Relaxing the Over Controller, Part 2 (retreat talk) – with Tara Brach

Relaxing the Over Controller, Part 2 (retreat talk) – with Tara Brach

Greetings! We offer these podcasts freely. And your support really makes a difference To make a donation, please visit [music] I would like to begin with a story that was
told by Rabbi Zalman, when he’d be on the circuit, about his five-year old daughter
Shalvi which… And I love this story. One morning she wakes up and she says, “Abba,”
– which is father – she says, “You know how when you are asleep and dreaming it seems
so real, and then you wake up and realize it was just a dream? Well, when you are awake, can you wake up
that much more and realize that this is just a dream?” And I wonder how many of you have been sensing
more and more – just more increasingly – how many swathes of moments we are inside that
kind of a bubble or a dream? Can I just see? Is… Is that something…? Yeah. Okay. When we are in a dream, we are the central
character. You know, it is like the world… it is like
we are the protagonist moving through life. And we are usually talking to ourselves it
is… about really about getting what we want. Here, it might be, you know, “Can I get
that hot shower?” or, you know… or “that nap” or, you know, “be in front in the
lunch-line” or… it is the self that wants the bell to ring, you know. And… And when we are in that dream, we are also
avoiding what is unpleasant, you know, whether it is about being late or being too hot or
too cold or like falling asleep, but we are just in that… that narrative. I sometimes think of it like a… a colony
of ants and they are all scurrying around. They all have these thoughts about themselves
and what they are supposed to do next and who is going to be the one to drag the dead
companion away and, you know, because they… that is part of what they do, you know. But we are… we all have these stories going
on about ‘moi’. And when there is stress, those stories get
organized around a sense of “there is a problem”, “something is wrong”, “something
is missing “and I need to do something to solve it”. So when we are stressed, the protagonist in
the story becomes the controlling self that is needing to navigate and deal with something. And we are the one that is then trying to
manage the pain or we are rehearsing for a meeting – I don’t think any of you were
doing that at all, with the teacher or anything like that – but, you know, it is the self
that is just judging the self and trying to make things different. And at home, the controller is often a very
harsh critic, is judging other people for mistakes, is trying very hard to achieve something
and not fail at something else, trying to make people change, trying to make impressions. So the driving assumption of the controlling
self is: There is a problem here and I need to fix it. And if you investigate daily life, and this
is what is so interesting to me, there’s just many moments where we are in that dream
where we are the self dealing with a problem. So to wake up from the dream means remembering
who we are beyond the controlling self, it means remembering who we are beyond the one
that is fearing that something is going to go wrong and wanting something to go a different
way. So that is what we are going to explore tonight. Which is… I call it Relaxing the Over-Controller. And I am just curious, how many, as you listen,
have that sense of that this could involve something that you are dealing with? Can I ju… Okay. Okay. I began… I did part one of this talk in Bethesda last
week. And don’t worry because it is all, you know,
you have been dealing with it the last few days. You know it from the inside out. But the theme feels so powerful to me because
so many of our moments are organized around that identity, and anything that we are organized
around that is not in consciousness controls us, keeps us stuck. So one of the best ways to understand this
talk and where it fits in at retreat is that this is a very direct continuation of what
Pat explored last night because: What is the controlling self trying to do? – avoid mortality, avoid loss, avoid the
changes that it doesn’t want to have happen. So this is re… the controller is really
the set of strategies that we all have to try to resist impermanence and control and…
and organize our lives so that we don’t suffer from it. One of the stories that I feel really illustrates
well some of the dimensions of this was told by Tom Wolfe in his book The Right Stuff when
he was describing that period during the fifties when they were testing rocket planes at altitudes
they had never explored before where all the ordinary laws of aerodynamics didn’t hold
anymore. So in… when the rockets got that high, they
would skid into a flat spin and then they would tumble and nobody knew how to deal with
it. So it happened a bunch of times and the…
and the pilots were recorded as they were going into their final dive and they would
be screaming, “I have tried A, I have tried B, I have tried C, I have tried D! What do I do?!” Well, the solution… it is interesting…
it was Chuck Jaeger and he was knocked unconscious so he couldn’t do anything, okay. And then when the… when the rocket fell
into normal… the normal dense atmosphere around the earth, then he could use the controls
