The illusion of control

If something can be remedied
Why be unhappy about it?
And if there is no remedy for it,
There is still no point in being unhappy.

This is an extract from a poem composed in the 8th century by the Buddhist master Shantideva.

How do we usually face the issues of frustration and lack of control?

We cling to outcomes and if things don’t go our way, we suffer. So we do everything in our power and beyond to manipulate reality and to create false certainty.

Situations at times can be changed and mended. If I am sick, I can take a pill. If I say something inapropiate I can always apologize. But there are many situations that cannot be modified, especially those that involve other people. In general, we won’t be happy till someone’s actions match the way we think they should act. In brief, we cannot distinguish between what can and cannot be done. Leaning towards the idea that we can change more that what we really can when we feel fine and the opposite when we are down. This is a distorted view that ends up in frustration. As the serenity prayer states:

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the Courage to change the things I can,
and the Wisdom to know the difference.

This lack of wisdom to know what we can and cannot change keeps us in constant alert and stress. We have an internal demand to solve a problem that we cannot solve. Take for example our intimate relationships, due to our need to have everything under control, we demand our spouse to do what we need him or her to do. And this fails over and over again. Even if we get him or her to do what we want against his will, resentment is going to make sure it backfires.

What happens to us when we recognize for example that we have no control over our partner’s actions?

What prevents us from having that serenity to accept the things we cannot change?

Is it the panic of being vulnerable and getting hurt? Vulnerability is so scary because it means opening our heart to pain. We tend to believe that by controlling we’re protecting ourselves from our own painful feelings… but that is the illusion of control.

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