Beyond Control (#844)

When it comes to success, coaching, personal development, and even most therapies I have come across, the most popular game in town is “getting control”. People feel out of control of their thoughts, emotions, moods, relationships, finances, and lives, so they read and listen and study and practice in hopes that with enough hard work, they can go from feeling out of control to in control.

But in my work, control (and more often the illusion of control) is definitely the booby prize. This is not to say that we’re going to let go of the wheel of our cars on the highway – just that what’s on offer beyond the game of control has so much more value in our lives.

To better understand this, let’s begin with the elusive obvious:

We don’t control the universe.

This does not come as a surprise to most people, yet if you take a few moments to reflect on it, how much of your time is spent trying to…

  • …control your thoughts?
  • …control what other people do, both individually and collectively?
  • …control what happens to you, limiting the bad things and attract the good things?
  • …make circumstances the way you want them to be?

Each one of these things may seem like worthy and sensible goals when taken out of context. Yet in a world where we are not fundamentally in control, taking on the job of universal controller is akin to declaring yourself the new CEO of Microsoft or Google and wondering why your new policies haven’t been instigated yet. Most people won’t even notice and those that do are likely to be annoyed.

So why bother trying to control the uncontrollable?

Because most of us associate control with security. If only I could control myself, I would be safe and others would be safer. If only we could control the universe (or the weather or foreign governments or our own government or the behavior of multi-nationals or the fluctuations on the stock market or my boss or my colleague or my customers or my spouse or my kids), we could prevent bad things from happening to us and the people and things we care about.

All of which might in some cases be true. The only problem is, we are not fundamentally in control, and every time we are faced with a war or a storm or a death or an illness or an affair, the universe seemingly throws that fact in our face.

Now when you’re feeling out of control, what do you want most? You want to be in control, or at the very least you want to have more control.

So you start looking for ways to get control. You read books and study strategies to have more control over your life. If you’re into personal development, you go on personal development programs where they will teach you how to control (sorry – “influence”) other people and yourself and the world.

How is that working out for you?

At some point, it may seem like your hard work is paying off and you don’t feel out of control anymore. After all, you have a degree of control over your finances. You have a degree of control of your children. You have things pretty much under control at home, or at work. You even feel like you’ve developed a fair bit of “self” control.

And you may even be thinking, “Hey, this is pretty good; this is certainly better than being out of control. I want more!”

But the more things you get under your control, the more controlling you need to be. And at some point, you may realize that you’ve painted yourselves into a corner – because now you have to maintain control.

“Okay… these plates are spinning, and these plates are spinning, and — oh God, that one’s going to go. Let me run over there and get that one back under control… phew! Now I can relax – aaargh, how did that one start to fall? Wait here – I’ll be right back!”

Which is fine for a year or two or four, but at some point, trying to keep all that stuff under control is pretty full on. We start to feel trapped by our own success; or burnt out and exhausted by having to stay on top of one thing after another after another.

Fortunately, there is a way out, even though it’s rarely talked about in a personal context.

Imagine would it be like to have…

  • the freedom to enjoy your life when it’s going your way and to enjoy your life when it’s not going your way
  • the freedom to love people when they behave the way you want them to behave and to love them when they behave in ways you don’t like at all
  • the freedom to go out and create the life you want to live when things seem easy, and the freedom to continue to do that when things seem hard

In short, imagine what it would be like to have the freedom to live your life however it unfolds, and as Syd Banks said “to be grateful for the highs and graceful with the lows”.

Fortunately, we were born with that freedom, and it is still ours in this very moment. But when you’re really caught up in the game of control, the thought of freedom can look pretty darn scary. It looks like being out of control, because there are no rules in freedom. There’s no three step formula, seven step plan, or twelve step program. There’s no list of affirmations to recite or pre-determined road map to follow.

In fact, the thought of true freedom can seem so scary that you’d rather stay in the prison of control because at least you know where you stand, even if it is right in the middle of a 6×6 cell with bars. But you don’t have to be afraid. Because the moment you step out of jail (by walking through the imaginary bars), you discover you already have the only three things you ever really needed.

You have the power of thought, to create any possibility you could ever imagine. You have the gift of consciousness, which allows you to experience those thoughts through your senses. And you have the resource of mind, which like a compass that always points your way home, will unfold your life in the moment and moment by moment if you let it.

In the words of the philosopher J. Krishnamurti:

Most of us are concerned with revolt within the prison; we want better food, a little more light, a larger window so that we can see a little more of the sky… so we remain prisoners, and there is no freedom in prison. Freedom lies outside the walls, outside the pattern of society; but to be free of that pattern you have to understand the whole content of it, which is to understand your own mind… Your mind is humanity, and when you perceive this, you will have immense compassion. Out of this understanding comes great love; and then you will know, when you see lovely things, what beauty is.

This freedom and beauty is always available to us. It is, and always has been right where you are sitting now…

With all my love,

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