Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Control and excess baggage

I’m a control freak. I admit it. I manage. I over-prepare. Some people think controllers are picky or particular or selfish, that we do what we do because we want things our way. That isn’t the case. Anyone who believes that these controlling tendencies come from a desire to control others for our own gain or to have power over others doesn’t understand the fear that lies behind this compulsion.

When I was a child, my grandmother was ill and my mother would often fly from California to Kansas to see her. I don’t know where this particular fear came from, but I had convinced myself that if I went with my mother, she would be safe, but if she traveled without me there was a good chance she would die in a plane crash. (Morbid child? Me? No!) I didn’t believe that I was some lucky charm to be carried for protection. It was more a sense of responsibility, as if my presence and my attention could thwart danger. Needless to say, I worried the whole time she was gone.

I am amazed at how our bodies store these patterns in our nervous system and how easily the patterns can be triggered when we experience similar stimulus. Our minds seem to have little capacity for managing the body’s response. It isn’t rational and sometimes we’re not even aware that we’ve been triggered. We just know that our body has gone into “fight or flight” mode leaving our stomach in knots, our muscles tight, and our nerves on edge.

That’s where I’m at today. Tom left for Illinois today to visit his family. This is the first trip he’s taken by himself since we’ve been together. Since he insisted on taking this trip alone, I was inclined to let him handle all the preparations himself. But as he began to gather things and pack, I found myself stepping in to assist. I really struggled internally with this compulsion to help, but I felt like a mother whose child was going off to college. It was then that I realized the depth of the fear that drives me to try to control and manage all the minutiae in life. It was as if by ensuring that Tom has every item he needs (or might possibly need) for his trip, I would protect him from harm. It’s an attempt to manage the future by being prepared for any and all possibilities.

This fear-based behavior doesn’t stop with my loved ones. I do the same thing when I take a trip. There is this heavy sense of preparing for the unknown that goes into everything I do from readying the car to packing snacks and reading material. I often have to remind myself that if I forget the toothpaste there are hundreds of places along the way to pick up more. If you saw all that I carry you’d think I was driving into the wilderness or visiting a third-world country.

I’ve always wanted to be someone who travels light, who carries the most minimal of possessions to get by. I wrote the poem below over ten years ago. I suspect it was after I hauled a giant suitcase all over Britain and Ireland for ten days. I’ll never forget dragging that thing up and down stairs on the London Underground. I’m in the process of scheduling a short tour in the fall. I hope by then I will have learned to be a little more trusting of the Universe, relying on my inner tools much more than the “stuff” I pack in the van.

© Trinity Demask

Travel lite, I say,
though I know better as
I stack and stuff the suitcase full
of comfort in every

Just in case, in
the event of improbable situations,
I pack for survival,
for sustenance,
for hope.

Travel lite, free to
roam and wander content
in the faith that
the universe will

My bags grow heavy with
fear and distrust.
How I long to conjure courage
into my suitcase,
fold peace within my backpack
and walk, empty-handed
and full-hearted into life.

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