"How to Live Quietly"
by Annie Payson Call
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SO universal is the habit of blaming circumstances or other people for the troubles of our own lives that I know a strong assertion of the fact that the source of all trouble lies entirely within ourselves will meet with contradiction and resentment from many readers. It takes courage to look to one's self entirely for pain which seems to be caused by others, but if once we do it, and are thoroughly clean-cut about it in every thought and word and action, the release from bondage seems almost miraculous.
When I say "look to ourselves" I do not mean necessarily that we are to blame. Often we have inherited tendencies for which we are not in the least to blame until we find them out, and cutting ourselves off from bondage to circumstances or to other people enables us to find them out, -- then of course we are to blame if we do not work in the way to conquer them.
As gradually we learn that it is our own attitude toward life that makes us suffer, not the circumstances and people in life, we come nearer and nearer to our freedom. I do not imagine that any one ever reaches entire freedom in this life, -- but we can go a long way in our process toward it, -- and, as we steadily insist upon keeping to the. straight road, the way grows more and more interesting and the contrast is so great between the habitual and customary bondage to people and circumstances and the healthy habit of working to throw off such bondage, as to give us always a growing sense of relief which is delightful.
The tendency is, when we read a book which has in it more or less of
practical truth, to say, How good this would be for so-and-so but this
book, dear reader, although I hope you may give it where it is useful,
is primarily written. for YOU.
Peace -- In General
"PEACE! Peace! Anything for Peace!" How often we hear that, -- or, again, the exclamation, "Let us have peace at any price -- peace at any price!"
How little we seem to know that there is only one price to be paid for peace -- only one price by which it can be obtained. This price is so obvious that if I were to mention the price here and now, it would make but slight impression upon some of my readers; others might say) "Yes, of course that is so, but who is going to be able to pay that price; we cannot do it. Much as we would like peace, it is out of the question for us if that is its price."
Others, -- and these would be among the "anything-for-peace" people, -- would say, " Oh, yes, that may be so, but I can get peace more easily than that." And, if asked "How?" -- the answer would come in countless little artificial plans for not rousing the antagonism of other people. Countless forms of white lies which can give life a smooth appearance on the outside; some very black lies told for the same purpose; also little forms of flattery which serve to feed the complacency of those who might otherwise be roused to one form or another of jealousy which, in its expression, would interfere with the comfort of people about; other forms of flattery which would so delight its recipient as to draw out more flattery in return, or personal favors given to add to the pleasure of those about and so used to draw out more flattery and again more favors. Thus every one would feel comfortable because half the world's selfish desires would be catered to in order that the other half might be drawn out to cater in return.
This, put in rough terms, would be some of the recipes given by those who feel sure that peace can be attained "at any price"; and not only for the one and unconvertible price which these very people would think it impossible to pay. And, from the plane in which they speak, that which they call Peace, can be attained for the various prices they recommend.
I have seen their recipes work a hundred times, and more; so have many readers of mine; and perhaps -- only perhaps -- there are some readers who have worked those same schemes themselves and are working them now, every day of their lives, with a complacent idea of success and a comfortable sense of living on in this world undisturbed.
But none of these peace-at-any-price people know that it is spurious peace they are working for, and, in so far as they have attained anything, it is spurious peace that they have attained. Fancy digging with all. your might, day after day, for treasure which, when found proved to be no treasure at all; then fancy that because such metal shines and appears to have value, those who dig dwell on its beauty and are made to believe themselves happy because they possess it, until one day a man comes near who knows good metal when he sees and tests it, and he tells the miners that what they have is not only no treasure at all, but that the metal has poison in it, and the sooner it is entirely out of the way the better! Just think of all that! The miners would not believe the honest metal tester, because, having traded their poisonous metal back and forth among each other, they would have come firmly to believe in its intrinsic value.
Perhaps some would laugh and say, "Oh, Yes, we discovered sometime ago that the metal was of no real value, but the people about us seemed to think it was, and so long as we could keep ourselves comfortable by continuing to trade with them, we thought it better not to disturb any one." And then again, they might add, "You see, we were not only comfortable ourselves, but the belief in the metal was keeping every one else about us comfortable. Would it not have been unkind to enlighten them?"
Let us go farther and imagine a group of people, even a whole town or city, dealing in counterfeit money. Counterfeit gold and silver -- counterfeit bills -- and the trade of the city going on for some time undisturbed, with the counterfeit money used always. Then suppose a man came from an honest country and showed these citizens the contrast in the ring of his gold and of theirs, -- the ring of his silver and of theirs. Would not most of the citizens, even with the contrast between the true and the false sounding still in their ears, say: "We have kept very comfortable with this money which you say is counterfeit -- our city has gone on all right, and we are all having a very good time. We see no reason for changing." Then the man with honest money could say, "That appears all right now, but wait until you have to come in touch more with the country at large; you will find then., that your money will not pass, and you yourselves will be left with less than nothing. Remember I have warned you."
There is spurious peace and there is real peace. Spurious peace can be bought with any price. Real peace can be bought with only one price, -- in only one way. Spurious peace is so well made nowadays that it is surprising, even to one who knows, how often and how exactly it seems to be real. There is, however, no spurious peace, however perfect the counterfeit, but that some test can be brought to bear upon it that will show it up for what it is -- to be absolutely false and with a foundation of unrest, fear and greed. But real peace, put to the test, grows stronger, deeper, and more full of vitality. Indeed, all tests strengthen it and, deepen it and are the means of bringing it more vigor.
