Power to direct or determine

A relation of constraint of one entity (thing or person or group) by another

We all know people who exhibit great self-control. Whilst we consistently fail to control our impulses in certain departments, they take great pride in going to bed early; abstaining from intoxicating substances or stimulants; get up early every morning, and go for a walk before we are even awake, and we wonder how they do it!

How can they be so controlled in life? Well that’s what we are here to find out, so let us begin.

I don’t know about you, but most people get impulses at some time or other to do something out of character; but although they think about it, they rarely act on these impulses. It is just imagination. But what would happen if you did let go?

What would you do if there were no consequences for acting on impulses, no law to say you couldn’t do anything? What would you do?

Would you want to smash something? Would you take a sledgehammer and start smashing your house up? Maybe you would take a sledgehammer and smash someone’s head in? How about running down to the nearest brothel and have sex with as many prostitutes as possible, or doing some cocaine or heroin? What do you think?

Don’t worry, there are no consequences, you can act on any impulse you like! Maybe you’d go to the bank and make a “withdrawal” using a gun as your withdrawal slip? Remember it’s your choice. For today only, you call the shots.

So have you decided what you would like to do? How about bombing an entire race of people you don’t like?

One thing’s for sure, once people let go of self-control it’s probably going to start getting messy out there as most people don’t want to go and save a million starving children on impulse.


1. An instinctive motive

2. A sudden desire

Occasionally, we all do things on impulse. We might just decide to get on a plane and see our child who lives abroad, or we might phone an old friend we haven’t spoken to for years. We may even just decide to quit our job; but these are all harmless impulses. Even deciding to go out and get drunk on impulse is going to give you no more than a rather large hangover. No, we are talking about bigger things here. We are talking about man letting go of all self-control, and carrying out his wildest fantasies. Things he knows maybe wrong, but he just can’t help himself doing.

I wonder how many crimes have been carried out, not in premeditation, but just by someone acting on impulse? I imagine a lot.

“I didn’t mean to kill her, I don’t know what I was thinking; I just took the knife and I stabbed her.”

But remember today’s the day when impulse is king! You can do anything you want; have you decided what it will be yet?

As I’ve been writing this I know what mine will be. I want to smash up the house. That would be great I think! Just to take a sledgehammer and break everything into tiny pieces with no thoughts for the consequences.

After four years of writing, it will sure come as a relief!

But we won’t do these things will we? We will exercise self-control, and the impulses will only ever get as far as our imagination. Thank goodness.

But one thing troubles me. If we have to use self-control, then what does that say about our natural self?

Are we saying we would really like to do these things, just if (a) no one was looking, and (b) we could get away with it? Let’s go into this more deeply shall we?

Are we saying that man would act on all his impulses if he didn’t control himself? Quite possibly.

So what we need to find out is whether this self-control is a natural mechanism, or one concocted by the society to stop chaos setting in. Imagine now, that a lion is sitting relaxing in the sun, when suddenly he gets the impulse to kill his entire family. Do you think that could happen?

Now I don’t know a lot about the animal kingdom, but I’ve never read about or seen this kind of behaviour. Maybe an elephant suddenly has an impulse to destroy all the trees in the forest and then set about killing his children! Ever heard of it happening? What about our trusted friend in life, the dog? Ah now that’s a different story! Man’s best friend has been known to act on his impulses. In fact, as I found out on many occasions, my labrador exhibited little self-control sometimes.

Normally he would happily stay on his own if I was out, but sometimes I would come home and walk through the door, and think “Oh my god…” and just look around at the destruction he had caused. He would have eaten as much as he could from cupboards he could reach, torn the sofa cushions into pieces, chewed the wall, eaten the backs of several shoes and shredded magazines and perhaps even eaten some of his own bed. He had literally gone on a rampage (act violently, recklessly, or destructively), and if he was a human, he could have been arrested and sent to court for destroying my house, but a dog he was, out of the reach of the law; so with a stern warning never to do it again, the house returned to normal, and I went off to work every day with chewed shoes.

Maybe animal psychologists would say he was bored and frustrated, but it is funny that he is so close to man, and yet man himself has these urges too. Just a coincidence perhaps?

How many times have we seen crowds that have gone on a rampage? It’s normally during some demonstration where the tension builds and builds, and then magically, some people just let themselves go, and start smashing shops and cars; setting fire to things, and stealing goods from shops. It’s usually what would be termed a riot (a public act of violence by an unruly mob, a public act of violence by an unruly mob), and aggressively put down by the law enforcement agencies.

