A man’s most sincere actions and those in which he is most truly himself
are his potential which is arbitrarily revealed by his life.
When you are the neighbour
- Principles of Self-Awareness
- Why self-development is so difficult
- The neighbour we are supposed to love as ourselves
Neurologists have established that, when functioning normally, the human brain uses only about 15-20% of its cellular capacity. Why do we have all these cells if they are just lying idle? Perhaps they could be used for a more advanced level of thought, for developing our powers of self-awareness and self-regulation and for enabling us to live differently. Perhaps we could already make use of them if we only knew how. This book describes ways of doing just that.
The Headless Horseman*
It seems to be a basic part of human nature to want to improve ourselves in some way though, of course, the overwhelming desire to improve those around us, starting with our nearest and dearest, is even greater! Judging from the size of the self-help industry we should all be perfect by now, but somehow this has not happened. The advice is all there if we choose to take it, yet something gets in the way.
There are many reasons for this: some of us are not interested in real change, at least, not just now, while others, when faced with the existing plethora of good advice and helpful tips, are not sure where to start or what exactly to do. Take, for example, this statement by Hans Selye, the physiologist and doctor who coined the term ‘stress’, “the best way of avoiding harmful stress is to choose an environment (that is, spouse, boss and friends) congenial to your own personal preferences and some sort of work which you like and consider worthwhile”**. It would probably be quite hard to disagree with this, the minor problem nevertheless remaining of how exactly you go about doing it. Another obstacle to personal development is the age-long conflict between the conscious and the unconscious mind. The relationship between the two has been likened to that between a rider and his or her horse. This is perhaps an over-romanticised view of things but if we accept the comparison in principle, then I would suggest that the horseman must surely be headless. That is to say, the conscious mind, which is seemingly in charge, appears to be lacking a control centre. We are trained from an early age to relate to the outside world and to use and manipulate objects and, on occasion, other people, but there is generally little training in how to develop self-awareness and self-regulation. Consequently, we can often make conscious decisions to do something that we cannot carry through. When put to the test, when the moment comes to actually demonstrate our new behaviour we slip back again into the old, familiar pattern. ‘It’s too late to turn out to the gym tonight,’ ‘I did lose my temper again, but he was so annoying. He deserved it.’ ‘I’m cutting down on drinking, but I’ll start tomorrow…’ And so on.
So although it is relatively easy to take rational decisions about ourselves it can be very difficult to carry them out due to the dissonance between the conscious and subconscious minds: total harmony between them is as rare as the ideal spouse or boss mentioned above. A favourite game of the subconscious is to behave as though it does not exist, as though the conscious is in complete control. The latter is not slow to retaliate with an excess of rationalisations and the never ending struggle between the horse and its headless rider continues.
Even our bodies seem to exemplify our difficulty with self-awareness and self- regulation. Our eyes can see most things except for themselves; our hand can take hold of almost anything, but never itself. (Consequently, the advice to take yourself in hand always sounds a little ironic). Fortunately, however, we do have a second hand and we can see our eyes in a mirror (even if with some distortion) or with the help of someone else. We even have two hemispheres in our brains that can function relatively independently and can replace each other if need be. This and our ability to perceive our own reflection should, at least theoretically, be sufficient for us to be able to gain a clear understanding of ourselves and to develop self-regulation. Theoretically, maybe, but in reality very rarely since in order to do this we need to have a means of communication, a language we can use to converse with and influence ourselves. And this is what we lack.
So, generally we find it easier to learn about the world than about ourselves and to control technology rather than our own moods and desires. It is easy to find excuses, to blame others, the world in general and our subconscious for this. And they do play a part, it is true. But if they were the sole factors involved where would we stand in all this? Who, after all is in charge?
It is interesting that in the industrialised world we probably do not feel any more in control of our circumstances than people did in the Stone-Age. Dangers and uncertainties seem to be rife and there is no denying that we are not completely in charge of our lives: indeed, we are dependent on everything from the weather and our own genes to the latest events in the Middle East. Yet perhaps we would do well to remember that each of us is always AT LEAST AS STRONG as external forces: if this were not so then humans would have ceased to exist centuries ago. There are, of course, countless cases in which forces other than our own have the upper hand and when there seems little we can do. Natural disasters, traffic jams, illness and even the irrational craving for a cigarette or a drink can leave us feeling completely helpless, but are we? Just think about it. We are often able to call on resources we did not know we had when times are tough. When all else fails we have the ultimate power to decide how we take it: as an opportunity for personal growth or as an unremitting problem.
