The notion of control is at the heart of our judicial system, the foundation of most popular theories of morality, and a powerful component of what is perceived as a healthy relationship in the sense of a lack of control being beneficial. I have spoken before concerning Free Will, noting its contextual basis and how choices are more like potential behaviors rather than a completely open field of possibility. How this works in life is touched on in the series on Decision-Making and I began fleshing out the issue of self-control as a relational idea in the previous entry. However, the point I made then wasn’t fully articulated, so here I am attempting to explain further.
In the previous entry I noted:
“There is much we are capable of doing of which we are unaware simply because a relational dynamic has yet to emerge which would allow the space for that particular behavior to manifest. When making decisions for the sake of a relationship, it is important to recognize that you were always in a relationship, thus any decisions made are contextually shaped not only in their result but in the very reasoning that goes into deciding what to do.”
Within this idea of narrative creation, I declared rather simply that in recognizing the relational dynamic of every decision-making process we can begin to assert more control over our behaviors.
Incidentally though still powerfully, this touches on one of the central annoyances I have concerning how control is often articulated, particularly as it connects with relationships. One partner or friend or whoever will do something onerous or mean and then calmly declare in the face of the other person’s hurt feelings that “I can’t make you feel anything” or “Your feelings are yours to control.” Ignoring for a moment that these kinds of statements are utterly self-serving and intended to remove all responsibility from the person who did the dark deed, it portrays a completely fictitious reality. The case for pointing this out will follow from here.
Concerning control and relational dynamics, I’ll be using Daniel Siegel’s notion of the “plain of possibility,” articulated most fully in his book Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology. Imagine with me an open plain, upon which roils the many facets of your life in ever-increasing matrices of interconnected relationships. There you see your genetic markers, over there you note your familial upbringing, your cultural mores, and the social ideas that you unconsciously took in. In another place, you note the relationships you’ve been in, romantic and friendly, the power dynamics that existed in them, and the resultant self-narrative constructions that arose out of them. All of this and more of which we are not even aware let alone know what questions to ask about, all bobbing and weaving golden lines intersecting and traveling together at times, then parting and touching upon others. This is the flow of energy and information that is at the heart of relational reality, taking in as it does the neural structure of an embodied mind both as further information and also a physical instrument for manifesting behavior.
Notice that on this plain the lines will at times create peak occurrences, rising up into momentary monuments of glimmering wonder. Each peak is a manifestation of behavior, constructed from the interconnected lines moving across the plain of our being. (There’s more to this but I’m keeping it relatively simple to keep to the point of this entry). At no time is our behavior under the direct control of an external force, whether such be a transcendental ego or a cosmic entity. In fact, to even speak of external and internal here is to create a metaphysical faux pas, a separation in our mind’s-eye that is unhelpful and destructive.
Making this even more amazing, there are many such peaks occurring all the time (Siegel refers to them as “plateaus”), though not all of them at the same height. The highest peak is what we are usually consciously aware of and of which we concomitantly find ourselves behaviorally putting into practice, but those other peaks are also guiding us even as they rest below the threshold of conscious deliberation, connected as they to the highest peak by lines of energy which remain implicit. Here is where the notion of “I can’t make you feel anything” is found to be absurd. We can no more decide which lines will exist in us than we can select the parents of whom their genetic configuration gave birth to us. Our reactions rise up to peak manifestation immediately, uncontrollably and yes even legitimately in light of the causal matrix of our plain of being. For the person who has wronged us to then declare they have no responsibility for our reactions is to deny completely the reality of a relational dynamic.
I can already hear the strained voices clamoring to remind me that what we think and what we do are not always the same thing. Yes, this is true, and thankfully we don’t live in a linear cause-effect world which would make it false. This is why I was tentative in my declaration above that the highest peak is what we are consciously aware of and behaviorally manifest, as the two are not always synonymous. Focal awareness, that mental process people are actually referring to when they discuss their conscious lives, is a force on the plain of our being residing in the space of reciprocity between interactional lines. For those knowledgeable about neurology, there’s a process of myelination where a substance called myelin can create a sheath around particular neuronal pathways making them quicker and more liable to be fired. This is essentially what focal awareness does. By raising conscious awareness through meditation and study, then dwelling on particular peak experiences, we make those channels stronger and more prevalent in their possibility of contributing to further peak experiences.
Utilizing intentionality this way does not remove all the other lines, there are still numerous variables that will affect us and may always do so, though the power of them may be mitigated through practice, just as in the situation of being hurt by someone else. The pain will exist and there is no shame in feeling it, but what we then do with it, whether immediately or after the initial response, is a matter of focused awareness. As Stephen Batchelor notes in Buddhism Without Beliefs:
“The self is more akin to the complex and ambiguous characters who emerge, develop, and suffer across the pages of a novel. There is nothing thing like about me at all. I am more like an unfolding narrative.”Buddhism without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor
The control we have over our lives, found as it is in bringing to awareness and focusing on particular lines of thought, is not the power of the libertarian, but it is no less incredible because of it. Possibilities await us of which we are currently unaware and there is the freedom to be had in just being.