Welcome again.  Stren #85 offers a mental exercise to assist taking ownership of your life’s experience.  It is part 3 of a three-part stren [the other two being Know your Self and Know your Masters].

     Becoming master of our self is like becoming the chief executive officer (C.E.O.) of a corporation.  This stren illuminates the process of becoming C.E.O. of our corporation, i.e., attaining self-mastery.  You are asked to produce and direct a motion picture of the process of assuming directorship of your own Board of Directors. 

     Our “corporation” is like many others with some exceptions.  We are mental creatures.  Our primary product is the thinking that our “factory” produces and the management of will power.  We have a personal, unique, and private one-of-a-kind mental existence that “houses” our Board of Directors.   It stores vast amounts of information using words and symbols, modifies and/or makes various images, and creates original motion pictures.  Our personal “corporation” is unique from those of other people by the degree to which we willfully influence our thinking, feelings, and actions.    

      Corporations have multiple parts with specialized activities.  Each part has workers, directors or “bosses,” and a C.E.O.   In a corporation, the stockholders “own” the company; they elect directors to manage the corporation.  These directors sit on the Board of Directors.  They are usually picked to represent diverse knowledge, skills, and interests applicable to the smooth operation of the corporation.  The Board members determine overall policy and select the “hands-on” person who actually runs things, the C.E.O.

     We, like that corporation, have many parts with specialized activities.  To name a few, there are departments for nutrition, waste management, information storage, public relations and communication, planning, health and safety, recreation, finances, and of course “survival.”  We can name many more departments; we are quite diverse.   Since most of my (and your) corporate decisions are made through “thinking,” I identify my Board members by asking who has a “say” in directing my thinking.  If you prefer another term than “thinking,” you can substitute “life,” or “corporation,” or whatever suits you better.

     Will you have a meeting of your Board?  It’s difficult to seat all the directors.  Would you identify the most important ones and give them seats?  You may find it helpful to actually draw a conference table and provide a name for each seated director.  Look down the table.  Identify the most important members.  Don’t try to be exact, just look for a rough indication of the most prominent.  Are there any directors that you specifically recognize?   If so, put in their name(s).   Is there anyone resembling your parents?  Is there a representative of religious persuasion urging specific “commandments”?  Are there any representatives advocating the law or making specific cultural or societal demands?    Do some sound like your “conscience”?  Are there voices on your Board that would cast concern to the wind, that advise, “Do what feels good; now!” when it comes to food, sex, power, etc.? 

     Some Board members own considerable stock in your corporation; others own little or none.  Assume 1000 shares were issued.  Make an estimate of the number of shares each has.  Some directors are more influential than others, aren’t they?  You might make a double or triple star to denote those with the most power.  The most influential are not always the biggest stockholders.  What percentage of stock do you own? 

     Who conducts the meeting?  Is there a rotating director or is there a chairperson?  Is the chairperson effective?  Who speaks the most?  Are the meetings productive?  Chaotic?  Democratic?  Dictatorial?   Surely you are on the Board.  Are you the C.E.O., “the chief boss”?   Were you on your Board when you were born?  You didn’t have much directorship power at birth; who was the C.E.O. of your Board then?  What percentage of stock in your corporation did you own when you were born?  What percentage do you own now?   When and how did you acquire the shares?   Can you identify any important “heroes” or role models who have or had a seat?  When did you, or might you, assume power?  Do you “control” the direction of your Board meeting?  Who does?  Who are your chief competitors?   How has the composition and control changed over the prior years of your life?  How would you want it to change at this point? 

     Most of your Board members have been there a long time, since a time when you had little or no say.  Would you like to get rid of some of your Board members?    Have any served their purpose?   Perhaps they were quite useful, even essential, at an earlier stage of your development, but now might actually impede your progress.

