Why do we need to feel that we are in control? It's simple. For most people, control equals a perception of safety. Think back to our cave-dwelling ancestors and thunder: If we understand it, we can control it; if we can control it, it won't hurt us. We use the same kind of magical thinking about our health: If I can control all of my risk factors for disease, I won't get sick. Unfortunately, this is a fallacy. We all know people who lived healthy lives and died young, and we all know people who smoked heavily and ate poorly and lived to a ripe old age.
Let me tell you a story that is based on an old Chinese tale. A sixty-year-old man who has never owned a car wins a new car in a fund-raising lottery. All his friends tell him how lucky he is because now he can visit his kids more often and go to the market or movies whenever he wants. His only response is "Lucky? Maybe yes, maybe no." A few weeks later, he has an accident in the new car and ends up in the hospital. His friends tell him that this is a tragedy, that he should never have driven and how unlucky it was that he won the new car. His response is, "Unlucky? Maybe yes, maybe no." While he is in the hospital, there is an electrical fire in his house. If he had been there, he surely would have died. His friends tell him how lucky he is to have been in the hospital and that he will recover from the accident but that he would be dead if he had been at home. His response is, "Lucky? Maybe yes, maybe no."
This story can go on forever, but the important message is that we really don't know what the long-term outcome of any event or choice will be. We base choices on our imagined projections of outcomes. In doing so we may hedge our bets on the basis of past experience, but we really don't know what will happen. How many great ideas and how many business plans fail?
How much control do we actually have in the big picture of our lives? I would say very little, if any. This can be either disturbing or liberating. It is disturbing and scary if lack of control makes you feel unsafe or if fear prevents you from taking risks and trying new things. It squashes creativity and prevents you from living fully.
However, having no control can be liberating if you relax and accept this concept. Living life this way leads to wonder and curiosity; it is the basis of creativity and personal growth. This also decreases fear of death, as death is not within our control. It is the ultimate unknown. Just live life, do your best, and enjoy the moments that life brings.
I am not suggesting that you throw all caution to the wind and just walk around saying, "I have no control." Societal and moral rules were created to enhance our capacities to live together and minimize harm to others. After all, I am not ruling out the idea of heaven and hell, so hedge your bets in the direction that feels right to you.
I do know that the more in touch we are with the one-self and the more detached we become from the day-to-day self of worrying, the more open we can be to change and creativity. The more you can accept this, the less fear you will have.
If you can accept this lack of control, you can accept anything that arises and accept that it may be good or bad and you won't know for some time to come, if ever. Therefore, nothing begins to appear as bad. Life, as Helen Keller said, can be a "daring adventure," and all events can become learning experiences.
You get to choose the world you want to live in. It can be a house of fear and constriction or a house of mystery and creativity. Do you choose anger or compassion about your frailties and the frailties of others? In your world will it be the fear of death or the joy of life? It is that simple.
(an excerpt) Lee Lipsenthal