It happens often in my mind's eye. I can smell the fresh air. I can feel the glow of the sun on my skin. I smile as I recognize the plants and trees which have become my friends along the well-trodden path. I know when the flowers are going to appear; I know them by name. I hear the sounds of the train in the distance and the gobble of the neighbor's turkeys. But I hear more than just the familiar; I hear sounds I have never heard before but have always been there.
This idea is not a new one, as it has been on my mind for years. Sometimes, it is forgotten in the busyness of life and weeks can pass without a thought of it. But it returns with gusto, perhaps when I see a familiar neighbor making his rounds, hear of my Mom taking a walk with my Dad, as I read Miss Mason's words of encouragement to get outside, or a child shares the joy of a discovery in the yard.
Yet, I do not go.
These several acts of the Will, intention, purpose, resolution, are not only possible to us, but are required of us. The Will is, in fact, the instrument by which we appropriate the good, uplifting thought that comes our way; and it is as we seize upon such thought with intention, act upon it with purpose, struggle, with resolution, against obstacles, that we attain to character and usefulness in the world.
We have seen, too, that many persons shirk the exercise of Will, the proper work of a man, and drift into allowance instead of choice, or into the wayward impulses proper to their nature. Intellectual opinions, as well as moral principles, belong, it appears, to the sphere of the Will. We perceive that the good Will, which humbly undertakes its functions in Mansoul*, finds itself continually beset with hazards, impulses here, suggestions there; but that the field of action for the Will is narrower than it seems: Will must watch at the postern where ideas enter. This is the more necessary because Reason, a dependable guide as to ideas which the Will has not admitted, becomes a special pleader for an idea that has once crossed the rubicon––so much so, that there is no conceivable act of crime or folly that the reason of men has not justified to themselves by logical arguments, not to be refuted.
Once Sloth is ruler in Mansoul, the person cannot wake up in the morning, dawdles over his dressing, comes down late for breakfast, hates a walk, ... never does anything for anybody, not because he is unkind or ill-natured, but because he will not take the trouble.
"You walk around here enough as it is."
"It's too cold. It's too hot."
"It's not worth the effort."
"The children need you."
"You are shirking your other duties."
But help is closer than I think.
[B]ut our Lord's merciful counsel of 'Watch and pray' saves us. Given, the good Will, there is a means at hand, simple and unpromising against our giant, as was David's sling and stone, and just as effectual. In the spiritual as well as in the natural world, great means are always simple.
Mason, Ourselves p. 167
By a conscious act of will, we simply and instantly think of something else––not something good and lofty, but something interesting, even something diverting; what we shall do on our next holiday, a story we are reading, a friend we mean to see, even a fly walking across the ceiling, is enough to think about; because any other occupation of the mind keeps out the insidious idea we would repel, and it has no power over us until it has been willingly admitted.
Mason, Ourselves p. 168
Therefore, if Mansoul is to be saved from anarchy, the Will must keep incessant watch at the door of ideas. We have seen, too, that the obstructions to the rule of Will, arising from strong impulses and powerful suggestions, may be met in a simple way. The Will asserts itself, not by struggle and insistence, but by a diversion of thought, to be repeated as often as the impulse or suggestion recurs; and each recurrence is fainter than the last: whilst the Will employs the pause secured by such diversion to gather force.
Give the Will an object outside itself, and it will leap to service, even to that most difficult of all service, the control of the forces of Mansoul. It is not by one grand fiat, but by many ordered efforts of Will, that we overcome those failures in self-restraint, self-control, self-denial, which are the misery of our lives, and which we know to be sin by the wretchedness they bring upon ourselves and others, and the separateness from others which they set up in our hearts. It is not self-ordering, but an object outside of ourselves, leading to self-forgetfulness and a certain valiant rising of the will, to which we must look for a cure for the maladies that vex us.
"You walk around here enough as it is." -- "But not alone with my God."
"It's too cold. It is too hot." -- "Fire and hail, snow and clouds;
Stormy wind, fulfilling His word;" (Psalm 148)
"It's not worth the effort." -- "It's of great worth to my family and God."
"The children need you." -- "My children need me to walk."
"You are shirking your other duties." -- "I am shirking my duty to God."
There are but two services open to men––that which has self as the end and centre, and that which has God (and, by consequence, man) for its object.
...Providence does not save us from the effort of decision, for upon this effort depends the education of character; and 'our Father which art in Heaven' brings up His children. As the wise parent sees that his children are invigorated by proper exercise, so we may venture to think that Providence strengthens the children of men by giving to each opportunities for effort, chiefly, perhaps, for this effort of decision. For the will grows strong by its efforts, and the will is the man.
**I thank my friend Jennifer for the gentle reminder that Will must have an object outside of self.