The Burden of Control

Most of us are control-freaks in one way or another. We try to control our environment, our circumstances, our finances, our careers, our health, our looks, our reputations, our past, our present, our future, and of course…those around us. We may not even realise we are doing it, until things don’t go according to our wishes and people don’t act the way we expect them to act. We then become frustrated with them, unhappy within ourselves, and even close our hearts to them in indifference.

Yet there’s real wisdom in realising that we can’t change others, real humility in accepting that we can’t help everyone, and real freedom in letting go of our expectations to doing so. We see that this expectation is a burden that we’ve placed on others, but also ourselves.

When we can let go of our desire to change others, we give them the room to grow and to be as they are. More importantly, we can then spend our time, not on changing others, but on changing ourselves. In bettering ourselves, we change who we are (i.e., our character), not simply others’ perceptions of who we are (i.e., our reputation). In time, the qualities of our character are the greatest tools for influencing others towards change. The change may come, it may not, but within ourselves, it matters not. This is because we are no longer acting a certain way in order to control others’ reactions or perceptions of us. We act a certain way because it is consistent with our character and values.

An example of this is a story from my friend about her relationship with her sister. Since they were young, her sister rivalled for their mother’s attention and complained about how her mother loved my friend more than her. Her jealousy grew, and her resentment hardened. My friend and her mother tried different methods to bridge the gap between the sisters, showering her with kindness and love. Nothing worked, and for years my friend was tortured by what she perceived was her ‘failing’ to reconcile her relationship with her sister.

However, very recently, my friend told me with a triumphant smile that she had found a resolution. My friend realised that all along she was trying to change her sister, and change their relationship. Each time she tried to reconcile their differences, she opened herself up to disappointment because she expected her sister to change. She told me she’s changed her approach now. She has accepted her sister the way she is, that jealousy and resentment within her sister is not something my friend can resolve, but something her sister needs to uproot on her own. It seemed like such a simple act of letting go, but one that was so freeing, one that allowed her to preserve her love for her sister, and one that transformed her frustration to compassion for her sister.

After all, real love is to accept someone for who they are, at whatever situation of their life they may be in. This love helped another friend of mine find solace when her grandmother was ill. For months she was troubled by sadness and helplessness, but in accepting her grandmother as she was – sickness and all – she opened herself up to a deeper love for her grandmother. This love allowed her to give her grandmother room to be as she was, easing her and her grandmother from the emotional pain of the situation.

So the practice for this week is to release yourself and others from the burden of control. Open yourself to appreciating people as they are, and allow kindness to blossom from that pure place of loving acceptance.

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