I have control issues. This comes as no shock to those who know me well. Or to those who know me not so well, perhaps. I’m an Enneagram One, to those who follow that line of understanding self and others, and to those of you who don’t care to organize your fellow travellers of this world into categories, I can be fairly bound by shoulds and should nots when I’m not remembering to stay in the moment and just live.
So where does control fit in? Like most folks (please comment NOW and tell me I’m not alone in this), I don’t like to feel out of control. As I tell my kids repeatedly, the only person one can control is oneself. I wholly believe this, and I work continuously to respond rather than react, to observe my thoughts and their patterns, recognizing thought as ego-driven rather than thought as self. I’m not my thoughts, although when I’m not really Paying Attention, I can identify with those thoughts enough to really confuse myself and annoy others.
And I did that again tonight. Information, by nature, is neutral. We take in data all the time though all our senses. Most of it we actually ignore, for to give all that data equal attention would drive us batty. I can screen out the cars on the road a few blocks away and the chatter of the kids next door while attending to the ringing phone in my home. While sometimes the itchy tag in the back of a pair of jeans distracts me from the soup I’m stirring on the stove, generally I can filter information well.
But, and again I hope this is like most of us, some information elicits an emotional response. Depending on the situation and the rest of the day, a child’s yell may bring forth sympathy, concern, frustration, or even despair. While I can interpret the yell based on other data points — location of my kids, intensity and pitch of the sound, and the events in the time preceding the scream, the sound itself is a single point of data. Yet here comes the emotion.
So what does all this have to do with control? Quite a bit, at least for me. Certain data points set off a cascade of emotions for me. When anger is part of that cascade, fear of loss of some kind of control is often occurring. No problem there. I’m human. Emotions happen. But when I forget that I’m more than my thoughts (and those can spin wildly when fear and anger occur), I start to identify too strongly with the emotions and my thoughts that are caught up in those emotions. It’s far too easy to then react — say the first things that come to mind, and, in my case, keep saying them, ad infinitum– than to respond. Responding to the stimuli requires watching thought from the outside. Watching the mind do it’s turns and twists, allowing the energy of the emotions elicited to rise like a wave and pass like the same wave. It involves some element of control.
Unfortunately, if I stay with my ego, thoughts and emotions flooding me and carrying me to undesirable and rather useless places, I lose the control I so desperately want to have. I want to stay above those wandering thoughts and waxing and waning feelings. I want to stay with my Ground of Being, with my essence, in the Here and Now. And that takes great control. Not the grasping type that’s my first reaction when hearing some information that I find frightening, disturbing, or just unsettling. The type of control I long for my children to have. The control that watches those thoughts and emotions, recognizes them as transient, and returns me to the base of love and compassion I value so deeply. That’s when I set down the keys. That’s when I find peace.
Although many readings and sermons have informed my thoughts on the ego, the role of thought and emotions, and my picture of a peaceful path to life, the following are some of the major players in shaping and informing my views:
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (Eckart Tolle)
Buddhism Plain & Simple (Steve Hagen)
When Things Fall Apart (Pema Chodron)
Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Numerous sermons from Alexander Riegel, minister at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Farmington