| Holding the Reins LightlyTaking Back Ownership, Surrendering Controlby Cat Saunders|
Radical is nice, but sometimes radical has to bow to practical.
Control is a funny thing. Just when I think I'm making progress in letting go of it, the trickster spirits up the ante, and I realize I'm a beginner once again.
Make no mistake. There's no question that I'm a recovering control freak. As long as I'm human, I doubt if I'll ever completely get over my desire to be in charge. However, deep down I know that I have very little control over much of anything. At any given moment, the universe can interrupt my best-laid plans in a myriad of ways. What's that old saying? "Man plans, and God laughs."
In any case, I have a sneaking suspicion that my sense of control is at best a delusion based on wishful thinking, cultural conditioning, and a previous diet of too many New Age affirmations, which led me to believe that if I just thought something long enough and hard enough and sincerely enough, it would manifest.
Needless to say, that kind of thinking played right into my pathological need for control. It was seductive to believe that I could manipulate reality through personal acts of will. In point of fact, I found out that I could manipulate reality through personal acts of will.
At some point, however, I realized that I didn't want to impose my will on reality. Instead, I want to use my will to follow what's happening: to pay attention to every aspect of internal and external reality, and to then dance with whatever is happening with as much grace as possible.
This doesn't mean I'm a passive participant, nor does it mean that I don't try to change things that don't feel right. Quite the contrary. Following whatever's happening includes following what's happening in me, which means that I must listen and respond if my body gets revved up, shut down, or blissed out by something. In other words, my body is my barometer: Its signals, sensations, and symptoms provide endless clues that help me follow what's happening.
Let me bring this philosophical discussion down to earth by sharing a personal story. Those of you who read my New Times series on death may remember an essay called "Death and Renunciation: A Monk in the Material World" [send SASE to The New Times for this or any other reprint desired]. In that essay, I described a rather radical course of action that I'd taken regarding ownership, namely, that I had renounced it.
This process included giving up legal ownership of my company (Heartwings Foundation), letting go of owning personal possessions, and relinquishing the rights to my book, Dr. Cat's Helping Handbook. Although this was definitely a big step on the material plane, it was something I'd been working toward spiritually for many years. It actually felt more like a completion than a beginning.
I continued to be responsible for all the work involved with Heartwings Foundation, my household, and the book. I just didn't own anything anymore. Effective January 1, 1998, the checks were no longer made out to me; the business licenses were no longer in my name; and the book's copyright belonged to Heartwings Foundation, which was owned by someone else. All the legal documentation was in place, including an updated will.
Frankly, I thought that was the end of it. Since I figured that this step into material renunciation was a permanent one, I settled into my life of non-ownership with the assumption that I would spend the rest of my life that way. It was therefore quite a shock when my life was turned upside down last September, suddenly and without warning. Over the next three months, my life changed in ways I could never have predicted unless I'd somehow known that the recurring nightmares I'd been having for the last decade were more than just dreams. They were also prophetic.
Although I'd used these nightmares as grist for the mill in my inner work, I had no idea they were prophetic until I noticed one day last fall that I was living them. This was sobering, to say the least. However, it was also strangely comforting, because it helped me see that my soul knew all along that the upheaval of those three months was simply part of the plan.
At some point during this personal upheaval, it became apparent that my professional life also had to change: my comfortable cloak of renunciation had to give way to ownership once again. Although the monk lifestyle fit my nature and appealed to my radical side, I'm also very practical and it was no longer practical for someone else to be at the helm of Heartwings.
Gradually, I realized that I was being asked to relinquish control in an even bigger way: by surrendering control over what form my livelihood took. I began to see that I had become attached to living as a renunciate in a particular way. I hadn't realized that there might be another way to be a monk in the material world.
As it turns out, there's an even better way now for me to be a monk in the material world, but strangely, it involves me being the monastery as well as the monk. That is, one part of me must own and run the monastery the umbrella foundation of work that supports the monk and the other part of me gets to be the monk who is supported.
