Control and Traveling – When Plans Go Awry

May 30, 2014

I am sitting on the 2:23 from Rome to Assisi. It feels like I have been on quite a journey. It is the train I had planned to catch but as Robbie Burns once said, “the best laid plans of mice and men gang after aygley” only one hour ago I would have wagered a large sum that I was not going to be on this train.
 The day had begun smoothly with an easy trip to Barcelona airport, a relaxed hour and a half at the airport for coffee and breakfast then a quick flight to Rome arriving on time. It always seems strange arriving in another country and NOT going through immigration but that is the way it is in the EEC, only the Brits have border control.
 I knew I had over two hours before my train left so I felt relaxed plus I had done all this before with my friend Nancy five years ago. The airport has a train that takes you to Roma Terminii and from there you catch the train to Assisi.
 This is where the story goes awry. I realized in hindsight that this relates back to my continued need to be in control of every aspect of my trip. I had researched the train times and knew exactly which train I needed to catch – the 2:23 from Rome to Assisi, that was until I went to buy my ticket.
 The options offered me did not include the 2:23, there was one at 1:18 that the machine suggested I may not be able to make and there was another at 4:00 both required one or more changes.
 At this point I panicked. There was a line of people behind me with pursed lips and frowns so I decided to defer buying the Assisi ticket until Rome. This pissed me off because it would cost an extra fifteen euro but in the moment it was the best I could do.
 Once again when confronted by loss of control the child re actively emerges and could not make the right decision.
 I had lots of time I should have just cancelled the transaction and reconsidered but that did not happen. In the face of overwhelment I lose my authority.
 It took me a while to forgive my own stupidity but once I could see my reflexive, automated response it helped me get over it. I am hoping this awareness will reduce the incidence of such reactions. So far no such good fortune.
 In that moment a series of events began to unfold that I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams but it gave me a very uncomfortable two hours. Perhaps it was the universe’s way of helping me learn to stop trying to control everything.
 I had already set in place some variables later in my trip to experience handling unplanned situations but it seems the universe had advanced the agenda. (I am smiling as I realize I am still trying to control when I face being out of control.)
 Mistake number two was climbing aboard the train waiting at the terminal and assuming it was the right train. It seemed logical, I did wonder if it was the slow train instead of the express but as I had lots of time I was not too concerned.
 It never entered my head that the slow train actually would not go to the same terminus. Instead it took me through Rome and out the other side. Ironically my intuition guided me to get off at Roma Tiburtina then I panicked when I saw the name on the station and jumped back on again.
 My discomfort then increased when after three more stops the green fields of the Roman countryside emerged and the city completely disappeared. I found someone who spoke a little English who told me Rome was behind us, so I leaped off and set about returning the way I had come.
 I now had no Idea how to get to the main terminal. I found a young woman who said she spoke “poco, poco” English but she knew enough to tell me that I had to return to Roma Tiburtina to catch the Metro to the main station. I sat as patiently as I could dreading a ticket checker would approach me. There was a long announcement in incomprehensible Italian that I think meant we were delayed because we sat for about ten minutes.
 By now I was resigned to the whims of fate, I knew eventually I would get to Assisi but stopped worrying about when that would be. I duly got off and caught the Metro to Terminii and found the ticket machine. It was 2:09 and to my amazement, my original train time now showed up – I began to smile – was it possible I would still make the train I had planned?
 First I had to figure out which train – not easy because it did not mention Assisi on the sign board however there was one leaving at the right time for Perugia from Platform 1E. It took me ten minutes to walk there. It was about as far as you could go without leaving Rome but at 2:20 I sat in my seat. I had even managed to remember to validate my ticket – a cardinal sin on Italian Railways resulting in a 100 Euro fine.
 An English speaker confirmed that this train did go to Assisi so at last I could relax. The trip was not without one last cosmic nudge.
 Our first stop was none other Roma Tiburtino, my third visit in two hours – had I followed my intuition and stayed there on my first visit I could have avoided a lot of angst and got the train from there. God does have a great sense of humour.
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Control and Anxiety

May 16, 2014

The influence of control in my life reminds me of an octopus. It lies unseen in dark places with its eight tentacles probing into my outer world. The first seven tentacles represent resistance, overwhelment, the need to be right, impatience, anger, planning, manipulation Despite my desire to stop at seven blogs on control this eighth tentacle representing anxiety has finally overcome my resistance.

