Self-control is pure blessing. It is the power of intelligence and love expressed in human behavior. By the power of Self-control we are able to perform any action that is truly beneficial to us. We can literally bring ourselves any and every good thing we desire.
The average person is dominated by his self-centered likes and dislikes: food, drink, sex, fame, money, and “power”. He is controlled almost entirely by the short sighted pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. He eats what he likes and avoids what he doesn’t. He prefers to stay up late and rise late after lounging in bed rather than awakening early to a daily regimen of exercise and self-reflection. He feeds his mind with television, newspapers and gossip rather than philosophy, science and art. He avoids vigorous mental exercise just as he does physical. Rather than relationships that inspire his best he chooses those that appear to be comfortable and not challenging. Illness, financial problems, meaningless work, troublesome emotions and painful relationships seem to track him down. He knows no way to avoid them.
His unexamined actions bleed him of personal power as surely as if he took a dagger and stabbed his physical body. In bleeding his own life blood, he drains himself of his only power: that of governing his own actions. By squandering the only power he has to carry out his noblest desires he becomes controlled by weaker, sick desires and fears that cause his physiology and psyche to degenerate and become ill. His immune system, hormone levels and digestion as well as his moods, concentration, memory and attitude go awry.
By relinquishing control of himself he condemns himself to a life of illness, unhappiness, confusion, and conflict. The only way to stem his ongoing energetic hemorrhages is by regaining control of his own actions, a feat our spiritual literature tells us is equivalent to an all out war.
There is nothing harder than taking back the power we have given away. “Refined” tastes for chocolate, coffee or wine become screaming, vulgar tyrants when denied their daily tribute. Freeing our self from our enslavement to bad habits is a challenge so formidable that it has strikes fear into the hearts of every one of us. There is no more frightening opponent than our own selves.
Buddha himself taught that to master the tyrannically selfish aspects of one’s nature is supremely difficult; whereas surrendering to immediate self-gratifications couldn’t be easier. His words “supremely difficult” indicate Self-mastery is accomplished only by the Supreme, the true Self. He also taught that the Supreme expressions of our humanity are love and wisdom; these are the universal medicines.
Healing our diseases is accomplished not by fighting so called “diseases” but by focusing on healing ourselves. This means healing or mastering our behavior; gaining self-control.
In my practice I teach my clients how to Heal themselves without medicines. Self-control is the overarching practice I teach. It is the core focus of my instruction. It is quite simple for me to know what a person needs to eat, what exercise they need etc. The art is empowering them to actually be able to do it. This is the work I love. I get to know my clients intimately and to join them in learning to know and accept themselves, to genuinely love themselves, and to free themselves of behaviors that create endless misery for them. This work is anything but being forceful, demanding, pushy. It has little to do with will-power and discipline. Learning Self-control is learning to be truly free, free to do what is of real benefit.
By Self-control I mean the ability to govern one’s behavior in ways that do not produce suffering and regret; to act in ways that produce Health and happiness rather than illness and anxiety. Self-control is born of Self-understanding and Self-compassion. If you understand how to sail, hunt, play music or cook, you have power in that area. Self-understanding is the power to govern our own body and mind skillfully. When we understand clearly what motivates our self injurious actions and understand their bitter consequences, we naturally move away from what causes us to suffer.
Self-compassion is the other leg of Self-control. Compassion is our love for ourselves. It is our caring about our own suffering. It leads us to ask, “What is troubling you, my dear friend?”
Self-compassion is also the pure, raw power of love; the same love that a mother has for her child, applied to ourselves in the most practical of ways. The more we are clear about what we really love and don’t love, the more our behavior expresses that clarity. Effort is a signal that we are conflicted about what we desire. One day we will sell our soul for short term pleasure, the next we desire what is truly beneficial. You cannot force yourself to desire what is good. You must really, really understand the pure benefit of good conduct and the certainty of the misery and regret that unfailingly follows poor conduct.
When we are able to control our actions we naturally cease to do what harms us. If we actually possess this power we wield it. If we do not exercise self-control it is because we do not possess it. We lack the personal power to do what we know to be good and right for ourselves. We are bound by habit. When we have self-control we are truly free, we CAN choose to eat the chocolate, or smoke the cigarette, but we are not COMPELLED to do so. We CAN and we CHOOSE to not. A weaker person is compelled to injure themselves against their own better judgment and desires.
If you are engaged in self-harming activities it is due to a combination of ignorance, a lack of self-understanding; and to indifference, a lack of self-love. Therefore you strengthen your self-control NOT through “will power” or “effort”, but by calmly and caringly being interested in yourself; by seeking to understand why you do what you do and then what happens to you as a result of doing this.
The other way to strengthen your Self-control is by exercising your Love. Express it in every way you can, especially in your eating, moving, thinking and relationships.
I teach my students to study their ways of living and ask themselves if their ways are genuine expressions of their love. Would you teach your child to behave in this way? To drink coffee, eat sweets, and criticize herself? Of course you wouldn’t! Practice really loving yourself in the ways you feed and move yourself. Use writing or meditation to nourish yourself with encouragement and forgiveness. Always your work of Self- Healing will come down to where the rubber meets the road. Are you loving yourself in your everyday thoughts, words and deeds? If not, ask yourself again, what it is the good that you truly want and practice wanting that passionately. Daily strengthen your noble desires. Practice the skill of wanting what will truly benefit you, what you’ll never regret. This is common sense, right? What is uncommon is people who practice this.
Through wisdom and kindness, not through force, you master your actions. And your actions determine your health. Period.