Many religious traditions that have festivals and celebrations are things the secular world has adopted and enjoyed with abandon. Occasions like Christmas, Eid, and Diwali with their celebrations of generosity, charity, and feasting have become times where the less devout enjoy present giving and over-indulgent eating. Yet ceremonies that the wider world tend to ignore are times like the Christian Lenten season, or the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Times that involve fasting, self-control, and giving something up.
This is a notion that the secular self-improvement world could look to learn something from. While there is much written on the benefits of abstaining from obviously self-destructive, delving deeper into the idea of self-deprivation, there is a wealth of wisdom to be learned.
Behavioural Self Discovery
In the same way that a river does not take shape without the boundaries of the banks and other immovable geological features around it, so our behaviour and actions do not reveal their clearest shape until we give them challenges and obstacles that it has to move around. When we deny ourselves a particular item, a particular food, a certain source of media or entertainment, a form of relaxation, we find ourselves behaving in different ways because of the deprivation. This can give us valuable insights into the kind of people we are. Do we become irritable? Do we turn melancholic? Do we become apathetic? Complacent? More or less motivated to work? By removing a certain aspect of our lives and observing the effect on our behaviour, we learn a great deal about ourselves.
Tolerance Self Awareness and Training
Just how tolerant are we to not getting exactly our own way all the time? While self-deprivation is of course a form of us getting our own way, hence the word “self” in the term, if we are persistent in our self-control, much can be revealed. By measuring our own mental state as the deprivation continues, we can quickly measure just how soon a particular deprivation becomes difficult, hard, or even potentially intolerable, this kind of activity truly is. This presents us with both information and opportunity. Information on just how hardy we are currently, and opportunity to become more hardened to deprivation, to thereby strengthen our overall character.
Lesson in Value
There are many things in our life that we often treat as disposable and every day that can be revealed as important to the point of essential once they are removed. This goes far beyond the obvious such as food or water. Many of us would find we function very differently without a steady stream of background music, while others may find their normal patterns of behaviour compromised to the point of becoming unrecognisable by a lack of caffeine. As the common saying goes “you don’t know what you are missing, until you don’t have it”.
Pre-emptive strike against addiction
If you can learn about the common emotions, behaviours, and general sensations associated with relying on something innocuous and harmless, it could be a valuable tool for future experiences. While it would be wrong to use a term as definitive and emotive as ‘addiction’ for things like background music, podcasts, coffee, a nightly television session, or chocolate, we can see certain common behavioural patterns emerge with deprivation for things like these. If we know these kinds of signs to watch for, we can be ready when something more serious threatens our wellbeing with addictive patterns of action. Think of this kind of self-deprivation as a form of addiction awareness inoculation.
With so many different religions agreeing on the notion of self-deprivation as a virtue, something engaged with as a holy practice, there is clearly something of importance to be learned here. Given how much we can learn about our own behaviour, our personal tolerances, and what we truly value, controlled self-deprivation is definitely worthwhile to engage in. When put alongside the early warning system we could potentially grow for addictive tendencies, this is clearly a practice that should be part of everyone’s self-improvement process.