You see, it is against the law to act in this way; just imagine what would happen to the economy of the country and to society as a whole, if everyone was engaged in acting on impulse because that’s what it is.

Everyone must learn self-discipline!

Any monk will tell you that. They will say we must control ourselves and our natural urges if we are to achieve enlightenment. So, they go to bed early, and get up at dawn every day to do their meditation practice, or prayer. They do not engage in sexual activity (become celibate), eat simple meals, live in a simple room, and they abstain from alcohol and drugs.

It might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but I’ve tried it during a short stay at a buddhist community, and enjoyed it. There was something calming about the routine and the (imposed) self-discipline that freed the mind from the destructive influence of modern life. “They were going back to basics,” I thought to myself. “Self-discipline is all about going back to our more natural state, that’s why it feels good.”

But the longer I spent there, and the more I talked to some of the long term residents of the community, the more I realised that there was nothing natural about self-discipline at all. It was all about control.

I needed to find out more, so I spoke to one of the long term residents on the island whom I believe was a monk for a period of time. I asked him why he was there on the island:

“I’m here because I want to be of service to others,” he replied in a bit too text book fashion for my liking.

“But how did you get to be living here in the first place?” I probed.

“I used to be a heroin addict, alan, and this place saved me.” The community was on an island, with no alcohol, cigarettes or drugs allowed and only several small ferries a day to take us to the main island; but I found out from other people that he chose to stay on the island most of the time just in case he went to the pub or started smoking or taking drugs.

I noticed that any time he was off the island, he quickly lit a cigarette and puffed heavily on it! No harm there, but all this talk of self-discipline was starting to disturb me, and I started to gain a bit more insight.

There was also an older man on the island, who spent his time there away from the other residents, didn’t join in with meals, and led a separate existence in a room above what could only be described as a shed. “Oh, he’s nearly a yogi (one who practices yoga and has achieved a high level of spiritual insight) alan,” they told me.

He spent most of his time working silently in the garden, doing his meditations with his beads, and didn’t shower regularly. “Here is a man truly on a path to enlightenment,” I thought to myself, “a man trying to free his mind and body from the miserable existence of human life.” But then one day, something changed in my thinking about him.

“Where are you off to today?” I asked him as we were catching the ferry to the main island. “I’ve got a few things to do in town, then I’m off for a couple of swifties in the pub/” “Oh!” I said, trying not to sound too shocked. A swifty is slang for a quick drink, in case you didn’t know.

I just couldn’t understand it. Here was a man, dedicated to the path, “almost a yogi” as someone had said, someone who was denying himself all that western society took for granted, now off to the pub for a few drinks! What was going on?

The more I got to know him, the more I realised that he actually went for a “swifty” quite a lot. Surely alcohol doesn’t help one reach enlightenment? But I never said anything to him. He was obviously serious about his yoga and meditation, and equally serious about alcohol, (well, he did seem to enjoy it).

But why was he denying himself the pleasure he probably wanted? What was all this self-discipline about if he was shooting over to the pub on regular occasions? As time went on, I spoke to many people on the island and it was becoming increasingly clear that a few had had some serious drug or alcohol problems on the mainland in the past. Well, if they didn’t, they did like to talk about it a lot!

It suddenly seemed that this self-discipline was a way of protecting themselves from their own impulses. They were isolating themselves from everybody else and the substances that had caused them problems, and were engaged in the act of denying themselves, to save them from themselves.

O, lord (or anyone) please protect me from myself

When we put ourselves in a self-imposed exile to protect ourselves from our impulses (which come from ourselves), does that mean the impulses will eventually go away? I guess that’s what people who become monks hope! They hope that by denying the body and mind pleasure they will eventually free themselves from it.

Some people are very disciplined, and they are not monks, nor do they have addiction problems. So why do they do it? What are they trying to achieve or more to the point what are they trying to escape from? You see, self-discipline is not a natural state; it is an imposed state that “we” impose on ourselves. But who are “we” and who are we imposing it on?

Do you see the point of the question?

We are saying we must be disciplined in order to free ourselves, but who is talking here; is it not us?

What we need to find is our natural state, not practice rituals to keep us from acting on impulses. It is time we asked ourselves what is going on, so it is time to open up another dialogue; one in which we can truly find out if man naturally wants to smash things, or people, or take drugs; or whether these urges are created by frustration and conflict in the mind, caused primarily by the society we have created? Let’s start.

