Light Employments of Willpower – 3/14/2009

For the past six weeks, both my wife and my sister have voluntarily opted to remove meat, cheese, soda and coffee respectively from their daily diets in observation of Lent. Neither of them are religious, per se, yet they both took this opportunity to practice, even if what some may consider a “lighter degree of”, self-denial.
In brief and for those of us who want to pull hairs, Lent (as I understand it) is traditionally a period of 40 days – those days representing the period that Jesus walked in nature / the wild and was tempted by “Satan”
In all honestly, it being Lent had little, if anything to do with it. It wasn’t the fact that it was a religious period, but more of a time to challenge oneself. There are various ways that human beings can challenge themselves and if there is substantial thought put into the task. I am, personally, no advocate of any structured religion, but I do know that it has on many occasions been the influential element in people’s decisions to make a self sacrifice of some sort. It must be noted that it isn’t because religion is extent in the world that self-denial is possible. It is simply that people need some connection to their motivation for them to feel it worthwhile to go through with a challenge on any level.
The challenge for some is a great one. There are those that have awed the rest of us as we stand as onlookers to the feats that they have chosen. Harry Houdini did it as have David Blaine, Mohandas Ghandi (went without food in a gesture of supplication to his people to stop fighting) and others. For some, the challenge is going a whole day without a cigarette and for others, it’s going without sugar for a year or longer in order to train one’s body for a mammoth activity. For those of you reading this thinking that you’ve never done anything like this, I’m almost sure that you’re wrong. If you’ve ever denied your body alcohol (for salutary reasons), denied yourself supper (in protest against your parents) or decided not to drink soda for longer than a meal or two. That, in essence, is self denial – you are denying your body what, psychologically, you have told yourself that you want. It’s not so much a matter of if we can do it. We’ve already done it. Once this is recognized, we have come to an understanding that the slightest of actions, once mastered, can expand. It’s true that what we think about expands. What we fill our minds with and exercise liberally, expands – we have the power to create ourselves into the most successful of beings or miscreants of the lowest class.
What you are thinking now, the thoughts that are going through your head are just thoughts, but how much power you assign to them are entirely up to you. If you consider them to be simple flutterings of the uncontrollable circumstances outside of you, then you are right. However, if you consider your thoughts the greatest power that you possess as a human being, that these magnificent things are capable of transmuting you into anything you want to become and anything you want to do, you’re also right.
Henry Ford said it many years ago, “whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” Self – denial is simply the character you are, controlling your thoughts, controlling every aspect of them. If people want to lose weight, quit smoking, drugs, alcohol, change their lives, no one will do it for you. Try going for 10 minutes. If you can do that, you can go for a lifetime.


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