Looking forward to what is going to happen on the next day, or within a few days, may cause so much anxiety as to keep us awake; but if we have a good, clear sense of the futility of resistance, whether our expected success or failure depends on ourselves or on others, we can compel ourselves to a quiet willingness which will make our brains quiet and receptive to restful sleep, and so enable us to wake with new power for whatever task or pleasure may lie before us.
Of course we are often kept awake by the sense of having done wrong. In such cases the first thing to do is to make a free acknowledgment to ourselves of the wrong we have done, and then to make up our minds to do the right thing at once. That, if the wrong done is not too serious, will put us to sleep; and if the next day we go about our work remembering the lesson we have learned, we probably will have little trouble in sleeping.
If Macbeth had had the truth and courage to tell Lady Macbeth that both he and she were wicked plotters and murderers, and that he intended, for his part, to stop being a scoundrel, and, if he had persisted in carrying out his good intentions, he would never have “murdered sleep.”
A MAN once grasped a very hot poker with his hand, and although he cried out with pain, held on to the poker. His friend called out to him to drop it, whereupon the man indignantly cried out the more.
“Drop it? How can you expect me to think of dropping it with pain like this? I tell you when a man is suffering, as I am, he can think of nothing but the pain.”
And the more indignant he was, the tighter he held on to the poker, and the more he cried out with pain.
This story in itself is ridiculous, but it is startlingly true as an illustration of what people are doing every day.
There is an instinct in us to drop every hot poker at once; and probably we should be able to drop any other form of unnecessary disagreeable sensation as soon as possible, if we had not lost that wholesome instinct through want of use. As it is, we must learn to re-acquire the lost faculty by the deliberate use of our intelligence and will.
It is as if we had lost our freedom and needed to be shown the way back to it, step by step. The process is slow but very interesting, if we are in earnest; and when, after wandering in the bypaths, we finally strike the true road, we find our lost faculty waiting for us, and all that we have learned in reaching it is so much added power.
But at present we are dealing in the main with a world which has no suspicion of such instincts or faculties as these, and is suffering along in blind helplessness. A man will drop a hot poker as soon as he feels it burn, but he will tighten his muscles and hold on to a cold in his head so persistently that he only gets rid of it at all because nature is stronger than he is, and carries it off in spite of him.