teachers insist on will-power as though that were the creative faculty. No doubt intense will-power can evolve certain external results, but like all other methods of compulsion it lacks the permanency of natural growth. The appearances, forms, and conditions produced by mere intensity of will-power will only hang together so long as the compelling force continues; but let it be exhausted or withdrawn, and the elements thus forced into unnatural combination will at once fly back to their proper affinities; the form created by compulsion never had the germ of vitality in itself and is therefore dissipated as soon as the external energy which supported it is withdrawn. The mistake is in attributing the creative power to the will, or perhaps I should say in attributing the creative power to ourselves at all. The truth is that man never creates anything. His function is, not to create, but to combine and distribute that which is already in being, and what we call our creations are new combinations of already existing material, whether mental or corporeal. This is amply demonstrated in the physical sciences. No one speaks of creating energy, but only of transforming one form of energy into another; and if we realize this as a universal principle, we shall see that on the mental plane as well as on the physical we never create energy but only provide the conditions by which the energy already existing in one mode can exhibit itself in another: therefore what, relatively to man, we call his creative power, is that receptive attitude of expectancy which, so to say, makes a mould into which the plastic and as yet undifferentiated substance can flow and take the desired form. The will has much the same place in our mental machinery that the tool-holder has in a power-lathe: it is not the power, but it keeps the mental faculties in that position relatively to the power which enables it to do the desired work. If, using the word in its widest sense, we may say that the imagination is the creative function, we may call the will the centralizing principle. Its function is to keep the imagination centred in the right direction. We are aiming at consciously controlling our mental powers instead of letting them hurry us hither and thither in a purposeless manner, and we must therefore understand the relation of these powers to each other for the production of external results. First the whole train of causation is started by some emotion which gives rise to a desire; next the judgment determines whether we shall externalize this desire or not; then the desire having been approved by the judgment, the will comes forward and directs the imagination to form the necessary spiritual prototype; and the imagination thus centred on a particular object creates the spiritual nucleus, which in its turn acts as a centre round which the forces of attraction begin to work, and continue to operate until, by the law of growth, the concrete result becomes perceptible to our external senses.

The business of the will, then, is to retain the various faculties of our mind in that position where they are really doing the work we wish, and this position may be generalized into the three following attitudes: either we wish to act upon something, or be acted on by it, or to maintain a neutral position; in other words we either intend to project a force, or receive a force, or keep a position of inactivity relatively to some particular object. Now the judgment determines which of these three positions we shall take up, the consciously active, the consciously receptive, or the consciously neutral; and then the function of the will is simply to maintain the position we have determined upon; and if we maintain any given mental attitude we may reckon with all certainty on the law of attraction drawing us to those correspondences which exteriorly symbolize the attitude in question. This is very different from the semi-animal screwing-up of the nervous forces which, with some people, stands for will-power. It implies no strain on the nervous system and is consequently not followed by any sense of exhaustion. The will-power, when transferred from the region of the lower mentality to the spiritual plane, becomes simply a calm and peaceful determination to retain a certain mental attitude in spite of all temptations to the contrary, knowing that by doing so the desired result will certainly appear.

The training of the will and its transference from the lower to the higher plane of our nature are among the first objects of Mental Science. The man is summed up in his will. Whatever he does by his own will is his own act; whatever he does without the consent of his will is not his own act but that of the power by which his will was coerced; but we must recognize that, on the mental plane, no other individuality can obtain control over our will unless we first allow it to do so; and it is for this reason that all legitimate use of Mental Science is towards the strengthening of the will, whether in ourselves or others, and bringing it under the control of an enlightened reason. When the will realizes its power to deal with first cause it is no longer necessary for the operator to state to himself in extenso all the philosophy of its action every time he wishes to use it, but, knowing that the trained will is a tremendous spiritual force acting on the plane of first cause, he simply expresses his desire with the intention of operating on that plane, and knows that the desire thus expressed will in due time externalize itself as concrete fact. He now sees that the point which really demands his earnest attention is not whether he possesses the power of externalizing any results he chooses, but of learning to choose wisely what results to produce. For let us not suppose that even the highest powers will take us out of the law of cause and effect. We can never set any cause in motion without calling forth those effects which it already contains in embryo and which will again become causes in their turn, thus producing a series which must continue to flow on until it is cut short by bringing into operation a cause of an opposite character to the one which originated it. Thus we shall find the field for the exercise of our intelligence continually expanding with the expansion of our powers; for, granted a good intention, we shall always wish to contemplate the results of our action as far as our intelligence will permit. We may not be able to see very far, but there is one safe general principle to be gained from what has already been said about causes and conditions, which is that the whole sequence always partakes of the same character as the initial cause: if that character is negative, that is, destitute of any desire to externalize kindness, cheerfulness, strength, beauty or some other sort of good, this negative quality will make itself felt all down the line; but if the opposite affirmative character is in the original motive, then it will reproduce its kind in forms of love, joy, strength and beauty with unerring precision. Before setting out, therefore, to produce new conditions by the exercise of our thought-power we should weigh carefully what further results they are likely to lead to; and here, again, we shall find an ample field for the training of our will, in learning to acquire that self-control which will enable us to postpone an inferior present satisfaction to a greater prospective good.

