I’ve been reflecting on the issue of control recently. Over the past month, I’ve heard so many tales of illness, death, suicide and war that it has brought to the forefront the reality of our essential lack of control in so many areas of life. And, quite frankly, I’ve been amazed at my own response to the hardship and tragedies that I’ve come in contact with. A younger me would have been wracked with pain at being totally helpless to positively affect any of these sad and, sometimes, hopeless, situations. It is not that I do not care or have no feeling for those involved, quite to the contrary. But the acceptance of my inability to make an impact has allowed me to express my concern from a place of greater peace than at any other time in my past. It is as if, in releasing the illusion of control, I release the turmoil of the chaotic and enable myself to be more fully present to those involved.
I haven’t fully nailed down this new approach but it has me wondering about the impact that clinging to control has and I believe it may have a very widespread negative aspect on every aspect of human life. The most obvious would be the impact of war on the world stage. Most recently, the news is filled with the latest escalation of conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, with hundreds of people killed. Each side is suffering countless death and incalculable pain in the effort to control their own territory and ultimate destiny. And each side is equally certain of the justice of their efforts to secure that control at the expense of the other. I don’t pretend for a second to have a solution to either the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or to war itself, for that matter. But it does seem that striving after control as opposed to striving after cooperation seems to be a strong contributing element in all such situations.
Another area that I’ve been reflecting on is the ultimate human question of life and death, illness and suffering. I have heard numerous stories in the past few weeks of horrifying accidents, life-threatening illness, suicide and death. And I have waited by the phone for news of a friend clinging to life. What I have noticed in all of this is that there is nothing to control beyond my response. I can’t make anyone well. I can’t save anyone’s life. And I can’t do anything more than offer words of comfort to those who are suffering loss. But, in accepting my lack of control, there is no increase in suffering through attempting to change what is.
Economically throughout the world many, many people are attempting to hold on tight through a mess that frequently was made by others. We do the small things that we can to ease part of the problem, whether it be clipping coupons or buying less expensive necessities. But, ultimately, we can’t control whether or not our employer lays us off or ships our job to another country for cheaper labor.
Now, I’m not for a second suggesting that the only rational response is to roll over and let circumstances have their way with us. But, it seems, that trying to control the uncontrollable tends to make a bad situation worse. Perhaps a better tactic would be to seek out those positive steps that we can take and attempt to release the chaos that presents itself as futile attempts at control. And it doesn’t seem to mean that we have to give up a satisfying life to do so.
For example, my current situation doesn’t allow for an entertainment budget. It doesn’t matter how badly I would like theater or symphony tickets, it simply isn’t going to happen right now. But I can watch PBS on the television and have been learning very interesting things about the history of India recently. I can also pop a CD into the player and have Faure’s Requiem any time that I care to.
In the case of my seriously ill friend, while I have been distressed waiting for news and hopeful of it being positive, it does not do my friend one lick of good for me to wring my hands and cease to function. I can do no more than to hold her in my heart while I knit or wash the dishes and hope for the best. My sinking into pain ahead of its’ time is of use to no one.
I’m surprised at the peace that this realization has given me. I wouldn’t have thought it would be the case. But in ceding that I can only do what I can do and cannot do what I cannot do, essentially giving up the illusion of control, I also give up the panic of not being in control. And that is what allows a place for inner peace.
Teacher Voices: Kate Bartlett - This is a continuation of my series of interviews with former students who are now teachers. The interview on this page features Kate Bartlett, a teacher ...
2 days ago