It’s amazing how often we think we’re in control of something when really we aren’t.
Control is an illusion. We have been trained to set goals, and then work on the actions that lead to those goals … and yet how often do those goals fail? How often are we trying to control a future that we cannot predict?
In this post I argue that today isn’t preparation for tomorrow. Today is the main event. And why it’s important to fully live today by being mindful.
Mindfulness and the Feeling of Control
Did you know that there’s a secret plan to privatise the NHS? That Muslim immigrants are plotting to take over Britain? That the Brexit vote was stolen by a far-right Facebook cabal?
The appetite for conspiracy theories never dies. This is because it’s far more comforting to believe some specific agency is responsible for the world’s nastiness. The alternative is to put it down to a chaotic mix of historical trends, incompetence, unintended consequences and special interests. We need to feel someone or something is running the show, be it a pantheon of gods, one almighty God, or… the Jews. That’s why anti-Semitism, as Jean-Paul Sartre noted, isn’t so much an opinion as a passion: a passion to dispel the malign force orchestrating events. Is a sinister group making hay out of anti-Semitism to bring down Jeremy Corbyn? Is Corbyn, in turn, orchestrating a far-left hate mob?
No single force controls the clamour of opinions. But rather than accept the world is in perpetual ferment, it’s easier to believe someone or other is in charge.
Life is Uncontrollable
If life is uncontrollable, and because we don’t like the feeling of being out of control, we do all kinds of things to seek control … but it doesn’t work … what alternative is there?
We can practice mindfulness, and learn to accept the uncontrollable nature of each moment.
With mindfulness you can start just by sitting still. And try to pay attention to the sensations of this moment, around you and in your body and even in your mind. Just notice what’s going on.
Then notice that your mind wants to run, to planning or worrying or getting a grasp on things. We run from this unknown, uncontrollable moment to a strategy of control.
Notice this urge to run, to control … and don’t act. Do nothing. Just observe, taking no action. This is what mindfulness means.
Notice how this feeling of being out of control feels. Where is this feeling located in your body? What is the sensation of it in your body? Is it one thing, or changing? Investigate with curiosity.
Be still with this sensation in your body. Practice with this a little at a time, for days, for weeks. You’ll start to get to know mindfulness intimately.
And then it won’t be so bad. You’ll learn to sit with this feeling of out-of-controlledness, and be OK with it. You’ll learn to trust in this moment, not to lead to an outcome you want (control!), but to turn out just fine.
You’ll need to do fewer things to get under control, to get comfort. You’ll still do some of them, because no one ever truly masters this (control!), but you’ll need it less.
And then what? What’s left when we don’t try to control? Love. We still act, but not out of a need for control. We act out of love for others and ourselves.
This is the other way.
Photo on Foter.com