In personal development, as in most things, motivation is key: if we do not want to change, no amount of persuasion will entice us to do so. (This is one powerful reason why we can never change others, only ourselves.) Our imperfections usually catch us unawares and we start to notice just how poor our self-regulation is when things start getting difficult: when we have some particularly demanding work, we are ill, we are feeling our age, we are having an argument or are in any stressful situation. Then we suddenly realise that a great many very simple things we normally take for granted just will not happen by themselves if we do not cultivate them: the ability to switch from one occupation to another instantaneously and to change our mood, to relax deeply, and even to fall asleep with ease.
Of course, the more important it is to be in control the more difficult it is to be so. Since the vast majority of us never make any special effort to learn self-regulation, it is not surprising that we are completely at a loss when put to the test.
This book can enable us to learn the self-regulation we sometimes need. It does so by showing us ways of helping the conscious and subconscious minds to get along well together, to help each other and, if not to actually attain a state of idyllic harmony, then at least to establish a respectable form of coexistence. These techniques, most of which fall under the term of ‘Auto-Suggestion’ can be mastered by anyone who wants and, above all, is willing to give enough time to acquiring them.
For Those Who Intend to Read On
When writing this book I felt it would be read by people with two starkly contrasting attitudes. The first dislike having a choice; they like detail and logical argument and always want to know all the whys and wherefores. The second dislike being ordered about and told what to do; they are constantly looking for intellectual challenge, despise detail and like the big picture.
Some of the latter may approve of Auto-Training in principle but may not practice it themselves. There could be various reasons for this, one of them being the intrinsic dislike almost all of us harbour for things we are supposed to do: we always seem to have quite enough obligations without looking for new ones.
Auto-Training will only give you as much as you are prepared to take. This book illustrates how, quite unconsciously, in one form or another and whether we like it or not, we all practise Auto-Suggestion and our own personal course of Auto-Training all the time. I will consider this book has done its job if, after reading it, you can use Auto-Suggestion more consciously and with greater self-awareness to improve your life.
From experience I have found the following three stages of reading to be very useful:
A quick flick through. You probably did this in the library or bookshop.
First reading. without dwelling on anything in particular but bearing in mind that each chapter is important for understanding what comes before and after. (Auto-Training will, in fact, help you to improve your reading and retention.) At this stage it can be helpful to note down as you go what interests you most.
Careful study and selective practice. This is the next stage if you intend to take Auto-Training seriously. Read slowly and very thoroughly, as you would a textbook or a musical score. Alternate reading with practicing Auto-Training exercises, concentrating on those which appeal to you most, but without ignoring anything completely.
All this could easily take 2-3 months. After 6-12 months, it is worth reading the whole book again. Rereading it after that can be useful whenever you feel like it.
А Starting Point
Here are five typical character sketches. Although you cannot be totally objective, you might like to see which one best describes you at the moment. Maybe you are somewhere in between.
Unremitting darkness: ‘My life is constant anxiety, torment and catastrophe. I certainly don’t act as a normal, healthy person should do. I have no self-regulation whatsoever: my moods control me.’
Rare flashes of light: ‘Most of the time I neither feel nor behave as I’d like. Unfortunately, it is only on rare occasions that I feel I’m in full control and am at one with myself and the world, although I should like to make this my normal state.’
Patchy success: ‘I can’t say I’m wholly satisfied with myself but I can’t really complain too much either: I have my ups and downs. Of course, there are periods of regression when I’m really run down and I start to lose my grip a little. This sometimes seems to happen of its own accord, but I can usually identify the cause fairly easily. On the whole I can almost always get a grip if I want to. I don’t always want to.’
Satisfactory: I can’t complain about myself in the main. Only occasionally - when I’m extremely tired or have too much on - I feel it’s increasingly difficult to remain in full control, but with a bit of concentration I can always bring myself back to normal without too much difficulty.
Brilliant: I’m in command of myself in any situation. I choose my mood.
