“I just want to feel more…in control. Then everything will fall into place.”
Control is that guy, the one in the too tight jeans. He doesn’t walk; he slinks. He shows up at the point in the night when you’re thinking it’s time to go home. His teeth are too big for his mouth and he runs his tongue proprietorially over the acres of white. His eyebrows appear to be Brylcreemed. He leans into all of your personal space and you have the strange thought that he has seventeen limbs underneath his clothes, as bile rises in the back of your throat. He offers to buy you a drink. You say yes.
Control is walking down the stairs and suddenly becoming aware of the precision of mechanics and engineering that is your foot moving at the bottom of your leg that is moving out and down towards the next step, and all the molecules in your brain explode like a supernova and you’re temporarily blinded. You grip the bannister to avoid falling.
Control is teaching a crocodile to waltz.
Is holding a fistful of sand.
Is pushing jelly up a slide.
Is only breathing in.
Is gripping water.
Is winning at life.
A child lies in bed at night staring up at the springs of the bunk bed above her head. She imagines the planet Earth and with a jolt thinks, but what’s the Earth in? She remembers the Milky Way and then thinks…but what’s the Milky Way in? Then she imagines God, holding the entire Milky Way in a big box and staring benevolently down at all He surveys. Then the child thinks with a panic, “BUT WHAT’S GOD IN???”
A woman sips her Martini and says, “I just want to feel more…in control. Then everything will fall into place.” Her friend nods emphatically, “Absolutely, amen to that.”
Why does the child’s existential panic seem naive whereas the adult’s cry for control seem plausible? What witchcraft is it that sees us exalting control as The Answer and getting more of it, therefore, the noble chase? And do we even know what we mean, to be ‘in control’? Of what exactly?
Are we signing up for the job of turning all the lights of the universe on every morning when we wake, rubbing the sleep from our eyes and cranking the handle to get Mother Earth spinning for another day?
If not control over the universe, then what part, what extent is enough exactly? How many iterations of influence will satisfy us? Is it enough to control how we feel and how we act? Or ideally do we wish to control a universe of others, anyone impacting on us; our troublesome family, our irritating colleagues, our unfair boss, our non-committal partner, the builder that won’t return our phonecalls?
Just how much territory do we want control over? And for how long do we imagine control will remain…in control?
We think that we’ll feel better, armed with ‘more control’ and yet we can’t even control our own thoughts. Try it. Right now: don’t think about pink elephants. Don’t think about pink elephants. (What are you thinking about?)
Don’t you get the sense that we’ve been tricked, that we’re chasing something illusory, hurtling down the rabbit hole looking for answers via ‘eat me / drink me’ potions?
The truth is, we need to give up the idea of control to ever experience real power.
Like the person with hypothermia who thinks they’re burning up and rips off all their clothes just before dying, anyone thinking they need MORE control needs less. In fact, they need to let it go. We all do.
The easiest first step to wean ourselves off the addiction is to turn impulsive, grabbing Control into proactive, effective Choice:
Want to feel more in control at work? Choose to tell your boss you’re struggling, choose to get a mentor, choose to take a New Manager training course, choose to have a direct conversation with the person who talks over you in meetings, choose to ask for that pay-rise you’ve been bitching about for months to anyone that’ll listen…
Want to feel more in control of your finances? Choose to book a call with a financial advisor, choose to get advice on how to consolidate your debts, choose to track your monthly spending on a spreadsheet, choose to call in that loan from your sister.
Want to feel more in control with your friends? Choose to say no, choose to exert a boundary and stick to it, choose not to lend that dress you know you’ll never see again, choose not to go out on a school night and spend money you haven’t got and turn up late and hungover at work when you’ve got that presentation to do.
Every time we make a choice we are stepping into our power; for better or worse, we’re present with ourselves. We act from a place that deeply knows that choice follows choice follows choice; we are in the free-flowing experience of life, allowing it, sometimes idling in the shallows, sometimes buffeted in the rapids but always moving in the direction of travel of our lives. We’re not distracted by building dams, gripping clutching stopping having controlling the flow. We allow ourselves to be in, not on the sidelines with a clipboard and a protractor trying to plot the optimal point of entry for the optimal return of effort and minimal risk of failure.
So here’s another choice. Choose to write the word control on a piece of paper. Now tear that piece of paper up into a thousand tiny pieces and toss it on the ground. Scatter the remnants with bird seed and watch as a flock of birds come to gather the pieces. As they fly off, watch their silhouetted tail feathers disappear into the distance and the sound of their wings beating the air will herald a new freedom.