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Categories: Uncategorized
Sources: The Freedom Of Life

TO most people self-control means the control of appearances and not

the control of realities. This is a radical mistake, and must be

corrected, if we are to get a clear idea of self-control, and if we

are to make a fair start in acquiring it as a permanent habit.

I am what I am by virtue of my own motives of thought and action, by

virtue of what my mind is, what my will is, and what I am in the

combination of my mind and will; I am not necessarily what

I appear from the outside.

If a man is ugly to me, and I want to knock him down, and refrain

from doing so simply because it would not appear well, and is not

the habit of the people about me, my desire to knock him down is

still a part of myself, and I have not controlled myself until I am

absolutely free from that interior desire. So long as I am in hatred

to another, I am in bondage to my hatred; and if, for the sake of

appearances, I do not act or speak from it, I am none the less at

its mercy, and it will find an outlet wherever it can do so without

debasing me in the eyes of other men more than I am willing to be

debased. The control of appearances is merely outward repression,

and a very common instance of this may be observed in the effort to

control a laugh. If we repress it, it is apt to assert itself in

spite of our best efforts; whereas, if we relax our muscles, and let

the sensation go through us, we can control our desire to laugh and

so get free from it. When we repress a laugh, we are really holding

on to it, in our minds, but, when we control it by relaxing the

tension that comes from the desire to laugh, it is as if the

sensation passed over and away from us.

It is a well-known fact among surgeons that, if a man who is badly

frightened, takes ether, no matter how well he controls his outward

behavior, no matter how quiet he appears while the ether is being

administered, as soon as he loses control of his voluntary muscles,

the fear that has been repressed rushes out in the form of

excitement. This is a practical illustration of the fact that

control of appearances is merely control of the muscles, and that,

even so far as our nervous system goes, it is only repression, and

self-repression is not self-control.

If I repress the expression of irritability, anger, hatred, or any

other form of evil, it is there, in my brain, just the same; and, in

one form or another, I am in bondage to it. Sometimes it expresses

itself in little meannesses; sometimes it affects my body and makes

me ill; often it keeps me from being entirely well. Of one thing we

may be sure,--it makes me the instrument of evil, in one way or

another. Repressed evil is not going to lie dormant in us forever;

it will rise in active ferment, sooner or later. Its ultimate action

is just as certain as that a serious impurity of the blood is

certain to lead to physical disease, if it is not counteracted.

Knowing this to be true, we can no longer say of certain people

"So-and-so has remarkable self-control." We can only say, "So-and-so

represses his feelings remarkably well: what a good actor he is I"

The men who have real self-control do exist, and they are the leaven

that saves the race. It is good to know that this habitual

repression comes, in many cases, from want of knowledge of the fact

that self-repression is not self-control.

But the reader may say, "what am I to do, if I feel angry, and want

to hit a man in the face; I am not supposed to hit him am I, rather

than to repress my feelings?"

No, not at all, but you are supposed to use your will to get in

behind the desire to hit him, and, by relaxing in mind and body, and

stopping all resistance to his action, to remove that desire in

yourself entirely. If once you persistently refuse to resist by

dropping the anger of your mind and the tension of your body, you

have gained an opportunity of helping your brother, if he is willing

to be helped; you have cleared the atmosphere of your own mind

entirely, so that you can understand his point of view, and give him

the benefit of reasonable consideration; or, at the very least, you

have yourself ceased to be ruled by his evils, for you can no longer

be roused to personal retaliation. It is interesting and

enlightening to recognize the fact that we are in bondage to any man

to the extent that we permit ourselves to be roused to anger or

resentment by his words or actions.

When a man's brain is befogged by the fumes of anger and

irritability it can work neither clearly nor quietly, and, when that

is the case, it is impossible for him to serve himself or his

neighbor to his full ability. If another person has the power to

rouse my anger or my irritability, and I allow the anger or the

irritability to control me, I am, of course, subservient to my own

bad state, and at the mercy of the person who has the power to

excite those evil states just in so far as such excitement confuses

my brain.

