Tuesday, January 30, 2007
SELF MASTERY THROUGH CONSCIOUS AUTOSUGGESTION BY EMILE COUÉ
Suggestion, or rather Autosuggestion, is quite a new subject, and yet at the same time it is as old as the world.
It is new in the sense that until now it has been wrongly studied and in consequence wrongly understood; it is old because it dates from the appearance of man on the earth. In fact autosuggestion is an instrument that we possess at birth, and in this instrument, or rather in this force, resides a marvelous and incalculable power, which according to circumstances produces the best or the worst results. Knowledge of this force is useful to each one of us, but it is peculiarly indispensable to doctors, magistrates, lawyers, and to those engaged in the work of education.
By knowing how to practice it consciously it is possible in the first place to avoid provoking in others bad autosuggestions which may have disastrous consequences, and secondly, consciously to provoke good ones instead, thus bringing physical health to the sick, and moral health to the neurotic and the erring, the unconscious victims of anterior autosuggestions, and to guide into the right path those who had a tendency to take the wrong one.
THE CONSCIOUS SELF AND THE UNCONSCIOUS SELF
In order to understand properly the phenomena of suggestion, or to speak more correctly of autosuggestion, it is necessary to know that two absolutely distinct selves exist within us. Both are intelligent, but while one is conscious the other is unconscious. For this reason the existence of the latter generally escapes notice. It is however easy to prove its existence if one merely takes the trouble to examine certain phenomena and to reflect a few moments upon them. Let us take for instance the following examples:
Every one has heard of somnambulism; every one knows that a somnambulist gets up at night without waking, leaves his room after either dressing himself or not, goes downstairs, walks along corridors, and after having executed certain acts or accomplished certain work, returns to his room, goes to bed again, and shows next day the greatest astonishment at finding work finished which he had left unfinished the day before. It is however he himself who has done it without being aware of it. What force has his body obeyed if it is not an unconscious force, in fact his unconscious self?
Let us now examine the alas, too frequent case of a drunkard attacked by delirium tremens. As though seized with madness he picks up the nearest weapon, knife, hammer, or hatchet, as the case may be, and strikes furiously those who are unlucky enough to be in his vicinity. Once the attack is over, he recovers his senses and contemplates with horror the scene of carnage around him, without realizing that he himself is the author of it. Here again is it not the unconscious self which has caused the unhappy man to act in this way? (And what aversions, what ills we create for ourselves, everyone of us and in every domain by not "immediately" bringing into play "good conscious autosuggestions" against our "bad unconscious autosuggestions," thus bringing about the disappearance of all unjust suffering.)
If we compare the conscious with the unconscious self we see that the conscious self is often possessed of a very unreliable memory while the unconscious self on the contrary is provided with a marvelous and impeccable memory which registers without our knowledge the smallest events, the least important acts of our existence. Further, it is credulous and accepts with unreasoning docility what it is told. [This would suggest that it is our unconscious self that dreams, since in dreams we accept circumstances without question, even when they are absurd. Donald Tyson] Thus, as it is the unconscious that is responsible for the functioning of all our organs but the intermediary of the brain, a result is produced which may seem rather paradoxical to you: that is, if it believes that a certain organ functions well or ill or that we feel such and such an impression, the organ in question does indeed function well or ill, or we do feel that impression.
Not only does the unconscious self preside over the functions of our organism, but also over all our actions whatever they are. It is this that we call imagination, and it is this which, contrary to accepted opinion, always makes us act even, and above all, against our will when there is antagonism between these two forces.
WILL AND IMAGINATION
If we open a dictionary and look up the word "will", we find this definition: "The faculty of freely determining certain acts". We accept this definition as true and unattackable, although nothing could be more false. This will that we claim so proudly, always yields to the imagination. It is an absolute rule that admits of no exception.
"Blasphemy! Paradox!" you will exclaim. "Not at all! On the contrary, it is the purest truth," I shall reply.
In order to convince yourself of it, open your eyes, look round you and try to understand what you see. You will then come to the conclusion that what I tell you is not an idle theory, offspring of a sick brain but the simple expression of a fact.
Suppose that we place on the ground a plank 30 feet long by 1 foot wide. It is evident that everybody will be capable of going from one end to the other of this plank without stepping over the edge. But now change the conditions of the experiment, and imagine this plank placed at the height of the towers of a cathedral. Who then will be capable of advancing even a few feet along this narrow path? Could you hear me speak? Probably not. Before you had taken two steps you would begin to tremble, and in spite of every effort of your will you would be certain to fall to the ground.
Why is it then that you would not fall if the plank is on the ground, and why should you fall if it is raised to a height above the ground? Simply because in the first case you imagine that it is easy to go to the end of this plank, while in the second case you imagine that you cannot do so.
Notice that your will is powerless to make you advance; if you imagine that you cannot, it is absolutely impossible for you to do so. If tilers and carpenters are able to accomplish this feat, it is because they think they can do it.
Vertigo is entirely caused by the picture we make in our minds that we are going to fall. This picture transforms itself immediately into fact in spite of all the efforts of our will, and the more violent these efforts are, the quicker is the opposite to the desired result brought about.