These considerations naturally lead us to the subject of concentration. I have just now pointed out that all duly controlled mental action consists in holding the mind in one of three attitudes; but there is a fourth mental condition, which is that of letting our mental functions run on without our will directing them to any definite purpose. It is on this word purpose that we must fix our whole attention; and instead of dissipating our energies, we must follow an intelligent method of concentration. The word means being gathered up at a centre, and the centre of anything is that point in which all its forces are equally balanced. To concentrate therefore means first to bring our minds into a condition of equilibrium which will enable us to consciously direct the flow of spirit to a definitely recognized purpose, and then carefully to guard our thoughts from inducing a flow in the opposite direction. We must always bear in mind that we are dealing with a wonderful potential energy which is not yet differentiated into any particular mode, and that by the action of our mind we can differentiate it into any specific mode of activity that we will; and by keeping our thought fixed on the fact that the inflow of this energy is taking place and that by our mental attitude we are determining its direction, we shall gradually realize a corresponding externalization. Proper concentration, therefore, does not consist of strenuous effort which exhausts the nervous system and defeats its own object by suggesting the consciousness of an adverse force to be fought against, and thus creating the adverse circumstances we dread; but in shutting out all thoughts of a kind that would disperse the spiritual nucleus we are forming and dwelling cheerfully on the knowledge that, because the law is certain in its action, our desire is certain of accomplishment. The other great principle to be remembered is that concentration is for the purpose of determining the quality we are going to give to the previously undifferentiated energy rather than to arrange the specific circumstances of its manifestation. That is the work of the creative energy itself, which will build up its own forms of expression quite naturally if we allow it, thus saving us a great deal of needless anxiety. What we really want is expansion in a certain direction, whether of health, wealth, or what not: and so long as we get this, what does it matter whether it reaches us through some channel which we thought we could reckon upon or through some other whose existence we had not suspected. It is the fact that we are concentrating energy of a particular kind for a particular purpose that we should fix our minds upon, and not look upon any specific details as essential to the accomplishment of our object.

These are the two golden rules regarding concentration; but we must not suppose that because we have to be on our guard against idle drifting there is to be no such thing as repose; on the contrary it is during periods of repose that we accumulate strength for action; but repose does not mean a state of purposelessness. As pure spirit the subjective mind never rests: it is only the objective mind in its connection with the physical body that needs rest; and though there are no doubt times when the greatest possible rest is to be obtained by stopping the action of our conscious thought altogether, the more generally advisable method is by changing the direction of the thought and, instead of centering it upon something we intend to do, letting it dwell quietly upon what we are. This direction of thought might, of course, develop into the deepest philosophical speculation, but it is not necessary that we should be always either consciously projecting our forces to produce some external effect or working out the details of some metaphysical problem; but we may simply realize ourselves as part of the universal livingness and thus gain a quiet centralization, which, though maintained by a conscious act of the volition, is the very essence of rest. From this standpoint we see that all is Life and all is Good, and that Nature, from her clearly visible surface to her most arcane depths, is one vast storehouse of life and good entirely devoted to our individual use. [[ And, as such, we -- the Mental Scientists -- have an unfailing obligation to never use that power to the detriment of Nature, lest we destroy it -- and ourselves -- in the process. ]] We have the key to all her treasures, and we can now apply our knowledge of the law of being without entering into all those details which are only needed for purposes of study, and doing so we find it results in our having acquired the consciousness of our oneness with the whole. This is the great secret: and when we have once fathomed it we can enjoy our possession of the whole, or any part of it, because by our recognition we have made it, and can increasingly make it, our own. Whatever most appeals to us at any particular time or place is that mode of the universal living spirit with which at that moment we are most in touch, and realizing this, we shall draw from it streams of vital energy which will make the very sensation of livingness a joy and will radiate from us as a sphere of vibration that can deflect all injurious suggestion on whatever plane. We may not have literary, artistic, or scientific skill to present to others the results of our communings with Nature, but the joy of this sympathetic indrawing will nevertheless produce a corresponding outflow manifesting itself in the happier look and kindlier mien of him who thus realizes his oneness with every aspect of the whole. He realizes -- and this is the great point in that attitude of mind which is not directed to any specific external object -- that, for himself, he is, and always must be the centre of all this galaxy of Life, and thus he contemplates himself as seated at the centre of infinitude, not an infinitude of blank space, but pulsating with living being, in all of which he knows that the true essence is nothing but good. This is the very opposite to a selfish self-centredness: it is the centre where we find that we both receive from all and flow out to all. Apart from this principle of circulation there is no true life, and if we contemplate our central position only as affording us greater advantages for in-taking, we have missed the whole point of our studies by missing the real nature of the Life-principle, which is action and re-action. If we would have life enter into us, we ourselves must enter into life -- enter into the spirit of it, just as we must enter into the spirit of a book or a game to enjoy it. There can be no action at a centre only. There must be a perpetual flowing out towards the circumference, and thence back again to the centre to maintain a vital activity; otherwise collapse must ensue either from anaemia or congestion. But if we realize the reciprocal nature of the vital pulsation, and that the outflowing consists in the habit of mind which gives itself to the good it sees in others, rather than in any specific actions, then we shall find that the cultivation of this disposition will provide innumerable avenues for the universal livingness to flow through us, whether as giving or receiving, which we had never before suspected: and this action and re-action will so build up our own vitality that each day will find us more thoroughly alive than any that had preceded it. This, then, is the attitude of repose in which we may enjoy all the beauties of science, literature and art or may peacefully commune with the spirit of nature without the aid of any third mind to act as its interpreter, which is still a purposeful attitude although not directed to a specific object: we have not allowed the will to relax its control, but have merely altered its direction; so that for action and repose alike we find that our strength lies in our recognition of the unity of the spirit and of ourselves as individual concentrations of it.

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"The Edinburgh Lectures in Mental Science" (c) 1909 Thomas Troward, used as public-domain material.