And What About the Author?
If it is a question of your mental rather than, say, your dental health then it is perfectly reasonable to ask this question. The feeling that psychotherapists should set their own house in order before worrying about anyone else is salutary for anyone trying to help people with psychological problems. (The fact that my particular field borders on the physical and the mental does not alter this in the least.)
To be as brief as possible: neither my background nor my childhood gave me a very propitious start in life. I was a sickly and excitable child, although always fairly active and keen to learn; my adolescence passed in a succession
of crises. Before I came across Auto-Training I got by somehow or other with an assessment usually fluctuating between ‘Patchy success’ and ‘Rare flashes of light’, occasionally sinking down for a time to ‘Unremitting Darkness’. (Thus I have generally had personal experience of many of the conditions from which my patients suffer.) Thanks to Auto-Training and other forms of self-help (which will be discussed subsequently), I am now somewhere between the ‘Satisfactory’ and the ‘Brilliant’ mark. The main change occurred from the ages of 27-30 when circumstances forced me to start experimenting in order to try to understand what Auto-Suggestion was all about. I soon began teaching it to my patients, adding a few of my own techniques. (In this book I did not feel it necessary to distinguish between my original contribution and established practice.) It is difficult to assess the effectiveness of the self-help I undertook; I occasionally suffered periods of regression, but they were much less serious by then: in general, the fluctuations in my vitality started to climb steadily. I am now forty-two*** and most of the time feel a surplus of physical and mental energy and a conscious joy at being alive, although, objectively, things are far from ideal since I have a heavy workload and my health leaves a lot to be desired. I am glad that I can now help other people find the peace of mind I discovered thanks to my numerous teachers, some of them famous, some not. Their example showed me that anyone who wants to help others regain their psychological health must first overcome at least some of his or her own weaknesses.
I was, of course, lucky in that I was a practising psychotherapist and psychologist (after all, charity begins at home). It is not, however, an easy profession: if you are at all conscientious you may end up giving more than you receive. Helping others is indubitably easier than helping yourself, but it is still fairly taxing. I have no guarantees that things will go well forever, either for myself or for anyone else. Auto-Training has not made me perfect; some pupils have gone further, and this gives me the satisfaction of a trainer whose aim is not to set records but to produce champions.
It Is Not What You Do,
It Is the Way That You Do It
When you think about it, it is easy to see that an actor totally identifying with a role, prayer and any kind of Auto-Suggestion are essentially one and the same. Auto-Training, yoga and other ancient and modern methods of personal development have a lot more in common than they have differences, and most of them have developed independently, that is, without borrowing from one another. There is often a point where theories and attitudes seem to intersect, a place where essentially the same ideas are simply expressed in different ways: a universal truth finding expression through differing forms.
Yet this in itself is a serious problem since, although people may be talking about the same thing, the language they use is so different that it is far from easy for them to understand one another. Even when there is a common language people nevertheless tend to understand things in different ways since the physical and psychological differences between them are sometimes much
more striking than those between different types of animals. Add to this the fact that people can sometimes act so apparently out of character that it is hard to recognise them and it is easy to appreciate the difficulties involved in trying to create a universal system for mental and physical health. There has, however, always been considerable demand for one, and plenty of suggestions of various kinds and of differing quality have evolved. ‘The Development of Magnetic Forces and Memory Training’, ‘Gymnastics of the Will’, ‘The School of Self-Mastery’, ‘Will-Power at Work and in Everyday Life’, ‘The Five-Minute-a-Day Way to Health’, ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ and other manuals of the kind began appearing in the 18th and 19th centuries and there have been a lot more since. Although much useful advice is to be found in some of them, their overall impact on most people seems to have been slight. Muller’s system, for example, was very popular in Europe and America at the beginning of the twentieth century and it is, indeed, hard to think of a more natural and harmonious way of living than this which advocates plenty of fresh air, sunshine and exercise, with moderation in all things. A few of its ardent followers are still alive today, although its founder died surprisingly young; not that the fact that a system does not help its founder invalidates it any more than the reverse proves it will be useful to others. Most systems are good in their own way, if you only believe in them. But not if you believe in them blindly.
