Plenty of people will tell you that you should give up trying to control things. They will tell you that there are plenty of things totally out of your control like other people’s behavior, the flux of the stock market, or the quality of coffee in a no-name cafe.
That last one really bugs me.
The same people will tell you that should only exert control over things that you can actually control. These might include your routines, your nutrition, your level of fitness, and your income.
That last one might be a surprise, but it’s true.
Have a Safe Journey
I love it when people wish me a safe flight or journey. I’m appreciative of their well-meaning, positive intent. But the truth is there is very little that any traveler can control. “Have a safe flight!” is a common departure comment, but really it’s meaningless. I’ve never had a reason to think I could effect the relative safety of any flight I’ve ever taken.
In less than two weeks I’ll be traveling via Amtrak from San Francisco to South Carolina. There are two scheduled train changes and layovers in Chicago, Illinois and Charlottesville, Virginia. The layover in Chicago is just three hours while the layover in Virginia is about 6 hours.
What if I’m late? What if I’m really late and totally miss the train? What do I do in a city like Chicago or Charlottesville? Will I lose my ticket to visit the Sky Deck on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago?
Add to this, Amtrak’s reputation for being late. This is due to using the same track lines as Union Pacific and other regional railroads, which are given right of way precedence. With winter in full swing –and there is currently some crazy weather happening across the midwestern and southern US– delays are anticipated.
Additionally, there are potential delays due to human error. There are a great number of people involved and responsible for a great number of function on Amtrak trains making it less likely that I have any control whatsoever over the on-time arrival at my destinations.
What is the correct response to this situation? For me it is to relinquish all control.
Relinquishing Control of Everything
I’m one of those people who will tell you that control is an illusion. Given the examples above, as well as others in my own life over the years, I’m convinced the best response at my disposal is choosing to make the fullest use of the present moment wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. It’s the way I approach my life in all respects; it’s being mindful.
Mindfulness means seeing the world as it is without the veil of ideas or concepts and acting accordingly.” – Matthew Bortolin, The Dharma of Star Wars
I find that life is easier, less stressful, and devoid of suffering if I relinquish control of everything. Since I’m not in control of anything, I needn’t waste my energy or emotions convincing myself that I can. I can avoid the suffering induced by worrying about potential outcomes that I cannot fully influence by surrendering the illusion of control at the outset.
Does That Mean I Don’t Plan for the Future?
I may have 17 hardcore goals for 2016; I may have planned my strategy for achieving each one; but I’m not attached to any specific outcome. I know that it even if I don’t achieve my goals, I will have made a lot of progress toward each. Goals shouldn’t be all of nothing.
- Do I want to achieve my goals for 2016? Yes, absolutely.
- Will my life be over if I don’t? No.
- Do I have any real control over achieving my goals? No, not really. There are too many variables in any one moment.
Control is perhaps the ultimate illusion. It’s right up there on the list with thinking we are all separate from one another and that anything is permanent. The truth, as I’ve experienced it, is that everything is impermanent, we are all connected in ways we cannot fully fathom, and we have no control over how our lives will turn out.
We have only this moment. The past is a memory and the future is a dream. There is only this now.
Relinquishing Control Is the Ultimate Freedom
My dad is 84 years old. He’s in the early stages of dementia and he worries about of countless things. This once brilliant aerospace engineer who formerly worked at NASA’s Mission Control in Houston helping put men on the moon in the late 60s and later to launch and control satellites, such as Voyager and Helios, to study our solar system is now a worry wort who overthinks everything.
I know that it’s the disease that’s robbing me of the father I once knew, but I still long to get the message through to him that trying to control the flow of patients in the doctor’s office or the length of construction in the city in which he resides is futile and will only bring disappointment – another name for suffering.
He may no longer be capable of experiencing the freedom of relinquishing control, but you and I still do. Each moment that we live, we are presented with a choice to make: What will we do in this moment? We can choose to believe we have influence and control and suffer the consequences of disappointment or, via relinquishing control of everything, choose a moment without the suffering induced by the illusion.