Every one has in him certain inherited and personal tendencies which

are obstacles to his freedom of mind and body, and his freedom is

limited just in so far as he allows those tendencies to control him.

If he controls them by external repression, they are then working

havoc within him, no matter how thoroughly he may appear to be

master of himself. If he acknowledges his mistaken tendencies fully

and willingly and then refuses to act, speak, or think from them, he

is taking a straight path toward freedom of life and action.

One great difficulty in the way of self-control is that we do not

want to get free from our anger. In such cases we can only want to

want to, and if we use the strength of will that is given us to drop

our resistance in spite of our desire to be angry we shall be

working toward our freedom and our real self-control.

There is always a capacity for unselfish will, the will of the

better self, behind the personal selfish will, ready and waiting for

us to use it, and it grows with use until finally it overrules the

personal selfish will with a higher quality of power. It is only

false strength that supports the personal will,--a false appearance

of strength which might be called wilfulness and which leads

ultimately to the destruction of its owner. Any true observer of

human nature will recognize the weakness of mere selfish wilfulness

in another, and will keep entirely free from its trammels by

refusing to meet it in a spirit of resentment or retaliation.

Real self-control, as compared to repression, is delightful in its

physical results, when we have any difficult experience to

anticipate or to go through. Take, for instance, a surgical

operation. If I control myself by yielding, by relaxing the nervous

tension which is the result of MY fear, true self-control then

becomes possible, and brings a helpful freedom from, reaction after

the trouble is over. Or the same principle can be applied if I have

to go through a hard trial with a friend and must control myself for

his sake,--dropping resistance in my mind and in my body, dropping

resistance to his suffering, yielding my will to the necessities of

the situation,--this attitude will leave me much more clear to help

him, will show him how to help himself, and will relieve him from

the reaction that inevitably follows severe nervous strain. The

power of use to others is increased immeasurably when we control

ourselves interiorly, and do not merely outwardly repress.

It often happens that a drunkard who is supposed to be "cured,"

returns to his habit, simply because he has wanted his drink all the

time, and has only been taught to repress his appetite; if he had

been steadily and carefully taught real self-control, he would have

learnt to control and drop his interior _desire,_ and thus keep

permanently free. How often we see intemperance which had shown

itself in drink simply turned into another channel, another form of

selfish indulgence, and yet the victim will complacently boast of

his self-control. An extreme illustration of this truth is shown in

the case of a well-known lecturer on temperance. He had given up

drink, but he ate like a glutton, and his thirst for applause was so

extreme as to make him appear almost ridiculous when he did not

receive it.

The opportunities for self-control are, of course, innumerable;

indeed they constitute pretty much the whole of life. We are living

in freedom and use, real living use, in proportion as we are in

actual control of our selfish selves, and led by our love of useful

service. In proportion as we have through true self-control brought

ourselves into daily and hourly obedience to law, are we in the

freedom that properly belongs to our lives and their true uses.

When once we have won our freedom from resistance, we must use that

freedom in action, and put it directly to use. Sometimes it will

result in a small action, sometimes in a great one; but, whatever it

is, it must be _done._ If we drop the resistance, and do not use the

freedom gained thereby for active service, we shall simply react

into further bondage, from which it will be still more difficult to

escape. Having dropped my antagonism to my most bitter enemy, I must

do something to serve him, if I can. If I find that it is impossible

to serve him, I can at least be of service to someone else; and this

action, if carried out in the true spirit of unselfish service, will

go far toward the permanent establishment of my freedom.

