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Controlling your Life: Renunciation and Spontaneity

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Today I thought we could explore our general tendencies and attitudes about the management of our lives. Often we feel that life is something we must manage, and that we are the true “manager” of our life. We may feel that sometimes we’re on top of it, and doing a good job with this; but other times we blow it, and fail to manage our affairs effectively. We are prone to these two tendencies of either over-managing or mismanaging our lives.

In my case, I always felt I mismanaged my life, failing to bring about the precise conditions that I wanted. It never turned out as I wanted, so there was a continual sense of not being a very successful manager of my life. Yet I noticed there were some people who appear to be always very good at managing their life. They seemed to know exactly what they wanted, and were apparently able to do exactly the right thing to get it. They seemed to be totally in control.

I think we all feel this way at times, not just me. There is this tendency to see other people as quite efficient and in control, with everything perfectly organized, while we ourselves feel very chaotic. Most of our thoughts and emotions are up in the air. We don’t know what to expect from one minute to the next, let alone what we’re doing with our life. It may seem to us that everything has come together almost randomly by coincidence, so there is this persistent sense of confusion, or feeling that we need to “get our act together.”

It may be that, in some ways, we all need to become better managers of our life. But from my point of view, it actually seems better to be somewhat of a mis-manager of one’s life, rather than striving to become a great manager.

I think it’s better to be someone with a lot more going on in your life than solely what you have already envisioned for yourself. If we only accomplish what we have envisioned, and our vision is not very big, we’ll end up with a very limited experience of life. So we will limit the potential to experience life to the fullest, while missing the possibility of enjoying a feeling of the greatest abundance. This results from our over-managing tendencies. In some ways, yes, maybe our life is a little chaotic and we have the sense of feeling tossed around by all the things that have happened in our life. Maybe this has produced the effect of feeling we have no solid ground. But I think it is precisely because of that, the connection with our greater nature can actually be very good.

So we have to ask ourselves, “Where do I want to be? Do I want to be an expression of this natural essence?” If we want to be immersed in the Buddha nature, to be available to spontaneity, with the passion to flow with that energy, this is, I think, a much better option than being constrained by our limitations or expectations. Otherwise, we find ourselves projecting hundred of fears before even beginning an activity—even before the thought to move in a certain direction.

There are a number of aspects to this. Just looking at it from the outside, it may seem desirable to over-manage your life. You feel very much in control, and you feel quite able to do what you want to do. But inside, it is one’s ego that is always in control. The power of our intelligence is always operating in every situation. When your ego is in control of your heart, there is very little room to give anything or offer anything. There is very little chance to get rid of anything—which also means there is very little risk-taking by the ego in order to experience anything new. The ego risks very little to do anything, so it can function very comfortably from its own familiar cocoon.

From the outside, things may look quite well-organized and life looks like it is going quite well—but from the inside it’s a different story. The worst part of this dilemma is that there’s no awareness of what’s really happening with one’s life or in one’s mind. Instead, there’s a rational explanation for everything you are doing. We have so many reasons and so much pride in how we live our lives. We tend to view other people as being very emotionally messy, or at least much more messed up than we are. So we look at them and think we’ve figured out the right way to live our life, while thinking, “these other people have no clue about how to live.”

It's that arrogance, I think, that separates us from others so much, especially with regard to relationships. If the man is more like that, then the woman becomes weakened over time and has less and less a sense of themselves. Sometimes it is the opposite, where the woman is like that, and the man feels weakened. This also can happen in relationships between friends. A game of superiority takes place, and is always played out when our ego gets involved in that way.

With time, this over-managing tendency leads to a tremendous sadness. A lot of the time you can sense this in someone. Without exchanging any words, you just know, even though you can’t quite pinpoint something specific. This tendency leaves a person somewhat isolated from the world and from other people, especially those who love and care about them the most. It leaves the person with the feeling of being quite together, a good person, yet isolated in their sense of goodness. There is actually no genuine and honest exchange in their life. And when there is no experience of genuine and honest exchange, there’s an accompanying sense of isolation in one’s own suffering and pain. Very subtly, this consumes a person's inner peace. It is subtly eroded, not in an obvious or gross way. In this situation, the person won't allow themselves to be subject to any outward or inward emotional pain. So they feel it on a subtle level, but don't necessarily recognize it. Even though the pain of the ego is very much felt, it isn't really recognized in this case. It takes a lot of awareness to recognize the pain of one’s ego, but nevertheless that doesn’t mean we don't feel it.

From this point of view, I think when we are younger and still unaware of the patterns of our mind, it’s preferable to have some passion and a very open and spontaneous heart, willing to see the world as it presents itself. Taste the flavors of the world as they arise, and experience the world with the mind of a child.

Most of us can’t live that way for long however. I think only the great practitioners or mahasiddhas (Skt., greatly accomplished beings) can continue to live like that because they do not have any sort of barriers to experience. We can’t live that way because we do have a lot of barriers. We need some objectivity about this, to see where our mind is, and how to work with it realistically. There have been many artists, musicians, and other passionately creative people who may have been geniuses, but who never figured this out. Many of them ended up in mental hospitals, or were seen as crazy.

So, we must be able to work objectively with both of these tendencies. I feel the most reliable way to do this is through the practice of Dharma, which helps us cultivate an inner contentment, as well as develop the valuable quality of renunciation. These capacities allow us to achieve more balance in our life. Without the practice of Dharma, I feel we’re likely to fall into one extreme tendency or the other: either the tendency of being too loose and spontaneous, just being blown by every wind, very passionately and indulgently; or becoming incredibly precise and meticulous, tightly in control, managing everything with no spontaneity in one’s life at all.