The thought above is by today’s interviewee, Nelson Bretanha (photo), who lives in his hometown of Araras, in the Brazilian state of São Paulo. He is a teacher, with a degree in Psychology and a Master in Physics. He became a Spiritist in 1999 and is a very active member of the Spiritist Movement as a public speaker. In this interview, he by addressing the issue of self-control.
How do you define self-control from a psychological perspective?
Self-control is the capacity of controlling and managing your will to direct it towards a pre-established goal. It is about internal coherence. You need to be in charge of your actions at different levels (body, energy, emotions and mind). It is essential, therefore to reassess the experiences that have been saved in your subconscious and to be clear about your existential goals, developing that way a proficuous inner life.
What is the Spiritist perspective on that matter?
For Spiritists, it is essential to be able to fully achieve self-control. As we accept that our existence on this planet has an educational purpose, we will make a sacred commitment to develop and grow as human beings. In this world of trials and tribulations, we are learners and we seek to develop our best qualities and virtues. In other words, we seek to conquer ourselves. And how would we be able to achieve that without self-control? That is the first step towards our inner reform. I think that self-control can be described as the capacity to do what we need in order to keep our conscience at a higher level, remaining loyal to our ideals. To have self-control is to choose the righteous way according to the Teachings of Our Master Jesus, in which our Teachings are based. It is important to say, too, that the same concept is part of other noble philosophies, as we can observe, for instance, in the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism.
Where do the main problems to achieve that lie, according to both perspectives?
The main problems we have to achieve self-control lie on consistency and perseverance. We have for a long time conditioned our body, our emotions and our mind to seek fleeting pleasures, under the illusion that we would thus reach happiness. Our mind has become a slave to the immediate pleasures and material attachments (as a consequence of the illusions and whims of our ego) and has moved away from the righteous way (which is a manifestation of the Natural Laws). It has created for itself a kingdom of illusions. It seems easier and more pleasant, by default, to remain as we are. But his attitude before life creates a great deal of unrest inside us. Then we begin to create masks and ways to run away, in order to appease our natural desire to move forward and develop. We end up making up excuses and trying to justify what we do and we binge on victimisation, avoiding facing who we really are. We are not yet able to understand and accept that we are using those diversion tactics, in the same way that we are not yet able to deal with the pain created by this process of self-discovery. As we face these challenges, we close up and go through a long and repetitive cycle of attempts and failures.
Are there practical exercises to help us achieve self-control?
We can and we must certainly practice self-control. In the same way that we exercise and work on our muscles, we must strengthen our mind. But I am not in favour of set rules and recipes. I believe that there is a unique process for each one of us. There are, however, general laws involving this process. We need to understand that we can’t control what we can’t identify. We must also understand that we are not defined by our habits and by what we like. They can be changed according to the goals we set for our lives.
What are the benefits of achieving self-control?
The benefits are many! Self-control provides us with the necessary coherence to extract self-knowledge from our experiences and reflections. It also provides us with the clarity that is indispensable if we are to develop our virtues and qualities through perseverance and consistency. I would say that it is an essential element to successfully proceed to our inner reform. The discipline that results from self-control paves the way for the development of patience and compassion. It also enables us to amass knowledge (by studying regularly). The ultimate benefit of self-control is the peace we gain.
In the light of Spiritism, how can we help the world we live in through our personal efforts of spiritual progress?
The main form of charity we can offer the world is to carry out our inner reform. We must all have a spiritual core in our lives, around which our thoughts, feelings and actions should gravitate. We will then be able to talk with merit about ethics, respect and love towards other people. We must be guided in our actions by our virtues, rather than by social training. That is the next step, the really valuable asset we can hold. Rather than taking isolated, disconnected actions, we will develop a set of principles and foundations. We will build a life of righteousness in alignment with Divine Laws.
And what will happen amid those efforts to our old issues with selfishness, material attachments and vanities?
They will simply fade away as we conquer ourselves. The Truth will free us, Our Master Jesus explained. And true freedom will come when we get rid of those shackles, which are the product of pure illusion. A clear mind enables us to distinguish between what is real and what is impermanent (an illusion). We will start building on the rock of fraternity, rather than on the sands of divisionism. Once we achieve self-knowledge, we will be able to have a better understanding of life and other people. Attachments, which are the result of fear and insecurity, will no longer be necessary as our minds will be replenished, filled with divine matter. We will become, then, naturally generous, peaceful, peace-makers and humble. All these qualities are, incidentally, inherent to us all. When we achieve that level of development we will be fulfilling the Will of God, exactly as in the Beatitudes of the Sermon of the Mount.