Let us now consider the case of a person suffering from insomnia. If he does not make any effort to sleep, he will lie quietly in bed. If on the contrary he tries to force himself to sleep by his will, the more efforts he makes, the more restless he becomes.
Have you not noticed that the more you try to remember the name of a person which you have forgotten, the more it eludes you, until, substituting in your mind the idea "I shall remember in a minute" to the idea "I have forgotten", the name comes back to you of its own accord without the least effort?
Let those of you who are cyclists remember the days when you were learning to ride. You went along clutching the handle bars and frightened of falling. Suddenly catching sight of the smallest obstacle in the road you tried to avoid it, and the more efforts you made to do so, the more surely you rushed upon it.
Who has not suffered from an attack of uncontrollable laughter, which bursts out more violently the more one tries to control it?
What was the state of mind of each person in these different circumstances? "I do not want to fall but I cannot help doing so"; "I want to sleep but I cannot"; "I want to remember the name of Mrs. So and So, but I cannot"; "I want to avoid the obstacle, but I cannot"; "I want to stop laughing, but I cannot."
As you see, in each of these conflicts it is always the imagination which gains the victory over the will, without any exception.
To the same order of ideas belongs the case of the leader who rushes forward at the head of his troops and always carries them along with him, while the cry "Each man for himself!" is almost certain to cause a defeat. Why is this? It is because in the first case the men imagine that they must go forward, and in the second they imagine that they are conquered and must fly for their lives.
Panurge was quite aware of the contagion of example, that is to say the action of the imagination, when, to avenge himself upon a merchant on board the same boat, he bought his biggest sheep and threw it into the sea, certain beforehand that the entire flock would follow, which indeed happened.
We human beings have a certain resemblance to sheep, and involuntarily, we are irresistibly impelled to follow other people's examples, imagining that we cannot do otherwise.
I could quote a thousand other examples but I should fear to bore you by such an enumeration. I cannot however pass by in silence this fact which shows the enormous power of the imagination, or in other words of the unconscious in its struggle against the will.
There are certain drunkards who wish to give up drinking, but who cannot do so. Ask them, and they will reply in all sincerity that they desire to be sober, that drink disgusts them, but that they are irresistibly impelled to drink against their will, in spite of the harm they know it will do them.
In the same way certain criminals commit crimes in spite of themselves, and when they are asked why they acted so, they answer "I could not help it, something impelled me, it was stronger than I."
And the drunkard and the criminal speak the truth; they are forced to do what they do, for the simple reason they imagine they cannot prevent themselves from doing so. Thus we who are so proud of our will, who believe that we are free to act as we like, are in reality nothing but wretched puppets of which our imagination holds all the strings. We only cease to be puppets when we have learned to guide our imagination.
SUGGESTION AND AUTOSUGGESTION
According to the preceding remarks we can compare the imagination to a torrent which fatally sweeps away the poor wretch who has fallen into it, in spite of his efforts to gain the bank. This torrent seems indomitable; but if you know how, you can turn it from its course and conduct it to the factory, and there you can transform its force into movement, heat, and electricity.
If this simile is not enough, we may compare the imagination -- "the madman at home" as it has been called -- to an unbroken horse which has neither bridle nor reins. What can the rider do except let himself go wherever the horse wishes to take him? And often if the latter runs away, his mad career only comes to end in the ditch. If however the rider succeeds in putting a bridle on the horse, the parts are reversed. It is no longer the horse who goes where he likes, it is the rider who obliges the horse to take him wherever he wishes to go.
Now that we have learned to realize the enormous power of the unconscious or imaginative being, I am going to show how this self, hitherto considered indomitable, can be as easily controlled as a torrent or an unbroken horse. But before going any further it is necessary to define carefully two words that are often used without being properly understood. These are the words suggestion and autosuggestion.
What then is suggestion? It may be defined as "the act of imposing an idea on the brain of another". Does this action really exist? Properly speaking, no. Suggestion does not indeed exist by itself. It does not and cannot exist except on the sine qua non condition of transforming itself into autosuggestion in the subject. This latter word may be defined as "the implanting of an idea in oneself by oneself."
You may make a suggestion to someone; if the unconscious of the latter does not accept the suggestion, if it has not, as it were, digested it, in order to transform it into autosuggestion, it produces no result. I have myself occasionally made a more or less commonplace suggestion to ordinarily very obedient subjects quite unsuccessfully. The reason is that the unconscious of the subject refused to accept it and did not transform it into autosuggestion.
THE USE OF AUTOSUGGESTION
Let us now return to the point where I said that we can control and lead our imagination, just as a torrent or an unbroken horse can be controlled. To do so, it is enough in the first place to know that this is possible (of which fact almost everyone is ignorant) and secondly, to know by what means it can be done. Well, the means is very simple; it is that which we have used every day since we came into the world, without wishing or knowing it and absolutely unconsciously, but which unfortunately for us, we often use wrongly and to our own detriment. This means is autosuggestion.
