This talk has its origins in the last talk I posted where we discussed the three categories of things that “happen” to us – LINK Reflections on my life (acharyadas.com)
It resulted in a number of questions about how much control we have over our life. This is the subject of this talk.
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So this evening the talk is entitled Taking Control Of Your Life. You guys feel like you’re in control of your lives? Or is it kind of out of control? It’s an important question. This is actually a really quite big and important subject.
We see that there’s kind of like two types of people, generally, just broadly speaking, there’s two types of people that may be looking to gain control of their lives. It is an idea that’s very prevalent in the world, especially with the onset of the New Age kind of thing and all the gradual development of pop psychology that came out of the 1960s, and 70s, and 80s. You’ll see today a lot of people, that their concept of getting in control of their life is total domination. That’s what they’re after. And they’re looking to really control everything and set this course for what they perceive as success, and they’re prepared to do anything and everything needed to arrive at that place. And they feel that determination and positive thinking and everything is how one actually has control over their life.
And so from the early days of positive thinking, then what came more recently in vogue when people say about being “all that you can be.” It’s kind of like, what exactly does that mean, “being all that you can be”? And of course, people tie it to having—I don’t want to say fantasies, but quite often they are fantasies. And through their just positiveness and their strength and determination, they’re gonna get there.
Then you’ve had in more recent times this whole move towards visualization, where you visualize what it is that you want, your success in whatever form that is going to be. And then this was followed by this idea of sending your intentions out to the universe, and that if you do this strongly enough and positively enough, then things will manifest. And so this then took the form of what they now classify as “intention manifestation.” So you have this intention, and you just grind on it, and be real positive and upbeat, and it will manifest.
So all these kinds of people are sort of like within this one category.
There is another category way on the other end of the spectrum, where people feel that they have lost control of their life. It’s sort of like, “What are we gonna do?” It sometimes can happen due to trauma. Somebody has become a victim of physical, mental, sexual abuse, and so they feel that they’ve just absolutely lost control of their life. And then you have, also, people that have developed addictions. Nobody with an addiction feels like they’ve got control of their life. Or not? You don’t. It’s just like one foot in front of the other, the next hit, just one day rolling into the next. And so people, whether it’s a drug addiction, a sex addiction, a gambling addiction—they can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes—people that are in the grips of it, they feel that they’ve lost control of their life, and they want to seek some control.
So, because this topic deals with a quite large variety of different people that sort of have these kinds of feelings or experiences in their life, talking about it in a short time is a little challenging.
But let’s just broadly look at those, in their attempts to want to take control of their life and drive a sort of outcome, such people, frequently they see themselves as the center of the universe. Their life, everything that’s going on around them, is all centered on them. And they look upon the world, and they look upon other people, as things to exploit. Maybe they’re not being so cold and calculated that you’re looking at a person as being an object in such clear ideas, but when you consider what’s driving people, they want to get something from others, some form of fulfillment or happiness, or a sense of being more complete. And they’re often driven, then, by this need and desire to kind of control others, in order to be able to get what it is that you want, what you want and what you expect is going to make you happy.
With all of the varieties of people seeking control in their life within this sort of framework, everybody has a common problem. The common problem is a complete lack of awareness of their actual spiritual identity. Everybody is sort of like completely locked into the misconception that the gross physical body is the self. And of course, it is not. This is simply a garment. And so this illusion that people may be in (and all of us are going to be in that illusion to greater or lesser degrees), mean that we will focus our attempts to manifest control of our life by trying to bend the will of others, or trying to exploit others to get stuff from them, or to get an experience whatever that’s going to be.
There is this gigantic problem that follows, what I’m going to call false identity, and we’ve spoken about this a number of times: The Real Me, False Me, that was a title that we spoke about somewhat recently. If you want to explore that you can take a look at our archive of videos and reference that. In order to develop a very healthy spiritual perspective, there is really a need to have a very clear and realistic view of the world, of myself, and of others.
