On Negative Emotions, and "Control"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I found this quote today, and it speaks so much to thoughts that have been on my mind lately.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”  – C.S. Lewis

I've been thinking about the nature of negative emotions - fear, anger, you name it.

Here is my assertion:  the genesis for all of our negative emotions and behaviors is our need to feel that we are in CONTROL.

To say it another way - negative emotions are a result of being confronted with the fact that reality refuses to conform to our expectations.

Man is a creature of habit.  We adore our routines.  We look for the expected.  We plan our lives.  We spend all our moments thinking about the past or planning the future.  We are either dwelling on the known or envisioning what is coming so that it can be known.  We abhor the unexpected.

We try to put everything into neatly defined boxes (safe, dark, motionless, airless)... And in the end, we try to preserve what we know (even, occasionally, at the expense of other information - perceptual set).  We try to exert CONTROL on all aspects of our lives, including each other.  The side effect is that we are constantly uncomfortable when things don't match our expectations, and we limit our experience of possibility by putting blinders on whenever possible to that which doesn't match our paradigms.  We are constantly suffocating and repressing the real, unpredictable, anarchistic reality.  And when we can't CONTROL it, we do our damnedest to define acceptable "boundaries" for it (as if that will change the reality!).

Isn't this ironic, given the impermanent nature of our existence and our never-ending state of change?  I am never as young as I was a second ago...  Things are in a constant state of flux.  There are always the two sides to the coin - a beginning and an ending, an ebb and a flow, a future constantly transitioning to become past.  Beyond this, there is the fractal-like fragmentation of "reality" - every person is "living their own dream" in the words of don Miguel Ruiz.  Most of the time we have no clue what someone else's dream (ideal CONTROLLED state) is.

Pema Chodron told a story in her Smile at Fear retreat (yet another Pema audio I've been enjoying).  She said that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was at a wedding, and he lightly rapped the bride and groom on the head with a fan, saying** "Pain is not Punishment", then "Pleasure is not Reward".  This was his wedding gift to the couple.  
(**NOTE/Disclaimer, I may not be remembering these precisely, but I believe this reflects the underlying meaning of the story)

So much of our pain is tied to our need to "understand" - to be able to categorize, analyze, contextualize, and define the things that happen - but Pain is not always Punishment!    Pain is caused by our own need to be able to apply clarity and boundaries to things (CONTROL).  We suffer when we are unable to do this.  But why do we need to do this?  What is the relevance of doing this?  There is no "static" state to be seen/documented/categorized.  All things are constantly shifting - as soon as we understand something it only limits and hinders us from being able to truly see and participate in an unknown future.  We create additional pain by bringing those contexts and assumptions we've derived to the next situation.  

Finally, we must know that, at best, it is only ever possible to have an ILLUSION of control (understanding/context).

Similarly - Pleasure is not Reward.  It is not happening "because" of us (Reward).  Just because something fits our mental model (you've at least convinced yourself that it does - see perceptual set reference above), does not make it "Right / Good".  The situation lived up to our illusion... This time.  That does not mean that our illusion is a "rule" that we can apply.

I have been practicing for the past couple of years to try to release my need to control.  To let go of my paradigms and expectations, and to look into my experiences with a state of curiosity - "I wonder what will happen now?".  I have been only moderately successful.  I don't know if I've fully realized WHY I need to let these chains go, but I am beginning to.

I'm not sure how to wrap this up into a neat little conclusion.  And, you know what?  Given the nature of this post, that's probably just fine.  Does that make you uncomfortable?


AJ Coppa said...

Thanks for writing this post, Cynthia!

To me, leaving behind the illusion of control is one of the hidden gems of Agile practices. Even when we use and believe in these practices, it's easy to fall into the trap of believing we can craft the perfect user story, capture all the possible acceptance criteria, or build the perfect widget on the first try. It's much harder (but more effective) to realize that no matter how much work you do in advance, you may not really know everything you need until you build a first example/prototype and try it.

That's not to say the answer is to avoid action entirely... but expect change and adjustment. Avoid disappointment when plans don't work out -- delight in the opportunity to do something different. In the business sense, delight in the opportunity to serve a customer better, or serve a new customer.

Dave said...

A counterpoint: as one with a top strength of Adaptability and a bottom strength of Consistency, I have a strong need to work with people with opposite strengths so that my energy doesn't dissipate into the ether of constant change. If agile gets too agile, it stops being rugby and degrades into curling, then checkers, and eventually blogging. I need people around me who like to make boxes, routines, habits, and at least an illusion of control! Don't forgo your strengths due to pressure from a happy-go-lucky culture.

My Humble Domicile - by Templates para novo blogger