Excerpted from Arthur C. Benson’s essay on “Serenity”
“And we can thus at least practise and exercise ourselves in the belief that we cannot bring our experiences to an end, however petulantly and irritably we desire to do so, because it simply is not in our power to effect it. We talk about the power of the will, but no effort of will can obliterate the life that we have lived, or add a cubit to our stature; we cannot abrogate any law of nature, or destroy a single atom of matter. What it seems that we can do with the will is to make a certain choice, to select a certain line, to combine existing forces, to use them within very small limits. We can oblige ourselves to take a certain course, when every other inclination is reluctant to do it; and even so the power varies in different people. It is useless then to depend blindly upon the will, because we may suddenly come to the end of it, as we may come to the end of our physical forces. But what the will can do is to try certain experiments, and the one province where its function seems to be clear, is where it can discover that we have often a reserve of unsuspected strength, and more courage and power than we had supposed. We can certainly oppose it to bodily inclinations, whether they be seductions of sense or temptations of weariness. And in this one respect the will can give us, if not serenity, at least a greater serenity than we expect. We can use the will to endure, to wait, to suspend a hasty judgment; and impulse is the thing which menaces our serenity most of all. The will indeed seems to be like a little weight which we can throw into either scale. If we have no doubt how we ought to act, we can use the will to enforce our judgment, whether it is a question of acting or of abstaining; if we are in doubt how to act, we can use our will to enforce a wise delay.
The truth then about the will is that it is a force which we cannot measure, and that it is as unreasonable to say that it does not exist as to say that it is unlimited. It is foolish to describe it as free; it is no more free than a prisoner in a cell is free; but yet he has a certain power to move about within his cell, and to choose among possible employments.”
Anyone who will deliberately test his will, will find that it is stronger than he suspects; what often weakens our use of it is that we are so apt to look beyond the immediate difficulty into a long perspective of imagined obstacles, and to say within ourselves, “Yes, I may perhaps achieve this immediate step, but I cannot take step after step–my courage will fail!” Yet if one does make the immediate effort, it is common to find the whole range of obstacles modified by the single act; and thus the first step towards the attainment of serenity of life is to practise cutting off the vista of possible contingencies from our view, and to create a habit of dealing with a case as it occurs….”
All Will Be Well, ~ Julian of Norwich
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