THE NATURE OF THE SUBSTANCE
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
"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
"All right, here comes opposition,"
said the Invisibles. "Get ready! What to do?"
"I must gird myself joyously, like a
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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.
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
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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
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
"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
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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
"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
"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
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."