to navigate and be able to land and he didn’t die. So the solution really was – and defied
every bit of training they had had – was: you take your hands off the controls. It was the only solution possible. Now why I like this story is that it doesn’t
mean we should never be managing things, it is not saying we should never try to control
this or that. In the denser atmosphere, that very thin skin
around the earth, everything else is not the denser atmosphere, but in some little domains,
you know, we can manage some things. But in the big stuff, you know, like aging,
illness, death, the loss of others, controlling the way others behave, that kind of thing,
we try and we create more suffering. So the challenge with the over-controller
is that, even when there is not a lot of stress, even small stressors, it is a very deep conditioned
reflex to try to… to tighten our grip and try to control and manage things. We are just addicted to maneuvering the controls. There is a story… a short dumb story…
of these two guys are hunting somewhere in New Jersey and one of them falls down, he’s
gripped by a heart attack, and is lying completely still and the other one is totally freaked
out and he calls 411 and he is yelling and screaming, “I don’t know what to do! What am I supposed to do? What should I do?” And the woman that… on… you know… on
the other end of the line says, “Calm down. It is okay. We… I can help you.” She says, “First, make sure he is dead.” You know, so the next thing that happens is
the sound of a shot. He comes back, he says, “Okay, what is next?” So… I warned you, right? It is really bad. But the… the point of it is that there are
two basic assumptions that the controller is going along with. And one is: “I should be able to control
and manage what is happening” – this includes all sorts of things that we encounter – “I
should be able to handle this”. And the second is: “I have to do something.” It is like the last thing the controller wants
to do is not do anything. Because what the controller is trying to do
is get away from the vulnerability that is right here and doing anything is better than
not doing, which is why I think that silly story is actually quite a useful Dharma teaching. You know, Alan Watts once wrote: “It is
like winding our watch on the way to the gallows.” Again, there is a domain of what we might
call appropriate control, and we are very much designed to try to manage our life. I often use that metaphor of coming into this
world and we take on a kind of spacesuit which is all the different strategies of navigating
through difficulty and encountering people and knowing how to respond and protecting
ourselves and getting what we need including food and clothing and housing and responding
to work demands and it is… it is that whole constellation of ego-strategies that is just
part of… of our evolving being, how we operate on planet earth. And very key part of it is figuring things
out and using our mind and… and when we experience danger or whatever, coming up with
strategies to deal with it. So it is not to say that that is not appropriate. Example of a story is an elderly man – again
this is New Jersey and I don’t know why except for that I was born there that I am
going back to New Jersey – but… he wanted to plant his annual tomato garden but the
difficulty as he was getting older the ground was really hard he really didn’t have the
strength to do it and he really was feeling a sadness that his only son, Vincent, who
was in prison wasn’t there to help him, right it. So he writes to his son in prison, he says,
“Dear Vincent, I am feeling pretty sad because it looks like I won’t be able to plant my
tomato garden this year. And it has given me so much pleasure. I am just getting too old to be digging up
a garden plot. I know if you were here, my troubles would
be over. I know you would be happy to dig the plot
for me, like in the old days. Love, Papa.” A few days later he receives a letter from
his son, “Dear Pop, Don’t dig up that garden exclamation mark! That is where the bodies are buried! Love, Vinny.” At four AM the next morning, FBI agents and
local police arrive and dig up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologize to the old man and leave. That same day, he receives another letter
from Vinny, “Dear Pop, go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That was the best I could do under the circumstances.” So we do what we can. Ideally we do it mindfully trying to manage
our way through the day. But the challenge – and again the suffering
– is: there is a kind of chronic hum of the limbic system in the background, a fear, and,
rather than just doing what is appropriate, we over-do and we get very identified with
it. And you can see it up close here with meditation,
with the formal practice of meditation. What happens when we encounter something unpleasant? What happens when there are sounds that are
really bothering us in the room, you know? What happens when we have thoughts about a
conflicted relationship or we get the physical discomfort that we are dealing with right
now? And how easy it is to get hooked into fixating
on it, obsessing about it, trying to figure out how we can change it either judging ourselves
for what is going on or judging something here, judging another person? So everything is about getting rid of it,
