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Blankness of Mind
in “The Gentler View,” Harper’s Weekly (Advertiser; December 3, 1910) : 32 : link (Michigan copy, via hathitrust)
(Indiana U. scan at google) : link

      WHOEVER first said that it was impossible for the mind to be a perfect blank, that thought never ceased and everybody was always thinking of something, was, naturally enough, not contradicted, for who would like to take such a stand and, in an effort to prove his point, hold up his own mind as an example establishing the contrary? The moment some scientific gentleman announced, “We are always thinking,” all hastened to agree with him, for fear it would be thought that personal experience led them to differ. The idea of our thinking has always pleased us tremendously; whether because of its humorous fantasy or as an ideal too distant to form more than an inspiring horizon, no one knows; but the hope that we personally sometimes think, or the faith that every one will think some day, or the belief that every one else more or less thinks if we do not, with some people almost amounts to a hobby, while thinking is the thing we do least of, and a state of bucolic blankness is not in the least uncommon or uncomfortable, as we all know very well for ourselves.
      There are frequent stretches of time when we do not so much as have that hobbledehoy caravan of passing thoughts which trails across our minds like a strolling remnant of Coxey’s army. We are each perfectly capable of complete mental blankness, and a feeling of warmth or the sight of blowing trees is quite sufficient to occupy us contentedly. The placidity of English people is probably due to their spending so much time in a state of serene suspension, and the cause is quickly found; if cause there need to be, in their open fires. It is almost impossible to think before an open fire, and those dishonest folk who pretend that they muse over an open fire or see pictures in an open fire are just giving that impression as they would any other that would add to their respectability, just as they would that they keep four servants when in reality they only keep two, the third merely coming in by the day occasionally and the fourth being a young girl on a short visit to her elder sister the cook.
      When you are asked of what you are thinking you always, in the honesty that governs your unconscious actions, answer, “Nothing.” Your interlocutor immediately retorts, “That is impossible; you must have been thinking of something,” but that is only because your interlocutor suspects you to be concealing something. He does not really think it impossible. Sometimes, of course, you are concealing something, sometimes your judgment is so good that you consider it infinitely better to lie than expose the slack futility of your mind; but, as a rule, your answer comes from the complete simplicity that reigns in us all.
      If we did begin to think — but at the very idea the cavalcade of our thoughts shows utter confusion. One limp little figure treading on the heels of the one in front, the smaller flâneurs getting bumped by those bigger thoughts who think they are marching, a serious congestion of traffic sets in, and it is only when the shrilly whistling suggestion has passed that once more the dishevelled band continues to amble single file across your mind. They are such a motley line, with no idea of keeping step, and each so awkwardly contrasts with his neighbor: faint damosels of fancy trailing after querulous children vexatiously asking questions they could so easily answer themselves; vaguely competent housekeepers hurrying on to the future, which is the time set for the performance of their homely duties; shining harlequins leaping over trudging forms; generals of mock dignity surveying large battle-fields they cannot quite see inflated by victories which are to result from crazily conceived strategy; beggars of selfdepreciation with soldiers at their heels, stepping with the briskness of healthy resolve, the occasional recurrence of their uniforms making the cavalcade's sole continuity. Some of the thoughts jog along at a half-witted trot, repeating, absurdly, "I must call for that umbrella, I must call for that umbrella, I must call for that umbrella." Others go chattering just. as senselessly: “She needn’t have said that. I know it’s nothing, but, she needn’t have said it.”
      If this procession were ever drilled, were even dressed in clothes of the same tone, or were kept marching to a kind of martial music so that loiterers were forced to fall by the wayside, and those that remained were kept brisk by the pace till their swinging motion made a wind that freshened their faces and set them shoulder to shoulder with a destination ahead, a line of march laid out, capable of a quick response to orders, the invigoratingly quick tap of their heels would be a keen pleasure compared to the slovenly drag and hurly-burly flights, bounds, and scamper of the caravan at present passing.

28 August 2022