It’s been some time since I’ve written directly about control, but it’s another important topic to grapple with. My last blog about it–and I think my only post, actually–was April 2012 in a post called, “The Illusion of Control.” “Control,” to me, is one of the dirty words of the spiritual path if there is such a thing, or rather, it will teach you primarily through pain as you learn that there is truly nothing you can control. However, the ego thinks it can control everything, so this may seem kind of shocking to revelatory for some of you. So let’s take some time to look at this definition and discuss the reality of how little we can possibly control.
What Is Control?
At the essence of control is the idea that you can make something do something to get a certain outcome. You can make an experiment turn out the way you want it to. You can make your body look a certain way. You can make a group of friends do the social outing you want to do. You can make people give you money. You can make people go to war and die for you. These are some of the many elements of control. Yet every day, we are confronted with the fact that we cannot control life, and as I write further, I’ll show some examples of this.
Now, I do want to pause and make a clear distinction. The ego in some of you may want to run to the other end and play a victim game. “Well, if I can’t control anything, I’m just going to live completely out of control.” This is not mindful or wise. There are things like self-discipline and guiding or co-creating your life. This is when you exert an influence in your life towards certain aspirations. But the aspirations you are co-creating towards are flexible where the goals that you are trying to achieve through control are inflexible.
How about this? If your goal is to win the Super Bowl, then every year 31 teams feel like failures. If your goal is to become a size 0 and you are still a size 8, then you feel like a failure. Control has to get what it wants, and the more intense it is, the more brutal it can become to you and everyone else around you. What do you think a micro-manager is? S/he is a control-freak.
Pulling Away the Veils of Illusion About Control
But, as always, don’t take my word for it. Challenge this. After you’ve clearly defined your idea of control (because you also don’t have to accept my definition), see what you can really control in your life. So you say, “I can control my car when I drive to work.” Great. You hit the gas, step on the brakes, and turn the steering wheel. But cars are a lot more complex than that, are they not? You aren’t moving the pistons. You aren’t moving the axels. If even one part in a chain of parts breaks down, your car breaks down. Now you can no longer “control” getting to work on time.
So you say, “I can workout and control how I look.” Okay. Let’s do this one too. The body is where we often feel that we have the most control. So, yes, you choose to go on the treadmill. You choose how much weight to lift and how often. The effects of this regular working out are that your body conforms to a certain athletic shape. Yet, you will never look like anyone else’s body type than your own. So you can’t control looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger (back in his 1980’s body-building hey-day) or looking like whatever top model chicks everyone wants to look like (Seriously, I have no idea; I ignore a lot of pop culture). And many people try to do this and fail. That idea of control creates so much misery, and it has created steroid abuse, eating disorders, and other actions that punish the body. This is part of the sad state of affairs of Western Culture.
Tearing Apart More Ideas of Control
I’m not done yet. I want to keep going so that you see just how small of an influence we make. We are so mired in the idea that we can control ourselves and life that we do great harm to ourselves and others. Consider the mind. Many of you often realize through meditation that you are already out-of-control in this space. In the very space where you are supposed to be a smart and adept thinking human being, you can’t stop the noise. Now, obviously, this can change. That’s part of the beauty of the spiritual path. But it doesn’t change through more control. If you want to see someone in a new form of misery, just watch someone meditating who is now trying to control their thoughts and enforce silence in their heads. Seriously. They look so miserable. To calm the mind, means letting go of control over this space. The more you let go of this type of mental control, the more the mental winds that are blowing can start to relax and subside. Control only agitates this space further.
And another point here is that we don’t even have that much control in our minds. We all are given different mental abilities. In this culture that prizes mental acumen (yes, I’ve been waiting all week to use that word), anyone who doesn’t have a certain level and type of intellectual intelligence is degraded and considered stupid. And there’s a difference between stuffing facts into a brain and being intellectually smart. But regardless, we have limited influence as to just what all our brains can do. Furthermore, because trying to control everyone to think a certain way that limits appreciation for other types of intelligence like emotional intelligence or body intelligence. In the end, control on this level is intensely limiting because it shuts out a whole lot of other possibilities in preference of developing this one type of thing that it wants.
Disease is another great teachers about our lack of control. When neurons and synapses stop working right, how quickly does the mind go away? In later life, many of the elderly are faced with the truth that they cannot control neither their bodies nor minds. It is part of the great humbling we go through before the veil of this world is fully lifted and we are released into the spirit realm.
The Practice of Releasing Control
As I said, letting go of control doesn’t mean going out of control. The first step is to practice recognizing what you can and can not influence in your life. If you have an influence in something like driving your car, I encourage you to appreciate it. In this space, consider the terms “guiding” or “guidance.” We all certainly have an obligation to guide our lives in certain directions. The more we connect with the deeper flow of life, then we are co-creating with God and life. That tends to make things infinitely easier than when we are trying to force life into being a certain way.
Consider any relationships that you tried to make work but kept falling apart. While relationships take hard work, you cannot control them. When they work best, there’s a certain organic nature to them, is there not? They kind of have an intelligence of their own, and they seem to grow and expand in new and surprising ways. From the fertile soil of co-creating with another, something can bloom in your life. When you do not try to control it, you can also appreciate the way it bloomed because blooms don’t always appear in quite the way we expected.
However, a lot of times people try to force relationships into romantic spaces, and not all relationships are meant to be romantic. Some are deep platonic relationships. Some are great working relationships. There are all kinds of relationships beyond the sexual-romantic-life-partner relationships that get focused on in this culture. The more you let go of controlling relationships in your life, the more they can naturally grow and bloom.
The Blooming of Your Life
Perhaps it’s because there is so much greenery and buds coming up (Yes, it’s kind of already spring-ish in Northern California. Yes, I know that I’m spoiled :), but I like the metaphor of blooming. Control is like digging a ditch, siding it all with concrete, and expecting water to flow down it and water the crops in the way that you want them watered. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Guiding your life is like seeing where the water is flowing and then digging a ditch for it. Then you see if things work out and where they flow. Then you continue to dig that ditch so that the greatest flow goes where it needs to go and in turn it irrigates the fields of your life. This kind of co-creation will undoubtedly put you into a very vulnerable place. You will likely face a lot of fears. We’ve place fear as one of the great gatekeepers to vulnerability. Yet in the space of openness and defenselessness is one of our greatest powers in this life. I encourage you to let go of control and embrace this space so that your life can begin to bloom.