People look for many things when they begin to meditate. Some are looking for an experience such as peace or happiness. But many people are looking for control. Control over their lives. And control over their thoughts.
When we are talking about clinical problems with mental health, thinking about regaining control can be helpful. Because for many, what seems to be making them suffer is that their grip on the world appears to be loosening.
By regaining control, their sense of stability and ability to deal with situations seems to increase – which promotes a feeling of positive mental ‘health’.
And this can be invaluable in moving people forward.
But for many practitioners of mindfulness, the common view of control can be held too tightly. And can prevent them seeing things the way that they really are.
Rather, by relinquishing the desire or need to fix things, and to allow things to unfold as they do – they are able to move into a much more positive relationship with their lives.
Control in Our Lives
If we look closely at our lives, we will see that whilst we do ‘seem’ to have some measure of control – much of what happens is entirely outside of our influence.
For example, if I were to meet you for a coffee later today, how could I know what mood you would be in, or what you might say to me? Let alone if the waiter would slip and pour coffee over my newly bought Levi jeans!
And this is how our lives are.
We can’t control the weather. Or the other drivers on the road. Or whether we will become ill. Or a thousand million other things that are entirely outside of our control.
And you can test this.
Try planning your day down to the nth degree. And see if it turns out exactly how you’d planned…
My guess is it won’t. Because life has a habit of throwing unexpected obstacles into our path.
That’s not to mention our bodies. How we breathe, grow, digest, sweat, and so on.
How much control do we have over any of those processes?
Controlling Our Thoughts
The same is true with our thoughts – as most meditators find out pretty much straight away. Our thoughts just appear and take us away into a story. No matter how much we might not want that to happen.
Again, if you were to try and predict what thoughts would appear in your meditation practice – how successful do you think you would be?
Is it even possible, for instance, to predict what the next arising thought will actually be?
Yet how much time and energy do we invest in the belief that we should be able to do that?
And how much time and energy do we invest in giving ourselves a hard time when we aren’t able to live up to our unrealistic demands.
What does this mean?
When we meditate, we can begin to see the true nature of these things we call thoughts. We can begin to see that they come to us unbidden, hang around for a while, and then leave.
‘You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.’
We can see that we do not ‘decide’ to drift off in meditation. Nor do we ‘decide’ to catch ourselves in the midst of that drifting off.
Instead there is this process occuring over which we are not in control:
- The attention is placed on an object (through the senses).
- The attention moves into the story of thought.
- It is recognised that we are caught in the story of thought.
- The attention moves back to the object of attention.
Our aim in meditation is not to control or direct this process, as to be aware of it. To see it as it happens, and to be intimately involved with it.
The idea we are in charge of it and are orchestrating it, is simply a distraction that blinds us to what is actually happening. And to mindfulness in the true sense of the word.
Can you see this in your own experience? I’d really love to know.