Spurious peace is sometimes thinner and sometimes thicker. At times a test will prick it immediately and reveal at once all that is contrary to peace underneath. At other times the hypocrisy has been going on for so long that the spurious peace is thick -- like a thick sugar coating over a very bitter pill. Then the false quality of peace is not discovered until after many tests -- sometimes very many tests -- and when at last the continued tests have succeeded in getting below the surface, the bitterness beneath the coating is more acutely bitter, more acrid and heavy in its odor than where the sugar coat is thinner.
Of one thing we can be sure: spurious peace is always superficial. It has no solid foundation whatever, any more than hell has. But, although superficial, the coating is often thick. I know a woman who impresses all those around her with her atmosphere of peace, and whose placid smile has such an apparently real calm in it, that many of her friends and admirers are lost in wonder at the peace in her character, and long to work that they may acquire that same sense of peace which she seems to convey to them. This is the spurious peace whose other name is complacency. Sometimes I think of a being like that as being in cold storage. Bring such a soul out into the sunshine of genuine life and the tendency to decay begins to work at once.
Or, here is another one who impresses those about her with her peaceful strength and love of use to others. This one feels that she is more popular in that pose. People praise her and fawn on her, and choose her from among her more genuine sisters as a rock upon which they can lean. And this same exponent of spurious peace is full of resentment and resistance -- all hiding in the background and never permitted to appear until the owner is out of the range of those with whom she would be popular, or unless she is surprised into being genuine by a sudden and unexpected test.
I know a man whose atmosphere of peace and quiet has delighted, soothed and comforted many, and yet this same man has, at times, seemed to have no bounds. to his complacent cruelty when his own selfish opinions or preferences have been contradicted, even though by people whose opinions might, from the eyes of the world, be equally respected.
Another man I think of, whose atmosphere of peace was even more alive -- and yet, when it came to the test of suffering, underneath this peace was the intensest fear. Sometimes the simple directness of a little child will expose the falseness of spurious peace entirely. A friend told me of trying to teach a little girl arithmetic, and while she was feeling very irritable, and even ugly, underneath, she suavely and with apparent sweetness went on explaining the problem. The child got more and more mixed and finally looked up quietly to her teacher and said: "I could understand it better, Miss Smith, if you were not so cross." Her remark gave Miss Smith a shock, and a severe one, for she had been so much occupied in sugar coating that she had given no attention whatever to the actual ugliness she was covering up.
Some of these people of whom I write (and I could cite many more) believe that they are genuine in their desire for good, -- some are genuine in their desire, -- but through inheritance or through bringing up and environment they have never known the difference between spurious peace and real peace. They have been entirely ignorant of their own hypocrisy. And, more than all, they do not know that peace cannot be bought at any price. There is only one price for real peace, and that price must be known and earned before it can be paid. It is worth working for -- it is one hundred thousand times worth working for -- as the real peace is immeasurably worth attaining. The difference between the real and the counterfeit is as great as that between life and death; the one is constructive and life-giving, the other is destructive and life-destroying.
It is not so difficult to earn the real peace as one would think, if we follow the path and are patient and willing to go step by step. Oddly, perhaps, one must have some idea of what spurious peace is before one can make a fair start to earn and gain the real peace. I suppose it is because our own selfishness is so full of a tendency to be gratified with spurious peace that we must begin by being somewhat keenly alive to the difference between the counterfeit and the real. Even then we may often get sidetracked and wake to find ourselves complacently deceived. The first sensitiveness, however, stands us in good stead, and a slight reminder will bring us right back again to the straight road.
As we work to gain real peace, our sensitiveness grows keener and deeper, until the spurious shows to us in all its horror, and we wonder that we could ever have been deceived.
There is a great deal in life that is like the effects of alcohol or drugs without any alcohol or drugs at all. And, as we indulge in these psychical drugs, the effect is very much the same as from the material drugs, -- only slower and more subtle. The complacency of spurious peace is an awful drug, and it dulls the sensibilities of those who indulge it very much as morphine does in a grosser way.
Real peace brings health of soul and body with it, with an interior sense of vigor, akin to, and finer than fresh mountain air. But it must be earned.
It is my purpose and my hope in this book to point out, in so far as I am able, the road to real peace, with here and there a guide-post marked " Spurious " that will be only a healthy warning to prevent unnecessary digression. I do not pretend to have found uninterrupted real peace myself. If I thought I had, that would, I am sure, prove that I had nothing to teach any one. But I do believe I have found the road to it, and that I am working my way, with many others, towards the Peace that lasts.
One thing I know, -- the finding of it, and the privilege of feeling its strength your own to use, does not depend upon other people; it does not depend upon environment; it does not depend upon circumstances, or even upon inheritance. In finding it, we must work as if we each one were alone in the world, absolutely alone, so far as any other human being goes. And as we find it, there is nothing that I know which brings us more truly into communication with our fellowmen, or enables us to give more to them or to receive more from them.
The price we must pay, and the only price we can pay for peace, having earned it, I shall try to make clear as I go along.