     Consider what you can do for yourself now that you could not do at birth … at age 5 … at age 10 …as you grow to adult maturity.  Surely you don’t want anyone feeding you, attending to your bowel habits, or directing your sleeping, eating, mating, or other activities.  Yet, it is clear that you are consistently under a barrage of “commands” that you have no choice but to at least hear.   Your bladder makes itself quite clear, as do your stomach, bowels, and other body functions.  Your five senses regularly send messages, usually wanting attention, and sometimes yell “urgent” or “emergency”.  Fortunately, these body functions usually do their own work automatically and independent of your conscious attention.  Yet, wouldn’t you agree that they do have considerable influence on your Board of Directors?   Do you notice a “latecomer” to your Board who seems preoccupied with sex and/or romance?  Does that Board member own many shares in your corporation?  How influential is that member?  When this new member, representing nature’s powerful urge for sexual pleasure, joined your Board and met the “parent” and “religious” Board members, what was their dialogue like?  Are you a “latecomer” to your Board?   

     It is quite apparent that our Board changes over time.  New members add diversity, goals are modified, and new directives are created.  Our common external world and its demands are also changing over time.  Self-mastery appears relatively late in the course of our development, as our self grows over time. Unlike the other directors assigned to our Board by nature and nurture, we have a good deal to say about if, when, and to what degree our self gains representation on the Board.  Keep in mind that until there is sufficient presence of self on the Board, our directives are from sources over which we have little control.  They are quite dictatorial.  We spend years in servitude and come to blame or praise the “other” controllers, with some justification because they do direct our life’s experience.  Initiation and assertiveness often yield to instinct and habit, and we resist the call of self-management.  Some people never become C.E.O. of their own Board.  Do you know any such individuals?  

     Initially, agents of your genetic inheritance dominate your Board.  After birth, your nurturers exert a considerable presence.  Could you briefly create a mental picture of how your Board may have looked when you were born?  A few years old?  Age 15?  Age 21?  Several years in the future?  Are you the same person when you are born, during puberty, as an adult, and in your twilight years?  Do you appreciate how your interests and needs change over time?  How has your Board changed over time; and how might you like it to change in the future?  How much effort have you exercised to change the composition of your Board?

      Many people I observe are still directed by their very first Board members, who remain unchallenged even though the interests they represent may no longer be useful, and indeed may even block someone from becoming his/her own person.  Most corporations periodically schedule a vote by the shareholders to re-elect, add, or remove certain members of the Board.  In most cases, the voters who determine the outcome of the election don’t even know the Board members and are not well prepared to make these changes.  It would be a rather unsatisfactory situation if our own mental Board ran like this. 

     If we are to become C.E.O. of our own corporation, then we must teach our self to know each member and the perspective they advocate.   An effective C.E.O. would have skills in negotiating with members of the Board of Directors and be especially wise to court the most powerful ones.  Devote some time to thinking about the people, things, and events that have had a significant influence on you.  Try to give each a name or label.  Once you have this list, put them in some general order of power.  In your mind, and preferably also on paper, create a table where your Board members convene.  Place the names or labels that identify each “director” of your Board around this table.  Include your self.  Can you assign some percentage of influence to each member?  For example, does your parental member have 1% .. 5% .. 20% .. 60% of the say?   Assign each Board member a rough number – no need to be anywhere near exact, but try to be as specific as possible though about the names/labels/ and/or identity of each member.  

     In my Board, certain early directors are pretty consistent “yes” advocates.  These directors are impatient, demanding, and have little concern for anyone or anything save their own interest.  They commonly urge, “Yes, I want what I want when I want it,” as if they have a common allegiance.  They usually vote for whatever brings pleasure and/or avoids discomfort – even “illegal, immoral, or fattening” acts. 

     Sometime after birth, a new group of directors came onto my Board.  These new members frequently oppose the “Yes” guys, and they seem to have the motto, “Anything that’s fun, especially anything ‘illegal, immoral, or fattening,’ is an absolute ‘no!!!’”   Who are these “no” voices demanding that I must stay within a narrow path of “acceptable” actions?   I didn’t invite them or put them there.  I must admit many are quite wise and provide very valuable service, but I think some have outlived their usefulness.  Others even get in the way of progress; they are “regressive,” obstructionists, and often vindictive.  These “no” voices often vote as one party, just as the “yes” voices do.   

     It appears that each of our Board members have allegiance to one of two “bosses.”  The “yes” group seems beholden to Master Nature.  Those in the “no, you can’t,” “you have to”, “you must not” group appear to have just as strong an allegiance to the controller of my second stage of development, Master Nurture.  These nurturer voices often speak the same language:  “This is the voice of your conscience.”  