In terms of the question of, “Well, how much control do I actually have in life?” from the point of view of the yogi, not very much, not as much as you would probably like to have. For example, we are all completely controlled by the laws of nature. No matter how much you want to fly, you can’t just flap your arms and fly. We are always under the control of the laws of material nature. If we are not living alone out in the mountains somewhere, then we are going to be constantly under the control of the of the laws of man. Societies develop laws to govern themselves, to try and maintain some sense of order, to minimize harm to each other, and to have some sort of chance for some happiness. So the laws of men—I mean, see how many red lights you can actually drive through without losing your car, either in an accident, or being pulled over or tracked down from all the red light cameras, and somebody comes along and takes your car and your license off you. You just can’t get away with stuff even though you may really want to. You just can’t.
From the yogic perspective, there is yet another level of control that we are subjected to. And anybody that’s had an addiction problem, or they have suffered, often mental if not physical abuse, is the experience of how my mind, my own mind, and my own desires are exercising so much control over me, to the point that a person can become utterly victimized by their mind. They can fall victim to their mind. And we see this with severe depression, people with real phobias.
I’m not talking about the mickey mouse way that the word phobia is thrown around today. If you have a different political or a different idea on some social issues, and if you oppose me on it, then I’m going to name you a whatever-phobe. And it’s just like this is ridiculous. People are not even qualified clinical psychologists, and they’re now going to be handing out diagnoses to people. If a person suffers from a genuine phobia, it can be very controlling of their life and their ability to function normally.
If we seek to engage in relationships—and I’m not even talking necessarily about romantic relationships, all varieties of relationships, then we become subjected to the controls of give and take. If you want some benefit from the relationship, you have to be prepared to give. You cannot just be a taker, otherwise, it doesn’t last.
So when we kind of unpack things, looking at some of these subjects, it sort of begins to throw a whole new light on this topic of taking control of your life. We could potentially begin to think that we are quite powerless, and to a large degree, we can be.
When I was talking in the last talk that I posted online, I mentioned that there were three categories of things that happened to you in your life: things that come along uninvited or what we may think, we haven’t invited anything like this into our life. They have these sayings like, Why do good people suffer? I saw this article, and I saw a TV discussion on: there couldn’t possibly be a God because there’s so much suffering in the world, and why would God let that happen if He existed? That’s a whole ‘nother subject that we’re not going to get into. But this idea that I can become a recipient of many things that seem to happen uninvited: a little bit earlier we were trying to set up here for streaming, somebody new on the—driving the technicals, and they ran into some problems, unexpected problems that interrupts even our good intentions to stream things. There are so many things that come into our life as if uninvited.
And when these kinds of things happen people develop—sometimes the reaction to it is to start spinning out. I had an early morning conversation with some friends in another part of the world who had reached out to me because all of a sudden there had been this unexpected very personal crisis in their family. And it was like for the last so many days everybody’s upbeat, happy, mom and dad, it’s all working good. Then all of a sudden one of the kids makes some sort of a revelation, and it’s like now your world suddenly just gets blown up. Especially if whatever is that’s revealed is quite traumatic and you know… It can just sort of like get blown up.
And in those kinds of situations people really have this sense of being out of control, but wanting to be in control, and wanting to control all the stuff that’s happening to me, and all the stuff that I’m going to be experiencing. I want to control and organize that. And the reality is, it’s not a possibility. It’s not possible. Stuff is going to happen whether you like it or not. Whether you are prepared or expecting it or not, things are going to happen.
And it’s because of these, what I talked about, the three things that happen to you in your life. The first category is tied to the fruit of past karma. The yogic teachings on the fruit of karma, karmic reaction, is not just about this—what you’re doing in this lifetime. They say that from previous lifetimes, not just your previous life, but previous lifetimes, that you show up in this particular life with a mountain of baggage. People look at the little newborn baby, and they go, “Oh, it’s so pure and so innocent.” No, it’s not. That little dude is—they may have a fresh new body, but they’re coming with a mountain of baggage. And throughout their life this is going to be—these bags are going to be unpacked, and you are going to be forced to partake of the fruit, and some of the fruit are sour and bitter, and some of them are very sweet.