Recently I had been reflecting on anxiety and realized that although not an anxious person on the surface, I frequently suffer from a low grade, unconscious anxiety that has a surprising capacity to impact my life. Perhaps this is why it took me so long to see the relationship of Control and anxiety.

Of course a natural question about unconscious anxiety is how have I become conscious of it? This emerged from my study of Jungian Analyst James Hollis’s teachings around the unconscious and anxiety. Hollis states that we cannot know what is in the unconscious directly but we may discern influences of which we are not conscious through examination of dreams, patterns and behaviours.

He also suggests that addictive patterns of behaviour are anxiety management systems. They can take many forms from the more draconian such a drug addiction or alcoholism to the less damaging such as TV or simple habits.

I became curious about a pattern of behavior that involved watching TV. It was not any TV; it was focused on a specific form of what I now describe as comfort viewing. It would frequently feature repeat performances of old British mystery programs that were familiar, I liked the characters, they were predictable, and nothing would scare me, disturb me or surprise me.

I realized it was a form of escape; it definitely had a pattern to it; it was somewhat mindless, and like a spider could entrap me in a lethargic snare. Reluctantly I concluded it had all the characteristics of a mild addiction.

Following Hollis’s logic if I am engaged in an addiction no matter how mild, there must be anxiety at the heart of it. I realize anxiety is a bit like a referred toothache, it may not be directly associated with the real centre of pain.

This began a quest to examine potential anxieties in my life. I began with the existential anxieties of life: death, health, age and aloneness. It felt healthy to own some of my fears. Hollis suggests that the best way to deal with anxiety is to turn into fear. Anxiety is a child state while our adult self can handle fear.

However I sensed there was more and perhaps something was going on in my life that was causing anxiety that I had not known so it had been repressed.

It was not difficult to identify. I am organizing a major event in Assisi for the Spiritual Community of which I am part. It has taken on a life of its own with 90 people already registered two years ahead of time.

I realized my anxiety had arisen because I was not on top of the organization required. I was telling myself I had lots of time but at some level there was a fear of being overwhelmed.

It had tucked itself away in my unconscious to show up in my pattern of TV viewing. I realized the best way to deal with it was to tackle the problem and within three hours I had everything under control. The effect was palpable, I could engage in my life in a different way. It was as though an invisible restraint had been released.

For some reason at first I did not see the relationship between this anxiety and control. It occurred to me later that as long as I keep things under control my anxiety is managed but when I lose control, the child state once again assets itself and begins to control the agenda of my life. Once again I am held hostage by the past.

This morning the catalyst to this blog came from observing a distinct shift in my feelings and sense of self after reading a relatively benign e-mail. At first I entered a state of denial but it was difficult ignore that I shifted from feeling good to feeling “blaah”.

What had happened? The e-mail was about a pilgrimage that is associated with the event I am planning but not part of it. There is significant anxiety in the community about getting on the pilgrimage because it is a much smaller event than the Gathering. To some degree I have become the focus of this anxiety and accepted responsibility for forwarding names to the organizer.

The e-mail took me off the hook as the organizer had now stepped forward but had triggered anxiety. Why?

This loss of control means I have to accept that all the people who contacted me are no longer my responsibility. The adult accepts this however the child grows concerned and worried that he missed someone.

I turned the anxiety into action and send an email to everyone advising them of the new development and that there is someone else on whom to project their anxiety. My job is complete.

Now I can leave for Europe with peace of mind. Back in five weeks.

Your Cosmic Mission Loyalty Card

May 14, 2014

kosmicKarma-cardMy client leafed through a book I had on my coffee table promoting LED light bulbs, made a sardonic comment about the cartoon style, then exclaimed, “At least he has a mission!”