Whereas we constantly give ourselves unconscious autosuggestions, all we have to do is to give ourselves conscious ones, and the process consists in this: first, to weigh carefully in one's mind the things which are to be the object of the autosuggestion, and according as they require the answer "yes" or "no" to repeat several times without thinking of anything else: "This thing is coming", or "this thing is going away"; "this thing will, or will not happen, etc., etc. . . .". (Of course, the thing must be in our power.) If the unconscious accepts this suggestion and transforms it into an autosuggestion, the thing or things are realized in every particular.
Thus understood, autosuggestion is nothing but hypnotism as I see it, and I would define it in these simple words: The influence of the imagination upon the moral and physical being of mankind. Now this influence is undeniable, and without returning to previous examples, I will quote a few others.
If you persuade yourself that you can do a certain thing, provided this thing be possible, you will do it however difficult it may be. If on the contrary you imagine that you cannot do the simplest thing in the world, it is impossible for you to do it, and molehills become for you unscalable mountains.
Such is the case of neurasthenics, who, believing themselves incapable of the least effort, often find it impossible even to walk a few steps without being exhausted. And these same neurasthenics sink more deeply into their depression, the more efforts they make to throw it off, like the poor wretch in the quicksands who sinks in all the deeper the more he tries to struggle out.
In the same way it is sufficient to think a pain is going, to feel it indeed disappear little by little, and inversely, it is enough to think that one suffers in order to feel the pain begin to come immediately.
I know certain people who predict in advance that the will have a sick headache on a certain day, in certain circumstances, and on that day, in the given circumstances, sure enough, they feel it. They brought their illness on themselves, just as others cure theirs by conscious autosuggestion.
I know that one generally passes for mad in the eyes of the world if one dares to put forward ideas which it is not accustomed to hear. Well, at the risk of being thought so, I say that if certain people are ill mentally and physically, it is that they imagine themselves to be ill mentally or physically. If certain others are paralytic without having any lesion to account for it, it is that they imagine themselves to be paralyzed, and it is among such persons that the most extraordinary cures are produced. If others again are happy or unhappy, it is that they imagine themselves to be so, for it is possible for two people in exactly the same circumstances to be, the one perfectly happy, the other absolutely wretched.
Neurasthenia, stammering, aversions, kleptomania, certain cases of paralysis, are nothing but the, result of unconscious autosuggestion, that is to say the result of the action of the unconscious upon the physical and moral being.
But if our unconscious is the source of many of our ills, it can also bring about the cure of our physical and mental ailments. It can not only repair the ill it has done, but cure real illnesses, so strong is its action upon our organism.
Shut yourself up alone in a room, seat yourself in an armchair, close your eyes to avoid any distraction, and concentrate your mind for a few moments on thinking: "Such and such a thing is going to disappear", or "Such and such a thing is coming to pass."
If you have really made the autosuggestion, that is to say, if your unconscious has assimilated the idea that you have presented to it, you are astonished to see the thing you have thought come to pass. (Note that it is the property of ideas autosuggested to exist within us unrecognized, and we can only know of their existence by the effect they produce.) But above all, and this is an essential point, the will must not be brought into play in practicing autosuggestion; for, if it is not in agreement with the imagination, if one thinks: "I will make such and such a thing happen", and the imagination says: "You are willing it, but it is not going to be", not only does one not obtain what one wants, but even exactly the reverse is brought about.
This remark is of capital importance, and explains why results are so unsatisfactory when, in treating moral ailments, one strives to re-educate the will. It is the training of the imagination which is necessary, and it is thanks to this shade of difference that my method has often succeeded where others -- and those not the least considered -- have failed. From the numerous experiments that I have made daily for twenty years, and which I have examined with minute care, I have been able to deduct the following conclusions which I have summed up as laws:
1. When the will and the imagination are antagonistic, it is always the imagination which wins, without any exception.
2. In the conflict between the will and the imagination, the force of the imagination is in direct ratio to the square of the will.
3. When the will and the imagination are in agreement, one does not add to the other, but one is multiplied by the other.
4. The imagination can be directed.
(The expressions "In direct ratio to the square of the will" and "Is multiplied by" are not rigorously exact. They are simply illustrations destined to make my meaning clearer.)
After what has just been said it would seem that nobody ought to be ill. That is quite true. Every illness, whatever it may be, can yield to autosuggestion, daring and unlikely as my statement may seem; I do not say does always yield, but can yield, which is a different thing.
But in order to lead people to practice conscious autosuggestion they must be taught how, just as they are taught to read or write or play the piano.
Autosuggestion is, as I said above, an instrument that we possess at birth, and with which we play unconsciously all our life, as a baby plays with its rattle. It is however a dangerous instrument; it can wound or even kill you if you handle it imprudently and unconsciously. It can on the contrary save your life when you know how to employ it consciously. One can say of it as Aesop said of the tongue: "It is at the same time the best and the worst thing in the world".
I am now going to show you how everyone can profit by the beneficent action of autosuggestion consciously applied. In saying "every one", I exaggerate a little, for there are two classes of persons in whom it is difficult to arouse conscious autosuggestion:
1. The mentally undeveloped who are not capable of understanding what you say to them.
2. Those who are unwilling to understand.
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