The problem is obviously a serious one. So urgent is it that I think one may safely say the amount of insanity due to the pressure of daily life is increasing; nursing-homes have sprung up for the special purpose of treating such cases; and doctors are starting special courses of tuition in the art--now becoming very important--of systematically doing nothing! And yet it is difficult to see the outcome of it all. The clock of what is called Progress is not easily turned backward. We should not very readily agree nowadays to the abolition of telegrams or to a regulation compelling express trains to stop at every station! We can't ALL go to Nursing Homes, or afford to enjoy a winter's rest-cure in Egypt. And, if not, is the speeding-up process to go on indefinitely, incapable of being checked, and destined ultimately to land civilization in the mad-house?
It is, I say, a serious and an urgent problem. And it is, I think, forcing a certain answer on us--which I will now endeavor to explain.
If we cannot turn back and reverse this fatal onrush of modern life (and it is evident that we cannot do so in any very brief time--though of course ultimately we might succeed) then I think there are clearly only two alternatives left--either to go forward to general dislocation and madness, or--to learn to rest even in the very midst of the hurry and the scurry.
To explain what I mean, let me use an illustration. The typhoons and cyclones of the China Seas are some of the most formidable storms that ships can encounter. Their paths in the past have been strewn with wrecks and disaster. But now with increased knowledge much of their danger has been averted. It is known that they are CIRCULAR in character, and that though the wind on their outskirts often reaches a speed of 100 miles an hour, in the centre of the storm there is a space of complete calm--not a calm of the SEA certainly, but a complete absence of wind. The skilled navigator, if he cannot escape the storm, steers right into the heart of it, and rests there. Even in the midst of the clatter he finds a place of quiet where he can trim his sails and adjust his future course. He knows too from his position in what direction at every point around him the wind is moving and where it will strike him when at last his ship emerges from the charmed circle.
Is it not possible, we may ask, that in the very midst of the cyclone of daily life we may find a similar resting-place? If we can, our case is by no means hopeless. If we cannot, then indeed there is danger.
Looking back in History we seem to see that in old times people took life much more leisurely than they do now. The elder generations gave more scope in their customs and their religions for contentment and peace of mind. We associate a certain quietism and passivity with the thought of the Eastern peoples. But as civilization traveled Westward external activity and the pace of life increased--less and less time was left for meditation and repose--till with the rise of Western Europe and America, the dominant note of life seems to have simply become one of feverish and ceaseless activity--of activity merely for the sake of activity, without any clear idea of its own purpose or object.
Such a prospect does not at first seem very hopeful; but on second thoughts we see that we are not forced to draw any very pessimistic conclusion from it. The direction of human evolution need not remain always the same. The movement, in fact, of civilization from East to West has now clearly completed itself. The globe has been circled, and we cannot go any FARTHER to the West without coming round to the East again. It is a commonplace to say that our psychology, our philosophy and our religious sense are already taking on an Eastern color; nor is it difficult to imagine that with the end of the present dispensation a new era may perfectly naturally arrive in which the St. Vitus' dance of money-making and ambition will cease to be the chief end of existence.
In the history of nations as in the history of individuals there are periods when the formative ideals of life (through some hidden influence) change; and the mode of life and evolution in consequence changes also. I remember when I was a boy wishing--like many other boys--to go to sea. I wanted to join the Navy. It was not, I am sure, that I was so very anxious to defend my country. No, there was a much simpler and more prosaic motive than that. The ships of those days with their complex rigging suggested a perfect paradise of CLIMBING, and I know that it was the thought of THAT which influenced me. To be able to climb indefinitely among those ropes and spars! How delightful! Of course I knew perfectly well that I should not always have free access to the rigging; but then--some day, no doubt, I should be an Admiral, and who then could prevent me? I remember seeing myself in my mind's eye, with cocked hat on my head and spy-glass under my arm, roaming at my own sweet will up aloft, regardless of the remonstrances which might reach me from below! Such was my childish ideal. But a time came--needless to say--when I conceived a different idea of the object of life.
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