resisting it or controlling our meditation – “OK, I’ll just focus on the breath”,
just like really trying to strong-arm ourselves – anything but simply being, it is the last
choice. Even when there is no strong stress in our
meditation practice, and this is an important place and we are going to return to this,
because it is so much our habit to control things — because there is some underlying
sense that there is something vulnerable and difficult here so I just need to keep controlling
things, I need to make my meditation better, I need to be doing something to be really
doing it right, I need to make something happen — there is this background sense of not
enough or something more is needed. So we keep on being the one to kind of dial…
trying to dial the controls, you know, the one behind the curtain managing things. So this brings up a very central inquiry on
the spiritual path which is: When is it wise effort? Okay? And when is it not? And I found that this question is incredibly
relevant for beginners – for people that are just starting – and incredibly relevant
no matter how long we have practiced, because that identification with a self is very quickly
an identification with a “doing” self, a “managing” self. So if we are unable to shine a light on it,
that effort that we are making in meditation keeps us linked and hitched to a sense of
a self behind the curtain. I see it with beginners in the simple way
that… and I like the way one yoga teacher described it, she says her message is, “You
strivers, relax a little! And you slackers, sit up a little taller!”,
you know. So it is like the balancing, you know, not
too lose not too tight. But then as we get into more and more refined
states of attention, just beginning to notice that, even then, there is a sense in the background
that somebody is there controlling the meditation. How many of you have noticed that? A bit of it, they call it the ghost self behind
the curtain? Yeah, that… there is always a sense of somebody
is there doing it. I think one of the wisest stories that…
that kind of puts it kind of… very helpful container around this inquiry about wise effort
is about Ananda who is the Buddha’s cousin and his most devoted disciple. And after the Buddha’s death, there was
this great council of enlightened ones — arhats — that was planned. An arhat is an awakened yogi or practitioner. And he wasn’t entitled to attend because
he wasn’t… even though he had worked strenuously at it for years he wasn’t considered enlightened. So the eve of the council meeting, he determined
to practice vigorously all night and he wasn’t going to stop until he attained his goal,
he was just going to go at it, you know. And all he succeeded in doing was becoming
incredibly exhausted and discouraged and dispirited and so on. No progress, despite all his efforts. So, right before dawn he is… he kind of
said, “Okay, I am just going to give up the striving, I am going to give up the efforts
and just rest.” And just… it is said, just as his head fell
into the pillow, into the cushion, he became enlightened. That is the story. But there is really, to me, the interesting
question is: What is it that freed him? So on one level you could say, “Well, he
really let go!” and when we let go, we are letting go, really, of the selfing. There was a letting go of self. But then don’t we need some effort? And the reality is: Ananda had been making
an effort to collect his mind, quiet his mind, experience the different beautiful states
of Samadhi over decades. So he had already trained the muscles of attention. He had done what I consider undoing, he had
und… he was undoing over those years some of the conditioning that keeps us from freedom. So wise effort is an undoing of conditioning,
it creates the atmosphere for letting go of all effort. The key to remember though is: it is kind
of a hook to keep on doing those wise efforts of undoing, we get habituated to that. So it takes a real willingness to let go of
that and just stop — stop controlling or doing or directing anything. Which is why you have noticed in the instructions
we have just each time, you know, as if it gets quiet enough just stop doing anything,
just rest, just be. Only in the moments when we truly take our
hands off the controls, can we see the nature of reality. Any controlling creates some obscuration. Only in those moments of full letting go,
really, can the light of the universe shine through us. The space opens up. So, in meditation and in life, the understanding
is that if there is controlling and the more that it is not in conscious awareness, and
the more that it is chronic, there is going to be an identification with a controlling
self. There is going to be an identification with
a controlling self, a limited self, a story of a self that is separate from others and
that is dealing with a life where something is missing or something is wrong. And that cuts us off from a larger sense of
beingness. In fact, that is why many of you are discovering
– and this is not… for many it has been an ongoing process over years – that when
we start opening to the vulnerability, there is a kind of grieving that we touch into because
we start sensing how cut off we have been, how the controller has actually deprived us