It felt like familiar territory. During the time we have worked together there have been a number of times when he felt uncertain about the direction his life was taking and where he was going. He felt frustrated that he hadn’t had “the big idea” that would focus him and like a guiding star lead on to a life of fulfillment and meaning.

I understood his aspiration, but for most of us life does not unfold with a cosmic explosion. In my case it has always been a somewhat frustrating, but always fascinating meandering trail that takes me on a journey that rarely achieves my intended outcome. I have learned it is about trusting the Soul to show the way and that the journey is more important than the outcomes.

In our previous session we had explored what may be holding him back. I had suggested the journey begins with a single step of setting an intention so he suggested the words, “I am ready to leap, show me the way” then made a commitment to incorporate this intention in a daily practice.

I asked him how this practice had been going and he looked distinctively sheepish. “Well I’m not exactly doing it every day,” he admitted reluctantly, “I get busy… stuff happens.”

I likened his behavior to having an intention to take a train but not actually getting round to buying the ticket.

“You make it clear that you want to find your mission yet you seem reluctant to pay the price of admission,” I explored, “Is there something holding you back?” He paused and reflected, “I can’t be sure, but I do want to try again.”

My client likes to describe his Soul Journey as the Cosmic Road Trip so we adapted the metaphor. In that moment the Cosmic Mission card was born.

“It’s like a coffee card”, I explained, “Each day you complete the practice you get a stamp. After five stamps you get a cookie and after ten, well that’s a mystery. As the old Hindu proverb says, when you take one step toward God, God comes running toward you.”

My experience is that as long as you pay attention, something will happen. However, the guidance of the Self does not always coincide with the desired of the ego.

As Mick Jagger famously puts it, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes…you get what you need.”

Give yourself a stamp, Mick.

Control and Manipulation

May 2, 2014

This is the seventh and likely last reflection on the influence of my control nature on unconscious and conscious behaviours. As I have observed according to eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis, control is an outcome of the power complex that can develop when a child comes face to face with its own sense of powerless when confronted with the powerful other.

My tendency to unconsciously manipulate others and ensure they do what I want was first pointed out by my second wife who took great offense after an evening at a pub when I began to point out the reasons she may want to head home. It was en route to our place that she realized that it was me who wanted to go home not her. She engaged in some fairly primitive therapy to jam home her point by flushing the toilet whenever I had a shower.

I developed a greater understanding of this pattern during my time in therapy where I learned that manipulation is an attempt to get one’s needs met without having to state them. Something that appears patently absurd to an adult but the unconscious pattern is established during childhood when one’s needs seem to be ignored. This is likely not uncommon among children with younger siblings. The problem is when we continue it into our adult lives without realizing it.

It was much more recently that I became aware that this is yet another facet of control. I was writing a blog in my zenmen series, where I tell stories of my advertising career then review them through the eyes of a Spiritual Coach.

This particular story concerned a client who drove me crazy. He always wanted to be in control and would never approve anything before he had his say. In my blog I identified his controlling personality and found a way around it by ensuring he always thought it was his idea when it invariably was not. (see I was recounting this to some friends over a beer and one exclaimed, “you were so outrageously manipulative.”

It was the next day at the gym while listening to James Hollis lecture from his book What Matters Most that I felt a little smug as he seemed to confirm my hypothesis of my client’s issue, “Those with a power complex have to overcompensate and prove how valuable they are.”

Then I began to smile as he continued, “flattery, guile, trickery and manipulation are all surreptitious strategies to overcome the powerful other.”

We were two sides of the same coin. It was my power complex versus his.

This brings me to my final point on control and its derivative behaviours. They are not necessarily bad. My ability to manage successfully is a positive consequence of learning control. In fact sometimes we need to consciously orchestrate a result using unconventional means and that could be deemed manipulative.

What is important is to become conscious of our behaviours and not be a slave to old patterns. At a seminar in November James Hollis offering some pointers to an examined life suggested, “It is time to finally grow up, to take responsibility for our lives.” I believe that understanding the power that control has unconsciously wielded in my life will help me do exactly that.