UNSELF-CONSCIOUS CONTROL: BROADENING THE NOTION OF CONTROL THROUGH EXPERIENCES OF FLOW AND WU-WEI

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Abstract

Abstract.  This paper both clarifies and broadens the notion of control and its relation to the self. By discussing instances of skillful absorption from different cultural backgrounds, I argue that the notion of control is not as closely related to self-consciousness as is often suggested. Experiences of flow and wu-wei exemplify a nonself-conscious though personal type of control. The intercultural occurrence of this type of behavioral control demonstrates its robustness, and questions two long-held intuitions about the relation between self-consciousness and the experience of control. The first intuition holds that the conscious self initiates and controls actions, thoughts, and feelings. The second is the view that losing this self-conscious type of control is a negative and upsetting experience. By focusing on “the paradox of control” in these experiences of skillful absorption, I argue that a feeling of control can occur without a self that narratively claims control. Furthermore, this type of control can be a very positive and pleasurable experience. Therefore, the common views of the notion of control are in need of broader conceptualization and further refinement.

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