Lately, I have been feeling the need to slow down and reconnect with a spiritual practice that is grounding and calming. To do this, I began implementing new daily practices to support my change. These included reducing my caffeine intake, meditating morning and night, practicing deep breathing and ‘letting go’ when I felt overwhelmed and re-connecting with my yoga practice. However when I first began with my new strategy, I almost felt like I was going backwards. It seems like the more that I tried to be calm, the more anxious I became. The more I tried to relax my breathing the more shallow and tense it felt. The more that I tried to slow my thoughts with meditation, the crazier they seemed to get.
This inner rebellion to my new lifestyle approach caused me to start to reflect on what the actual cause of my crazy thoughts and anxious feelings were. The more that I journeyed in to my self-inquiry, the more I realised what the problem was. I was a control freak.
My control-freak nature
The challenges I experienced in attempting to become more peaceful are a perfect example of my control freak nature. Although I was doing my best to be relaxed and detached, my controlling mind could not let go. It was stubborn and determined to remain fixated on my to do list, my outer world results and what was going on around me. I had such a desire to control everything, that the mere thought of letting go of my control sent me in to a tailspin of anxiety. That is a sure fire way to know you have a control problem – think about the idea of completely letting go of all control, and see what reaction arises in you…
As I inquired more, I discovered that the main cause of my un-rest was the need of my mind to over think, over analyse and try to future plan everything in advance. I was trying to mentally plan and control everything, even when I was sitting in a meditation. While I was trying my very best to focus on my inner emotional state, all my mind wanted to do was think about what was going on outside of me. My mind didn’t care whether or not I was getting any better at achieving zen, it only cared about whether or not I was on track with my outer world goals.
Does control = happiness?
I then suddenly realised what the problem was. At the end of the day, all I really wanted was happiness. Yet, I did not value my inner state as an important factor in my happiness. Rather, I realised that I thought the most important contributor to my happiness was what I had achieved in the outer world, what I had got, and what I was doing. My top priority in each moment seemed to be simply whether or not I was getting what I needed from the outside world to make me happy.
The other problem I identified was that very often I was more than willing to compromise a peaceful, calm, balanced inner state in order to reach my outer results. I simply valued outside results more than feeling good inside myself. Eg: I would push my self to go to the gym, even though my body was telling me it needed rest, or I would drink coffee so that I could be motivated at work, even though it wired me up and made me tense. I never stopped to pay attention to what I was feeling inside, I simply pushed on forward with action so that I could get the results I wanted.
I also found that it was during times of change and upheaval (which I have been experiencing a lot of lately) that my controlling nature was most expressed. The more unstable my outer world was and the more unreliable it was in bringing me happiness, the more I would try and try to control what was happening. I thought that if I could just get all these situations ‘under control’ then I will be able to relax and be happy. But it does not work like that.
Are you a control freak too?
What I have been experiencing, is commonplace in today’s society. These days we place much of happiness on outside circumstances. The reason this then leads to a control freak personality, is because with this attitude we then feel we need to control the outer world to ensure it makes us happy. When feeling good is dependent on outer world situations we become anxious and stressed about making everything around us perfect. Unless the outer world looks the way that we want it to we cannot be happy.
When our happiness is dependent on the outer world, we feel that we must force things to go our way. We fret about outcomes. We rely on the outer world to make us feel good and when it does not deliver we become angry and upset. When we do this, we are giving away our power and our ability to be truly happy. We must realise that we can simply not control everything that happens in the world. We cannot control every event or circumstance. We can only control our internal reaction to it.
Why should you tame your inner control freak?
Attempting the control the outside world is futile and will only lead to stress, anxiety and exhaustion. Our problem is that we do not know how to create these good feelings in ourselves without external stimulation! You will never be at ease if your happiness is dependent on things outside of you.
You need to realise that the problem with having your happiness dependent on outside circumstances, is that you can never be truly happy and that happiness can never really last. The world is impermanent and changeable. So you are left like a cork in the ocean, bobbing along with the waves, with your happiness and internal well being being pushed and swayed depending on what is happening around you. You can never be stable, calm, at ease or relaxed. You are like an animal on the verge of the fight or flight reaction, who’s emotional response then triggered by circumstances and events as they occur.
So here is the challenge. Here is the lesson to be learned. Can you find a way to be at peace, at ease, relaxed, going with the flow and be completely detached from outcomes even when everything around you is in chaos? This is the trick. Your anxiety is showing you that there is something that needs some inner attention and work, and this is what it is. It all comes back to mastery of your inner state.
You can enjoy everything in life more when you are not reliant on it to give you something. You can just let it be what it is. You do not have to control or change it or manipulate it to make you happy. You can simply just enjoy it. You can be relaxed about life because no matter what happens you are always OK and you know how to find happiness. You must know that YOU are the source of your happiness. When you learn this, you will then discover that this is where your true power lies.
Ask yourself what makes you happy. Is it all external stuff? Stuff that is material, fragile and impermanent? Stuff that could be taken away at any time? Why does this stuff make you happy? How does it make you feel? How can you find those feelings inside you without the stuff?!
Quit depending on the outer world. Release it. Detach from the outcomes. Find new ways to feel good. Find ways that nourish and support you. Find ways to create happiness inside of you, without expecting it to come to you through outer sources. Live without expectation or pressure. Just experience every moment for what it is. Learn how to feel good from the inside out and the outer world with then naturally shift.
Implement practices that calm you and nurture you. Before you take action check in with how you are feeling. Listen to how you are feeling inside and see if what you are about to do is really right for you. Begin to place a value on how you feel inside. Make feeling good your number one priority, more so than achieving, doing or getting.
I am still working on this practice, but this new found awareness of my controlling habits is helping me become much more conscious of them and much more able to release them. I challenge you to start the process of self-inquiry and see if you too have an inner control-freak. Awareness is the first step. It is only then that you can begin to change.