By Vironika Tugaleva
“One morning I woke up and was plunged into psychological shock. I had forgotten I was free.”
― Jack Henry Abbott
There was a time, not too long ago, when the idea of self-control conjured within me images of uptight businessmen, lifeless machine-like drones, and judgmental purists.
All my life I yearned for freedom. Self-control, I thought, was most certainly not freedom. How could I be free if I couldn’t do what I wanted?
For many of us, self-control entails fist-clenching, breath-holding, red-faced willpower – eye-to-eye with temptation. And eventually, if that works enough times, a submissive, head-down, tail-between-the-legs, menial existence drowned in the pain of unfulfilled desires.
Self-control through complete denial and repression isn’t really self-control. It’s more like torture.
A few months before I experienced an intense spiritual transformation, I had decided to quit smoking. At the time, I did not realize that every thought I had, and every action I took was connected; that there was a reason I smoked. There’s always a reason, no matter how buried.
I thought that by quitting, I’d solve many of my issues, but I was only addressing a symptom of some deeper problem, and thus continued to be self-destructive, and feel shameful and inauthentic.
It was like pulling a single strand out of a tangled ball of thread. When I tried to pull one, all the others came with it in stubborn, tight knots. The harder I pulled, the more tangled it all became.
And I relapsed…and relapsed…and relapsed again.
All the while, I would rationalize to myself, Maybe I’m just too broken to quit. Maybe I’ve got an addictive personality. Maybe I have to smoke to be creative.
I’d look at the process of quitting as a process of “self-control” – the torture version. It was miserable. I hated it. I wanted, desperately, to smoke. I believed I needed it. I believed that I was the kind of person who couldn’t really be good or normal. And thus, every moment without a cigarette was excruciating.
Each time I relapsed, I felt free; free to do as I pleased. I’d tell myself that life without cigarettes was a life of slavery. I could only be free if I was doing what I wanted. Like this, I allowed myself to remain in a cycle of pain and self-destruction.
As the pain of attempted self-control followed by relapse built more and more, I finally had a major breakdown, and I realized how truly enslaved I was, how little freedom I actually had.
From that realization sprung a great epiphany weaved with a hundred tiny strands of thread that I had patiently and painfully unwound from my body, mind, and soul. I realized the truth: self-control means soul-in-control. It means allowing the most authentic, pure part inside all of us to lead. Self-control is simple. It is the only freedom. And the fuel is faith.
In that space, quite suddenly, smoking became unnecessary. As did judgement; as did shame; as did resentment, and self-destruction.
Suddenly, life was simple.
We all deeply crave to live life doing what we want, when we want. I think the reason that self-control seems to be the opposite of that is that many people are not in touch with their deepest desires. So we turn to what seems obvious, and relatively easy – cars, money, clothes, etc. But in the end those things have the potential to take us far from our inner lives.
We think we want the riches of the material world, but it is fool’s gold. Those things fade and leave us disappointed, yet after we’ve worked so hard to get them, we must reassure ourselves again, and again that it’s what we wanted.
It isn’t until we get to the bottom of the barrel, finding ourselves accidentally in a prison we’ve built for ourselves brick-by-brick, having gone years without actually feeling happy, that we realize: self-control is not the opposite of freedom. Self control is freedom.
It is only when our truest self is in control that we can finally be happy.
In the ocean of life – this exhilarating, mysteriously deep, and sometimes turbulent ocean of existence – the only way to sail freely is to have a well-trained, capable, wise captain who can shelter you from the storms. Hint, hint – the captain is you!
Those who cannot control themselves are slaves. They are slaves to their own pain, to which they are so unconsciously attached. And subsequently, they are slaves to a system that gladly exploits the time and money of those who are willing to trade their lives away for a measure of security. The system works this way only because we allow it to. It’s no one’s fault, but it’s everyone’s responsibility.
It is time for us to awaken, to realize once and for all that the ultimate safety and the most precious security is that of the boundless, eternal self.
We are already free. Free to choose to be guided by who we really are. We already have freedom of thought, freedom of love, freedom of spirit.
We are free to graciously and compassionately control ourselves in the effort for greater self-realization.
Vironika is an author, speaker, reformed cynic, people lover, and a very different kind of spiritual teacher. Inspiring and wise beyond her years, Vironika Tugaleva helps people heal their minds and discover their inner strength. You’re invited to read more about Vironika by clicking the link below, and get your copy of her complimentary ebook: How to Find Love: A Brief (But Essential) Guide (www.vironika.org/findlove).