Do you have control issues?
I do. In the past five years, my family has experienced a long string of stressful events—terminal illness diagnoses, deaths, breakdowns, emergencies, chemo and radiation, surgeries, and alarming revelations. Life kept falling apart. It still is.
I struggled to control the outcomes of these events because I found myself terrified by suffering and loss. Surely if I knew how to do just the right thing, I could make a situation turn out well, solve the problem, or keep people from dying. When I couldn’t, which was most of the time, I felt like I had failed: bad mother, bad daughter, bad wife. Self-loathing escalated.
Margaret Wheatley, a consultant, writer, and student of Pema Chödrön, sheds light on this idea of hating oneself because we think we fall short when we're unable to control the uncontrollable. She says, “[If] self-loathing is combined with a culture that emphasizes control, it holds you accountable for making things work all the time -- without failing, without feeling confused or overwhelmed by uncertainty. We hold each other accountable for achievements that are in fact impossible, because we can't pretend that chaos doesn't erupt in our lives and that we have it all figured out… [W]e're left loathing ourselves and feeling overwhelmed.”*
Chödrön, in her book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, also talks about this control-freak notion of feeling like we must defeat the inevitable events of loss, sickness, dying, and death that life throws at us: “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. They come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.... When things fall apart and we're on the verge of we know not what, the test for each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize. The spiritual journey is not about heaven and finally getting to a place that's really swell. In fact, that way of looking at things is what keeps us miserable.”**
I don't think that we are to throw our hands up in the air and surrender, no. We do what we can do. We do our best. But we are "to stay on the brink" of uncertainty and, realizing that life is always in transition, we stick "with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic -- this is the spiritual path."**
What are you noticing about control today?
for Mindful Monday
© 2014, post, Donna Pierce
Photo credit: renatotarga, 2006. http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=918300&searchId=8007c277f170dbf6cf261bd765bd6152&npos=44
*Wheatley, Margaret and Pema Chödrön, “It Starts with Uncertainty” in Shambhala Sun, Nov1999. http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=1874
**Chödrön, Pema. When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Boston: Shambhala Publications, pp. 8-10
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