What is control

Summer and the Aloha Moon


Thursday gratefuls: Simcha. Joy! Ichi-go, ichi-e. Marilyn. MVP. Judy and her journey. Rich. Jamie. Susan. Alan. Susan. Ken and Sarah, his daughter. A new Water heater! Expensive! Learnings from Burning Bear Creek Trail. Evergreen. Shadow Mountain. Shadow Mountain-Black Mountain-Brook Forest Drive. The Holy Valley. See what you’re looking at.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: A trip

Tarot: Seven of Stones, Healing

“Give our minds a break. Calmness. Meditation. Stillness. Healing. Reevaluation. Patience. Perseverance. State of stability. Attentive care. Take time to relax and unwind. ” tarotx.net


Been thinking about control. That is, our control over our own suffering, our own joy. What does that mean? Control? Is it equivalent to will? That is, if I can will myself to do something, does that mean I have exerted control? And, if so, to what end?

The question came up in the Mussar practice group last night. A quote from the Dali Lama said if we create our own suffering isn’t it logical that we can create our own joy.

Rich Levine questioned whether we create our own suffering. He used the example of slaves. Isn’t their suffering brought on by external circumstances? He then later offered that the enslaved also created an alternate culture of songs, music, religion, dance as a way of combating the external oppression of their masters. I thought about Viktor Frankl and Man’s Search for Meaning, written while Frankl was in a concentration camp.

Here’s the way I think about cancer. I do what I can (exert my will. Control.) through diet and exercise. I follow the plan my doctors lay out. After those things, the result is out of my control. I can’t will the cancer away. In this instance I find the notion of not having control liberating. I do what I can and the rest will happen as it does. What I’ve done is come to peace with the process.

So there is a moment when having control matters, when exerting my will is possible, and a moment when I cannot. My suspicion is that most things in life, including joy, contain such a mixture, a more nuanced approach to the matter of will, control.

Take death as an example. I have a little plaque that reads exercise, eat right, die anyway. A good reminder of the ultimate futility of a sense of control over our life.

I’m suspicious of the idea of control. The ego muscling the psyche through brute force. I believe it’s more subtle than that. More like finding an alignment between desire and intention. How can I line up what I desire with what I need.

Controlling either our suffering or our joy exercises the same modality, the ego wrestling one mood out of the way for another, presumably better one.

Hamlet had the same dilemma:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?”

I’m answering Hamlet today with, neither one. Neither passive acceptance of “fate” nor activation of will ensures success when we face the sea of troubles life often presents. What does then? I believe it’s that mix of doing what you can (will) and following the advice of experts that you trust (if any), then leaving the results to come as they will.

It will not be fate because you have actively engaged; but, neither will it be in your hands because the actual results happen as a mix of your engagement and factors external to you. In spite of my diet and exercise, in spite of my taking my meds and following the surveillance recommended, my cancer may still spread. Or, because of those two factors, it may continue in remission. Either way, I’ve acted as I can. Which is enough. And, it’s enough, I believe, because there’s no other way it can be.

This is, I think, wu wei. Yes, act. Just don’t expect the results you think you need. That’s where acceptance comes in. Accept the results, then recalibrate if necessary.

This entry was posted in Fourth Phase, Mussar, Reimagine. Reconstruct. Reenchant., Tarot. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.