Control: restraint; authority; command; regulation; a check; a means of operating, regulating, directing or testing.
Self: action by, of, in relation to oneself
Discipline: training designed to engender self-control and an ordered way of life; the state of self-control achieved by such training;….mortification; punishment; an instrument of penance or punishment.
Instruction, teaching, learning, education…to train, to bring under control
Self-control: power of controlling oneself; control of..one’s desires etc
Chaos: the state of matter before the Universe was reduced to order (nb “reduced”!); disorder; shapeless mass.
A gaping void, yawning gulf, chasm; the “formless void” of primordial matter; a state of utter confusion and disorder.
Chaotic: pertaining to or resembling chaos; utterly confused or disordered
What is control? What is self-control? What is self-discipline? What’s good, what’s bad? What’s the difference? How does one become the other? What’s life-giving? What’s deadening? When does freedom/spontaneity become chaos?
Lots of questions! Interesting definition of chaos, given how I used to see myself as teetering on the edge of a precipice, fearing being in freefall if I stepped off – yet that was, in the end, a positive image, daring to step off and trust that I’d be caught (which I was). There was a fear that that way chaos lay – but it didn’t.
Yet I often don’t feel far from chaos. Another image would be of standing on a lava field, aware of the huge pressures below my feet, of the potential for them to break through and consume me and all around me. Yet, again, that could be a positive image – lava, fire, bring destruction but also new land, new or reshaped solid ground.
I can’t hold back a lava field. I can’t stop myself once I’m in freefall. There has to be trust that something greater can and will do that.
What is the lava field, the sense of a churning, hostile, uncontrollable mass not far below the surface? Why is this image so vivid and relevant?
I feel as if the surface of my life looks OK: I seem to be fairly well settled, fortunate in my circumstances, doing interesting things with my time, with lots of freedom of action. At times I can almost believe that’s true.
I drink and over-eat or eat badly, even though I know they’re counter-productive, giving an immediate sense of comfort but leaving me with constant niggling health fears, feeling physically under-par and dissatisfied with myself for not controlling these behaviours better.
My IBS sometimes denies me the most basic of bodily control and is a constant source of fear and anxiety when I’m away from my safe zone, ie alone and/or at home.
Visitors compliment me on my house, yet it’s often chaotic and dirty: I don’t manage even the most basic regular routines to keep it orderly and clean.
My finances are chaotic – I don’t control them, spend without proper oversight or thought, have no precise idea of what’s where or what might need attention
My social life lurches from far too busy to desperate cutting back and inattention to friends. I agree to things I don’t really want to do, have to miss things I would love to do.
When I’m low I feel as though I’m always trying to push back the surging wave of chaos that threatens to engulf me.
I become frozen : I know that all this stuff needs doing, but I escape from/avoid doing it – read, watch TV, eat or drink too much etc etc
Yet it’s not THAT bad! As I write the above, I can hear a voice saying “So? It’s not ideal, but it’s not catastrophic either. Probably lots of people who you admire and envy for having such orderly lives are not in fact doing that much better and also feel that they’re living in a muddle”.
So does this feeling of the pressure of impending chaos go to something deeper? The dangerous pleasure of alcohol is the sense of a pressure lifting off me: the watcher, the critical, inhibiting voice goes away for a while and I feel more relaxed, more “me”. And that’s a wonderful feeling. But of course it doesn’t last and it’s illusory anyway – this isn’t “me”, the pleasure areas of my brain are being manipulated by a drug.
What is this “watcher”, “the critical inhibiting voice”? It’s hostile eyes, a jabbing pin, a drill, a heavy cloud hanging over me – telling me that I’m wrong, I’m not enough, I’m not doing or being enough, I could be better. I’m not at home in my skin, in myself, there’s something out of joint, not quite in place. A drink or – better! – healthier responses such as creativity, countryside, solitude in a helpful place, time with trusted people, can make that slightly out-of-kilter part of me click back into place.
But it can be so hard to find the energy, the motivation, the determination to use whatever it needs to push that awkward part into place. Or sometimes even to realise that it’s come adrift again. Or to find what will help. I think a huge amount of my energy goes into sub-consciously fighting, resisting, accommodating, denying (especially denying!) the voice, the out-of-place bit. And sometimes I’m tired or ill or grieving and I can’t do it any more. And then (thankyou Shakespeare!) “chaos is come again”.
