Self Control

I’ve been focusing a lot on fear lately. I’ve been seeing its influence on all my affairs—how I’ll do some things because the likelihood of fear is manageable; avoid others because the likelihood of fear is inevitable. I’ve written and analyzed and prayed about this fear, petitioning God and myself to have these fears removed. But alas, they persist. And in their persistence, there is stagnation, or if not stagnation, the low-level growling of discontent and the inexorable onslaught of age.
This last summer, my friend Brian and I embarked on a 10-week meditation program based off this book called the “Presence Process.” I think the author Michael Brown wanted to be the next Eckhart Tolle or Deepak Choprah. Many of his statements read like he was itching to trademark them. The trouble was, unlike Tolle and Choprah, to consummate Brown’s program, you had to be really disciplined. The backbone of his program included a 15-minute meditation sitting at least twice daily (upon awakening and before going to sleep). Many people like Brian and me have extensive backgrounds in meditation and still can’t manage a hard and fast program like this. Brown, if he was thinking this would be a cultural phenomenon, might have been a bit disconnected from his audience.
Nevertheless, we embarked upon Brown’s path. His fundamental argument is that most people live in a state of no conscious choice. We are at the mercy of unconscious memories; we employ coping mechanisms forged as children. We encounter situations that evoke similar discomfort to these childhood experiences and then we lash out or “react” in childish ways.
On the other hand, if we were to explore our pasts and, most importantly, train our minds, we can respond rather than react. I discussed in an earlier post the difference between responding and reacting: the former is a conscious and optimal answer for a situation; the latter is an unconscious and often deleterious answer.
The meditation practice Brown prescribes is a simple breathing practice: just observe the inflow and outflow of your breath for 15 minutes. He has a couple other exercises, but that’s the main one.
His philosophy about the breath is this: that by bringing consciousness to something that is typically an unconscious process (breathing), we can develop the mental mechanism that will allow us to bring conscious choices to everything we do. Theoretically, if we can develop this mechanism enough, we can choose to respond to any situation. We could become unshakable.
I’ve been unshakable in my adherence to Brown’s program. I haven’t missed one of my twice-daily 15-minute meditation sessions since early June when we began. And while the progress has not been a precipitous as it was when I began, I still see the development of the consciousness as the only way to find happiness.
This leads me back to fear and some of the perceived impasses I’ve been encountered in the last week. There are a few goals I’ve set out to accomplish—worthy goals I think—that have (or so I’ve thought) been compromised by fear. I’ve been blaming this fear I’ve been lugging around, vestiges of adolescent and childhood trauma, as roadblocks to my ambitions. What I haven’t been doing is looking at the mechanism that makes me react to the fear.
One of the more interesting things I noticed when I first embarked down Brown’s path was how my breathing patterns shifted in times of anxiety, depression and even excitement. In each case, my breathing becomes irregular and sometimes I even stop breathing for a few seconds at a time. In all these situations, insofar as I’m not bringing consciousness to this most essential practice, I’m not bringing consciousness to anything else. I’m at the mercy of some pre-formulated reaction. I have no conscious choice.
So now, I’m looking at regaining choice by establishing consciousness (in particular, but not solely through breathing) rather than the particulars. The particulars are that I have a video project, a writing project, some spiritual housecleaning and a few other sundry items I want to achieve, but have thus been stymied. But the general thing is that I have lost choice in the matter. I’m the servant of a dejected 13 year-old most of the time.
Today, I’m focusing on my breath as agency for making choice. I will avoid certain situations where choicelessness flourishes (more on that later), and will use space and time if necessary to maintain this conscious state (it’s tough to be conscious when you’re bombarded with external stimuli).
I’m doing acting under the possibility that maybe, just maybe, nothing is wrong in my world. Maybe these fears are no big deal. Maybe the only thing that needs to happen is to watch and observe myself in the face of fear—that it’s my capacity to react or respond in each situation that is the key to dealing with fear.

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