Ahh, control. The word has meant many different things to me in my life. As a young child, I fantasized about having some, any at all. I equated control with power and freedom. As a teen, I was certain I was in control of my life – manipulating my parents carefully with my words and actions to convince them that I was mature and responsible and could be trusted. I had been hurt badly, betrayed by friends and family, and was determined to set myself up in a tower of my own making that would ensure I was never hurt like that again.
As a young adult, I had to admit that I was most certainly NOT in control of much, living hand-to-mouth as I worked two or three jobs to survive my college years, making some really bad choices (like falling prey to the nice folks who sat at the Visa table in my school’s common area) and suffering the consequences. I struggled to rein in the world, eventually limiting my scope to a pretty small radius so that I could begin to find the way back to mastery. Once I felt solidly on my feet again, I started to widen my range, only to lose it again when I had children.
It has taken me many cycles of loss and lockdown to discover that my life is happier when I let go of the need for control. Consider:
Infants have no control over anything. Their bodies twitch and move without their input. And they accept that, they don’t know anything else. Sure, they get hungry and cry for help, or they need a fresh diaper and cry for help, but they are accepting of the fact that they need others to survive. When they aren’t crying for help, infants are absorbing. They are being. They are taking in everything around them, not attempting to control it or change it, just existing within it.
Again, when we get to the most advanced years of our lives, we have little control. Many of us lose our motor skills, some of us lose our cognitive skills, and we all end up relying on others to help us. There is no regaining the illusion of control that we had throughout most of our lives, there is no pill we can take to restore our muscle and brain function to what it once was (although I’m certain there are many, many millions of dollars spent working on finding one). Some of the happiest people I know are those who have the least amount of control in their lives.
Michael A. Singer writes in his book, The Untethered Soul,
“We think we’re supposed to figure out how life should be and then make it that way….How did we come up with the notion that life is not okay just the way it is…?”
Later he expands on that notion,
“You’re either trying to figure out how to keep things from happening or your trying to figure out what to do because they did happen. You’re fighting with creation.”
Yup, that about sums up the vast majority of my life (and energy expenditure) to this point. When I look at individuals who are not hell-bent on changing the external world or walling off their internal experience to fit their notion of what would make life pleasant, I see people who are happy. People with lives that actually are pleasant. People whose energies are spent moving forward with things that are meaningful to them as opposed to defending themselves from the potential harm they could encounter.
Slowly but surely I am beginning to understand that my attempts to be in control of my own life amount to holding myself hostage. I end up limiting my ability to experience the entire range of things I might see and do and feel because I am afraid that I might not be able to mitigate the effect of those experiences on me. And in the end, the world I might create if I were in control would only contain the things I have encountered up until now and what a boring place that would be. It would likely also be pretty lonely, given that a world where I never get hurt is probably a world without other sentient beings. So while I’m not looking forward to having my heart broken or losing my physical abilities or memory, I’m not willing to trade my relationships or the wonder of new discoveries for absolute control, either. I guess I’m going to have to keep working on being okay with pain and vulnerability. Damn.