My last cartoon carried this caption:
To need control is to go to war with reality
— with people, places and things as they are,
and with yourself, your own thoughts,
feelings and behavior.
The war’s endless. And guess what usually wins?
Better to find a way to stop fighting.
To which my reader Julie replied, “The big question is, ‘How to stop fighting?'”
That’s the question, all right.
How do you stop fighting reality?
How accept life on life’s terms?
Is it even possible?
Yes, I think so.
I’ve found three ways.
They’re not new. They’re not complicated. They’re not mysterious, either. We all know them.
We just don’t practice them much.
Surrender means giving up control over what you can’t control anyway.
For me that usually means finding a way to accept some smelly lump of reality that life has dropped in my lap.
Some lumps are easier to accept than others. Bad weather, I’m okay with that. I can handle slow drivers too. Also long bank lines. Also crabgrass. Even the occasional indoor gift left by Loki.
Other stuff’s harder. Like the rising poll numbers of politicians whose guts I despise. And reality tv. And Rush Limbaugh. And Cialis commercials.
Not to mention whether you’ll like what I’m writing.
Then there’s stuff I really want to control, stuff that feels essential to my peace of mind or happiness. Like my income. Or my weight. Or my wife’s mood. Or how other people see me. That last one especially.
This stuff forces me to practice surrender almost constantly.
I imagine three boxes. (See above.) I sort the realities I’m facing into them. Then I work on moving items from right to left.
Item by item. Slowly and patiently. Over and over.
Responsibility means being able to respond — that is, answer reality — appropriately and effectively.
For me that usually means listening to my feelings and making choices based on what I hear.
I’ve been trained not to do this. Like you, I learned early to ignore such internal cues and focus on external ones instead — rules, conventions, the expectations of others. I also learned that ignoring external cues gets you punished.
Called socialization, this process begins with toilet training and continues right through grad school.
What am I saying? It starts at birth, and continues forever.
So it takes courage to detach from externals, risk disapproval or rejection, and listen to myself anyway.
Responding is hard, too, because a lifetime of ignoring feelings leaves them hard to hear. I buried mine so deep I lost touch with them for decades. When anyone asked me “How are you feeling?” I’d answer with what I thought. Years of this left me so confused and depressed that I had to go into therapy and excavate the parts of me I’d buried.
So living an emotionally responsible life, one based on listening to oneself…
Well, look around. How many people do you see doing that?
Intimacy is both the scariest way of not-fighting and the most rewarding.
It means being yourself with another person, and letting them do the same with you.
It’s hard because it combines responsibility and surrender — showing who you are and letting go of how someone else will react to it.
It’s scary, because we need love and acceptance so desperately.
On the other hand, avoiding intimacy — or worse, being incapable of it — is the hardest and scariest fate of all.
Because being stuck in hiding is the ultimate disconnection, the worst loneliness.
And because, paradoxically, control addiction leads to feeling utterly out of control.
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