It was my wife that said it.
We were trying to get ready to leave the house on time with our 21 month old son. Things were not going smoothly. We were all getting flustered, struggling to get things packed and organised for the day ahead.
I’m very single-minded, so when I’m concentrating on something I give it my full attention. I find it hard to hold a conversation when I’m trying to get my wiry, squirming son into his buggy. So when my wife said this to me it stopped me in my tracks – like a big wet bag of cement around the head.
Wet bag of cement moment coming up…
‘I don’t feel in control of my life anymore!’ she said.
It was one of those statements that I didn’t really know what to do with. At first you start to feel guilty, perhaps the reason your wife feels out of control is something that you’ve done. Or more likely, something that you haven’t done.
I sort of fudged some sort of response, not really knowing what to say at all. I decided that changing the subject might be the best approach, you know, get things back on track. Let’s all just carry on doing what we were doing before, and let’s just ignore that elephant STOMPING AROUND IN THE ROOM.
Well, that works for a while, however this episode stayed with me for the rest of the day, and when I got the chance to reflect on it, and meditate on it, it puzzled and intrigued me more and more.
It made me think about how control was important to my life, and how feeling in control can help anyone achieve some satisfaction and happiness in theirs.
If you ask people what they want, a lot of the time they will talk about wanting more money, or a bigger house, or a fancy car, or lots of material stuff generally. All of those things can lead to you having more control, and having more control can lead to you having more freedom.
We can sum this up nicely:
freedom = control
Generally, people are going to have more freedom when they have access to the things that more money gives them. The bigger house gives them more space to do the things they want to do. A fancy car gives them the ability to escape it all for a few days. More money means the ability to travel wherever and whenever they like.
Having a lot of money does give you a level of freedom that people with no money can’t enjoy. Of course, having money brings its own traps as well, but swings and roundabouts.
The millions of people who don’t enjoy freedom because of oppressive regimes, abusive partners, domineering bosses, or crippling poverty don’t enjoy that level of control. They don’t feel that they have a choice about how they live so they feel restricted, hemmed in, and not in control. Therefore they feel less free.
I wonder if any of you are starting to feel a bit uncomfortable with these conclusions?
By this point in my logic I was certainly starting to rebel.
Hang on, I thought, needing to have control is just fulfilling the needs of the ego. And time after time we have been taught that living at the mercy of the ego is the path to disappointment and despair. Desires, greed, expectations, surely all of these things lead us to pain and entrapment, not freedom.
Certainly for any of you that read my manifesto ‘The Art of Not Knowing’ would agree that expectations are the way to plot a crash collision course set for trouble.
And how about the life of the monk?
Their search for enlightenment and eternal bliss is achieved through self-control yes, but strict discipline and routine that isn’t always in line with their day-to-day choices.
What is key to their spiritual growth is their acceptance of things as they are. In other words, giving up the need to control things and instead being happy to let them be.
So in actual fact:
freedom = letting go of control
We have arrived at a paradox, which wouldn’t be the first time for anyone trying to seek some spiritual growth.
The path to freedom lies in having control of your life. And the path to having control of your life lies in letting go of the need to control everything that you experience!
It’s hard to sum up any more than that really, and I hate to leave the end of the post hanging in the air. But maybe this is the point when you take over and make up your mind on what this all means and how this can be of use to you.