January 4, 2013 by

Oogway: My friend, the panda will never fulfill his destiny, nor you yours until you let go of the illusion of control.
Shifu: Illusion?
Oogway: Yes.
[points at peach tree]
Oogway: Look at this tree, Shifu: I cannot make it blossom when it suits me nor make it bear fruit before its time.
Shifu: But there are things we *can* control: I can control when the fruit will fall, I can control where to plant the seed: that is no illusion, Master!
Oogway: Ah, yes. But no matter what you do, that seed will grow to be a peach tree. You may wish for an apple or an orange, but you will get a peach.

For so many of us, having control over things is key to our mental health. Even children believe that they can overcome any obstacle, any threat, because they believe they have control over themselves and their situations. It’s actually quite devastating for them when the control they feel is taken away, as it is for any of us to learn that we really don’t have control. It compromises our feelings of safety and security which, in some lines of thought, form the basis of our mental stability. To have our sense of control ripped away from us is traumatic, even though it doesn’t necessarily require a traumatic event.

Image by IE

Image by IE

The truth is, however, that we really don’t have as much control over things as we would like to think. We really have very few guarantees in life. Parents are given best practices based on research, spirituality, or religion. Yet I have seen many parents shamed by others because if only they had raised their kids this way or provided them something else, they surely wouldn’t have strayed. People lose their jobs, are abused, and we as a society like to think that they had control over those situations because it makes us feel more safe and secure because we surely wouldn’t make the same mistake to end up in the same situation. Yet, the truth is, they had very little control over the situation, and that attitude only shames the individual while doing nothing to improve our own precarious position.

Letting go of our illusion of control is not an easy thing to do. By letting go of this illusion, I don’t mean giving up and floating through life rudderless without direction. Taoist thought has a principle known as the wu wei. Loosely translated, it means doing without doing. In other words, it means doing what comes naturally, without force. For example, letting go of our expectations for ourselves and others and just simply be who we are. Stop pretending we are someone else in order to fit in. Go with who we are, develop our talents and strengths rather than trying to force something that isn’t really there. It also involves being aware of the forces of life and rather than trying to stand firm and resist against the directions that life offers, to go with it, with a sense of adventure, and use the energy behind the force to forge new pathways and uncover new talents and strengths.

Living this takes practice. To start out, I think that it is helpful to be aware of when we are feeling exhausted. This is usually a sign that we are swimming against the current. Take a step back and see what we are resisting against. Many times we are just fighting against an unfounded fear: failure, embarrassment, etc. We need to just take a deep breath, allow the feelings of pressure and immediacy to pass by and recognize that we have time. Then, go with the direction that life’s current is flowing. It’s scary, yes, but also liberating in a sense. It may not take us where we thought it would, but I believe it will take us to where we really need to be.

Image by gabrielaaa

Image by gabrielaaa

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2 Thoughts About Control

  • Katie
    January 4, 2013 at 10:50 am Reply

    This was a very beautiful post and just what I needed today. As always, thank you for your openness, willingness to share, and thoughtful words.

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