      Do you have a “conscience”?  Can you identify any specific voices?  Parents?  Teachers?  Role models or “heroes”?  A book, such as the Bible?  A particular event or series of events that was so influential that it got a seat on your Board of Directors?  Perhaps your “conscience” is a conglomeration of many of your past nurturers.  Did you notice that the perspectives of the big bosses, nature and nurture, are represented by agents.  As with a sports event, much confusion is eliminated when each player can be identified with a specific team, so it is important to recognize which team each Board member represents.                  

     Our thoughts are like the expressions of two major political parties, the “nature party” and the “nurture party.”   Like our Democratic and Republican parties, they each claim to advocate what is best.  I sometimes fantasize that the nature party’s “mascot” is an impatient, demanding, amoral infant; while the nurture party’s “mascot” is an equally demanding, overbearing dictator.  These “bosses” remain dominant in our thoughts throughout our life, until we develop sufficient mature thinking to become our own chief boss, the C.E.O. of our personal Board.

     Success in attaining the position of C.E.O. requires considerable work and training.  The early Board members don’t readily transfer power; they tend to get comfortable in their seats.   You see, self-mastery is a voluntary, active, aggressive process of emancipation.   It requires a struggle, a revolution!  However, it may be done cooperatively, productively, and far more peacefully than the often fierce competition engaged in by the “yes” and “no” factions, nature and nurture.  If you would be the C.E.O., you’re going to need support from a number of them.  To get such support, you’re more likely to succeed if you make time and energy to introduce yourself to your Board members and really get to know them.  How long would you expect it to take?  Certainly it will not happen instantly, and not without effort.

     Once you have formed a rough idea in your conscious awareness of your Board and its composition, move on to the next step.  Tune in to the thoughts that you experience.  What is their intent?  Consider your thoughts as messengers from one of your Board members.  Can you relate the message as originating primarily from one of the members you have identified on your Board?   Which “master” is speaking – your nature, your nurture, or your self? 

     Now that you have an introduction to your directors, mentally direct and produce a “motion picture” of the composition of your Board of Directors, beginning when you were born and showing how it has changed over time to become what it is now.   Include a short motion picture of “Coming Attractions.”   This fanciful motion picture, This is My Life – A History and Prospective of my Board of Directors, can be a useful tool to understand the process of becoming your own person.  It can help you strategize the changes in your Board of Directors and assume the role of a wise and just C.E.O.    Use this motion picture of your Board to consider which members you’d like to demote, who you would add, and how you can improve its function and become the wise leader that is within your capability.  

    You may find it helpful to consider your Board from this additional perspective.  Imagine the Board of Directors as a fish, like the salmon.  It is born alone; its mother has already died.  (“Mom” lays eggs, dies, and its body becomes the food for offspring … quite a sacrifice!)  Its genes prepare the newborn to survive independently from day one.  The salmon’s Board has a director of swimming, director of eating, and other directors with innate programs of “what to do, how to act.”  The guidance from the Board is predictable and inflexible.  A bird, such as a robin, is not prepared to do it all from birth.  “Parents” show their young what and how to eat, teach their offspring how to fly, and then “to fly away.”  Clearly, there are directors on the robin’s Board from both nature and nurture.  Nevertheless, the robin’s behavior is fairly predictable and automatic.  To what degree is there a self of self-mastery represented on the Board of Directors of other creatures?

     In our situation, it is clear we have directions from both nature and nurture.   During the “reign” of power by nature and/or nurture, our patterns of behavior are, like other creatures, also quite predictable and inflexible.  As “conscious” mental creatures, nature’s and nurture’s urgings appear in our thoughts and thinking as messengers, usually advocating “yes” and “no” positions – often in contradiction with each other.  At some point, the self of self-mastery appears.  The representatives of self-mastery bring new expertise to the Board.  They negotiate, rearrange information, rehearse solutions, create new alternatives, and provide many choices of action that nature and nurture do not provide and indeed often resist.  The direction of self-mastery provides flexibility, independence, and the unique powers that become our source of godlike creativity.

