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


"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


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.

Thought Is A Force A Few Of Coue's Cures facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail