Thursday, January 24, 2013

Letting go of control

let go let god

For many of us, the need to control develops as a survival mechanism. At some point in our journey, we begin to believe that we, our beautiful, perfect selves, are not enough. This happens any numbers of ways. Like when we believe the love we gave so openly was rejected. Or the trust we bestowed turned into a trick. When we feel that we aren't seen or heard, even though we courageously exposed ourselves. Or when we experience pain at the hands of those we most desired to give us care. At those points, many of us decide that there is something wrong with us, something that we need to fix to be more worthy of love. We may decide that we cannot bear the thought of experiencing this pain again and we begin to close up and build the walls within to protect ourselves.

I was listening to a talk given by Tara Brach called Letting Go of Control that zones in on our universal addiction to control, sometimes even down to our spiritual practice (the constant search for answers and a secure sense of right or wrong). The talk shares a story about a woman who, as a child, was forced to get a haircut she did not desire. She loved her hair. She believed it beautiful and that it made her special. But her mother told her it was a nuisance. In that moment of losing her hair, she felt that what she wanted didn't matter. She then worked hard over the years through achievements and accomplishments to find that sense of mattering. But she also kept her passions locked in. She cut herself off from her own wants and needs. It was too dangerous to again feel like a nuisance.

I know this story. I have that story. As a child, my hair was a wild mass of uninhibited curls that went all over my head and down my back. But my mother hated my hair. She could never rein it in no matter how hard she tried. One evening, while our family sat watching a movie, my mother sliced through the silence with the command that I "do something" with my hair. At the time, I wasn't quite sure what to do. In my mind, it was "done.” But I felt the anxiety creeping into my body as I sensed the threat of her anger. I went to the bathroom to try to tighten the ponytail I had my hair in. Over and over she sent me to the bathroom to "fix" my hair, each time her rage and my sense of despair rising. Like so many nights, there was nothing to stop her rage from overflowing. She would not be pleased. As usual, I was at a loss to what was happening. I could never predict what might set her off. I felt responsible, because that's what she told me, but there never seemed to be anything I could do or not do to make me safe. That night, my mother made me get a chair and pair of scissors. She forced me into the chair, yanking my hair towards her and proceeded to cut several inches of my hair off until it rested just above my shoulders.

That was a moment among many that made me reach desperately for control, to find ways to make me feel safe, to make sense of the world around me. Maybe if I could keep everything operating smoothly, she would be upset less often. Maybe if I could just manage the world around her, I won't have to suffer. Maybe if I just reach achieve this and accomplish that, I can finally be free.

But the problem with this approach, this need to control, is that in the process we often cut ourselves off from the true experience of life. While I am trying to control my future by planning and overachieving, I am sacrificing opportunities to play and experiment. While I am protecting myself against any pain in relationships, I am blocking myself from the sweet vulnerability of love. While I am trying to be strong, I am missing the opportunity to receive the support of friends.

While trying to keep all the bad things out, I miss the opportunity to fully engage with the beauty of the world. I block myself from experiencing the wonder of life's journey and the expectant joy of promises fulfilled. And I am never at peace, because peace only comes from surrender.

I’ve learned that control is really an illusion, a never-ending search for something outside of me. We use the stories about what happened to us as our reasons.  And they are good reasons. We're doing what we feel we have to in order to be safe. But your real safety is in opening yourself to all of what each moment holds, trusting that God will be with you.  One of my favorite lines from the Course in Miracles states, in my defenselessness, my safety lies. We don't need to allow the past to control our future. Each moment, this moment, is a chance to start anew. The old has gone; the new is here! 

When we release those stories of our past into the past, we remember who we knew ourselves to be before we let the world tell us we were anything different. Inside, where God resides, is everything I will ever need

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