Are we in control?

The question of control is very closely tied to the sense of self. It’s a challenging area to explore; it can be hard to imagine not having control. We make choices and there appears to be an ‘I’ that makes them, so it’s a natural assumption that we’re in control. We know we may not be in control of everything, but we definitely feel in control of some things. It’s seems cut and dried at first glance.

But what does it look like when we take the sense of self away? Even on an intellectual level, even if we haven’t realised there is no separate self yet; if there really is no self then how can there be control? If there’s no controller, then control goes right out of the window, doesn’t it?

When we start to explore this a bit further we get deeply into the cogs and gears of the machinery of thought. It’s not hard to take on board that much of what we feel and think is based on conditioning that has built up over the course of a lifetime. We can generally accept that we are, to some extent, a product of our background and surroundings. But how far does this go? Is that really all we are? That’s a bit harder to accept.


It’s not till we look closely at the nature of thought and the ‘I’ thought in particular that it starts to become clearer. What we begin to notice is the arising of choice on a non-verbal level before it appears in our more cognitive day to day level of thought. We can, if we choose, spend time looking at the non-verbal, deeper level of thought where knowing happens and from where choices arise. When we do we see that what we know, believe, feel forms the very architecture of this aspect of thought/mind. Choice arises from the complex inter-relationships between the myriad facets of this world view.

The challenge, and it’s a big one at first, is that the process happens so fast that we easily miss it. As Ajahn Chah once remarked, it’s like falling out of a tree and counting the branches on the way down. We have to fall out the tree a lot to get close to seeing this clearly and time after time, we might get just a little further, a tiny bit nearer to noticing this process as it’s unfolding.

But inevitably what we find is just that; a process. The fact that it doesn’t need a doer, a controller, doesn’t make it any less beautiful or amazing. We can still have a deep appreciation of the arising of an inspired human thought in the same we marvel at the unfolding of the petals of a beautiful flower.

There is only one source from which all arise, flower, human, and the rest of all that we see. Whatever name we use for that is up to us, but the point to never miss, to never lose sight of, is that the source is the ground of all and it’s a ground we are constantly rooted in. More than that, it can be known and experienced when we learn to open up awareness beyond the narrow confines of the story of the content of the moment.

When we can look in a new way we see the aliveness of all running through it like a current, and realise it’s all one current. For example, with electricity we wouldn’t say there is ‘different’ electricity in your TV to mine. And this aliveness, the inherent beingness of all, is of one nature too. It’s not a thing, not manifest and so cannot be ‘different’. Nor can it be separate from that to which it gives rise any more than the sun can be separate from the sunbeam.

This unconditioned ground of all is constant; always there closer than the breath; upholding all; the real.

In realising this, and letting awareness slip naturally into this unconditioned, beyond any words, before all forms, the letting go of the attachment to some patterns of thoughts giving rise to a sense of control and separation is not so very hard to do. Waking to the real is more beautiful than the imaginings of sleep could be or words ever describe. Beyond that it’s best left to the poets, whose well of inspiration runs deeper than mine.

2 thoughts on “Are we in control?

  1. As you break down the process, it is when the thoughts get together and are glued with the paste of emotion the subtle thoughts begin to grossify – acquire a form. The I is born at this stage. Even this is not noticed as it happens spontaneously. The whole issue is like seeing a real house made brick by brick on an empty plot come up as a reality vis a vis the grossification of the thoughts in my terracotta of mind taking shape and becoming bigger and bigger till an urge pushes it to be expressed through the sound box or by way of action. The ownership appears natural because it is in my terracotta that all this takes place. Even if we call it Isness or beingness or whatever the sense of control is born as a feeling which was initially unborn and has by grossification, become an entity. So, a similar process in your mind plain will lead to some gross structures being erected on an empty plot, but they are your structures not mins. Therein, is born the identity or the sense/need for control. Just as radio signals exist all around us but it’s only through two ‘devices’ they can connect. Our mind-body-soul construct is one such mobile station, like yours is another mobile station. It is obvious that in the overall zero – infinite – timeline of this universe governed by same principles and laws it appears as an illusion. Why doesn’t Pluto have life as we have it on earth? Why doesn’t the same atmosphere available on Mercury. Even Gods have made this mechanism distinct and unique. It’s in my uniqueness that my identity crops up.

    • Thank you, that’s a really nice reflection Ashutosh. I find through looking at thought and other processes that take place, analogies emerge and serve for a time, only to be replaced by others that seem better or closer in nature than their predecessor. So from this I’ve learned not to attach to my analogies, as they too are temporary reflections in thought of something which words cannot adequately express. As insights arise, they are pleasing for a time like flowers when they bloom. But when they’ve served their time they are let go of and this is beautiful too, this letting go.

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