On the Necessity of Denial

There is nothing remotely hypocritical or contradictory in the declarations of asceticism that follow a holiday of intense surfeit.  True hedonism demands a capacity for self-denial as much as music requires the organization of silence and the composition of sound.

In these days of rabid excess, however, the pursuit of non-indulgence is the ultimate indulgence. One must pay for the privilege of monasticism, for the severity of limits, for the masochistic pleasure of once again feeling what it is to crave.

I enjoy that sensation of wanting, of yearning, of teetering on the edge of desire. So I subjugate my body to needless torments, to superfluous ordeals, to long bouts of renunciation that perplex family members and friends alike. Why do it? They ask me. Why be disciplined and abstemious when your body can forgive and allow excess?

(I do it for the sheer intoxication of surrender, of finally giving in, of yielding unabashedly to the oblivion of abandon. Anyone who hasn’t had carbohydrates for days can attest to the absolute rush of giddiness that comes from a bite of pan de sal.)

Besides the pleasure of gratification, however, is also the satisfaction of restraint. To suppress the impulses of the flesh with the violence of the will is one of the few remaining trials we can impose on our freedom. When all the despots have been deposed, the final autocracy will be the tyranny of the body—and its domination will never end.

There are other, obvious reasons for moderation in consumption: vitality, longevity, and, of course, pure and simple vanity. But in an age when science can provide an array of antidotes for intemperance, perhaps only the argument of freedom can endure. To the eternal question of why we must deny ourselves, the only lasting answer is: because we can.


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