Friday, February 23, 2018

We Are In Control of Nothing

The idea that we are in control of our lives is an illusion. We are not in charge of anything; whether or not we get cancer, whether we get a good job or not, whether someone else loves us or not, or whether or not we get shot down by terrorists. Sure, we might be able to improve the odds of good things happening by eating healthy foods, going to college and working hard, being sweet and trying to please people, or staying out of dangerous places. But ultimately, we just aren't in control of what happens in our lives.

When you really think about the prospect that you have no control over anything, that can be a little bit upsetting. But there is one thing you ARE in control of, or can be in control of. And that's yourself.

I often tell people that I am happy all the time, don't worry about things, feel peaceful and contented despite my circumstances and can get along with even the most irritating person. I don't stress about life. When I say those things, some people are in awe of it, and some are incredulous. They don't believe it's possible, don't believe I am capable of it. They think I am exaggerating or even outright lying.

But I'm not. This is truly how I feel.

But that's not to say that those worries don't pop up. Sometimes a disquieting thought will happen. But I'm in control of what I do with that thought.

Thoughts fleetingly come and go through our minds at all times. We can't prevent that from happening. Our minds imagine all kinds of things. We have good imaginations and our brains work constantly to stretch our creative muscles. Therefore, we are constantly creating scenarios in our minds where we make up stories about what MIGHT happen. Most of those things never happen. But we can frighten ourselves into living a very limited kind of life if we believe those thoughts.

When a disquieting thought comes up, I choose to deal with it in a way that keeps my peace intact.

The other day, I was explaining to some friends that I feel this connection with all that exists. This connection helps me know how to treat people in every situation because I believe our universe is a large living organism of which we are all a part. I would no sooner hurt someone else than to hurt my own body. In a way, every person or thing that exists is part of my body. Just as we don't want to bring pain to our own bodies, it would hurt me to know I'd brought pain to another being.

My friends were saying that they don't feel this connction themselves. They can accept it intellectually, that we are all dependent on each other in this ecosystem which we all share. But that it is not something they feel with their hearts.

I don't like being judgemental because it doesn't feel good. It feels like I am hurting others and myself. I don't like putting others down, it doesn't feel good. I like having unconditional positive regard for everyone. Everyone deserves respect, even if their thoughts, beliefs or actions aren't desirable. If I injure my foot, I might not like the fact that my foot is hurting, but I still love my foot and want to nuture it back to health. The same is true of others in my life. They may say or do somethign unpleasant, but that doesn't mean I am going to abandon them or cut them off. I will try to nurture them, be supportive to them, and if it's the only thing I can do, leave them alone to live their lives. But I won't intentionally hurt them.

I try not to take a side. If you take a side, that's a judgment. You've judged that one side is right and the other is wrong. I have learned that rarely is it that black and white. If I don't take a side, I can maintain respect for everyone. If I get up on my high horse and start to preach about one side being wrong and the other being right, I have become divisive. I've alienated someone. Mostly myself, because if I believe someone is wrong, then that makes me feel negative toward them, makes me feel I don't want to be around them, and creates this artificial wall between us. And that doesn't feel good.

It's also not constructive because when you create that wall, you've stopped listening to that other person. You become unable to consider their point of view. Once you've decided they're wrong, something in your brain prevents you from seeing your bias.

Now, having said all that, this finally has become very easy for me to do. I've trained myself to think this way. But I don't want you to think that I never had a stressful thought or never feel inclined to take a side. It still happens, but it's what I do with it that counts.

Yesterday I was watching David Letterman interview Barack Obama after he had left office. When the interview was beginning, I didn't know who Letterman's guest was going to be. He then said, "Let's welcome the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama." And then, my heart jumped up into my mouth. There was a sudden rush of adrenaline and I was so happy. Because I don't think there is a person in the world that I respect more than Barack Obama.

It's no secret that I have been very disappointed in our current president and the direction he is taking the country. But as I do with every other person in my life, I try not to have negative feelings toward him, and I continue to believe that everything will be all right in the end.

But for a moment, my mind started to stretch its creative muscle, and I imagined what it would be like if Barack Obama was to run for president again. I imagined hearing the announcement that he had won the election, and I watched my internal reaction. I jumped for joy, shouted, and felt vindicatred in disliking our current president.

In that moment, I had taken a side. You must realize how easy it is for this to happen, even for someone who has trained themselves to do otherwise.

The difference is, you don't have to stay in that moment. I make a conscious choice every day to be happy in my present circumstances, whatever they are, not to make other people wrong, and to go with the flow of life.And it works for me pretty well.

Because I am not in control of anything, except how I respond to my circumstances. When I start to take a side, that's a circumstance I'm not in control of. But my response to those thoughts, I can make a choice about. Eventually, after constantly reminding myself not to take a side, not to make others wrong, not to try and be right, it becomes almost second nature. And those judgmental thoughts stop happening as often.

The point is, being happy no matter what your circumstances is possible for anyone. It may take you a while of constantly training yourself to get to that point. But I wouldn't trade the ability to stand in that place for anything. It's an invaluable skill. And it's a skill that you can learn.

Whether I'm in control of my life or not (mostly not), the point is, I don't want to suffer. This way of life has reduced my suffering from 90% down to 5%. And it continues to inch lower. It might not ever get to zero because I still have a fight-or-flight response that kicks in occasionally in an involuntary way. But I can quickly dispense with whatever the momentary fluctuation in mood is by reminding myself to stay out of other people's business, and just enjoy my life.

Because no matter what's going on outside myself, right here in this present moment, I am still all right.

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