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How Much of Life is About Control?

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Karl W. Palachuk
July 24, 2011

I love this passage from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert:

“We gallop through our lives like circus performers balancing on two speeding side-by-side horses — one foot is on the horse called ‘fate,’ the other on the horse called ‘free will.’ And the question you have to ask every day is — which horse is which? Which horse do I need to stop worrying about because it’s not under my control, and which do I need to steer with concentrated effort?”

There are many pieces to this puzzle.

First, there’s the division of what you control and what you don’t control. And even within that, there’s a big piece that you could control if you knew how to control, but you can’t control because you don’t have the skills or self confidence. But still, the big division is between the things in life you might be able to control and those you never will be able to control.

It is worth spending a good deal of quiet time and meditation on the question of control. It takes great wisdom and experience to recognize the parts of life we can’t control. After that, it takes a lifetime to accept the limitations we discover. This isn’t really something you every “achieve.” It’s more like something you come to accept that you will always have to work on.

Second, there’s the question of worrying about those things we can’t control. No matter how much control you want over things, we all tend to worry about parts of our life over which we have no control. Some people see “the world” as being so powerful that they can’t control anything. These folks tend to accept that “stuff” just happens and they need to figure out how to deal with it. Other people try to control as much of the world as they can.

In some cases, this second group probably has a better sense of how much they really can control because they’ve explored the margins of what they influence. At the same time, they probably spend more time worrying about the world they can’t control.

One final note to think about: The world keeps changing. As you grow, have new experiences, and gain new skills, you can influence more of your world than you did before. But world isn’t the same as it was yesterday, last year, or ten years ago.

So, many of the lessons we’ve learned about control are no longer valid. We “know” about a level of control that simply doesn’t apply any more. Like animals walking past an opening in the fence, we stay on the path we know and don’t consider testing limits we’ve tested before.

Consider adding “control” to the list of topics in your daily meditations. It’s amazing how much of the world is different from what our experience has told us. We’ve changed and the world has changed. But our internal thoughts about the world may not have changed.



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