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The Road I Know by Stewart Edward White 1942

 

CHAPTER XX
THE NATURE OF THE SUBSTANCE
1.

 

THE Invisibles never appeared concerned about any difficulties Betty was having. It always seemed to me that they watched her experiments and struggles much as a benign adult watches a baby trying to find out how to fit a peg into a hole. They supplied the peg and the board with the hole in it, and occasionally they dropped a hint on how to get them together, but that was all.

 

Betty was at a phase of development which the Invisibles ironically called "the tinhorn-rattle-whistle stage of children playing games." But they hastened to add: "The games of children are among their best means of learning. Grown-ups do not play with toys; but taking away a child's toy does not make him a grown-up."

 

Apparently this idea gave Betty pause for thought.

 

"Over here," she had to agree, rather ruefully, "I am always saying. 'Let's see if I can do it! Let me do it!' as a child says."

 

"All right, here comes opposition," said the Invisibles. "Get ready! What to do?"

 

"I must gird myself joyously, like a game." Betty


 

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rose to the suggestion. "Well, it's my turn! A hard ball is coming! On your toes!"

 

"Using the higher force," said they, "actually is like trying to putt a golf ball down, or to hit a bull's-eye. You have a certain power, and you try to work it; and you figure why you failed, and you try again—just like your sports over there."

 

Of a cold fact it was like our sports over here, Betty told me, later in her normal person. Especially that dratted game of golf, she added. Betty had wonderful command of her body—as witness that stunt of standing on her head for long periods—but golf always exasperated her. She brought back from the links an excellent definition—"You know, I can play this game a great deal better than I am—but I never do! " Now, in her flounderings in search of the smooth application to actual life of her inner attainments, she was puzzled. Finally the Invisibles threw her a line.

 

"You are forgetting to work in the nature of the substance," said they.
2.

 

The nature of the substance—here was a new phrase to add to the many catchwords the Invisibles had presented us. The inference was fairly clear, but what exactly did they mean?

 

If a chemist wants to dissolve gold, he doesn't try to


 

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do it with sulphuric acid, does he?—I must condense and epitomize.—He knows better. It is not gold's nature to respond to sulphuric acid. If an artist wants to express pure form, he does it in clay or marble or wood, he doesn't use paint. If he wants to express color and atmosphere and that sort of thing he uses a canvas; he does not daub up a statue, even if the Greeks did do it, or paste false whiskers on a portrait. Not if he is a good artist. And what would you think of a mechanic who built a machine out of wood instead of metal? Or a schoolmaster who tried to talk calculus to the kindergarten?

 

Now, the Invisibles advised Betty, extend that to what you are trying to do—I am still condensing a mass of record. What are you working on? The world—people, individuals. You are trying to give them something, of yourself, aren't you? The trouble is that you are trying to give them all the same thing in the same way. You don't expect the same thing from each of them, do you? We do not want or find the same things in different people. What do you want of your friends, they finally challenged.

 

"Why," reflected Betty, "in some I want the warmth of uncritical affection, unquestioned acceptance in spite of surface imperfections. In others I want the light touch of humor and good fellowship playing lambent over our companionship. Still others help me to touch my highest point of mind and soul reaches."


 

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"And each of them wants something different from you," supplemented the Invisibles. "The art of living is to find out what you have for each other. A really skilled worker cherishes the character of the materials he works with, even to the point of utilizing a knot hole for decoration. He works in the nature of the substance."

 

And, they added, it is rather naive to expect smooth sailing and cordial acceptance always.

 

"If you generate a force, it must meet opposition." Betty was beginning to see the point. "That's what I'm working on today. I go at it with a certain interest and appetite in trying it out; a humorous acceptance of a challenge with myself."

 

That opposition, said the Invisibles, is itself a substance, with a nature of its own, that must be worked in.

 

"The first thing you must learn," they added, "is to accept opposition so in its entirety, so completely, that not one speck of attention is ever wasted on it, except for the intellectual appraisement of its strength and the planning for control of its effect."

 

"I see," said Betty, "you do not say, 'Isn't it hateful I've got this? Isn't it disgusting that this happened!' You know that, if someone goes at you to overwhelm you with something, it is stupid to waste time and strength in reacting to it with resentment. You at once


 

THE ROAD I KNOW                                    227 act together all your vigor to create exactly the opposite. . .

 

"The best course," elaborated the Invisibles, "is always to reduce your aims to their essentials, and then seek the cooperation of your material, however imperfect. Nor will you find this too difficult to accomplish— provided you keep as your chief aim the determination to proceed with the least friction and the most skill and sympathy, in the sense of an artist's sympathy with his work and material."

 

"I needed that." Betty was appreciative. "You see, for a moment I was a little sad and puzzled about the uselessness of trying to bring a bit of real spirituality into ordinary life. The exquisite amount of devotion required to accomplish it, the creation of all the heart energy and absorption in it, in order to make it live in the atmosphere of everyday life—it's all so intangible to do, and people's reactions to it are so curious! It is like leading them into a refrigerating room or a furnace room—something that has an immediate reaction on them. You can't tell how they are going to take it."

 

"Now the method we suggest in working in the nature of the substance," said the Invisibles, "is not to try immediately to graft on it what you have to bring. You should leave that to the constructive purpose with which you have unified yourself. Your part is to cultivate, in full enjoyment, the pitch which made


 

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that unification possible; and to try to lift from drabness and traditional isolations the human nature."

 

"It's a sort of idea of little shadings of ability to pick up from the human scrap heap and sense the bits of quality there. I find it a little hard—let it go," said Betty.

 

"My first translation of my experience," Betty tried to retrace the steps that had led her to this point, "was that I was not to reach restlessly and objectively hither and thither, but was to sit at home in myself and sense that self to the depth of my capacity of heart intelligence and comprehension. But that was not adequate: It is too limited.

 

"My next reaction to it was that through persistent practice I had become used to thinking of myself as vigorously centered in a point of power, capable of action on inferior substance. And that inferior substance is inferior because it has no free will to refuse my vigorous action, any more than metal can refuse to accept warmth when placed near the fire.

 

"But that was inadequate, too. Both those concepts were too limited to convey the scope of spiritual action. They are still molded by brain limitations; and yet both have necessary steps of truth embodied in them. The thing they lack is the universality of spiritual consciousness."

 

"The only real way to work in the nature of the substance," contributed the Invisibles, "is through a


 

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generous and spontaneous blending with other lives in the universality common to all.

 

"it is very hard to drag forth the enduring element in each—the Perpetual person—, to throw calmly into the discard the barnacle parasite part," said the Invisibles.

 

"To work in the nature of the substance! " they exclaimed. "Why, if the world were only wise enough to do that, there would be little else to do. It is tolerance. It is the nth degree of humanitarianism. It is respect for the integrity of each individual soul. Those who have gained the habitual spiritual consciousness always work that way, in the nature of the substance; and it is in that way you can recognize them. In fact, working in the nature of the substance is the only way people can live together in peace."

 

KINSHIP