of moments of living. We have been cut off from life. There is a story that really touched me. A woman described time with her dying father. And, in her growing up years, he had been…
he was an architect and was very achievement-focused and he was very conscious of his status and
very driven guy. And… and somewhat self-absorbed. And they had a really distant relationship. He was not available. His work was the center of… of his life. And so this was a real cause for pain. And she had to do a lot of inner work on it. But now in the… the last couple of years
before his death – and he was very old and he was… he had retired some years earlier
– they had an increasing amount of time together. And a few weeks before he passed away, she
was asking him, you know, about his past and she said, “Which of your achievements did
you feel most proud about?” And there was a long pause and he had tears
in his eyes, he looked at her and he said, “Why you, of course.” And what hit her was that it was true and
yet, he didn’t even know it in the earlier years because he was cut off — he was living
in that smaller, striving, achieving self. And the sadness… I think, you know, we sometimes… there is
a palliative care-giver that describes the… the regret, the greatest regret at the end
of many people’s lives — he has accompanied tens of thousands of people — is, “I didn’t
live true to myself.” and it is because we were living inside the
controlling self. And I don’t think it is just the dying that
have some deep sense of disappointment, because many of us can feel the difference between
the self that we live in many hours of the day, that is in some way being driven by fear
and wanting, and the who we intuit we really are. So we now enter – and this is the next phase
of this reflection together – is really: What wakes us up from the dream? You know, what… what allows us to relax
the over-controller? And really what it is is that awareness wakes
up when it experiences the suffering of the over-controller — the futility of it, how
the over-controller is trying to help us and yet really is keeping us from a larger sense
of wholeness. It is very easy for me to share personal stories
in this talk. I know this is very inside out, this over-controller
business. And for me the first waking up to it was ver…
was very poignant. I was a college sophomore. I was experiencing a lot of depression and
doing psychoanalysis and the only reason I ended up in psychoanalysis was because some
friend said, “Hey, I am seeing a good… a good therapist! You want to go see him?” and then I found
myself on a couch, you know, who would have known? But, anyway, so I had this dream that I was
sharing of struggling to get somewhere and feeling exhausted, which I think is a common
dream, a lot of us have it. And then as I started talking I had an image
– because I was taking Greek mythology at the time – I had an image of Sisyphus and
the boulder and pushing that boulder over and over and over again. And then I had an insight which was: I am
always trying hard. I am always trying hard whether it was in
conversations with other people or in work or I was very politically active, fixing myself,
proving myself,, you know, I was always trying to make sure something happened, always trying
to be as good as I could be, be better than others, you know, trying hard. On its heels came the next insight which you
can imagine which is fear of other people’s judgments, fear that I would lose or not get
love and approval if I didn’t try hard. In other words: I couldn’t be with somebody
and not be trying and assume that I would be accepted and loved, okay. More insights followed on the heels of that,
it wasn’t just in therapy, this was just over time, of how much I was afraid of other
people’s judgments and that kept me trying hard. And that make… that the more I tried the
worse things felt, because I felt more and more insecure the more… harder I was trying,
okay. And then as you know – and this is something
very familiar – that… so I was getting… I was getting familiar with my controller,
okay. There was a second arrow, okay, which was:
I couldn’t stand my controlling self, the one that was trying hard. And… we call it sometimes selfing. I was just like becoming more and more aware
of all the selfing, all that self trying to be good and trying to prove herself and trying
to get approval and I just couldn’t stand the self that was doing it. So there was a lot of aversion. And the first major shift in that, that I
remember, I was… I… this is probably about eight years later. I had moved into an ashram and I got up my
nerve and I was… we had a women’s group that would meet and I went ahead and exposed
the… this… my shadow, you know, I exposed the controlling self, how much I was… felt
like a fake as I was always trying to present myself a certain way whereas deep down I was
like this. I don’t remember what happened at the group
after I exposed myself except for that I went back to my room feeling utterly raw and vulnerable
and kind of broken apart and I just remember being with that, you know, it was like I…
first I wanted to control that and I thought I would do some yoga just to try to feel better,
but then I realized, “No, this is more of the same, I am still trying to fix something,
do something” so I agreed to do nothing and I just sat with it and it went down to
