Control seems to be one of those issues that comes up again and again for me, and I know I’m not alone in this. Every so often, I fall into old patterns of trying to make the world turn according to my plan, and I need to remind myself that it doesn’t work that way. There I was today, driving down the road ranting against the traffic, all the red lights and the unexpectedly cool weather. My internal tirade led to a predictable rise in my heart rate, tension in my muscles and short, rapid breaths. I was stressed out, all because I was fighting tooth and nail against a bunch of circumstances that were completely beyond my control.
As human beings with rational thought and the ability to plan, we like to think we are masters of our universe. If we put it on the schedule, it will occur at the allotted time. If we leave early, we will arrive when expected. People will behave in completely logical ways. There are things we expect to be true, and very often they work out as planned. But the truth is, that has nothing to do with us. All the worrying, planning and scheduling we engage in don’t mean we are directing the show. Things are going to unfold how they’re meant to, with little to no help from us. When we realize this, we can start to release the death grip so many of us maintain in life, and start to go with the flow. Think of walking on the beach, the waves rolling into shore. We can’t slow them down or make them move in the opposite direction. But we can allow them to propel us forward, instead of battling against their uncontrollable force.
Just as a refresher, let’s review some of the things over which we have no control.
1. Other people. Everyone knows this, right? But why do we have to relearn it so often? Even as we recognize that we can’t make other people bend to our will, we are always surprised when the don’t.
2. Time. It’s pretty obvious that the clock moves forward no matter what we do, yet so much angst arises when we expect it to follow the schedule we planned.
3. The earth/natural world. We can plant lawns where forests used to grow, we can water and mow, but we still can’t prevent the weeds from growing. We also can’t make the sun shine on our outdoor party, but we can ruin our whole day wishing we could.
4. Mortality. This is THE life lesson for most humans. No matter who we are or what we do, eventually every one of us is going to die. Sorry for the downer, but we might as well accept that we have no control over our ultimate fate. Then we can live with an appreciation for the gift of each day of our lives.
These are just a few of the things which are out of our control. There are many more. The list of things we can control is much shorter. I am going to assert that there is really only one thing on this list. We can control our reaction to everything in life that is out of our control. I realize it’s often said that we can control our thoughts, but if you have ever tried to stop something from coming into your mind, you know thoughts arrive unbidden. We can control how we respond to these thoughts, just as we choose how to react to our circumstances.
So how can we get our control issues under control, so to speak? The most important thing for me is to recognize when I’m trying to push against the waves instead of going with the flow. Control is about wanting things to be different than they are, so when I’m exerting control, I am not mindful or present. This usually brings out physical symptoms of stress in my body, as well as internal mental arguments against what’s happening in the present moment. These are reminders that I need to loosen my grip and come back to an attitude of curiosity and acceptance. This means I’m interested in what’s happening in this moment, and I allow it to unfold as it’s meant to. Only in allowing what is do I truly relinquish control. My thoughts may get involved, providing a commentary. I can’t control that. But I can watch the thoughts arising, knowing they will soon pass away if I don’t try to control them. The same is true for any situation in life. It will arise, unfold and eventually pass by. Let it go. It’s out of our hands anyway.
Consider working with a mantra during meditation that aligns with your intentions to let go of control:
The universe has its own plan. I release and allow the unfolding.