Me: Hi there mind, me again, I’ve got a couple of questions I’d like answered!

Mind: Oh, you again, ok, go on!

Me: Why is it that we try to become self-disciplined all the time are we afraid of ourselves?

Mind: Why would you be afraid of yourself?

Me: Because sometimes we have these urges to do things we know can’t be in the best interest of our system or society.

Mind: So why do you have them?

Me: That’s what I’m here to find out!

Mind: What urges do you have?

Me: Well, they’re kind of primeval I guess, you know, wanting to have lots of sex with lots of people.

Mind: And why is that a problem?

Me: Because I shouldn’t do it. I shouldn’t even be thinking about it, it’s wrong.

Mind: Why is it wrong?

Me: Because I am in a relationship.

Mind: But these are your urges.

Me: But I don’t want them. I want them to stop.

Mind: So stop then

Me: But I can’t, it’s like there is a force behind me driving me to have them, but it’s not me.

Mind: Who are you?

Me: I am me.

Mind: Who am I?

Me: You are me also

Mind: So if we are one then it is you who is causing these urges to surface, through will and desire.

Me: But how do I stop them?

Mind: Why do you want to stop them?

Me: Because they are wrong.

Mind: I know they are, because my parents told me and it is not acceptable to go off having sex with anyone you like when you are in a relationship.

Me: Isn’t it?

Mind: You tell me.

Me: You tell me.

Mind: Look, we are one – stop dividing us all the time

Me: But who’s answering these questions?

Mind: You are.

Me: But you said, you are, doesn’t that mean you are something different?

Mind: We’ve had this conversation before. When division is ended, there will be no more conflict.

Me: But I am in conflict. There are things I have impulses to do, but I know that in order to keep living in society I must control them.

Mind: Who says?

Me: I say, and society says.

Mind: But you just said you have the impulses, and you have also said you are the one in control. That, my friend is division, can you not see it?

Me: Well, sort of it, but I just want them to stop.

Mind: So stop.

Me: But I can’t. I do notice that there is two of me here one wanting one thing and one wanting the other.

Mind: So which one of you wants to stop having these impulses?

Me: The real me. Or at least the one who was brought up in this society.

Mind: And who is the other?

Me: The other is my animal self, the one that existed before.

Mind: But you are all animal.

Me: No, I mean my higher brain.

Mind: Ah you mean the one that was educated by your parents and conditioned by society is that the brain you are talking about?

Me: Yes, I guess. But it’s very frustrating! On the one hand I would like to go out and have relationships with many women but there is a voice telling me I shouldn’t do it. Is that my voice of conscience?

Mind: Is having a conscience a natural state?

Me: I guess it is. It is the voice that intrinsically knows right from wrong.

Mind: How do you know?

Me: Well I think it is, or perhaps my conscience is just a database of what society told me I can and can’t do.

Mind: Perhaps.

Me: But that means that my conscience may not be real. It may be just a program that was installed by my parents and teachers amongst others.

Mind: And?

Me: And that my real state is the animal state, and so these urges are natural.

Mind: Perhaps, but do animals have these urges?

Me: Yes they do.

Mind: So what’s the problem then?

Me: Well it’s society, they don’t want me to have these impulses, they want me to control myself, to conform otherwise it becomes harmful to the society.

Mind: Exactly.

Me: So does that mean I can go out and have relationships with lots of women? My girlfriend wouldn’t be very pleased!

Mind: But that is your conscience, which is society talking, not you.

Me: I understand. But if we all acted on our impulses then society would collapse.

Mind: Quite possibly, but then we would really see what man is made of wouldn’t we?

Me: I guess. We would probably find out that he is an animal, just like all others, except he has been brainwashed into thinking he is something else. And the powerful people who have conditioned him want to make sure he never finds the natural state. But wait a minute, what about people that are addicted to things and they want to get rid of the addiction. Surely that isn’t society that caused it?

Mind: Well who invented the addictive substances?

Me: True. But what about people who have to imprison themselves physically or psychologically to stop acting on impulses?

Mind: You create the impulse.

Me: True enough, but…

Mind: Listen, we all have impulses to do things, but when we get them we compare them to the database to see if they are acceptable to society. If they are, we do them. If they aren’t, we come into conflict with ourselves and we feel frustrated we can’t act on them.

Me: So what you are saying is, if society finds it acceptable, we do it, but what if society doesn’t approve, and we do it anyway? What then?