that deepest place of self-aversion and then grief at how many moments in my life had been
stolen because of that self-aversion, how many moments I had missed. And self-aversion seemed to be right at the
root of the controller, it was the controller’s deepest way of trying to change me. The grieving loosened it and so that there
was some space and tenderness and I could start just observing this striving self, you
know, this character that had arri… emerged, this spacesuit character, whatever you want
to call it, this ego-self, and see from a more awake, kind place. She just wanted to be loved. She wanted to be accepted. She wanted to know she belonged. And that was the moment when my relationship
to the controller became conscious and forgiving. And I share this because there was no… I mean, over the years I have become more
and more familiar with that kind of ego cluster I am calling the over-controller, but any
more familiarity would only have been possible because I deeply forgave the presence of that…
of that ego. So I want to pause here and invite you to
reflect for yourselves where this might be relevant to you. And as you let the intention go inward, you might scan
for some stressful situation that involves another person where you know you go into
over-controller mode in some way, getting either defensive or aggressive. In some way wanting to change that person
or maybe wanting to change yourself. Whether it is judgment of yourself or the
other or both, just take some moments to let yourself connect with where you are aware
of… where you might go into that over-controller mode to protect yourself or to make something
happen. And include, as you reflect, how you feel
about your controlling self, how you are feeling about the self that is wanting or fearing
and reacting. If you will, just to let me know if you need
a little more time to be in touch with that. Okay, we’ll just take a few more moments. And, for a moment, you might imagine you can
move ahead in time and view this controlling self from really a… your most awake and
high and loving being. You might consider this your future self — the
awareness that is really fully manifested . . . maybe five years, ten years down the
road, whatever is relevant to you — that you could look through the eyes of your most
awake self and just witness with compassion and interest what we are calling the “controlling”
self — that self that gets stuck in the reactivity. See what you see. And look, if you can, for what is most driving
your controlling self. What is really behind the controlling you
are observing? What is the longing? What is the fear? And sense the possibility of, when the controller
appears in this way, being able to regard the controlling self with compassion. With forgiveness. Letting go of the second arrow. Sense, right this moment, what that is like. To send some message of forgiveness or kindness
to the controlling self. For some it is simply: I see you or It is
okay, it is not your fault. Or forgiven, forgiven. So we will continue to reflect together, and
feel free to open your eyes if you’d like. Because the controlling self is such a deep
identity, it is often under the line so to speak. It is not in consciousness. We are doing the controlling but there is
not a recognition of how caught inside that limited sense of self we are. And so I would like to look a little more
closely at the process of recognizing and relaxing the controller. And it happens primarily when we register
that this isn’t working and we register how much suffering is being caused, that,
in some way, we are resisting vulnerability. Because that is always what the controller
is doing. The controller is running away from impermanence,
vulnerability, groundlessness. So again an example from my life of kind of
a running from vulnerability is that in parenting, I took my habit of thinking it is good to
strive for things and we should go after things and so on, and planted that on my son Narayan
like: “You, too, should be a ‘go for it’ type of person!” And Narayan’s temperament is really different
than my temperament, you know. It is like if… in that yoga teacher’s
language, you know, I would be the one told to relax he would be told… one to told to
sit up a little straighter. He is really chill. I mean, Narayan is, you know, just really
laid back. He was not academically very ambitious and
so on. So, during high school – and I… I told a version of this story in “Radical
Acceptance” – his capacity to party and capacity to endlessly be with friends and
to not to be too concerned about work was always, to me, something that was this pesky
thing I could never… I mean, I couldn’t let go of, and I was
in a chronic judging state — upset and angry — and often it would take focus on his video
gaming because that is what he would do, he would be behind the screen. And I had to text him recently to find out
what game he was playing. It was Diablo 2 — now that is like Devil
2, you know. And, as he described it, he… you know, when
I was texting back and forth just recently… he said, “Those were my heavy dopamine years.” This was… you know… Anyway but back to the story. So I would be really enraged by it and I…
and I realized that, more and more, that we were locked in this dance of, the more angry
