Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Illusion of Control

It's time we hit a big topic together, and that topic is control. Control is everywhere. It's all around us, but more importantly it's in us. It's one of the most pervasive aspects of fear, which seeks to protect you from...well, just about everything. In a world full of fear, control is the unconscious response to provide safety against any and all threats, and those threats range from arguments to fights to food shortages to money losses in the stock market. Subsequently, the disguises of control are many, and yet for all of these attempts to make life safer, control ultimately fails because it's an illusion.

Beginning to Peel Back the Layers of Illusory Control
Look, I'm not going to be able to convince you of control as an illusion. You're going to have to go out and do your work to find out for yourself. With that said, if you are so bold as to take this one on, you're going to find that it has many, many layers. There are control issues out there from the head to the heart to the body and even to the energy body. It's a deep-rooted, nasty issue, but it's gotta come out. It's kind of like a rotten old structure that keeps trying to collapse, but we keep propping it up thinking that we need it. We don't. And it's inhibiting our growth.

Layer 1 almost always starts with the mind. This is where a lot of our fears live, and subsequently, this where we spend a lot of time creating techniques and strategies to prevent those fears from manifesting in our lives. Let's take money as an example since it's so commonly a concern with people. Money represents a lot of things such as independence and power, but deeper still, it represents your ability to provide for yourself. In most of Western society, you need money whether it's the money of someone else supporting you or from a job (which technically is still someone else supporting you). There's a whole load of fears associated with it, so the unconscious control mechanism is often to find ways to not make money a concern. Here are a couple ways that can manifest:
  1. You are miserly. You never want to give money away for fear of losing it permanently. This can be a trait that anyone from the super rich to the super poor may have.
  2. You are a big spender. Spending can be a way that you show yourself that you don't have money issues or that you deserve certain recognition in society as appearing to be wealthy and powerful. You may also be doing this as a way to stay around people with money in the hopes that somehow that will rub off on you or you can get money from them so that you won't have money issues. This example is about controlling others' perspectives of you.
  3. You are a work-aholic. One way to try not to have a lack of money is by working all the time. Even if you are very rich, this trait can continue on. From the outside, it will look ridiculous, but that's how fear is.
And still there are many more manifestations of control for money. Some of the examples above may seem really absurd, but that's what control does to us. It makes us very much insane.

That Was Only One Layer, There Are More
Yet, that's just a small window into the ego's use of control at the mental plane. The ego does a lot of work through the mind to control everything. Lots of people are trying to control their bodies to look a certain way so that they get a certain type of social approval. This is huge with women, but our superficial society has gone to great lengths to help make men more superficial about their bodies. Why do you think there are so many protein supplements now on the market? Guys weren't eating all that additional protein even 15 years ago, so you can see what's happening as the body-builder facade has taken control of guy's ideas about physique, power, sexuality, and social approval.

And with the heart, we do all kinds of things to control our hearts so that we don't end up in situations where we feel uncomfortable. It's like how two people who have a bad divorce may avoid certain places because they're afraid of running into each other. It can make their behaviors really ridiculous, but this is simply what we've learned to do. We've learned to run from discomfort and fear, but the spiritual path takes us right back into it if we truly want to grow.

Letting Go of Control on the Spiritual Path
Perhaps, this blog post is your final excuse for doing this, and you can just let go of all that control. This doesn't mean that you're out of control. We are still very, very conscious and deliberate people when we let go of control, but instead, we're not constantly trying to create certain outcomes or conditions. For instance, we won't go to work always trying to produce the same amount every day or make the same amount of money. This, of course, starts to upset the balance in the business world, but that's okay. It's completely out of whack anyway. In many ways, all of our current structures (business, governments, families, and organizations of all kinds) are set up to control things and ensure things happen a certain way. I don't know about you, but conscious guiding (like what they do to switch which tunnel from sending one lane of traffic to two lanes of traffic East at different times a day at the Caldecott Tunnel) is definitely okay. But all the other manipulation and control that goes into forcing outcomes is totally unhealthy and makes us mean-spirited and cruel. And as I said, letting go of control doesn't mean we become out of control, but it will feel really really different.

Consider this: how much more comfortable is a relationship when your partner isn't always trying to get you to do something or be something? Or how much more comfortable is it when you're not feeling like you're struggling to get your partner to do something? It feels way better, right? And again, this isn't synonymous for complacency. I totally understand that this is a new way to view life because most all of us have been taught control at such a deep level that we have no idea what it feels like without it.

Those of you "living out of control" aren't necessarily doing so either. In many respects, you're probably bucking the system or the aspects of control that you see. That's still a level of control. You're trying to control your experience in a different way through this rebellion. Being truly free is not to be in opposition to external forces. It isn't permissive, but it simply sees what is. Freedom allows you to make conscious choices about when to engage with systems of control like taxes--there are pros and cons to not paying them; I prefer to pay them. That's a conscious decision as opposed to saying, "Screw the government. They can't have my money."

5 Tips to Engaging With Control
But as I said, I know this is a new issue to look at. For many people, control is seen as a good thing. Athletes who can control their bodies in certain ways can make lots of money. Entrepreneurs who can control their profits are given more money and acclaim. For many years, raising children was about controlling and molding them, and I'm sure many people view school systems as mechanisms to control thinking. As I said in the beginning, there is control everywhere, but the most important part is the control that you are doing within you to be a certain way and to act a certain way. That's always the first and last place to start, and here are few quick tips.
  1. Just starting to notice. Pay attention to where you try to control things in your life.
  2. Journal. Write down what those things are that you are trying to control, and then start digging into the reasons as to what you want and what you are trying to make happen.
  3. Family and lineage research. Start to research where these traits come from. Most often, they're coming from the family. See if you can discover key events that happened in your family that have influenced these traits. The point isn't to blame anyone. Just keep noticing.
  4. Start small. Find a small area in your life that you're trying to control, and see if you can let go of control. This isn't like eating whatever you want whenever. This is more like letting go of the idea of how hard you think you need to work out, but you still continue to exercise.
  5. Notice the results. Do your small change (or heck, it can be a big action) for awhile, and notice how you feel. Write this down to log your process and to help you get a sense of progress (which isn't really what the spiritual path is about, but it may help make you feel good.

Eroding Control and Meeting the Fear Issues
You will most likely find fear hiding under control. It's telling you that you won't be okay if you let go, but you will. In truth, control hasn't made you any safer. But you need to discover this for yourself. I can't tell it to you in a blog post. I can only tell you that in my own experiences letting go of control has made my life more ease-full and beautiful and ultimately way more relaxing than trying to manipulate and control every little thing to make me feel safe. Control can't keep difficult experiences anyway. They're part of life, and sometimes, the difficult things are the very things that inspire us to grow and become more amazing in our lives. In that way, control often shuts out the very things you need for your growth, and what a shame it is to not be able to fully embrace our beauty that comes with experiencing the whole life. So take a chance on yourself, and let go of the illusion of control.

Kung Fu Panda and Control
Now, let's have some fun. Please enjoy this clip about "control" from the DreamWorks Animation movie, Kung Fu Panda.



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