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Esteemed Reader: Dying Daily

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Alfred Orage
  • Alfred Orage

Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:

I reproduce here an essay by a fellow publisher, Alfred Orage, famous in the 1920s for his literary magazine The New Age. He was also a practitioner and teacher of methods of inner work and self-development. The exercise included in the essay is one I have practiced over the years with great utility.

—Jason Stern

Dying Daily

It is said by those who have survived death that before the final plunge into unconsciousness the whole of a man's life is unrolled before him in pictures. Not a detail of the panorama is omitted, and every color, form, and movement is reproduced in all its original luster. Whether this is true of all cases, the significance is the same. The fact clearly demonstrates the enduring quality of the impressions we receive, whether we consciously remember them or nothing. Somewhere in us, their record remains as clear as on the day they were first made. It suggests the possibility of utilizing this power of recalling the past by doing something at those moments when we are rehearsing death in the form of going to sleep.

Sleep and death are alike in this, that they are states of unconsciousness into which we normally pass by a gradual process; sleeping or dying. If the moment for a pictorial review of life is death, the moment for a pictorial review of the day is sleep.

It is important to realize that the review before death, as reported by the survivors, is never censorious or didactic, nor is it a subject for either thought or feelings. Strangely enough, the review appears to be made quite impersonally and impartially, with no attachments and with no comments. Further, it is in pictures, exclusively; there is no talk and there is no text.

Following this hint, our nightly review of the day may be assumed to be of the same order. It is the day seen pictorially; it is the day's events, with oneself as the central figure, reviewed without satisfaction or regret, without fear and without hope; it is impartial and impersonal.

Nothing is better calculated to keep us attentive to ourselves during the day than the prospect of seeing our day pictorially reproduced at night. Suppose we were accompanied everywhere by a cinematographic camera, and the films of each day were projected upon a screen, in our bedroom every evening. Would not the prospective show-up compel us to watch our steps? The gain to the day, in point of increased attention, would be incalculable.

Then too, without even any didactic object, the repetition of the day, in terms of pictures, would be of the utmost value as a lesson in self-knowledge. We should begin to be able to see ourselves as we appear to others, and, in consequence, to exercise all that tolerance of other people's defects and awkwardnesses which now we usually give to ourselves alone.

Still again, the advantage from trying to recall the day exactly is inestimable. Memory, will, concentration and the power of sustained attention are all brought into play. It is impossible to practice such a review regularly without experiencing improvements in all these respects. The exercise in other ways valuable, is invaluable in respect to mental development simply. It is almost a specific against mediocrity. There are other advantages, but they can be left to be discovered. We must now consider the method itself.

Before going to sleep, deliberately try to picture yourself as you appeared on getting up that morning.

You woke, you got out of bed, you proceeded to dress, to breakfast, to read the paper, catch a bus and so on. Try to follow this sequence of yourself pictorially observed, from moment to moment, exactly as if you were unwinding a film.

Remember that one of our objects is precisely not to think about what we represent. Thinking not only impedes the pictorial representation but it subtly but surely falsifies the pictures.

It is possible to practice the exercise until the film of the day appears to unroll itself without conscious effort. Exactly as the drowned report that the film of their lives passed before them, those who have mastered this exercise report that the events of the day, as recorded in conscious or unconscious memory, represent themselves in their original form and color. The interruptions, frequent at first, become fewer. From being an inexpert operator constantly breaking the film, the persistent student becomes expert. And his reward is not only the review of the day, but the control of mind that has made such a review possible. None of the numerous schools of mind-culture would have anything to teach a pupil grounded in this method.

—from the series "Fifteen Exercises in Practical Psychology" in Psychology Magazine (New York, 1925)

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