    Our genes and nurturers don’t appear on our Board with signs that say “nature” or “nurture”.   They appear on our Board as specific characters, phrases, and symbols (such as a cross, a star, or a crescent; perhaps a flag).  They are more like messengers advocating the interests of their masters’ perspectives.  Some are easy to recognize, even by name, such as “mom.”  Others are incognito.  We further our self-mastery by accurately assigning these messengers to their appropriate “party.”  They seek the attention of our conscious awareness where they appear as “thoughts” and are elaborated by “thinking.”   Since our directors are commonly at odds with one another, their conflicts and passionate self-centered advocacies are the most frequent source of our difficulties.  The primary aim of ANWOT is to provide the skills of self-mastery, the skills that enable you to become the major stockholder and a wise, effective C.E.O. of your own corporation.  Wise management fosters cooperation rather than competition, and rational problem solving which considers the interests of all parties to best satisfy short and long-term goals.  

    If I may address the philosophical question of what special function or purpose I might have as a human being, I think it may be actualizing our special gift – the opportunity to free myself from the constraints of fate and empower my self to become what I choose to become.  The opportunity is fraught with danger, especially where power precedes wisdom.  To be on our own requires us to take responsibility for the negative consequences of our actions as well as the positive ones.  Yet most all opportunity is allied with danger.

     Now let’s consider some specific examples to engage your thinking.  What is your opinion of who is in charge and what is going on in the Boardroom in the following situations?  Can you identify which specific members of the Board are speaking and how the dialogue goes?

  • Betty is 5.  There it is – one piece of apple pie on the table.  She knows her brother wants it.  What’s going on in Betty’s Boardroom?
  • Alice’s attractiveness, especially her skin and teeth, is admired by others.  Yet, Alice is convinced that she has pimples and crooked teeth (which nobody else sees), spends much of her time seeking medical help, is reluctant to smile, and usually holds her hand over her face.
  • Bob is crazy about cars and sees a stereo he really wants; he is about to get married, and the couple wants to have a baby and buy a house.  Their income, while good, is not sufficient to do all these things.   What’s the dialogue like in the Boardroom?  Who’s “speaking”?  Who’s in charge?
  • Jack is a military man trained to program a drone to drop a bomb on a house presumed to house an enemy.  What dialogue is going on in the decision-making room?   Would it be any different if Jack was commanded to throw a grenade into the house which he determined was occupied by men, women, and children? 
  • It’s a very difficult exam.  The outcome could determine Dick’s chance to get into graduate school.  The smartest kid in his class is next to him, and he can clearly see that guy’s answer sheet.  What’s Dick’s Boardroom like?
  • Harry is 12.  He has experienced his first wet dream and soon discovers the fantastic sensation he gets by rubbing his penis.   Is there Boardroom activity?  Is there a new Board member?
  • Pam is 22 and married a year.  She has never experienced genital pleasure and has “bad” feelings when she has sexual thoughts.  Even so, she was sexually active even before marriage, and craves being told she is loved by her sexual partner.  Can you construct what influences may have led to Pam’s situation?   Who/what might be the active directors serving on her Board?  
  • Agha Mir, 25, is offered $60 from a prosperous family in return for his four-day-old son; his wife and other children are starving.  The family can eat for a month on this amount of money.  [taken from a story in The Hartford Courant, 2/8/02; he accepts] 

These examples were selected to help you reflect on your own life’s situations and examine the functioning of your Board of Directors.  Consider the thoughts that “pop into your mind” as messengers advocating for one of your three masters: master nature, master nurture, or self-mastery.  Recognizing the source of your thoughts can be very helpful in decision-making.  Nature tends to emphasize past wisdom; nurture focuses on present experience.  Self-mastery can integrate past and present wisdom and the resources to wisely anticipate the future consequences of action.  What are some current situations in your own life that you could use as examples?  I encourage you to reflect on meaningful situations in your life.  Your power to manage your own life, to negotiate with your thoughts and direct your thinking, will increase as you become familiar with your Board members and the master whose agenda they represent.   

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See also these related strens: Know your Self, Know your Masters, (parts 1 and 2 of this three-part stren) and Thoughts and Thinking.