I am a controlling person. I am an anal-retentive Virgo. I am a hypochondriac. I am fearful of many things. I like when everything is in its place. I like when people do what I want them to do and I don’t like when people do what I don’t want them to do (or don’t do what I want them to do).
I have been this way for my entire life with varying degrees of intensity from year to year, depending upon my life circumstances at the time. Stress obviously exacerbates this way of being. I accept this about myself and just try to work with it so I don’t make myself or my loved ones insane. And until I entered into a serious relationship, I have never really attempted to combat this part of myself. It’s not that I wasn’t aware until my relationship. It’s just that when you are single and you live alone, you can really conduct your life EXACTLY the way you want 95% of the time and there are not really any consequences. I kept my apartment tidy and perf at all times and no one was there to witness my daily control-forward routines. My closest family members and friends learned very early on how to “deal” with my controlling ways and for the most part, loved me unconditionally, despite my tendencies. My very closest family members even recognized my innocence in the whole thing and really understood where the root of my behaviors came from. Childhood trauma is always the culprit. And so these family members were able to patiently adjust in the face of my intense temperament, and when I would ever get to a point of being a bit too much even for them, they would let me know, and that was enough for me to pull back. But other than that, no consequences really. My anal-retentiveness works brilliantly when it comes to my job because it is my job to keep track of the most minute details and to stay on top of everyone’s disorganization. I try to do this with relaxed humor, and it has paid off in lots of ways at work. My perfectionism also pays off when it comes to making art because my standards are high and I don’t really complete a work of art until every square inch is just so. However, intimate relationships and unchecked controlling behaviors can lead to trouble.
I’m smart enough to know that control freakishness is not a very popular or likable personality trait, so I often talk about myself in a way that is appropriately self-deprecating, hoping it helps to soften my edges a bit. However, I’m not going to lie. A huge part of me thinks that I am in fact correct most of the time, that my way is better, and I tend to really struggle to accept and understand why everyone can’t be more like me. There, I said it. It’s the truth. Points for honesty?
I have to say that I think the term “control freak” is a bit harsh, and it’s good to remember that control issues almost always stem from something deeper. When in doubt, no matter what kind of troubling behavior a person is struggling with, there is always something soft, tender, gentle, loving, and understanding in nature, that can act as balm for healing, growth, and change.
When it comes to my controlling tendencies, my balm is meditation.
Jain Svetambara Tirthankara in Meditation. Solanki period, first half of the 11th century. India (Gujarat or Rajasthan). Marble. H. 39 in. (99 cm). Purchase, Florence and Herbert Irving Gift, 1992. Accession Number: 1992.131. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Something amazing that I am finding with meditation is that it teaches me to keep myself within myself. And my daily practice is not necessarily ridding myself of my controlling tendencies (although it might be slowly chipping away at it), but it’s teaching me how to manage them in a healthier, more goddess-esque way. The practice of meditation reminds me of a container. My job during a meditative session is to keep myself within my own sacred container. No matter what I hear outside, no matter what thoughts swim across the pages of my mind frame, and no matter how many physical sensations I experience, I practice coming back to myself within every moment. The outside sounds, the floating thoughts, and the body feels are all outside of my sacred container, and they are constantly trying to pull me out of myself. Through practice, I learn to just stay settled within that container, even if I’m tempted to spill outside of myself in every passing moment.
Meditation is also not about perfection, but about practice. I am constantly spilling myself outside of my container. Everyone does when they meditate, at first. So I’m not failing at meditation if I fall outside of myself and get pulled by a sound or a thought. Not at all. In fact, every time I go outside of my container and gently bring myself back, I’m flexing that meditative muscle. I can’t really learn and change if I start off doing it perfectly. The only way I improve is by spilling out over and over again; and gently bringing myself back over and over again. This is the only way the muscle gets flexed. And this is a totally gentle process. It’s as gentle as lifting a finger, over and over and over again.
This is how I imagine my container. This was created by one of my favorite artists. She doesn’t really know who I am, but I have been obsessed with her work for years, ever since I saw her pieces at the Philadelphia Craft Show years ago. Her name is Ingrid Bathe and I’m just so happy she exists in this world to create such beautiful, peaceful, delicate works of art. Of course my meditative container would be this!
