February 3, 2017

Letting Go of Control

When we are children, we don't have a need to be in control. We have no idea how things should be, and we are not even concerned, because we are taken care of. But as we grow up, we start developing concepts of how our lives should be, how we should be and how the world should be.

Continuing on that road, it's not hard to find ourselves with the need to control everything. We know how everything should be, we know how we should be. Or at least we think we know. But that's another issue.

I know many of us crave control because we are afraid. We are afraid that something horrible will happen if we don't keep everything in check. But that's not true. Life happens, whether we stress about it or not.

Actually, being able to let go of control is supposed to be a good thing. Having such little control means we can relax, after all. But it's not that easy. We can't go back to how we used to be when we were children, because now there is no parent to deal with our problems for us. So we would rather avoid having any problems, hence the need for control.

1. Control is about avoidance

We want to control, because we want to avoid. We want to avoid looking bad or feeling bad or doing something we don't want to do.

What is important to realize is that we had no control in the first place. We might think that we have avoided feeling bad or looking bad because our need to control was so strong that we made it happen somehow, but the reality is that it would have happened the exact same way even if we didn't stress over our situation. Just try dropping your control strategies and you will see.

The truth is feelings come and go. People think what they want to think. And we are who we are--and whatever that is, it's good enough.

People have lost their ability to just let things happen. Maybe we never had that ability to begin with, but it's definitely a useful skill to develop.

It's not because of your control that things are the way they are. They would be the same anyway. You would just be a lot less stressed out without the attempt to control.

2. Don't think too much

People simultaneously overestimate and underestimate the power of their thoughts. We tend to regard our thoughts as truths, and very rarely do we question them. If we think something will happen, that it must be true. If we think we are bad people, then we must be so. When we think we can't do something, we believe it without ever even trying. But on the other hand, we don't see how much power our thoughts have on us. That if we change our thinking, we change the world we see.

A huge part of my struggle with anxiety was my need for control. I was very afraid of certain things, so I did everything to avoid them, to make sure they didn't happen to me. This results in irrational behavior, because we are not in control, no matter how much we think we are.

I know I've done many things, I still do many things, that come from my need to control. I overthink what clothes I should wear sometimes or what I should say or what I should or should not do. But honestly, no one needs to think this much about anything. The only thing it achieves is creating stress.

More living, less thinking, I say.

3. Less of me is more

Leonard Cohen said, "The less there was of me, the happier I got." I love this, because it refers to our constant need to label ourselves, to show ourselves in a certain way, to contain ourselves. This kind of containment is like captivity--it doesn't allow life to move one bit. It's a need for life to stop so we can arrange the pieces the way we want. But that's not life, it's the opposite--it's a peculiar kind of death.

We are who we are, and that is what we have to learn to live with as best we can. What will happen will happen, and there's not much we can do to control it. All we can do is treat our bodies, minds and each other well, and do what we do with love.

The most empowering feeling is knowing that you are not in control, but going forward anyway. Not turning away from the unknown, but going into it. Because no one has any control. But some, the courageous ones, go forward anyway.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.

“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.” - Ralph Ellison

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