and controlling I got, the more he was kind of like pushing me away, not… He is not an angry, push-away type, he’d
just kind of just disregard. Wasn’t working. And I was feeling worse and worse. So I started practicing pausing and feeling
what was under all that controlling, judging energy. And what I would find is underneath the judge
— the one that wanted to… that really raging judge that wanted to take a boulder
and throw it against the screen of the computer that he was on —underneath that was fear. You know, I was fear… afraid he wouldn’t
have a happy life, that if he didn’t apply himself, he just wouldn’t be gratified in
life. It was just according to my ideas of how things
worked. And then, underneath that fear, there was
this powerlessness. And when I opened to that really deeply, you
know, powerless and afraid he is going to ruin his life, there was care, I just care
about him. And then there was grief, just the grief of
how my way of tightening around that care and becoming a controller was creating a really
big distance. You know, here he was a sophomore — it’s
a blink of an eye, you parents know, and they are gone, they are out of the house — and
we were locked in most of the… Many moments I was in resentment and blame
mode. So, the more I opened to that vulnerability
that I was really running from, the more I would get in touch with that caring place
and then be able to still… I still had to draw boundaries, but I could
do it with a lot more intelligence and respect and care than anger which, of course, he didn’t
have to defend himself against so much. So now he is thirty-one. And I want to say that that old controlling
part still peeks its little, you know… comes out. In fact, just when we were doing this back-forth
texting I was telling you about, and he told me it was “Diablo Two” he said, “And
hey, mom, now I am…” let’s see what did he say… he said, “Now I am playing
with the spiritual successor of “Diablo Two”, there is another version.” He called it a “spiritual successor”,
you know! So I said, “Say what?” you know… And then he says, “Mom, I can still feel
the judgment leaking through!” Anyway, so the controller releases when we
fully open to vulnerability. It releases. The sense of who we are shifts. Now the deepest vulnerability, as I am mentioning,
is the loss of what we most deeply cherish. And to be able to open to that is what brings
us to the open-ness that is truly beyond that egoic over-controller. And that’s why, really, on the spiritual
path, it is not until we have totally faced and opened to and touched the depth of the
realness that it is all going, that we can open to the reality of the space, the awareness,
the love that is here. They go together completely. The example of this that I want to share,
which is probably the most prominent in my mind and a number of friends here because
so many of us know Cheri Maples who is a really wonderful Dharma teacher. Many of you might know that she got into a
bike accident about eight months ago. And she may be in a wheelchair for the rest
of her life. She nearly died. She was in hospitals and institutions for
seven months. Went out there and visited, La visited. A number of us that… that love her have
been out with her visiting. And Cheri is in good spirits. She is open-hearted, she is more patient than
she has ever been before. She is very clear and very in touch with what
matters in life. She is in really good spirits. And if you ask her what happened, which I
did, you know: “How is it possible that you are holding this?” I mean, her life, is like… it was just going
one way and now it… , she is in… she is in a wheelchair. Her response to how it is possible is: “I
had already faced the worst death, so I can live with this.” And what she meant by this – and which is
to live with this, not fighting it, but it is not a resignation, she is like… really
living, you know. What she meant by “faced a death” is that,
the prior year, she was… she had… two years earlier, she had a breakup of a nine-year
relationship that was utterly devastating and she went into a major, deep depression. And underneath the depression, what she had
to open to was a kind of a death of what she had… a death, meaning a loss of relationship
that just felt like a loss of her life. And her way of facing that – as we have
been exploring over and over again here – is… and we use the acronym RAIN — is to keep
bringing those wings of care and investigation and presence to what is here. And I want to say right here that the nurturing
is at the beginning, the middle, the end and throughout. It is not like you wait til the end. Right from the beginning with the recognizing
and the allowing, there is, as much as possible, a gentleness, and: it is okay, this is part
of life. And then the nurturing goes deeper. You start investigating and each … everything
that arises, as well as possible, this too. Tender, gentle. And then there is this alchemy that the more
you touch into — the more vulnerability you touch into — the more tenderness is
available. So I just want to make clear that nurturing,
although it is the culmination at the end of this full embrace, it is a stream throughout. We can’t even begin to investigate if there
is not some softness and kindness in our hearts. Does that make sense? Okay. So she went through this process and opened