So in terms of things that I have already done over time and the result of those that I am going to have to experience, that’s not changing. I can’t prevent, I can’t stop that. I can’t change that. What I want to focus on though, is the areas of our life where we actually do have control, and where we should be focusing our effort and energies.
If I want to take control of my life, then I need to be utterly realistic. I mentioned in that previous talk, I was sort of like giving a little bit of a—I was talking a little bit about my life experience in that talk. What the vast majority of people, the way that they go through life is often spending more time trying to change the things that you can’t change or wishing they were different, and just like in that space, “Oh if only I hadn’t done that. I wish it wasn’t like that. Why was that person such a whatever? How come they treated me like that? How come they spoke to me like that?”
These are the areas of life that we have no control over. What we have control over is how we are going to deal with that, how we are going to process that, and how we are going to respond to that. And more importantly, I can consider what do I want my course and life to be? Where do I want to end up? And then begin to actively engage in activity that produces these realistic results.
On the course that we’ve been running in prisons where we try to help incarcerated people process and consider their life, how they got to where they are, and what they’re going to do about it, and what they want to try to do. So one of the things that we do in one of those classes, is we actually do an exercise where we have people actually take some time reflecting and writing down a list of the things that you actually have control over or can exercise control over.
And some of the things that we have gleaned from these lists are (and these are some of the examples) setting your priorities, like making a decision what is going to be my priority. One of the things that you see with people that have been deprived of their liberty locked up in jail, anybody that’s got a family really sorely misses them, and their children’s birthdays come around; even we’re talking about heavily tattooed gang members, hardened criminal elements, every single person has this desire for loving relationships. They just don’t know how to go about it, and they often haven’t learned how to get there. But being locked up, then they can start to think, “Well, if I was back home rather than going out with the guys this afternoon, to some sports event or to be just drinking and partying, I could take some time to help my son grow into a man. I could become a model for my daughter so that she learns what it means to have a healthy relationship with a male.”
So when we talk about setting your priorities, it can cover a whole range of things. Unfortunately, in life many people have priorities, but priorities that they haven’t really thought about. They’ve just been pulled by desires, pulled by their minds.
So other things that we gleaned: how much effort you put into things, and for example, relationships, family, friends, social obligations, how much effort you put into those things, that is within your control. That’s not somebody else’s. That’s your life. That’s an area of your control. One that came up and was quite a startling revelation for people is that you can actually decide how kind you are going to be. That blows a lot of people’s minds because it’s not normally how people think, particularly in this time of social media and, you know, what things are like in life: that bumper sticker that I’ve seen around for quite a few years now, Commit random acts of kindness. That’s actually really cool, and it’s an interesting idea.
And there’s a group in the UK. They were—it was an organization started by some university professors that are studying happiness, and they’ve started a whole movement showing people things that they can do that will actually make them happy. And a big part of it was displays of actual kindness, where you consciously decide, today I need at least once to show kindness to someone. It may be a family member. It may be somebody in my workplace. It may be somebody I just meet on the road, or in my travels, or whatever, but the idea of having a goal that at least once today I will engage in an act of kindness. This really is empowering and gives people a sense of how much control they actually have in their life. And these are all things that people frequently overlook.
So, another example is your decision of what you’re going to eat, or drink, or inhale and whether that’s going to be good for you or not good for you. That’s all completely within your power. The idea of how open-minded you are and accepting of others; how seriously you take this wonderful gift of life; the decision on who you’re going to hang out with: the old adage birds of a feather flock together. They have a saying, you don’t hear it very much now: Show me your friends and I’ll show you who you are; how you react with others, meaning other people’s words and their actions, how you react to things; the idea of whether you proactively show empathy for the suffering of others, or do you just turn away or take out the cell phone.
