BLACK ICE AND BANANA PEELS: Getting A Grip On Your Mind - Chapter 1 Excerpts

CONTROL
How to run the show while pretending you’re not.

What is it that we’re all so busy trying to control? Relationships? Other people? The future? Ourselves? That is the outward appearance of things. What we are trying to control is fear. Our mind tells us that if we can control people, things and situations, we will be okay. Attempting to control our fear around relationships becomes the driving force behind much of what we do. We are afraid of being alone, afraid of being unloved, afraid of being rejected, afraid of feeling, afraid of not feeling, afraid of being old, poor, diseased, ugly, disappointed, frustrated, hurt, dead; it’s a virtually endless list. The funny thing is that all of our control does nothing to lessen the fear. Indeed, all the effort we put into controlling our fear only convinces us that our fears are justified! And all that struggle and strain does virtually nothing to prevent us from feeling all those things we want to hide from. Fear is what we want to avoid, and our minds create a world where that fear is continuous. This is another key to how our minds operate; continually, though unintentionally, creating the very thing we’re trying to avoid, thereby further reinforcing the apparent need for even greater control.

Our attempts to gain control, so as to minimize survival threats, become, in effect, the identification and solution of various problems. When we can’t control others directly, it makes sense to learn to control them indirectly. When we can’t control others at all, it makes sense to control ourselves. We believe we can accomplish this control by identifying the problem and then developing a solution. If, for example, my perception is that mom doesn’t love me, I have to find a way to please her so that she will love me, or at least take care of me—otherwise my survival is at risk.

Soon, solving the apparent problem becomes equated with regaining control and reducing the survival threat that is presented. If the problem remains unsolved for a significant length of time, anxiety increases. When the problem is solved, anxiety decreases. Our mind, in order to maintain control, convinces us that the problem it’s trying to fix is outside of our mind—in the environment, other people or in some other part of us—not in our mind itself. This is key to understanding how our mind hides what it’s doing.

In this way, life becomes a series of problems to be solved or fixed, keeping us very busy riding the roller coaster of success and failure. We develop a personality, the outward manifestation of our mind, which becomes our stand-in for open, honest and congruent interactions with the environment and others. We need this front, we believe, because our mind is continually telling us that maintaining control is what keeps us alive and that being genuine is too risky. In order to control ourselves, we often resort to coercion. We force ourselves to do things that, if we did not believe our survival was at stake, we would not even consider. In doing this, we override our feelings, our wishes, our dreams. We frequently go against our true desires, seeking instead to be liked, acknowledged, approved or to grab whatever small token is coming our way.

Our minds are brilliant. They identify a genuine need (survival), expand that need so that it appears to exist even when it doesn’t (generalization), attach a strong unpleasant emotion to that need (anxiety), create an indispensable role for themselves in meeting that need (problem identification and solution), and convince us that the problem is outside of our mind (job security)!

If you’ve been paying some attention to your life, you may have gotten the idea, by now, that control doesn’t work very well. Look at the process of trying to change others. When we don’t ask for or say what we want directly, we find covert ways of expressing ourselves. We may think we’re fooling the other person, but he/she feels, at that moment or later, that there is a subtext to our message, which, while not being communicated through words, is still there. If I’m saying one thing and intending another, you will understandably be on guard or angry when you figure out my true intentions.

Control, in the form of trying to fix yourself, similarly does not work very well. After all, if you were going to make a quick radical transformation, why hasn’t it already happened? How long have you been trying to fix the same things about yourself? Years? Your whole life? It may seem odd, but trying to fix yourself is no more effective than trying to change others. You are not, after all, a car with a broken fan belt. The many other parts of you, like your mind, also resent being viewed as broken. Additionally, you can’t use your mind to change your mind. That’s like trying to repair a flat tire while still driving the car or trying to squeeze five quarts of water in a one-gallon bottle. Real change requires a different position and perspective and a bigger container to provide the space for using more of yourself.