This is also true of yoga, which aims to help you develop physical and mental discipline over a number of years. To gain the maximum benefit you really have to live yoga: adapt it to suit you and adapt yourself to fit in with it. It is a special way of living, one of constant development. You can, of course, simply practise a few individual techniques without actually living the system as a whole, although, in isolation, they are much less effective.
Miracle ‘systems’ claiming to be original and offering speedy and universal panaceas appear from time to time and disappear as quickly as they came. Often they have an impressive and slightly mysterious title but essentially offer nothing new, simply being a regurgitation of old ideas and sometimes revealing a glaring ignorance of elementary facts. This does not, however, mean that the systems cannot help, even if only temporarily, some of the people who believe in them, since the major healing agent (faith) is present in the person seeking help and not in the system itself. If at all clear thinking, however, even the most talented writer cannot and will not claim to understand the human psyche entirely and to cover all philosophical and social questions in his or her work. A certain amount of disappointment is perhaps inevitable, even if the writer’s claims are perfectly reasonable.
Auto-Training cannot be called a comprehensive system; it is no more than a collection of techniques. This may be all to the good. It aims to help people in their everyday, that is, more or less unsystematic lives.
No One Is Perfect
If you have ever come across someone who is I would be very pleased to meet them. I have never met anyone yet who is in complete control at all times, even if they put themselves in the ‘Brilliant’ category; just as I do not know anyone who is totally incapable of self-regulation at some time or other, even though they would class themselves as being in a state of ‘Unremitting Darkness’. People who are perfectly controlled when dealing with others in company and who exhibit great presence of mind in times of danger may well be incapable of resisting a drink too many or lack the self-discipline to make themselves sit down and do some urgent study. Some one very precise and highly organised may be impatient or shy. Some people go to pieces when called to speak in public, some in exams, some in intimate situations, and some only when they are with one particular person. In other words, everyone finds that in certain situations he or she has maximum and in others minimum self-regulation and this is probably the way things ought to be.
The degree of self-regulation required at a given moment is something we have to try to decide for ourselves. In order to understand why our level of control varies when it does it may be helpful to look at our lives from early childhood, taking into account both our upbringing and heredity. It is obviously very hard for a psychotherapist to do this, but you can learn a great deal about yourself simply by bearing in mind the following points I discovered partly through bitter experience:
- Self-development is impossible without developing self-awareness.
- Once you do take a good look at yourself you will be sure to want to change.
- Once you start studying yourself you will find it interesting to study other people too.
- It is no good trying to understand someone if you remain an impartial observer since people resent analysis, considering it an infringement of privacy. You can only really get to know someone by listening with empathy; this also applies to yourself.
- It is impossible to get to know yourself and others if you just sit around on your own doing nothing.
- There is no way you can get to know everything about yourself or anyone else: people are constantly changing and often very unpredictably. They are open systems developing and evolving all the time.
Ends and Means: Love Thy Neighbour As Thyself
There is little point in continuing if, before we get down to the details of Auto-Suggestion and Auto-Training, one thing is not perfectly clear, that is, how you relate to yourself.
Do you love yourself?
You do not have to answer immediately. Let us just think about it for a moment by considering the idea fundamental to Christian belief that you should love your neighbour as yourself. Clearly this is reciprocal: if you are to love your neighbour as yourself, then you must obviously love yourself as your neighbour. The only question is to what degree: do you love yourself a great deal, quite a lot, most of the time, not at all? The exhortation presupposes that we must love ourselves to start with or we will not necessarily treat our neighbour very well. Transforming the equation a little, it reads: treat others with the special care you reserve for yourself; treat them as someone you love, as someone who is of value.
You do not have to be religious (in the strict sense of professing a set religion or ideology) to accept that everyone has intrinsic value as a human being. If you accept this in principle then it follows that your own life is also of value. Only if this is the case is there any point in continuing the discussion.
Some of us, it is true, will find it hard to accept our own intrinsic value; not all of us will find it easy to decide or admit whether we love ourselves or not. The answers will vary: ‘Of course, don’t you?’; a slight shrug, perhaps, and a muttered, ‘Sometimes, I suppose’; a bitter smile and ‘Why should I? I can’t see anything lovable about me’. The answers will in part be true, though not necessarily entirely sincere. But what, when you get down to it, does loving yourself really mean: egotism, egocentricity, narcissism, complacency?
