Consider all the elements of your own life that you can’t control. You can’t control the weather. You can’t control the economy. You can’t control natural disasters. You can’t control the behavior of anyone you know: your aging parents, your intimate partner, your colleagues at work, your friends, even your children. You can exercise and eat healthy food, but you can’t control whether you get a cold or a serious illness. There are traffic delays, plane delays, and cancelled appointments. Much of life is outside your personal control.
When life doesn’t go according to our desires and preferences, how do we respond? Often we respond by trying harder to control what we can’t control. We tighten our grip. Sometimes this works, but most of the time it doesn’t. Trying harder and harder to control what you can’t control can simply leave you in a state of tension, frustration, disappointment and even anger.
The Japanese psychiatrist, Shoma Morita, promoted the concept of Arugamama, which means “to accept things as they are.” Acceptance is the alternative to control. It means we are able to let things be the way they are instead of trying to make them the way we want them to be. This is particularly relevant to the people in our network of friends and family. We see people who are struggling and we want to help them. Our intentions may be noble, but no matter how much we think we know what they should do, we usually can’t get them to change. We devote ourselves to fixing them rather than loving them.
Even the inner world of our thoughts and feelings is mostly uncontrollable. We can’t control feeling anxious about our kids. We can’t control feeling upset about a loved one who is dying. We can’t control the stream of distracting thoughts that arise in our mind when we’re working or meditating.
A lot of life is uncontrollable. So loosen your grip. You don’t have to orchestrate everything. Give things room to grow and fail. Even your heart has found a way to keep its beat without your vigilant efforts.
(This essay was excerpted from Tunneling for Sunlight: 17 Maxims for Meeting Life’s Challenges by Gregg Krech)
Gregg Krech Author, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-reflection (2002)| Author, A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness (2004, 2011)| Author, A Finger Pointing to the Moon (2000)| Editor, Thirty Thousand Days: A Journal for Purposeful Living (1993-Present)| Director, ToDo Institute (Vermont) (1992-Pr......