If a circumstance which is atrociously wrong in itself makes us

indignant, the first thing to do is to drop the resistance of our

indignation, and then to do whatever may be within our power to

prevent the continuance of such wrong. Many people weaken their

powers of service by their own indignation, when, if they would

cease their excited resistance, they would see clearly how to remedy

the wrong that arouses their antagonism. Action, when accompanied by

personal resistance, however effective it may seem, does not begin

to have the power that can come from action, without such

resistance. As, for instance, when we have to train a child with a

perverse will, if we quietly assert what is right to the child, and

insist upon obedience without the slightest antagonistic feeling to

the child's naughtiness, we accomplish much more toward

strengthening the character of the child than if we try to enforce

our idea by the use of our personal will, which is filled with

resistance toward the child's obstinacy. In the latter case, it is

just pitting our will against the will of the child, which is always

destructive, however it may appear that we have succeeded in

enforcing the child's obedience. The same thing holds true in

relation to an older person, with the exception that, with him or

her, we cannot even attempt to require obedience. In that case we

must,--when it is necessary that we should speak at all,--assert the

right without antagonism to what we believe to be their wrong, and

without the slightest personal resistance to it. If we follow this

course, in most cases our friend will come to the right point of

view,--sometimes the result seems almost miraculous,--or, as is

often the case, we, because we are wholesomely open-minded, will

recognize any mistake in our own point of view, and will gladly

modify it to agree with that of our friend.

The trouble is that very few of us feel like working to remedy a

wrong merely for the sake of the right, and therefore we must have

an impetus of personal feeling to carry us on toward the work of

reformation. If we could once be strongly started in obedience to

the law from love of the law itself, we should find in that

impersonal love a clear light and power for effective action both in

the larger and in the smaller questions of life.

There is a popular cry against introspection and an insistence that

it is necessarily morbid, which works in direct opposition to true

self-control. Introspection for its own sake is self-centred and

morbid, but we might as well assert that it is right to have dirty

hands so long as we wear gloves, and that it is morbid to want to be

sure that our hands are clean under our gloves, as to assert that

introspection for the sake of our true spiritual freedom is morbid.

If I cannot look at my selfish motives, how am I going to get free

from them? It is my selfish motives that prevent true self-control.

It is my selfish motives that prompt me to the false control of

repression, which is counterfeit and for the sake of appearances

alone. We must see these motives, recognize and turn away from them,

in order to control ourselves interiorly into line with law. We

cannot possibly see them unless we look for them. If we look into

ourselves for the sake of freedom, for the sake of our greater power

for use, for the sake of our true self-control, what can be more

wholesome or what can lead us to a more healthy habit of looking out

from ourselves into the lives and interests of others? The farther

we get established in motives that are truly unselfish, the sooner

we shall get out of our own light, and the wider our horizon will

be; and the wider our horizon, the greater our power for use.

There must, of course, be a certain period of self-consciousness in

the process of finding our true self-control, but it is for the sake

of an end which brings us more and more fully into a state of happy,

quiet spontaneity. If we are working carefully for true self-control

we shall welcome an unexpected searchlight from another mind. If the

searchlight brings into prominence a bit of irritation that we did

not know was there, so much the better. How could we free ourselves

from it without knowing that it was there? But as soon as we

discover it we can control and cast it off. A healthy introspection

is merely the use of a searchlight which every one who loves the

truth has the privilege of using for the sake of his own growth and

wilfulness, and circumstances often turn it full upon us, greatly to

our advantage, if we do not wince but act upon the knowledge that it

brings. It is possible to acquire an introspective habit which is

wholesome and true, and brings us every day a better sense of pro.

portion and a clearer outlook.

With regard to the true control of the Pleasurable emotions, the

same principle applies.

People often grow intensely excited in listening to music,--letting

their emotions run rampant and suffering in consequence a painful

reaction of fatigue. If they would learn to yield so that the music

could pass over their nerves as it passes over the strings of a

musical instrument, and then, with the new life and vigor derived

from the enjoyment, would turn to some useful work, they would find

a great expansion in the enjoyment of the music as well as a new

pleasure in their work.

Real self-control is the subjugation of selfishness in whatever form

it may exist, and its entire subordination to spiritual and natural

law. Real self-control is not self-centred. In so far as we become

established in this true self-control, we are upheld by law and

guided by the power behind it to the perfect freedom and joy of a

useful life.