“If you change the rules on what controls you, you will change the rules on what you can control.” –Zack, Revolver
Do you feel the need to try to control every aspect of your life, and that of others? Or do you feel totally out of control and helpless? What do we really have control over? These questions are common for many of us, myself included. I often joke that I had to become a yoga teacher to get over my type-A personality traits that I inherited from my father (love you dad!) Some of the aspects of this tendency are good, like being organized and thorough. However it gets us in trouble when we try to overstep our boundaries and increase our circle of influence beyond what we can truly control. At my last weekend training for my 500 hour yoga certification, Thom Allen presented another amazing “swadhyaya” session. Thom is not only a yogi, he is also a psychotherapist, so he brings a unique talent and perspective to the topic of self-study. He had us look at the areas of our lives on which we expend the most energy. Then he had us take that list and separate it based on what we can control, what we have influence over, and what is out of our control. Finally he had us take the same list and separate it based on how much time we spend on each item. In doing this exercise we had some interesting observations and discoveries, both individually and as a group. I realized that I spend a lot of time and energy on things that don’t support, nurture, or help me to grow. And many of these things that I put so much time and energy into are actually in the sphere totally outside of my influence and control! The only thing I put in the category of “totally under my control” is myself: my own thoughts, words, and actions. Another student brought up the fact that our goal in yoga is to control our own minds, which then gives us ultimate control. We direct our thoughts to the positive and by the law of attraction positive things manifest for us. Anything that we perceive as negative in our lives, we learn to turn around by using a positive perspective. By this logic we actually control everything in our lives. If we maintain equanimity in all situations by controlling our own minds, then we remain in true control over ourselves. Problems arise when we try to start on the outside and work our way in, instead of starting with ourselves and letting the universe work its magic from the inside out. We often think that if we can change our external situation then we will finally find peace and happiness internally. We might think, “once I get that job, find a partner, or can afford that car, then I’ll be happy.” Instead, yoga teaches us to cultivate that internal peace and happiness and then let that positive energy flow out into our lives. Another fellow student told a story of when someone made the passing comment, “you can’t control the weather,” and how that really helped her to let go of the need to control things in her life that she couldn’t change, like other people. In meditating on this topic lately I was also reminded of the Bible quote in which Jesus reminds us to “first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then shall you see clearly to cast out the speck out of your brother’s eye.” If we can’t first control our own thoughts, words, actions, and reactions then who are we to try to control someone else? The beauty of the paradoxical universe is that by first working on ourselves, we can affect our external circumstances. If we have only loving, positive, grateful thoughts then we will attract loving, positive, grateful people. And think of it this way, even when we do need to interact with people who are negative, if we maintain our own positive attitude then we don’t let them affect our mood. Again, we are in control! When we focus on happiness and peace we will be given circumstances that reinforce our happy and peaceful state of mind. Even if you don’t think your thoughts can literally change the world, which I do, at the very least you will have a more positive lens through which to view any situation. So start working to control your internal state of mind, cultivating inner peace and happiness, and you will soon see the ripple affect begin to create peace and happiness all around you!