Are you in control?

Question from a reader:
“I am just starting with the practice of meditation.  Thank you for your encouraging emails, it helps me to not give up…  As a very controlled and controlling individual (trying not to be), I am finding it very hard to stop my mind from wandering around. “

The fact that you’re finding it very hard to stop your mind’s wandering is . . . good news.


It’s true. The practice is working. You’re seeing into the wild, wandering nature of thought AND sensing the futility of trying to control thought.

Thought doesn’t come to rest via strategies of control.
Trying to control thought is like trying to lasso the wind. The harder you try, the more frustrated you become. In the Bhagavad Gita, one of the great texts on cultivating meditative awareness,  the Higher Consciousness (embodied as Sri Krishna) tells the Earthling (embodied as Arjuna) that the mind is wilder than the wind.

So, when thoughts blow around – you’re not doing something wrong. You can’t lasso the wind. Why waste your energy there. The realization of stillness doesn’t come through controlling your mind, your life, the world.

The strategy of control sets up a never-ending conflict between you and your experience.<
Whether that experience is of thoughts, people, or events, if you’re trying to control “them”, you’re caught in a “never-ending war”. (Where have we heard that phrase before)?

Of course many teachings will point out that this conflict is fundamentally illusory. Even so, it can really ruin your day. And thinking spiritual thoughts (whatever that means to you) doesn’t help either. Thoughts fighting thoughts – just intensifies the wind.  The practice of meditation offers a different path. A way of relating to all patterns – including the control pattern – with loving awareness.

Because, when you’re trying to strong-arm your experience, you’re being driven by emotions of hope and fear.
A part of you is hopeful, ever hopeful, that you can finally get it right. That you can finally get:

  • Thoughts think right
  • Partners to love right
  • Kids to grow right
  • Colleagues to work right
  • Authorities to rule right

And a part of you is fearful – desperately fearful – that you’re doomed to living with whatever is not right . . . forever. Arrrrggghhhhh!!!

This is where cultivating  meditative awareness comes in.
Before cultivating meditative awareness, the controlling impulse was in the driver’s seat. It drove you around – all the while honking the horn of your emotions, screaming at all the bad drivers, and writing tickets. But, with just a bit of practice, something is shifting.

Now, you’re seeing the controlling strategy is another pattern.
This removes it from the driver’s seat. Of course, it’s still there in the car – either riding shotgun or in the back seat – shouting out, in the words of Mary Oliver “it’s bad advice”. As you strengthen your meditative awareness, you start to hear another voice. Mary Oliver gets this so right in her poem The Journey, that I’m going to quote her a bit:

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,

She’s nailed the core suffering – controlling keeps you away from the world. Controlling keeps  you from being touched and from touching the depths of life. This hurts. It hurts you and those you love. This is what the meditative awareness reveals. So, what to do about the controlling pattern?

Allow the controlling tendency to be.
Don’t compound the issue by trying to control the controlling. Let it be and infuse the pattern itself with loving awareness. What does this mean?

  • Be fully present to the way the control pattern arises . . .
  • Notice the thoughts it stirs up . . . the emotions that accompany the controlling pattern . . . the sensations that swirl through your body.
  • Become a loving witness to the dynamics of the control pattern.

Don’t seek to control the controlling.
There’s no need to adjust, improve, or change it. This pattern, like all patterns, can move freely through awareness just as clouds move through the open sky.

This is easy to say.
And sometimes (not always) easy to hear. When, you hear the teachings, not just with thought but with meditative awareness, you pop out of the control strategy. You see the patterns of personality for what they are – patterns. They have their place in the mandala of your life. But, they’re not you. You are the sky, the open, boundary-less, and undefended Wisdom Heart in which all patterns rise and dissolve away.

So, when the tendency to control arises, no need to get upset. No need to interpret this arising as a sign of meditative failure. Hey, you’re noting the arising. Now, breathe . . . that’s it . . . breathe . . .

What helps you find peace with a wild and windy mind?

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Showing 2 comments
  • Nanette

    Dear Eric:

    This is the best — most loving and helpful — article I’ve read on meditation … ever.

    You have clearly articulated the truth of my experience exactly — with gentle sensitivity and much understanding.

    Thank you. Blessed be. ♥


  • Eric

    Thank you Nanette. Blessings to all.

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