Trying to control our lives creates tension; there’s an alternative that’s more effective and – as a secondary benefit – relaxing.
Life in the twenty-first century is accelerating. It is also changing in such unpredictable ways that it’s understandable if we are feeling more and more alienated from the world in which we live.
Troubled by any of a multitude of social issues, and by the increasing threat of global terrorism both at home and abroad, many of us don’t have once-reliable support systems such as family or a religious affiliation to fall back on. Even work, which once provided us with life-long financial security and colleagues, has changed drastically. So it is increasing difficult for us to maintain the illusion that we are in control.
According to American psychiatrist, Krishnananda, ‘Most of us are “control-freaks” in one way or another. Our control strategies are creative and subtle. We manipulate, overpower, threaten, seduce, convince, deceive, feel guilt, rescue, and give advice – a plethora of highly unconscious methods of feeling secure, which we have cultivated since early childhood.’ Yet, when common sense makes it clear that being a ‘control freak’ isn’t working and that maybe we should investigate other options, we tend to tighten our grip.
Look at our daily language: it is rife with words that suggest this compulsion to control. We refer to our organizer in order to prioritise our day; we run a budget; work on our weight; manage our anger; ‘make’ love; regulate our working hours; discipline our eating habits; grow our careers; get a handle on a task, and take a power walk or power nap when we are not tucking into a power lunch.
In the Western way of life, things must be made to happen. There is something we would like? We need to ‘go for it.’ If we can’t ‘Seize the day!’ we exhort others to ‘Make my day.’ And if we begin to falter, in spite of or because of all this self-flagellation, we might be told we just need to ‘get a grip’!
The eating disorders of anorexia nervosa and bulimia are often linked with attempts to gain some sense of control over at least one aspects of one’s life. Bullying, too, can be an attempt to prove that one has power in or influence over at least one area of one’s day. Some of us, consciously or not, avoid intimacy so that we are not exposed to the insecurity (and potential loss of control) inherent in a close relationship.
Another way in which we might try to have a sense of being in charge is through mapping out our day so that we minimise the possibility of the unexpected happening. Surprise can be a frightening feeling for some of us because it means that we are suddenly confronted with the unplanned for, and so are potentially out of control.
Psychologist Mark Greenberg, who works with helping children in the area of emotional literacy, speaks of scary-sounding ‘metacontrolling. [Because he comes from a Western psychologist’s viewpoint, he sees control as desirable, and validates the role of the mind as the controlling agent within us.]
The attitude of control has even pervaded our understanding of the spiritual dimension. Many people describe meditation – the very antithesis of control – as ‘training the mind.’
The answer isn’t that we drop our ability to take initiative but accept that what we can do in any given situation has its limitations, and to realise that the attitude of battling with life – which breeds the concept of control – creates enormous pressure.
Fact: We cannot count on changing our outer world – including people and situations – to suit ourselves.
Fact: We can find a way to live so that we remain unruffled by whatever might be happening externally.
Being unruffled doesn’t need greater self-control
If you’re familiar with Martial Arts or Pilates you’ll know that the ‘core’ or Hara is just below the belly button inside. This is where our consciousness is centred. When we have a sense of that centering, there is a sense of grounding – of having roots into ourselves.
Make sure your clothing is not constricting you in any way. For example, if you’re wearing a belt, loosen it. Sitting or lying down comfortably, with your eyes closed, place the palms of both hands flat on your lower belly, just below your navel. Gently press there with your fingers.
As you breathe in, let your belly move upwards. As you breathe out, the belly collapses, relaxing.
This may feel a little odd at first because we usually do just the reverse. When we inhale we draw our bellies in (especially those of us striving for a flat belly!) and let the belly relax outwards with the exhalation. Though it may feel odd, this is in fact our natural way of breathing; so we are not learning some exotic new way of breathing but are relearning how to breathe naturally.
It doesn’t matter at what pace you are breathing. You’ll find that because your breathing is now belly based, it will slow down and deepen of its own accord.
Practise this regularly and you’ll become familiar with where your Hara is; then just bringing your awareness there without placing your hands on it will be enough. Consciously breathe in the way described above.
You can do this anywhere at any time – commuting on the train, listening to someone talking to you, and any other everyday activities. It is physiologically impossible to breathe in the Hara and be uptight and anxious: within minutes you will feel relaxed, calm and centred.
Days full of wanting,
Days full of wanting,
Let them go by without worrying
that they do. Stay where you are
Inside such a pure, hollow note.