Though the development of the spirit is as strict an obligation as the other two, it is one of which we take very little account. Schools and universities are content to cultivate the intellect but the intellect is not equivalent to the spirit which in every way transcends it. It is the nonlogical activities of the mind which constitute the real substratum of the personality. The first commandment of the law of spiritual development is that everyone should realize the full measure of his inherited mental capacities, be these great or small. This obligation is universal. It applies equally to young and old, rich and poor, ignorant and learned. This voluntary raising of our spiritual level is our only way of helping to save Western civilization and of saving descendants from even greater calamities than those we are suffering ourselves.
The first thing we must do is to remove the obstacles which hinder our spiritual development. Some of these obstacles are chemical or physiological; others are mental. Nervous and mental equilibrium are closely related. Both depend simultaneously on the tissues, the blood, the intellect and the feelings. We must impose calmness on our bodies just as much as on our thoughts. It is a great mistake to let children become agitated or nervous. Organic and mental functions react reciprocally. The harmony of the organic function is indispensable to mental serenity. Thus all habits which may cause deterioration in the tissues and the body fluids must be avoided. In particular we must avoid excessive indulgence in alcohol, tobacco and food, indeed in any overindulgence which may ultimately cause the various forms of sclerosis and bring on premature old age.
Secondly, it is equally necessary to renounce those mental attitudes which so atrophy the consciousness that they amount to spiritual suicide. Laziness is particularly lethal. Laziness does not only consist in doing nothing, in sleeping too long, in working badly or not at all, but also in devoting our leisure to stupid and useless things. Endless chattering, card-playing, dancing, rushing about aimlessly in motorcars, abusing the movies and the radio - all these reduce the intelligence. It is also dangerous to have a smattering of too many subjects without acquiring a real knowledge of any one. We need to defend ourselves against the temptations provided by the rapidity of communication, by the number of magazines and newspapers, by the motorcar, the airplane and the telephone, to multiply to excess the number of ideas, feelings, things and people which enter into our daily lives. Carried beyond certain limits, specialization can be just as much an obstacle to spiritual development as too wide a field of interests. Today, of course, we are all to some extent specialists. We are not obliged to confine ourselves entirely to our own subject; nothing prevents us from devoting our leisure to cultivating the intellectual, moral, esthetic and religious activities which form the substratum of personality.
Of all bad habits, the most harmful to spiritual progress are those of lying, intriguing, slandering and betraying one's neighbors and of turning everything to one's own immediate advantage. The spirit can never develop in an atmosphere of corruption and falsehood.
How then can we escape the deleterious influence of the modern world? By observing a rule similar to the one which the Stoic philosophers and the early Christians imposed or themselves; by uniting oneself with those who have the same ideals and by submitting to a strict discipline. For example, by not listening to the lies of the radio, by reading in the paper only the news which is useful to know, by reading books and articles only by writers known for their competence and honesty, by acquiring some knowledge of mod-era techniques of propaganda so as to be proof against them - in fact, by being resolutely nonconformist. It is impossible to accept the modes of life and thought which have been disseminated from the cities into the very depths of the country without being spiritually annihilated. In order to set out on the upward road, we must first give up the habits and vices which inhibit the free movement of the spirit.
These obstacles once removed, we must begin the ascent ordained by the fundamental tendencies of life. A human being has the strange privilege of being able to fashion his body and soul, if he so wishes, by the help of his soul itself. One can learn to manage oneself as one learns to manage an airplane. But only those who already possess self-mastery can profitably venture on this apprenticeship. To make one's spirit grow, there is no need to be learned or to possess a great intellect; all that is needed is the will. All of us, at certain moments of our lives, need to take advice and to receive help from other people. But no one but ourselves can develop and discipline the intellectual and affective activities which are the essence of personality.
In this highly delicate enterprise, we must first discover our own soul. Everyone can make this contact, no matter what his sorrows or weariness, no matter how imposing or modest his occupation. All that is needed is, for a few minutes morning and night, to silence the noises of the world, to retire into oneself, to recognize one's errors and to make one's plan of action. This is the time when those who know how to pray should do so. "No man has ever prayed without learning something," said Emerson. Prayer always has an effect even if it is not the effect we desire. This is why we ought to accustom children very early in their lives to short periods of silence and recollection and, above all, of prayer. Undoubtedly, it is difficult to find the path which leads down into our innermost soul. But once initiated, any man, whenever he wishes, can penetrate to the peaceful land which extends beyond the images of things and the babble of words. Then, little by little, the darkness thins, and, like a quiet stream, light begins to flow in the midst of silence. The first step, then, is not to cultivate one's intelligence but to construct in oneself the affective framework which will serve as a support for all the other elements of the spirit. The moral sense is as necessary as sight or hearing. One must accustom oneself to distinguish as clearly between right and wrong as between light and darkness. Then one must impose upon oneself the duty of avoiding evil and doing good.