The illusion of control

So much of human social evolution has emphasized mastery and control – over both self and external factors – we have quite lost an accurate grasp of the limits of our control. Must it take natural disasters, financial meltdowns and terrorist attacks for us to gain an inkling at how little control we actually possess over our lives? Perhaps even in the face of such powerful reminders, there are those of us who take pride in our ability to remain immune and to retain control over our lives when so many other lives have shattered. Must it then take tragedy on a personal scale – the death of a loved one, the breakdown of a significant relationship, a crippling personal injury – for us to get the message?

In this world, an acknowledgment of a lack of control is almost always a sign of weakness. It seems many of us have lost the ability to distinguish between the humility borne of sincere honesty and the irresponsibility of finding excuses for failures. But it is actually easy to tell the difference between the two, for the former motivates us to a more loving and authentic existence while the latter causes us to degenerate into self-indulgence and self-pity.

The world blasts the warnings of the dangers of insufficient control and mastery, and there is truth in that. But what of the pitfalls of thinking we can and should control more than we are actually able to do? Might that not lead us into an inauthentic existence where we continuously feel frustration at the many ways in which our intentions and hopes are thwarted? Might we not lose the joy that comes from being able to recognize blessings that come in unexpected ways?

One of the most personally valuable things I learned in my studies in Psychology is the understanding of how little control we actually have over our thoughts and emotions. After all, the realm of which we can control – our conscious intentions and motivations – are only the tip of the iceberg of our being. Much more lie submerged below the surface in our unconscious and subconscious – the scripts that we have inherited from our families and social environments, the psychological and emotional wounds we have suffered from which get buried, and a multitude of other influences. These are powerful and complex factors in the way we think, analyze, judge, behave and live our lives, but we are usually not aware of their influences. Furthermore, no amount of conscious effort in introspecting or reflection can help us to see these subconscious influences in ourselves until we are ready, and unless some stimuli triggers us to see.

Wise men and women refrain from ‘teaching’ the pilgrims who come to seek enlightenment because they recognize that even if the truth could be presented, it would do more harm than good to the person who is not ready to recognize it. Even more significantly, wise teachers know that enlightenment comes from within, and that ‘teaching’ could lead to greater confusion. That is why they often respond with another question. Hence the respect for silence and solitude.

As a seeker myself, I used to be frustrated at the lack of answers and what I thought to be poor teaching/guidance skills. But now I marvel at such teachers’ wisdom, as well as their humility, peace and patience.

A great challenge lies before me to integrate the past few years’ lessons. It is a task that I cannot imagine I can rise up to, because it targets my greatest weaknesses of impatience and pride. But God seems certain that this test is not beyond my ability, so I choose to believe that I can do it.

But Lord, may I just compliment You on how sophisticated and sneaky your curriculum is? Please be even more generous with your grace this time… YOU KNOW I NEED IT!!!!!

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