Mind: We come into conflict with society.

Me: But this isn’t helping. I want to know why we self-discipline ourselves.

Mind: Because we want to stop the urges, we want to end conflict within ourselves and make sure we don’t come into conflict with society.

Me: But aren’t the urges still there?

Mind: Self-discipline is a control mechanism. Just like discipline in the school, the home or in the wider society is.

Me: So this is all about control?

Mind: Of course. We control what we don’t want to see. But these impulses are part of us.

Me: But what if I want to kill someone, what stops me?

Mind: Your conscience, which society created, is normally enough, as the threat of prison or execution stops you from acting on impulse. But sometimes the impulse is so strong you will do it anyway.

Me: So if I am a murderer, do I have to practice self-discipline to stop me getting urges to kill people?

Mind: If you are in conflict, yes. But once conflict is resolved there will be no more urges

Me: So how do I get rid of conflict?

Mind: By accepting wholeness. Me: That’s easy for you to say, but we have to live in the society, it’s not enough. Surely we must abstain from earthly pleasures in order to see the path.

Mind: What path? All we are doing is talking about conflict. Conflict that is in you. Conflict between what you would like to do, and what society tells you you can or can’t do. That’s all.

Me: But I’m still not clear.

Mind: Listen. You and I are one right? We want to do things, and we compare them with what is right and wrong on our database, and if the database, which is conscience, created by society, tells us it is wrong, we don’t do it, but we feel frustrated and full of conflict. When we see that there is no right and wrong, only insight, we can start getting somewhere.

Me: I still don’t understand.

Mind: If you want to do something, then do it. If you want to get drunk, then get drunk. If you want to kill someone, then kill them. If you want to keep taking drugs then keep taking them. And if you want to go out and have sex with a hundred women then do it! Do you understand? And don’t chastise yourself for doing it; after all, it was a conscious choice. You are whole, there are no hidden urges once you can see that. Only your choice. The only thing you have to be aware of is the consequences.

Me: So can self-discipline quieten my mind; can it stop conflict?

Mind: Well, it can keep it at bay, until such time as the conflict and the frustration become too much to bear, then you must either act on your urges or control them further. Only through awareness, comes the insight necessary to end the conflict.

Me: So are urges wrong?

Mind: For who?

Me: I don’t know.

Mind: There is no right and wrong, only consequences, so you will have to weigh up your urges vs. the consequences. But conditioning by society always pokes it’s head into your arguments. You have to see where society stops and you start.

Me: But am I not society?

Mind: Yes, you are a part of it. But we are talking about the conditioning by society, which is your parents, your teachers, media etc.

Me: So how do I know what is right and wrong? If you say I am an animal then surely it is ok for me to go out and kill a man or smash things up or steal.

Mind Do the animals do that?

Me: Ah! I see what your saying. Animals don’t kill their own species and they have nothing to smash up, but they might steal some food.

Mind: Who’s food is it? Is there an owner in the natural world?

Me: But look, I understand lots of what you are saying but that still doesn’t answer my question. If I stop controlling myself, will I become a crazed madman?

Mind: Why would you? Are the animals crazy? Do they exert self discipline and control on themselves?

Me: I guess not. But it feels like I must control myself.

Mind: That is society talking, not you.

Me: Ok, so how do I stop myself from smashing the place up and killing people, if I have no self-control?

Mind: Do you love all men like your brother? Do you have compassion for the suffering of every living thing on this planet?

Me: I guess I do, I think. Mind: Then you need no self-control, nor self-discipline. Will getting up at 5.00 am every morning help you love?

Me: No.

Mind: Will eating one bowl of rice a day, or sitting in the lotus position help you become more compassionate?

Me: No.

Mind So what is the answer?

Me: I am love. I am compassion.

Mind: So where is the conflict?

Me: There is none.

Mind: You just think you need self-discipline because you are afraid of what you will do if you don’t control yourself.

Me: I see. When I am love and compassion I have no need for self-control.

Mind: Exactly.

Me: But just one more question…

Mind: You’re on your own now. Be the love, be the compassion, don’t force yourself into self-discipline; it is just another way for us to divide ourselves more.

Me: But what about my dog? How could I have stopped him from eating the furniture and my shoes etc.

Mind: He wanted to do it, so he did it. He knew the consequences. Maybe in the future try not locking up an animal all day on his own away from his natural environment. How would you like it? Oh I forgot you are out of your natural environment.

Maybe that was the answer all along…

Chinese (Simplified)