to the grief, which is what we all open to if we go deep enough. This life is going. Naturally we want to hold on. Naturally, as we begin to face the reality,
there is that tenderness. And that is this portal that, if we really
have the courage to let go of the controller and open to, we discover a timeless kind of
love and presence that is the who-we-are-beyond-the-controller. Jonathan, a few days ago, told us a story
of a yogini in a cave that entertained the demons, remember that? Had tea. And he mentioned there is a number of versions. Well, in one version – this is Milarepa
who is a Tibetan yogi – he is in a cave welcoming the demons as these Tibetans do
– and we are learning to do too – and he, you know, he… he is very, you know,
your gonna come and go again, just whatever, enjoy. They all left except one. And this is often how it is for us that there
is one place that we really keep resisting, this one place we don’t want to go, this
one place where it is just too much, okay. And so then he pulled the most brilliant move
which was: he put his head inside the demon’s mouth. And the demon vanished. Because when the resistance is gone, the demons
are gone. The controller keeps the problem there, so
to speak. When there is a profound surrender, it dissolves. So the beginning of recognizing and releasing
this over-controller is, as we did and reflected, is right from the get-go getting that it is
being driven by a deep sense of wanting love, wanting to protect and nurture these lives,
to forgive. It is not our fault. It is just part of our egoic development – to
forgive it, to hold with tenderness. One man who was hooked on cocaine and hooked
on manipulating others, he had… very deep fear of, you know, as he started contacting
what was underneath it. Because he had it… he was… he thought,
as controllers do, that he should be able to manage it, “I can control my cocaine
use,” and he should be able to live as he was living. But then, between his wife threatening divorce
and his boss telling him he had to go to a twelve-step group, he kind of hit a wall. So, in therapy, he starts contacting the vulnerability,
which is this fear of being dominated and the shame. And that brought up in him, when he really
contacted it, this… this self-compassion we are talking about and he found that the
more he was kind towards himself, the more he actually felt empowered — like he felt
the sense of connection he had never felt before. And his strategy became – and this is kind
of like a wise effort strategy, because he knew he would get back drawn into his old
habits – was he would say to himself: “Not my will but my heart’s will”. So we find our ways of releasing the over-controller
as we begin to sense belonging to something larger, belonging to our awakened heart, belonging… Some people sense this as handing over to
God or handing over to the divine or to the sacred. But I want to end… I want to in these last few minutes, just
share what some of the gifts are that you already noticing in the moments of releasing
control. You have already noticed here – and I have…
many of you have named it – the moments of just being able to be outside and be available
to take in beauty, that quality of beingness that just is receptive. And you have noticed – many of you – moments
of stillness where there is not a trying to get somewhere, a silence that is not so caught
in the thoughts, a sense of tender presence. So these are the gifts. And one of the gifts in daily life in our
relational life that I think is the most precious is: as we let go of the controller, we don’t
need to fix or change others and a huge space of presence for loving emerges. Richard Selzer, a surgeon, describes a bit
of this in a story he tells. He says: “I stand by the bed where a young woman
lies, her face post-operative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to
the muscles of her mouth, have been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed, with religious fervor,
the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek
I had to cut the little nerve. Her husband, her young husband, is in the
room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed. And together they seem to dwell in the evening
lamp light, isolated from me, private. “Who are they?” I ask myself, “he and this wry mouth I have
made who gaze and touch each other so generously.” The young woman speaks, “Will my mouth always
be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “it is kind of
cute.” And all at once I know who he is. I understand and lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a God. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth
and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers to show
her that their kiss still works.” So when we let go, there is a lot of space
for our natural tenderness to emerge. We can really love without holding back. And there is also a space that does make us
available to joy. I mean, often, if we are honest with ourselves,
we get that we might have our ups and downs, but there is… it is not so common that there
is that openness that just lets it all move through and there is a sense of joy. We are too busy in some way preparing or figuring
to make room for that. This is a very brief… from Saint Theresa
of Avila… says: “Just these two words He spoke
changed my life: ‘Enjoy me.’ What a burden I thought I was to carry –
