by Ang Kia Yee

I have been thinking about control, a key pain point in my life, which brings with it complications of trust and pace. What do I owe another person, if not some degree of control over myself? We can claim to hold space for each other in all our forms, but are we not also capable of easily exceeding each other’s capacities? I struggle to believe that I can unravel and not create discomfort, even friction for you. I guess I feel a little unhappy about this, but I also state it factually to myself: we are still too much for each other.

I can’t tell if this is pessimism, or something actually level-headed that I want to come to terms with. Partially because I know I’m a little off-kilter right now. For one, I got pretty shaken up last night juggling multiple important (to me) conversations, in the middle of which a cockroach showed up in my room. Like holding a tree trunk and shaking the leaves and fruit off, I shook up my whole room to corner the cockroach, all the while forming an argument in my head for its survival. If a central tenet of my new practice is to help all living things, how can I kill a cockroach? How can I say my life and comfort is more valuable that its life, its comforts? Could I, a human being, simply live with it?

Having suddenly shaken up all my clutter and items, I realised that the cockroach was also some kind of signal. Someone was saying to me: “Hey, you should take a closer look at these things.” I left the pretty chaotic pool of objects all over my room floor, conscious that it would become the opening task of next morning.

Ultimately, I could not win the argument. I caved in and sprayed insect killer at strategic sections of my room. This morning, as I began to parse through my things in a sleepy daze, I spotted the cockroach dead just behind my table. The presentation was oddly clean; it was on its back, lit neatly by the sun. One of its legs had fallen off (perhaps I had hurt it when I was knocking my things around to try sniffing it out), and lay just an inch or two away from its body. Something about its size (which I think is actually very average) felt stressfully enlarged. I could see the details of its body parts clearly. I felt some mixture of grief, disgust and panic.

I still wonder how I could have left it be, especially with the possibility of it laying eggs in my cupboards. Previously, in more ideal situations, I would use the long gripping tool we have to pick the cockroach up and release it outside of the house or out of a window, so it could survive elsewhere. But this time I couldn’t find it no matter how hard I tried. By that point, I was also panicking about having to fall asleep knowing it was around, unseen.

Cycling back to control, now. I am lousy at giving up control. I know a lot of it is because so much agency was taken away from me in the past. I know that total control is impossible, that a sense of control is usually illusory, a means of defending the mind against panic and fear. I don’t want to run away from the unpredictability of life. But last night as Control scuttled around evading me, panic returned. (Pema, you might be amused to know that I tried that trick you wrote about. But instead of projecting onto myself, I thought of the cockroach as Buddha, running around my room, reminding me that I have no control, challenging me to let go.)

As I have written many times before, time is especially difficult. I can give up control of my spatial environment more so than I can give up control of time and deadlines. In my mind, in my body, everything moves at breakneck speed, trying to beat the clock, even if that clock is me.

Of course, I have grown over time. I have spent many years teasing out the pain, coaxing the mind to think differently about time. I no longer get half as anxious as I have before. Today, though, the anxiety spiked sharply, and I was very conscious of it. I was conscious of what I was falling into again. I guess this post is part of sitting with myself in this soup and learning to stop stirring. There it is. But no indulgence, just gentle observation and acknowledgement. Then, let the feeling go in the wind.