The beautiful line from Genesis comes to mind:
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
The Spirit of God brings order out of the formless void -see the definition of chaos above. However I understand that, whatever I choose to call or understand by “spirit of God”, it suggests that there is a greater force than me working against chaos, bringing order. And to me it reads as quite a gentle process: the Spirit moved (or hovered) – there’s no suggestion of violent wrestling with the forces of chaos, of a huge clash between mighty opposites, more a presence that in its very being works against chaos.
This speaks to the sense I sometimes have that there’s no peace, wholeness or divine spark in my inner world, but rather a swirling dark mass of chaotic thoughts, feelings, addictions and terrors. This is when I most need to open myself to that spirit of God, whatever it might be, and let it bring peace to the turbulence – and it’s also when doing so can be very difficult, as inner chaos is often acompanied by outer.
I’ve moved a long way from what I thought I was sitting down to write – a piece on the role of control in my life and a sifting of when that is healthy self-control and self-discipline, and when it becomes a fear- and anxiety-based attempt to impose control on myself and my surroundings. Being out of control is one of my greatest, maybe the greatest, fears – to be dependent through illness or disability, for example, or to be controlled by another person. And yet there are all sorts of paradoxes and contradictions in this. There have been times when I’ve actively looked for a “saviour” – someone who would take me over and sort out my life for me, tell me what to do and, as far as possible do it for me. The IBS could be seen as my body and/or sub-conscious fighting back and reminding me in the most basic way that I don’t always have control. Drinking and over-eating can give an illusion of silencing a controlling voice, but of course there’s a real danger that they themselves can come to control me.
So what are healthy self-discipline and self-control, and what is control/controlling – an unhealthy repression, suppression, restraint, power?
I wonder if the underlying motive and -again – voice are key to this? Are self-control and self-discipline (and this is in the healthy, moderate sense of those phrases, I’m not thinking of those darker definitions such as mortification and penance) choices – choices coming from a gentle, loving inner voice, from my better self, the deep centre, the divine part of me – however you want to express it – wanting what is best for me and my welfare, physical, spiritual and emotional. Control strikes me as something much more fearful and anxious, not looking with compassion and understanding at my weaknesses, failings and fears, but trying to repress or deny them by the choice of rigid or escapist behaviours – controlling or, ironically, bringing about just the chaos I want to avoid.
Those 2 directions that control can take are interesting -I hadn’t noticed that before. So I might seek control over my chaotic surroundings by imposing a rigid routine on myself, or I might control how the mess makes me feel by diverting my attention elsewhere rather than tackling it. Both are totally ineffective – the routines are always abandoned through boredom or because life refuses to fit into my plan, the ignoring can only go on for so long before the chaos just has to be tackled, usually because I’ve lost something or have visitors coming – or just have to face the fact that it makes me feel miserable and tired. Which is when the more self-compassionate voice is kicking in again..
On a deeper level, maybe the feeling of just-about-controlled chaos comes from the inner wars that are still going on between what I think of as “the voices” – the kind, positive, loving one and the bitterly critical and scornful one. When the first is in the ascendant, I’m more likely to care for myself and to live in a reflective, self-disciplined way, but when the negative makes itself heard too often, fear and anxiety grow, and , alongside them, the desire for Control, with a capital C, to keep life manageable and to quell unpleasant and painful thoughts and emotions. Unfortunately, Control inevitably results in what it wanted to prevent – chaos, either directly or via rigidity and reaction to that.
As so often, I seem to have come back to that very Four virtue of Equanimity or Balance and also to a very difficult word that so often speaks to me – surrender. Surrender when something can’t be changed or controlled (which doesn’t mean passivity, more embracing the situation as it is and working constructively with it, rather than using energy in futile resistance), surrender to the fact of being the person I am and loving acceptance of that person. Sounds easy, sounds glib, but of course an ongoing, lifelong process, with every step taken only with struggle and often with reluctance.
Balance and equanimity – here the challenge is perhaps to keep working on self-discipline and self-control, seeking to discern the delicate balance between life-giving and life-denying, between control and chaos. Again, a day by day process.
Where does all this leave me? Back in the usual place! Seeking a balanced, considered life; learning to accept and love myself as I am; trying to listen to the Divine within me. Sounds so simple…