Some people find it easy to love themselves since they have no doubts that this is what they deserve. Others mistakenly think that it is wrong to love themselves and that it is arrogant to say so. We have probably all observed how unattractive complacency and boasting are and that often the most talented and kindest people appear very humble and are constantly trying to improve themselves in one way or another. Loving yourself is quite different from being complacent; being kind to yourself does not mean you are conceited. When working with the criminally mentally ill I understood that people can have an incredibly high opinion of themselves and be extremely egocentric without feeling the least love for themselves. I also learnt that someone who does not love themselves at all is terrifying.
Only if we genuinely love ourselves are we capable of truly loving others and of winning their love. Just look at the most warm and sincere people you know and you will see they possess a calm self-acceptance that makes it quite unnecessary for them to keep trying to prove themselves; they never try to hide their faults and are not afraid of ridicule or criticism. Their self-acceptance seems so natural that it is quite easy not to notice it at all. People like this are always popular and prove that loving yourself is not the same as egotism.
It is misleading to confuse love with admiration. A mother does not love her child because he or she is talented or honest; the reverse may well be true but it is quite irrelevant: love is love, not a business contract. If the sun chose to shine on the righteous alone, life would not exist. We do not love people (or ourselves) because of various talents or achievements; when we love it is for quite different reasons. True love is unconditional.
The love for ourselves I am talking about can perhaps best be compared to the attitude we had towards ourselves as very young children: an instinctive sense of our own absolute worth that does not need to be artificially bolstered by challenging others. We did not have a rigid opinion of ourselves then, (that is, a conscious or subconscious reflection of the way others judge us) and this was a major advantage, a healthy approach to ourselves. After all, how can we evaluate something of infinite value, how can we compare uniqueness with anything else?
As a child we unconsciously loved the uniqueness of our own personality and the whole world in ourselves. The pattern of our genes and the library of our memory are alive, sensitive, strange, familiar and yet constantly changing. Although our characteristics and qualities, or something similar to them may be found separately in other people, the combination of them in us is unique: it is who we are.
It is quite possible that someone in a very mundane job today could potentially be or could have been a Brilliant Stone-Age Gatherer, a Great Pagan Shaman, or a World Telepathic Pentathlon Champion in the thirtieth century AD. Human personality is both perpetually new and constant over the centuries. Apart from the inherent abilities that are already known and tapped today, everyone bears potential talents as yet not reсognised or not yet required. We are a matrix of the unknown. It is this undefined, mysterious surplus of human intellect that has furnished every age with the geniuses it needed. However, what we are now is important and not what we could have been in a different place or at a different time. People are not things and we are all much more diverse and complex than we seem when judged by just one aspect of our personality alone: for example, our profession, our wealth, our talents or our appearance. Considering how infinitely complex we are, the crude classifications we peg on each other and ourselves are ridiculously inadequate.
The unprocessed secret of our individuality and the unique mixture of the past, present and future invested in us alone are in themselves worthy of love. In the final analysis, we are our first and most important neighbour: the first thing to do on the path of self-development is to accept ourselves. Giving ourselves the right to be loved along with all our shortcomings and irrespective of anyone or anything else is the fundamental right of becoming and being ourselves. If someone has failed to love us adequately in the past this is because of some shortcoming in them: we always have been and always are worthy of love. Only with this attitude is there any point in putting in the work of self-development, since it is ridiculous to try to perfect, or even improve something we neither love nor value.
It is, of course, much easier to admit how important it is to love ourselves and, indeed, our neighbour than it is to actually do it in practice! An unhappy love affair, the loss of our job or status, a persistent bad habit or an unprepossessing exterior can easily ruin our relationship with ourselves for some time at least. This book intends to show that whatever our current situation in life we are intrinsically valuable and worthy of respect and love. And that is a fact.
Why not read on? After all, what is there to lose?
* The novel by Thomas Mayne Reid, 1865
** Translated from the Russian, ‘Stress without Distress’, p.70, Progress Publishers, Moscow
*** When this translation was originally being prepared in 1980. Now I feel even better and there’s reason to believe that, in another twenty years or so I’ll feel better still! Author’s note.