I love mythology. In fact, for years I kept Edith Hamilton’s classic Mythology book on my nightstand, flipping through to read the stories that have birthed our modern civilization. Tales of forlorn lovers, wrathful gods, supernatural powers, and the ferocity as well as generosity of Nature.
From the earliest days of man kind, in cave paintings thousands of years old, there were sorcerers and strange hybrid creatures drawn in ritualistic ways.
Everyone has tried to exact control over Nature. After all, a great Rain God can help you to have crops so that you have food to eat. Why not call upon all the magic in the universe to gain more control over your life?
Of course, if you look at the ruins of ancient civilizations, these methods didn’t always work!
Many of us want control by our nature. The want for control is a form of survival instinct. It’s somewhat bred into our genes, I think: if you can make it rain, you can eat.
So, following that logic, if you can find a way to fix things and people around you, you can have the life you want.
But it’s not.
There’s a difference between helping people and surrendering your life to them in harmful ways.
There’s a difference between doing your best and destroying yourself to be an abstract version of what is the best.
And that’s what begs the question: are you trying to control life in some way that isn’t helping you?
Everything from supernatural divination (tarot, psychics, you name it) to even witchcraft (I was very bad at it, and quit after two spells gone flat!) has crossed my hands as a teenager and young adult. In fact, the weirdest spell I tried almost incinerated my childhood bedroom thanks to flaming yellow powder that smelled like a sewer that was meant to help you get jealousy away from you.
My conclusion: There is absolutely no such thing as control in life in an exacting way.
You have to come to that one on your own.
I’ve had therapists, sages, gurus, priests, superstars and pretty much everyone who met me until I was about 27 tell me over and over again that I could not control life.
I wanted to prove them wrong.
Spending hours hiking and running (in just the right balance, coupled with two Bikram yoga classes a morning) , making tedious lists, micromanaging my every bite of food, controlling every word that came out of my mouth….But it wasn’t enough.
I found myself a social life filled with people who were even better at control than I was, and I sunk deeper into a prison of what was acceptable to do with my every moment of every day. You have no idea how extreme a person who still seems “normal” can be unless you met me at 25. I had a speech therapist to purge the last vestiges of my Jersey accent, a tremendous number of classes to do everything from method acting to massive manifestation loaded up my life in between rigorous workouts and an riotous, curated social schedule. If you met me, I would seem fantastically accomplished and productive. Super stylish. Likely at the party you’d want to be at. I barely smiled. I barely talked to anyone. I was so angry inside. My life was a weird prison in my mind and I knew I was terrifically in trouble.
We all learn the complete failure of trying to control in our own ways. For me, my father suddenly died in a car accident right at the height of my quest for control. Given he was living the high rolling danger lifestyle he had for 55 years, it was less the shock of him actually being dead and more the idea that landed on me:
I couldn’t prevent that very big catastrophic thing from happening.
Was there a way I could have prevented it?
I had no control.
That was NOT OK by me.
So, for sure I should get better at control, right?
Modern mythology of the Self-Help variety extends the old school myths of Gods and Goddesses to include every single type of treatment and formula to help you to manifest and, somehow, control the universe if you are truly impassioned.
My next mission was to master every-self help philosophy of “manifestation.” This great big journey culminated in the accumulation of a ton of debt, a complete divorce from much of what I loved in my life, and then two trips to the hospital for a total of a month. I promise you that if anyone is promising you a magic pill or a way to short-circuit reality in any miraculous way it is a great big, likely expensive, lie.
The realization was still the same: it was pointless to try to control anything.
When I finally freed myself from the prison of control and, at a kind of rock bottom in my own life (no money, almost bald from being so sick, about 95 pounds and super-crazy grateful for every moment of life since it seemed so precarious), spent every day really aware that I could only do the best that I could… I sat and practiced Buddhism, spending time each day connecting to something that made me feel like a humbled, real person.
All my health, my money, my love for life… it all came back. And then some. And then more. Even if it were to go away, I have faith now that I can re-create it because I am actually living what makes me feel alive rather than what makes me feel like I am in a hell disguised as excellence.
I’m sure lots of you know exactly what I mean.
While you can absolutely create much more of what you focus on, according to the latest in quantum theory- like entanglement (look it up, it is mind-blowing)- you can not really predict the ties that bind us all together or how they will react to stimulus.
You may have the awareness that trying to control life- or to control people in it- is pointless- but you still can’t feel OK with it.
If you love control, or feel the need for it, giving it up may make you super-anxious. I felt so guilty for all the things that I “let” happen to people when I started to unravel this control myth, even though I was not responsible for any of it. There were days where I couldn’t feel my feet on the ground because I was so used to thinking so much and listening to my intuition so very little.
If part of your need to control is based on trying to help people around you, ALANON or CODA might help. If you are struggling with control based on perfectionism, which is really insecurity and fear, Art Therapy can be awesomely powerful. If you are in the throes of feeling pressured by life, meditation may be a great tool to help you unravel things.
There are lots of holistic and homeopathic treatments that can help you to heal your body and balance your energy and emotions. If you are a control-loving person, be aware that if you use these in a quest for perfection (like my friend who would get a bi-weekly colonic… I mean, really?) rather than to create balance, you will wind up in the same extreme state of imbalance all over again.
Spend time alone, truly quiet. Keep a journal. Let things get a bit relaxed-messy. Take walks. Step away from noise.
The vast good of becoming OK with the fact that you truly can’t micromanage life is that anything can happen. In Buddhist philosophy, the better you treat yourself and others and all of this planet, the better the future karma you create for yourself.
The better you are to you (IE, no more control) the best chance you have to live with far more freedom and magic.
The scary part is surrendering that stubborn, very reasonable, likely quite brilliant and control-loving will.
But that’s also the greatest relief.
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