January 28, 2015

To Control or Not to Control The Restless Mind.


We received this email from a reader who is just starting the self‐directed version of Meditation Habit. She’s facing a core challenge that all of us, whether we’ve been practicing for a week or 30 years need to attend to…


“I am just starting with the practice of meditation. Thank you for your encouraging emails, it helps me to not give up . . . as a very controlled and controlling individual (trying not to be), I am finding it very hard to stop my mind from wandering around.”


The fact that you’re finding it very hard to stop your mind’s wandering is. . . good news.


It’s true. What you’re aware of means the practice is working. You’re seeing into the wild, wandering nature of thought and sensing the futility of trying to control thought.

What makes controlling futile?

Thought doesn’t come to rest through strategies of control.

Trying to control thought is like trying to lasso the wind. The harder you try, the more frustrated you become. In the Bhagavad Gita, one of the great texts on cultivating meditative awareness, the mind is described as wilder than the wind. So, when thoughts blow around, you’re not doing something wrong. That’s what thoughts do.

You can’t lasso the wind.

Why waste your energy there? You won’t realize and embody stillness by trying to control your mind, or your life, or the world (though many people, groups, institutions and governments are heavily invested in this futile strategy.)

The strategy of control sets up a struggle between you and your experience.

Whether the experience is of thoughts, people or events, trying to control it/them tangles you—your mind, your emotions, your experience—in a repetitive cycle of struggle. Just when you think you’ve subdued the mind; just when you think that you’ve attained stillness. . .

Thinking spiritual thoughts doesn’t help either.

That’s just fighting thoughts with thoughts. More wind. More wildness. More thoughts and emotions. When you’re trying to strong‐arm your experience, you’re being driven by emotions of hope and fear. A part of you is hopeful, ever­‐hopeful, that you can finally get it right. That you can finally get:

  • Thoughts to think right
  • Partners to love right
  • Kids to grow right
  • Colleagues to work right
  • Authorities to rule right

And a part of you is fearful—desperately fearful—that you’re doomed to living with whatever is not right . . . forever. Arrrrggghhhhh!!!

The practice of meditation offers a different path.

Meditation offers us a way of relating to all patterns, including the control pattern, with loving awareness. Before beginning meditation practice, the controlling pattern was in the driver’s seat. You were unconsciously identified with this pattern, which pitted you in a perpetual struggle with your experience.

But, with just a bit of practice, something starts shifting.

Now, you’re seeing the controlling strategy is another pattern. Through meditative practice, you naturally release identification with this (and all) patterns. This shift from identification toward observation takes the control pattern out of the driver’s seat.

Of course, the pattern is still there in the car.

It’s just not driving you. It’s probably in the back seat shouting out what poet Mary Oliver calls “its bad advice.” But, now, with meditative awareness, you don’t react to the controlling thoughts and emotional impulses. You don’t follow the bad advice of the controlling pattern.

As meditative awareness awakens, you start to hear another voice.

Mary Oliver gets this so right in her poem, The Journey. Here’s some of her lines that describe this awakening process:

But little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world.

It’s beautiful to see how following the reactive pattern of controlling and reactivity keeps you away from the world. Beautiful and heart breaking.

This seeing breaks your heart open.

You recognize how identification with the controlling pattern keeps you from being touched and from touching the depths of life. It insulates you. This hurts. It hurts you and those you love. This is what the meditative awareness reveals.

So, what does meditative awareness do about this controlling pattern? It allows the controlling tendency to be. The practice of meditation doesn’t compound the issue by trying to control the controlling. With practice, you learn to gently witness the pattern; to it be and infuse the pattern with loving awareness. Here’s how:

  • Be fully present to the way the control pattern arises . . .
  • Notice the thoughts it stirs up . . . the emotions that accompany the controlling pattern . . . the sensations that swirl through your body.
  • Become a loving witness to the dynamics of the control pattern.



Don’t seek to control the controlling.

There’s no need to adjust, improve, or change it. This pattern, like all patterns, can move freely through awareness just as clouds move through the open sky. Within this sky of open awareness, the pattern naturally releases, resolves, and returns to its primordial condition as loving awareness itself.

This is easy to say. And sometimes (not always) easy to hear. When you hear the teachings, not just with thought but with meditative awareness, you release identification with the control pattern. As you listen and feel the teachings more deeply, identification with all the patterns of personal history—with personality—release.

You see the patterns of personality for what they are—patterns.

They have their place in the mandala of your life. But, they’re not you. You are the sky, the open, boundary‐less, and undefended Wisdom Heart in which all patterns rise and dissolve away.

So, when the tendency to control arises, there’s no need to get upset.

No need to interpret this arising as a sign of meditative failure. Hey, you’re noting the arising. Beautiful! Now, breathe . . . that’s it . . . breathe . . . Notice the transitory beauty of the clouds as they dissolve into spaciousness . . .

Question: What helps you find peace with a wild and windy mind? Tell us below.


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 Author: Eric Klein

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Author’s Own

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