I was at a bar in 2006 in Tempe, AZ with new housemates that I had been living with for a few months. We all met in College and University during music studies and decided to try living together for a couple years. While going through usual bar rituals on this cool Summer evening my friend and new housemate said the following comment to me, “Brent, you are really graceful in chaos.” I smiled and thought to myself, “if he only knew…”
Looking back at that time in my life I might not say the same for myself, though I might say that I was fairly comfortable with not being in control. I regularly pushed the boundaries on what was acceptable by my peers, a sort of joker/trickster and at the same time I did attempt to live in a way that allowed other people to be themselves. Though my friend viewed me as graceful, I would say that it was much more that I had a high tolerance for experiencing chaotic events without panic. Maybe that is what it boils down to… ‘in the event of crisis, do not freak out.’ In crisis or chaos, one must have their wits about them, and freaking out is a great way to cut off your ability to respond instead of react, or to make decisive moves instead of be unconsciously triggered by stimulus. So I guess if you must freak out, it would be best done when ‘everything is ok’.
Where I have grown up, in the West, we celebrate control and competence to a degree that the moment someone displays anything less than expected behavior [whether it be driving, walking, ATM transactions, medical, technical or customer service, etc.] we basically panic and demand that our right to have life our way be fulfilled. Somewhere along the way, it seems we have gathered the value that control of things equals freedom, that control of things equals security, that control of things ensures that we will live a life with less pain, less loss, less sorrow. My experience tells me none of this is true. And, what are we to do in a world where control of nearly every aspect of living and dying is more and more able to be mechanized, technologically automated and purchased?
In our consideration of ‘being good at not being in control’, Yoga has something to say in the matter. Yoga offers a study of the world in terms of Karma, which attempts to ascertain the causal, predictable, and measurable aspects of life. Yoga also offers a study of the World in terms of Leela, which views life through the lens of uncertainty, probability, and entanglement. Karma is essentially structured and Leela is essentially playful and fluid. The study of Karma gives a practitioner a possible view into what their actions can affect to varying degrees and what might be in their control to do something about. The study of Leela basically shows a practitioner the cosmic and personal scope of how little control they actually have. Neither of these views are exclusively correct. Karma and Leela are in relationship with each other to give us a picture of life that can adapt to wants and needs in the time and place in which they arise, and in both views control plays a very small role.
Most practices in physical Yogas deal with different modes of control over body tissues, breath, nerve impulses, thoughts, mind stuff, sensory input, and some even dare to control emotion and feelings. When we look at life, the world around us, and the body, the world in us, we might see that the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’ are not so different, not so separate. We might start to see that just as life outside, most of our body ‘does itself’ with no conscious effort of our will, none of our control! As we work to ‘control’ the faculties of the body which are voluntary, involuntary as well as both voluntary and involuntary, I would say that the ‘control’ of them is NOT the point! The point [amongst many] is to see and feel in oneself, the utter futility of the ‘need to control’. The point is to learn that letting go of controlling behaviors is an opening to an already present intelligence and embodied wisdom that “knows what to do” especially when “I do not” [which is most of the time!].
Summation: Control is temporary and illusory. It is of course quite effectual and phenomenal, though to celebrate, glorify it, and seek after it is to cling to so many non-existent fantasies at the expense of resting gracefully in what is, at the expense of relationship, and at the expense of basic sanity.
Tips and practices for being good at not being in control:
- Let others have the bigger piece or last bite of food (particularly the stuff you really like!)
- Walk slowly
- Meditate daily
- Take a few breaths before answering questions
- Say “That’s interesting”, instead of “I know”
- Listen carefully and considerately
- Do what your girlfriend says without asking too many questions (she asked me to write that one and in the spirit of this blog, there it is!)
- Don’t interrupt
- Don’t criticize
- Don’t Panic!
By: Brent Kuecker – Yogi. Musician. Educator.
Join us at Udaya Live, Yoga and Music Festival! We’ll plan to make happen, and you can laugh, dance, and cry your way completely out of control!!!