A Common-Sense View of the Mind Cure, by Laura M. Westall, , at sacred-texts.com
YOU are walking through the city street, thinking of nothing in particular, watching the passing throng, glancing idly about. But suddenly you stop short with your gaze riveted upon a shop window--something therein has caught your attention.
Most of the time our minds drift. Tho there is a procession of images or ideas passing constantly across the field of consciousness, we give no heed to any one of them, but, like a leaf on the stream, float idly along. However, we have the power to single out one of these ideas and fix the whole mind upon it. And this is attention; it is holding one idea in consciousness to the exclusion of other ideas.
Now, thus to fix the mind wholly or concentrate attention upon a single object of consciousness is to get a clearer idea of it. We see it in all its details, a more distinct mental image of it appears to "the mind's eye," and it takes a stronger hold upon the mind.
For instance: A friend has made a remark which has hurt your feelings. If you fix your mind upon it--that is, think about it constantly--it gains a stronger hold upon your mind and you suffer correspondingly. Or, if you have a hole in your glove and fix your mind on it--keep thinking of it and looking at it--it will look bigger and bigger to you, until you think everybody you pass in the street is noticing it.
And the . same is true of sensations. Suppose you have a pain. If you attend to it, think about it, and talk about it, it will grow worse, until after a while you will not be able to think or talk of anything
else. As a matter of fact, the minds of many persons become unbalanced by much thinking and talking about their ills. We call it hypochondria.
This brings us to a very curious and, to many, incredible fact. If one fixes his attention upon some part of his body, he will in a short time perceive uneasy sensations arising therein; if he continues to do so, he may produce first pain and finally disease.
It has long been known that if the morbid attention becomes fixt upon some part of the body, actual disease may be induced. The celebrated Dr. Tuke, of England, said more than a century ago that "if the attention be directed toward any bodily organ, abnormal sensations may be perceived in it and disease may be developed."
We do not have to go far afield for the explanation; fear and imagination color the mental energy which the act of attention sends flying to the spot. Thus:
[paragraph continues] You think of your foot, and as the electric power-house sends the current along the wires into your house, so the brain sends the mental current through the nerves to your foot. Ten minutes more or less will suffice to incite sensations. If there is pain in the foot, it will be augmented: or if you imagine pain, you can excite pain. For the current is colored or tinged by your state of mind; and if fearful imagination control your mind, you may, by persistent direction of attention, induce disease in your foot.
Says Dr. James Braid: "A strong direction of consciousness to any part of the body, especially if attended with the expectation or belief of something about to happen, is sufficient to change the physical action of the part. Thus, every variety of feeling from an internal or mental cause, such as heat or cold, pricking, creeping, tingling, spasmodic contractions of the muscles, catalepsy, attraction or
repulsion, sights of every form or hue, colors, tastes, smells, etc., may be excited. Moreover, the oftener such impressions have been excited the more readily may they be reproduced by the laws of habit and association."
Quotations from many eminent men might be adduced to enforce this point, but one from Dr. Carpenter must suffice: "The volitional direction of consciousness to a part suffices to call forth sensations in it, which seem to depend upon a change in its circulation; and if this state is kept automatically by the attraction of the attention, the change may become a source of modification not only in the functional action, but in the nutrition of the part." And if such a change is expected, as Dr. Braid suggests--that is, if the "expectant attention" is aroused--the result is much more marked.
So if one is suffering from indigestion, and thinks he has eaten something indigestible,
he unconsciously directs his attention to his stomach, and watches for, or expects, the symptoms. From what has just been said, it is easy to see why he is unlikely to be disappointed!
Well, as with imagination, "it is a poor rule that won't work both ways." If morbid attention and imagination can cause disease, then a sane, intelligent use of them should cure disease.
Let us see how it works out.
In the chapter on the nervous system it was said that if the mental energy or vital force was depleted or unequally distributed the weakest spot would be the first to suffer.
Now, suppose that your stomach is your weak spot. The nerves in the walls of your stomach (vasomotor) are unable to perform their functions because of an insufficient supply of force, consequently the circulation "lags superfluous"; there is not enough blood in the blood-vessels for
the glands to secrete the gastric juice. Very well, then. By fixing your attention upon your stomach, you send to the nerves an increased supply of vital energy; this will set them at work; the blood-vessels will then fill with blood, and the blood will bring to the cells sufficient nutrient materials to cause the secretion of the gastric juice. Your stomach will then begin to disgest the food, and if this be kept up for twenty minutes, let us say, the sensation of fulness, weight, cold, and the gas, caused by fermentation, will all pass off. If in addition to attention you "suggest" that your stomach is strong or imagine that it is, the result will be more satisfactory.
This is no idle dream or vagary of fancy. It is based upon well-known laws of physiology and psychology, and repeated experiments have demonstrated its practicability. That such a use of attention changes the physical action of the part
involved we have scientific confirmation. Professor Gates, of the Smithsonian Institution, says, in effect, that since the brain-centers govern all parts of the body and are in direct or indirect control by means of fibers with every cell of the body, one can by practise learn to send a strong stimulus to any cell or collection of cells. This stimulus is vital force or mental energy, and when it reaches its goal, it causes a physical change; for it "alters the chemistry of the secretions and excretions, and the thermic and lymphatic functions."
In other words, this action causes a change in nutrition, for if we increase the supply of blood to any part, we offer it more nutrient material with which to improve flagging function and rebuild wasted tissues.
This makes it easy to see why, when the morbid attention is fixt upon some organ, it is possible to develop disease in it. Fear and imagination, as has been said, so color
the vital force as to paralyze the nerves and that stops the circulation, which of course interferes with nutrition.
The effect of an act of attention, it is evident, depends upon the mental state. If the mind is morbid--that is, charged with fear, anxiety, and disordered imagination--the effect is vicious; but if the mind is sane--that is, under the control of reason--the effect is salutary, particularly if the act of attention is charged with the belief that good is going to result. And that result may be augmented and expedited by painting a mental picture of the desired result.