Imagine that you are driving and you bump another car. The other driver gets out of the car in full rage. You have no control over what this driver will do. She is a separate human being. She could do anything.
You also have no control over the thoughts that appear in your mind at that moment:
‘How dare she swear at me.’
‘I need to get away from her.’
‘She looks really upset, poor thing.’
Whichever thoughts seem real to you in that moment will give rise to your behaviour:
You might swear back.
You might back away.
You might ask if she is OK.
So you are not in control of any of it: the other driver, the thoughts about her or your behaviour that results from your thoughts.
Does this mean you are just an automaton?
Are we simply oblivious receivers and automatic transmitters of whatever appears in our heads?
We would be… if we didn’t have the gift of consciousness.
This is the gift that allows us to experience our thoughts as though they are real but crucially, it also allows us to observe them as the ever-changing, ever transient, neutral mental energy they really are.
Inherent in this gift is 100% custody for what we believe in any moment and for what we do as a consequence of that belief, even though what we believe is out of our control.
Crazy isn’t it? You might even say WTAF if you were that way inclined.
It is this gift that means that, even though I have no control over the road woman, for the moment that she is in my life, she is entirely in my care. Every single thing about her is perceived through me in that moment. She can’t exist for me other than through my perception of her, all created out of momentary thought, all in my mind.
It is the same for all my thoughts. Even though I have no control over when and how and what thoughts appear, once these thoughts appear in my head, they are in my custody. Only mine.
The behaviours that result from these thoughts, even though I essentially have no choice about them because they come directly from whatever thoughts I believe, are in my custody. Only mine.
So there we have it 100% custody of anything that comes through us, 0% control.
I see this most clearly with my children.
I have 100% custody for how they appear to me. They are created moment by moment in my thoughts. There is no other way that they can exist in my life.
At the same time, any control I think I have over them is an illusion.
I can put food on the table but I have no control over what they decide they will or will not eat, how they digest that food, how well they use it to grow.
I can take them to school but I have no control over what they learn or don’t learn, what they are interested in, what they agree with or not, what they absorb, how much they daydream, how they think.
I can create a home for them but I have no control over their happiness, their friendships, who they love, who they want to spend time with, who they admire and copy, their state of mind, their outlook, their self esteem or self confidence.
I can encourage and support them but I have no control over what they are passionate about or bored by, what they want to do with their lives, where they want to live, what their hobbies will be, what they will be talented at.
Kahlil Gibran describes this beautifully. “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
It is the same for everything else.
I have custody of my thoughts because they are arising in my mind. They are not in my control.
I am the custodian of my mood because it is arising within me. My mood is out of my control.
I have custody of my career/job/future because it is me that is experiencing it. My career/job/future is out of my control.
I am the custodian of what I believe. What I believe and don’t believe is not in my control.
I have custody of my behaviour. What I do and don’t do, say or don’t say is not in my control.
All of this is ‘life’s longing for itself. Coming through me but not from me’. All I can ever do is remind myself of this and to notice it. My consciousness allows me to bring an end to, propagate, magnify or transform the thoughts as they come through.
Custodianship of our experience without control over it is the truth of our existence.
Understanding that this is the nature of human life simultaneously takes the most enormous weight off our shoulders and also allows us to bring genuine, compassionate, clear-sighted responsibility to the moment at which our experience begins.
We suffer because most of us believe the opposite.
We suffer because we believe that we should have control over our thoughts, our children, our behaviour, our future, our employees, our experience, our diet, our moods, our environment, our circumstances, our career, our mental state, our confidence, our habits, our motivation. We believe we should have 100% control or we are somehow lacking.
At the same time, we completely overlook the fact that our experience of all of this is simply thought in the moment arising in our minds. We forget that every perception, implication, meaning, feeling, opinion about any of it is being generated in our mind. And because we forget, we take 0% custodial responsibility for this experience.
This misunderstanding is the origin of every problem we ever have and every conflict in which we ever find ourselves.
When we live, believing the opposite of who we really are and where our experience comes from, we suffer.
But when we realise the truth, everything changes.
Knowing it is simply thought arising from moment to moment within us, we take 100% responsibility as the space in which the experience of life, the experience of ourself and the experience of everyone else is created.
Knowing that everything changes all the time, we realise we have 0% control over any of it – no control over what others think, say or do, no control over what will appear in our mind in the next five minutes, no control even over whether we will wake up in the morning.
The awareness of this truth glows out from the most inspiring leaders. These are the people who live in the realisation of ultimate custody for the world because it is their world, their creation. At the same time they are fully aware that no control of it is possible, that change is built into its nature.
These are the people who understand their role in the centre of the universe. They know they are creating it moment by moment through their thoughts. They realise that the only way violence will ever end is when they can look with peace on the perpetrators of violence, the only way hatred will ever end is when they love the people who are hating. They notice ill-treatment and they look to their own lives for where they themselves are mistreating others.
They realise that when they hate those that hate or wish violence on those that commit violence or judge those that judge, they are proving to themselves the impossibility of acting differently from what they are thinking and believing in that moment. If they can’t do it, how can they expect anyone else to?
To come to this truth of life, all we can ever do is to notice.
Because in the noticing is the realisation of what we are bringing into existence in that moment: a man, a thought, a woman, a child, a mood, a circumstance, a past.
This is our custodial responsibility.
To become clear.
To see more.
To come time and time again into the truth of our experience.
And when we forget the truth, to be compassionate with ourself and with others who also forget.
The only guidance we have that tells us when we are close to the truth is the deep feeling of realness, simplicity, love and connection.
This is the rudder that steadily guides us through an external reality which changes from moment to moment. There is nothing out there that we can use as a reference point. We can only use our deepest feeling of knowing.
We have no control over any of it.
We are the custodian of all of it.