A few, what? a month and a half a couple of months ago? I re-posted again this animation, a song by Moby and the Pacific Voice Choir, Are You Lost In The World Like Me? and it’s a scathing look at modern society and people’s absorption in devices, and I mean it gets so extreme. You have this case of this woman who dances weird, and then people video it, and it’s posted all over the internet. Then she becomes a subject of massive amounts of bullying, and she ends up on a ledge of a building high up, and a crowd is gathered down below, and everybody’s got their phone out videoing. And what are they looking for? They want her to jump, and they want to capture it. Then you see everybody moving in unison as she is jumped, following her down, then all these flashes going off, and the body is on the ground. And it’s an animation, but it’s heavy. And then everybody’s back to the devices, and they’re all walking off in different directions. And it’s sort of like, wow! that’s a scathing look at society and potentially what we have become.
So the decision: it should be a conscious decision, to show empathy towards the suffering of others, being willing to help others. You have control of your words, what you say, and how you say it. And you have control over when and how you show gratitude. I mean these were just some of the things that came out of these classes that we used to do, and there was heaps more, but these ones kind of—I find them very moving.
The need for us to take charge of our life, to have higher purpose, and then to have a plan to execute a higher purpose, and it will always involve showing kindness, love, compassion, empathy for others. And in doing it we become empowered in our own life. When things begin to happen to us we will be much more grounded.
When a person takes up the practice of meditation, this is such a transforming thing. It is so transformative, and it really empowers people to make these kinds of changes, to come to the point of truly taking control of your life.
In closing out, I just wanted to mention once again my old favorite, the Serenity Prayer. We need to make conscious decisions about how we are going to live, and begin incrementally to live such lives. And as we take the first tiny step, it gives us energy and strength to take the next one and the more that you step forward in such a purposeful life the more empowered you become. The way in which you become affected by those things beyond your control, it really, really reduces—you don’t have all these emotional responses, you don’t get all depressed about stuff.
So that guidance: “Grant me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change.” This is something that’s really missing in the world today, where you have people are so fragile. Now everybody’s talking about resilience, resilience, how do you build resilience? Well, a big part of it is not to have unrealistic expectations. You don’t live in a fantasy world. And learn to come to accept those things that you cannot change. And it’s really interesting: grant me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change. That idea is a really deep idea.
Where is that serenity going to come from? It’s going to come from the recognition that I am an eternal spiritual being; the time I spend in this world, in this particular body, is limited, and the time is quickly running out; and everything that I call mine here, including all the relationships, are going to come to an end. How I interact with others, how I interact with the world, it matters, and it matters to me in terms of how it’s going to affect my life. And so that serenity will come from this ability to really to have this spiritual foundation, where one is incredibly secure in their spiritual being.
Second part, “…to grant me the courage to change that which I can…” This is the big one. This is what we’re talking about, that if you want a better life, if you want a brilliant life, if you want a wonderful life don’t think that acquiring stuff is going to do that, or acquiring experiences is going to do that. If you want a brilliant life it will be determined by how you are living, and how you are interacting, how you are dealing with the world, and how you are dealing with others, not what they are doing to you. But one needs to be courageous to actually set such a course and to become determined to take control of your life. One needs to be very blessed. One needs spiritual support and blessing to be able to do that.
It is through the process of meditation upon these transcendental sounds that we use that will really make it so that this all becomes possible. So in closing tonight I’d like to invite you to chant with me. I will chant the mahamantra, or the Hare Krishna mantra. And to really—I have so many resources on my own website, acharyadas.com, that you can use to build a personal practice, and to listen to affirmations that have to do with this spiritual journey that we should be on. And the process of meditation will make it so you develop great clarity, and courage, and the ability to see things very, very clearly. Thank you very, very much. So we will chant.