Observing the control freak

Most of us know someone who seems to be excessively into control habits – for example, lunch and dinner must be at a particular given time; a haircut must be done every so many weeks; pictures must be arranged in this or that order; or perhaps they spend a remarkable amount of time on cleaning or tidying things. When this becomes too burdensome for those around them, we call it a disorder and we organize some form of psychological treatment. This often ends in the sobering conclusion that the person at hand does not really want to change, for he or she regards it as a primary safety mechanism, and will not be convinced (as yet) that this very same safety can also be found otherwise.

On a more subtle level, however, it turns out that we are all control freaks. This is born from the belief that this body and this world are literally all we have and are. And what’s more, we have to defend what we have against an unpredictable and basically hostile world. We might rank these ‘control needs’ according to Maslov’s famous pyramid of needs. At the bottom line, we must make sure we have control in the form of food, clothes, and shelter. This means we need an income, which means we need good health and can feel safe, by a set of laws or regulations. Living by these rules, we try to control nature so as to avert disasters (or pandemics…). Additionally, we feel we need intimacy, friendship, and some sort of social belonging. This, of course, mainly serves our need for respect and self-esteem, to be regarded as a ‘worthy’ individual person. Once you analyse this carefully, you’ll note that many of us go to great lengths to get a sense of control over these issues. Again, on these levels we are all control freaks.

We generally do not think this odd. After all, we all want to gain maximum profit from life as long as we’re here to live it, do we not? It is only when Jesus in A Course in Miracles asks the perennial question “What is it for?” (T-17.VI.2:1) that the insanity of all these subtle control mechanisms becomes painstakingly clear. The bottom line answer is that we want to control our dream of individuality; in fact, we will do anything – even physically kill – to keep our sense of special separated autonomous individuality intact. All the control mechanisms above share the ultimate goal of being able to proudly assert: “I exist! The separation from my Creator is real, and I am now the god of my own little personal universe!”

Now, just to address the common spiritual pitfall of level confusion: although Jesus repeatedly assures us that anything in time and space was not created by God and therefore in reality does not exist (W-p1.132.6:2-3), he does not urge us to stop earning an income, cancel insurance policies, or give up all possessions and retreat into a mountain cave to meditate for the rest of your life. As long as we are still utterly convinced we are a physical body living in a material world in time and space (and this includes virtually all of us), we cannot simply jump from duality (level 2) to nonduality (level 1). Awaking from nonduality to our true Home in the nondualistic Heart of God outside time and space is a slow process, in which we learn, step by little step, not only that the material world offers nothing that I want (W-p1.102.2:3), but that our salvation lies in training the mind to choose only that which has lasting value (W-p1.133), i.e., forgiveness and therefore the Atonement.

Just as Jesus teaches us that the Holy Spirit can turn anything the Son of God made to separate into a potent force for peace, merely by inviting us to shift the purpose of it (“What is it for?”), so too the Holy Spirit invites us to assign a different purpose to our need to control life. That is, instead of exerting tenacious control on maintaining a false sense of autonomous existence, we could also train our minds to be tenaciously vigilant for any thought that attempts to keep this silliness going. It’s sort of a way to turn the tables on the ego: instead being vigilant for keeping us mindless (through constant distracting control actions in the world), we could also choose to be vigilant for mindfulness. In the Course, Jesus effectively asserts this in the third lesson of love taught by the Holy Spirit: “Be vigilant only for God and His Kingdom” (T6.V-C).

This effectively means that we monitor the quality of our thought stream as well as we can. As soon as we notice anything that does not reflect inner peace – anything from a mild twinge of annoyance to outright fury, which is the same dynamic anyway (W-p1.21.2:5) – this should be a reason to stop and turn on the observer (or decision maker) “above the battleground” (T-23.IV). Once you succeed in doing that, your perspective on the situation at hand becomes quite different. You will suddenly realize that this negativity, whatever it is, is nothing more (but also nothing less) than the projecting out of your own horrid suppressed guilt about separating from God. Since the message of the Atonement is that this separation – and actually everything in time and space – never really happened, you can now make a better choice, that is, choose to follow the Holy Spirit, the Voice for Love, as the new guide to your thoughts. The negativity will then quickly dissipate, dissolving into the nothingness from whence it came (C-4.4).

So, yes, let’s all be control freaks, but in the right-minded sense of the word: be vigilant only for God and His Kingdom. Recall once again lesson 156: “Who walks with me? This question should be asked a thousand times a day, till certainty has ended doubting and established peace” (W-p1.156.8:1-2). And the best thing is, we don’t even need to mentally fight against all these wrong-minded forms of control urge. We merely ask the question (“Who walks with me?”), we ‘take our place on high’ above the battleground and look at the negativity; non-judgmentally, with Jesus beside us. Remember: “Forgiveness… is still, and quietly does nothing… It merely looks, and waits, and judges not” (W-p2.1.4:1,3). That’s the practice by which you become a happy learner (T-14.II) and choose to be a Teacher of God (M-1). Have a great and vigilant mind training day!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, September 2021

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