As for my controlling tendencies, I am noticing subtle things here and there, and I find the results of my meditating really remarkable. Feel free to read my recent article entitled, THE RUG: A TEACHING TOOL FOR LOVE, ACCEPTANCE, AND LETTING GO if you’re curious about what kinds of things get my panties in a bunch. If you have been following, you might be happy to know that now that I’ve let the whole rug thing go, I actually caught my partner the other day, OF HIS OWN ACCORD, scratching his head and feeling frustrated about how quickly the damn thing wrinkles and rumples on itself. It was truly kind of one of those miracles that you almost don’t let yourself dream about because the thought of it happening seems almost too good to be true. But just for him to join me for a moment in frustration felt really amazing and validating. And I guarantee he would not have had his own epiphany of frustration until I had finally just stopped talking about, stopped thinking about, and stopped even noticing it. And I truly attribute my ability to let this go to my meditation practice. Meditating is ALL about letting things go. Letting go of that thought I just had that distracted me from my inhale. Letting go of that sound I just heard from outside of my window, making me forget about my exhale. Practicing letting go in these sacred and microscopic ways on a daily basis, translates to the macroscopic letting go of real things in real life. It’s truly amazing.
I’m imprisoned daily by my need to have things in my home neat and clean. And I just happen to live with a not-so-neat-and-clean person, so my control issues are tested to the max, simply by my partner’s presence in my life. I would not give up his presence in my life for anything, but at the same time, damn, it’s hard to deal with. I just recently conquered another home issue and unlike the rug thing, I think I was able to eradicate this problem. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say I have a sensitive nose and can smell everything! And there was a smell in the bathroom that was driving me utterly bonkers. We actually keep our bathroom very clean and I just could not figure out why a certain area was smelling less-than-clean, even after we just cleaned. I’m not going to lie, I went a bit nuts about it, but not outwardly (progress!). And even the inward nuts-ness was less violent. I attempted each day to investigate and discover the source. I tried this. I tried that. I moved this. I cleaned that. Nothing was working. Today, I figured it out, and I feel relieved of course. But I also feel quite proud that I didn’t turn my household into a scary place to live and did not put all that drama and control on my partner. Okay, maybe the first few days after I noticed the smell I kinda put it on him, by mentioning it multiple times, asking his opinion about it, and giving him updates on my progress. But for me, that’s improvement. A more controlling version of me would get angry, solicit immediate action, express resentment, and would all together remain in an irrationally and inappropriately negative state for days at a time. Again, I’m not exactly deleting my control issues, I’m just diminishing their power over me and my loved ones.
I’m proud of my little bathroom and love how light and airy and homey it feels. It’s not my dream bathroom, but for a two bedroom apartment, it’s a cutie and I wanted to share.
Meditation is amazing for control freaks because it promotes calm and peace. Everything is gentle and everything is soft during meditation. Sometimes, when a control freak is in “control mode” it can feel very intense. When I am stuck inside my controlly feelings, it’s very hard for me to unlatch, and all I know is that my heart is racing, my blood is thumping and pumping, and rational and calm thoughts seem unfathomably out of reach. The hardest part about meditating for a control freak is getting started. And I have to admit, I’ve been at it for a few months now and I still can’t meditate for very long. Or, I should say, I still don’t. But I’m gradually increasing my minutes week by week and went from a consistent six minutes a day (unbelievably, I was noticing results in my life even just after mediating for six minutes a day) to around eight to ten to twelve minutes a day, depending on how committed I am to sticking it out.
Meditation is still such a mystery to me, but I love the purity of it. I love that I don’t know where it’s taking me, but that I know in a very deep way that I will end up in a good place. I also love looking at imagery and art depicting meditation. It’s all so calming to me. I leave you with a few images of meditating beings (I couldn’t decide which one I liked better) from an amazing tarot deck given to me by one of my beloved tribe members. The deck is called Motherpeace Round Tarot and the artwork is beautiful.