Wednesday, June 16

Mindful Monday: Control Issues?

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.

*Wheatley, Margaret and Pema Chödrön, “It Starts with Uncertainty” in Shambhala Sun, Nov1999.

**Chödrön, Pema. When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Boston: Shambhala Publications, pp. 8-10

#mindful #monday #findingGod


  • I clicked right through on this link because yes, yes I do have control issues. I come by them legally: half of my extended family has control issues. And I nodded vigorously at your description of the last 5 years – mine, too, have been full of stressful events. Jobs lost and gained, chronic illness diagnoses, new responsibilities.

    And then trigger the self-criticism because I have started reading “When Things Fall Apart” about 80 times. I get about 4 or 5 chapters in, and then because it’s not a book I can read all at once, put it down in favor of something else, and forget. And then something nudges my memory, and I pick it up again and start all over. I can’t even control things well enough to get through this book!

    Thanks for your words – I think this whole comment is a big “Me, Too” and a “Thanks for sharing your words”.

  • Donna Pierce

    Poppy: You’re welcome, and thanks for your kind comments. “When Things Fall Apart” is my go-to book when, indeed, things fall apart as they so often do! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it, though I admit to skipping a chapter or two toward the end. Yes, I, too, read a chapter, then set it down; pick it up again several days or a week later, read another chapter, ponder it, etc. Or I’ll read one chapter over and over.

    This control-issues-and-self-loathing/criticism connection is not a pairing that had crossed my mind before, but it makes so much sense. What do you think about it? Does it apply to you, too?

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