a crucifix, as did he. …After a night of prayer,
He changed my life when he sang
‘enjoy me.’” “What a burden I thought I was to carry. After a night of prayer, he changed my life
when he sang: ‘enjoy me.’” So the gifts. This capacity to love when we are not holding
on tight, to receive and appreciate. And then there is the gift of a fearless heart
— the power when we are actually willing to go right to where the vulnerability is
— there is nothing to defend against anymore, our heart is wide open. One teacher when she was dying wrote this… Dharma teacher: “My days are short. And as I grow weaker I experience so much
gratitude for my meditation. Not only the joy and ease it brought, but
the hard parts: for every bored and restless sitting, and every fantasy, and every pain
and itch I sat through, and every itch I didn’t scratch. It was a training for kindness. A training for the muscle for bearing witness,
for the trusting spirit that carries me now as I face my death.” Many of you know Ajahn Chah. He writes: “If you let go a little, you
will find a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will find a lot of
peace. If you let go absolutely, you will find absolute
peace and tranquility.” The last gift of letting go of the controller
is reality. Truth. Realizing truth. Chogyam Trungpa says, “As long as we are
trying to figure out how we can escape from our present situation, we can’t notice much
about it.” Doesn’t that seem really true? Only when we feel “This is it”, “This
is how it is right now” without clutching towards something different, without resisting
anything, can we directly realize and become that truth — that radiant, vast light-filled
awareness that is not in any way pushing or holding. Just open. Openness. So, in tonight’s talk, we are really exploring
awakening from the dream. One of the main ways that we stay in the dream
is this identity of a self that has a difficulty or a problem and is trying to find their way
and a movement from that identity to this beingness that allows just the light of wisdom,
the universal light of wisdom and love, to flow through us. And in that spirit, I would like to do a final
reflection with you: Just take a moment to, any way you want to
adjust, to sit comfortably. And to begin by scanning and choosing some
place in your life where you know you are getting caught in over-controlling. Where, like Sisyphus, you are pushing a boulder. You are caught in a lot of judging or striving
or defending, trying to become something different, trying to make somebody else different. And gently feeling, underneath the controlling
activity, the human-ness that is there, the wanting, the fearing. With kindness. With gentleness. You might imagine, just like Sisyphus, if
you let the boulder just fall away, what it would be like to just to let go of all ideas
of something is wrong — just to let it go, to hand it over, to sense for yourself: If
there is no problem, what is here? And again, just feeling this moment. If there is no problem, if there is truly
no problem right this moment, what is here? Who am I? What is the experience? And then just, with that gentle intention
to let go of any doing, letting everything be as it is. And sometimes we have to let go again. I often use the word stop, a very soft stop,
stop. Or drop. There is nothing to do. Relaxing back again. These are the words of Dana Faulds, poet: “Settle in the here and now. Reach down into the center
where the world is not spinning and drink this holy peace. Feel relief flood into every
cell. Nothing to do. Nothing
to be but what you are already. Nothing to receive but what
flows effortlessly from the mystery into form. Nothing to run from or run
toward. Just this breath,
Awareness knowing itself as embodiment. Just this breath,
awareness waking up to truth. Namaste and thank you for your attention. Blessings.

8 thoughts on “Relaxing the Over Controller, Part 2 (retreat talk) – with Tara Brach

  1. Thank You so much. Part 2 compleates the picture. You just what I needed. Was so hungry for this teaching.

  2. Literally changed my life. I learned that my constant controller was always at work to change my true introverted nature to that of an extrovert. The release has been nothing short of enormous. I cannot thank you enough, Tara!

  3. Wonderful, just what I needed right now. Imprisoned in my own mind of late, so many shoulds and self imposed rules – time to let go and practice some self compassion. Listening to the Radical SA audio book and this helped put things into perspective. Thank you ☺

  4. Thank you Tara for this talk. I would appreciate some teachings on how these concepts apply to health care providers. We want our patients to get better and we worry about them, sometimes even feel defeated when we cannot be effective and help them. I wonder how this might be related to wanting to have control over the situation. I feel this may be a great source of burnout. I always enjoy listening to your words of wisdom.

  5. This is a talk that is useful every day and a meditation at 56:49 that I come back to in the most tense of times.

  6. how wonderful this world looks when all i can see is beautiful people like tara and what they do. thank you many blessings

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