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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/146

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

noble than serenity amid trouble and distracting effort. There is nothing more selfish than the serenity which is bred by immunity from pain. But to many people, existence without pain, without sensation and without action represents an ideal of the soul. Many well-to-do women of leisure are devoting their lives to the cultivation of this condition, and incidentally neglecting their children and driving their husbands wild by the process. It is not alone faith in a theory of disease or a theory of non-existence which may produce this result. Faith in a celery-compound, an electric belt, or a mud idol may produce the same sweet serenity, the same maddening indifference to all that is real or moving in life. The walls of certain churches in Mexico are covered with the offerings and pictures of those who were saved by their vows or by appeals to some saint. 'But where,' said Lord Bacon, long ago, 'are the pictures of those who were lost in spite of their vows?'

"It is true that to cultivate a cheerful temper, to look on the bright side of things, to laugh when we can and be hopeful under all conditions is good for the body. The food is better assimilated, the blood runs faster, one can do more and better things, and come in closer relations with the realities of life. But conversely, when one meets most manfully the needs of life, his pulse beats more quickly, his brain works better, his liver gives him less trouble and he is naturally cheerful and hopeful. The cheerful man does not dodge pain, he overcomes it. He does not selfishly shrink from reality and turn to introspection and dreaming. He faces the world and makes it his own and takes manfully the pain his efforts cause or which in the progress of life he can not avoid.

"It is possible to go much farther in the direction of the banishment of pain through the thought that pain does not exist. Then take more pain and it will become at last an intense pleasure; when the mind is in the grasp of absolute torture, it is possible for the brain to feel it as with spasms of absolute delight. It is not easy to do this but can be produced by excessive belief in the unreality of common things. The brain half-maddened by pain is open to suggestions from other maddened brains till a fierce wild ecstasy is the final result. This fact explains the strange rites of those sects of self-destroyers which rose in the middle ages, the flagellantes, penitents and the rest. Even yet, the last of the penitent brothers at San Mateo in New Mexico in the passion week torture themselves in the most revolting fashion by crucifixion, whipping and the binding of huge cactuses on their backs. By hideous tortures they expiate in one week their many heinous sins of the whole year. Just as the suggestion that disease is an illusion may conceal pain, for those who give up everything else for healing, so does the suggestion of infinite pleasure conceal for a time the most exquisite pain. But in the one case, as I believe, the disease goes on unchecked, so in