It's kind of like an actress who also works as a waitress, or a shaman who also works as a craftsman. Although most actresses would prefer to only be actresses, it's actually common for shamans to have dual means of support. In fact, while a shaman's spiritual work may be his or her primary calling, it's usually a secondary occupation.
Similarly, I'm returning to my longtime trade as a counselor and a consultant, which means that the outgoing part of me will take care of the introverted part. Since these parts are sometimes at odds with each other, I've had to come up with a plan to make them both happy.
For one thing, I've had to face my fears about people's judgments concerning money. At first, I was worried that people might think it's mercenary to charge $75-$100 an hour as a counselor and a consultant if I'm also a monk. After all, I only request a $5-$10 weekly donation for my prayer services through Rent-A-Monk (see end of article for details).
The thing is, even though spiritual work is my deepest calling, it hasn't been a viable means of support. Simple mathematics will show you that I'd have to work for ten to twenty Rent-A-Monk participants each week to receive the same compensation as one hour of counseling work. Since Rent-A-Monk work is very time-consuming, and since my physical stamina is limited, I have to be realistic about this. Although I'd love to support myself solely through prayer work, it's not what was happening.
Lest you think this means that spiritual work is not my true calling, let me assure you that the New Age admonishment to "do what you love and the money will follow" is not always true. Just because something is your calling doesn't mean it will pay the bills. In fact, some people are tested in their commitment to their passion work by the very fact that they don't receive much financial compensation for it.
Upon careful examination of that New Age spiel about money, I realized that it's simply another twist on the same old control pattern. The promise that you will get this if you do that is merely another carrot-and-stick technique, which is actually a form of bribery. If you've ever read Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn, you know what I mean.
History is full of examples of people who have done what they loved and died paupers. The point is, if you need money as a reward for doing what you love, then you may be more interested in money than in doing what you love. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but as Arny Mindell would say, "Know what you're doing and do it!"
Don't confuse love of money with love of your passion work. The two may feed each other, or they may not. If you don't make a lot of money doing what you love, it doesn't necessarily mean that you're on the wrong track, and it sure as hell doesn't mean that you should stop doing what you love. You may just have to do more than one thing in life. That's all. If you're like me, you might discover that this is a blessing, not a curse.
For one thing, I've had a prayer for years that goes like this: "Use me well, God." It's funny, but for the last two years, I couldn't help but notice that while I was too physically depleted to do my counseling practice, I was guided to relinquish ownership, retreat from public life, and do the only two things I could do without getting more debilitated, namely, write and pray. My body forced me to follow my passions, even though this meant taking on significant debt, which was abhorrent to me.
During those two years, I finished Dr. Cat's Helping Handbook, and I founded Rent-A-Monk as a vehicle for my spiritual work. Now, though I still walk a razor's edge of balance with my health, I'm strong enough to resume private practice. So guess what? That's exactly how I'm being used again.
Although the monk in me resisted this, the consultant in me was chomping at the bit to jump back in. Filled with two years of transformative inner work, I wanted to see how this would affect my counseling style. I wanted the opportunity to be with people once again: to listen to them, learn with them, and encourage them to believe in themselves. There are few privileges sweeter than this.
In the writing department, I also couldn't help but notice that the endless "delays" with Dr. Cat's Helping Handbook had resulted in a publication date that didn't happen until I'd taken back ownership of the copyright. In reflecting on this, I had to look past the benefits of renunciation and see that as long as someone else owned the book, there was a way in which I wasn't taking full responsibility for it. Of course, responsibility is the high side of ownership, and I want to be fully responsible for my book.
Although I learned a lot during those two years of material renunciation, I'm now learning about a whole new level of surrender, where I take full responsibility and own everything legally again, but in my heart, I hold the reins lightly now the way you'd hold the reins on a really good horse that you can trust to lead the way. I know I can trust myself. I just have to follow whatever's happening.
Cat Saunders, Ph.D., is the author of Dr. Cat's Helping Handbook (due out soon). You can learn more about the book, Cat's consultation services, her 13-part series on death, and her work with Rent-A-Monk by visiting <www.drcat.org>.