(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.
So what do we mean when we talk about control?
Like when someone says something like I want to feel more in control — what are they asking for, really?
I think it’s
Peace of mind, that is.
“Peace of mind.” Consider that phrase, and what it suggests.
Calm. Safety. Blessed relaxation. The absence of pain, stress and fear. Connection to our selves, to others, to the world. Serenity.
And where does peace of mind come from?
Peace of mind is rare because our minds are usually at war.
We fight reality itself, we fight ourselves, and we fight each other.
And we do it almost constantly.
“Each of us has our own silent War With Reality,” writes Stephen Cope.
This silent, unconscious war with How It Is unwittingly drives much of our behavior. We reach for the pleasant. We hate the unpleasant. We try to arrange the world so that we have only pleasant mind-states, and not unpleasant ones. We try to get rid of this pervasive sense of unsatisfactoriness in whatever way we can — by changing things ‘”out there.” By changing the world.
Think about it. Think of how often the reality you want matches the reality you have.
Think of the time you spend wishing that things (or you yourself, or your partner) were different.
Think of the energy you spend plotting or actually trying to make things the way you’d prefer.
Like all addictions, the search for control is a problem disguised as a solution. It seems to offer a way out of discomfort and discontent. In fact, it offers the opposite.
“The life of addiction is one of perpetual longing,” writes William Alexander in his Still Waters:
“I want, I want, I want” is the chant of the discontented self. This longing is reckless and insistent. It will never be fulfilled. There is not one thing, one feeling, or one idea that will satisfy it. “I want” is always followed by “more.” It gets worse.
Sure, you can fight reality. You just can’t ever win.
Is there an alternative to fighting?
We can practice surrender, responsibility and intimacy instead.
I’ve written about these alternatives before. Surrender means not controlling what we can’t control anyway. Responsibility means listening to feelings — however inconvenient or unbecoming — and allowing them a voice when we make choices. And intimacy means taking the (often terrifying) risk of being ourselves with another person and allowing that person to do the same.
As I said, I’ve written about these before, and expect to continue for a while. The rest of my life, probably.
Partly because I’m convinced they’re the only chance we have of achieving peace.
And partly because Bert still has so damned much to learn about them.
Next: Bert’s notes on the alternatives.
* * *
Supposing you have been very much in love with a man or a woman. And you want them to love you.
And if you say “You must love me,” love dries up.
But on the other hand if you say, “Look, please, have it your way…. You don’t have to meet me tomorrow. Please, you choose….”
They always come back if you do it that way. (Laughs.)
Let it go, and it returns to you. But dominate it and say, “You must be mine,” and you’ll lose it.
…And this is, finally, the only sane attitude.
~ From Let it go by Alan Watts.