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The Real Illusion of Control

Many of us are familiar with conventional wisdom that you cannot control anything but yourself. We adopted this way of seeing the world when we first noticed that trying to control other people and circumstances ended up unsuccessful and the source of much mental suffering.

At first glance, shifting our focus of control to our inner landscape seems to be a helpful paradigm shift. Suddenly, we are responsible for nothing but ourselves, which feels like a relief .

Until we notice something troubling: we are still suffering. For some of us, that's because we're still actually trying to control circumstances. For others, it's because we've tried to control ourselves--our thoughts, emotions, actions, responses--and, well, it didn't work, at least not consistently.

What at first seemed like a helpful paradigm shift has not actually improved a darn thing.

How can that be?

Perhaps it's because there is no "you" to control in the first place.

So it's not whether you can control an inner landscape vs. an outer landscape, but that there is no distinction between the two. If there is no "I" to be separate from "others" then there is no "I" to control or to be in control of. This looks like:

What if this were actually the way that it is? Does it sound scary? Only to thinking mind that wants to control, manage and make sense of everything.

But look closely:

Do you really control yourself anyway? 

Or does your body function without any intervention? Do you breathe without trying? Does your heart beat and your blood pump whether you put effort into either function or not? Can you stop any of these things from happening no matter how hard you try?

Do thoughts arise whether you are trying to think or not? Can you stop thoughts from arising even if you try?

Do sensations and emotions arise whether you want to feel or not? Can you stop sadness from welling up when you lose someone you love? Can you stop joy from arising when you experience something wonderful?

Could it be that, although you've been putting a lot of effort into attempting to control this inner landscape you see as "yours", none of it has ever really been under your control because there is no such thing as "your" inner landscape.

Take a moment and reflect on how much energy you put into trying to control what might be uncontrollable. Consider how much time and energy you spend every single day:

  • Trying to stop, manage or change thoughts

  • Trying to create or tamp down specific feelings

  • Trying to make your body do or be a certain way.

Perhaps you even feel like a failure when all your effort to keep yourself in check appear to fail.

What if that time and energy were released from the burden of trying to control the uncontrollable?

Imagine the freedom of seeing you cannot control yourself any more than the outside world, because there is no distinction between you and the outside world in the first place.

If this has got your wheels turning or your mind screaming (even if it's screaming "this is utter nonsense!"), you may wish to check out a few of these folks for more on living through this lens:

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