Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Confession of a control freak

I remember once causing a boyfriend of mine a moment of astonishment by describing myself as a bit of a control freak. “You’re aware of that?” he said.

This was years ago. My awareness of my tendency to try to control things, including situations that are not even slightly my responsibility to control, or amenable to control by anyone, has not, strange to say, reduced the tendency - or not noticeably. Maybe this is because I haven’t fully allowed myself to notice how much anguish I cause myself, or how much annoyance I cause to other people, by trying to take charge in situations that patently do not call for my direction. When I notice it, I even find this tendency of mine quite amusing (clearly reform is still some way off).

Recently I caught myself maneuvering to become a leading light and determining authority in relation to a group project that a friend is involved in, a project that he has not invited me to join or even influence in any substantial way. The observation gave me a good laugh. I could see that my behavior was verging on the ridiculous, largely futile, and counter-productive in terms of establishing a harmonious relationship with the person in question, which is something I would very much like to do. 

And yet this impulse to impose my will is not something that I can honestly say I wish to renounce. Maybe that’s why I like Nietzsche so much. He proposed that all of life can be analysed in terms of will to power. For him, will to power is not something you can renounce. At most you can mask it.

The thing that really made me laugh when I admitted to myself what I had been up to, was how pious and earnest a mask I had used to achieve my limited success (if a project so perverse can be said to involve success). I had spoken of loving-kindness, compassion, understanding, commitment to peace. So eloquent did I wax that I temporarily blinded myself to the little jabs I was making, through the use of these very words, at my target’s authority. He, however, soon showed signs of feeling these pin-pricks and stopped responding to my advancing plans to rework the project. At this point, I contented myself with discussing my fantastical schemes with a few third parties. The creativity involved in this last bit was enjoyable, and may yet lead to something productive, but on reflection, the whole episode provides clear evidence of a fairly urgent need to take myself in hand. It is fairly obvious that my desire to control things that are not mine to control is linked to the fact that I am out of control.

I am a control freak and I am out of control. It’s not a good combination. So serious has this situation become that I have lately been feeling a desire for incarceration. I’m not joking. I yearn for severe constraints, austere conditions and a regular timetable. So, since my will to power has not yet taken criminal form, I have booked myself into a Buddhist monastery for a three month retreat, starting in about ten days time.

What will happen in there? I’m hoping that in this restricted environment, I will be presented with such limited opportunities to control other people that my frustrated need for control will turn inwards. I’ll bring all my will to power to bear on the task of directing myself. Pretty soon, instead of other people getting annoyed with me, I expect I’ll be the one telling myself to kindly piss off. And then maybe I’ll get so sick of my control freak antics that I'll stop finding them amusing, and actually change.

Of course the other possibility is that in three months time, my spiritual progress will be no further advanced, but I will have made a bid to oust the Abbot from power and (I know this is ambitious) install myself as the first lay Abbess of a Buddhist monastery.


Anonymous said...

The reason you feel out of control on the inside is because you have a ton of anxiety on the inside that you manifest toward the outside by controlling things and people. Do you take anything for your anxiety?

Juzzeau said...

Thanks for your concern. I was exaggerating a bit. But you're right, I am a bit anxious about my decision to go and live in a monastery for three months. I think the only thing to take for this is the plunge...

Emma said...

Hi there Jus - I hope I am back in Australia in time to attend your coronation as Abbess! :) I hope the retreat goes really well for you.

Justin Tauber said...

Hmmm, 3 months in a monastery...
I'm not sure a bout of asceticism is what Nietzsche would have prescribed for you! Still, it may be that what you need are not so much constraints as connections.

The way you've described things, there's this stark distinction between inside and outside - control is effective when outwardly directly, ineffective when inwardly directly.

I hope this time in the monastery puts you in touch with your inescapable embeddedness in the whole that is the world, an unbreakable connection that requires no maintenance, and which is not premised on any sort of control.

In short, I hope the Abbott can help you make of your Nietzschean tendencies something a little more Spinozist.

Good luck, Justine. See you on the other side.


Juzzeau said...

Thanks Emma! I hope all is going very well for you too.

And thanks, Justin, those are very beautiful wishes.

Of course, you are right - I'm not really yearning for harsh conditions. And in truth I have no desire at all to run the monastery! What draws me to this place is the community, the beautiful environment, and the chance to immerse myself in practicing and learning more about things I find most fascinating, like meditation and spiritual teachings.

It's not seriously because I feel out of control that I've decided to do this. Part of what I was doing in this post was lampooning the image of myself that some people are feeding back to me - quite a number of people are a bit alarmed about what I'm about to do, and I appreciate the concern. But to me, it feels like a grounded and very positive decision. I feel very lucky to be in a position to accept what this experience has to offer - both the support and the challenges.

Maybe I should write a more straightforward post about this next week...

Lots of love,