Trying to control the circumstances of another person’s life is like fighting the waves of the ocean with a teaspoon. Learning to let go of the idea that you can “make” another person happy is probably one of life’s greatest challenges. Where do you stop…and someone else begins. When to take action and when to observe. This is the trick in letting go.
Letting go is easier when you are not attached to the outcome of a situation. Trying to control what you believe you or another person deserves, or how a situation should be in your opinion, being attached to what believe we want, and not having the trust that you will always get what we need is exhausting. But, sometimes letting go when you are afraid that the outcome could result in an unfavourable circumstance for you is not so easy. I once heard a woman give a talk about her addiction issues who said she had never let go of anything in her life “without leaving deep claw marks in it”. I can relate.
It takes allot for me to recognize sometimes when something is completely outside of my ability to change. I cannot change people, places or situations EVER. I’ve tried. I have begged cajoled and stomped my feet at God. Inevitably what ends up resulting is always what is best for everyone, and usually very different from how I would have orchestrated things, so why do I always forget?
The trick is in knowing what it feels like to “let it go. Some situations are in my life in which I have absolutely no choice but to let go. For example, the issue of happiness. We can never maker another person happy. It took me a very long time to figure this out, and it was a lesson that was quickly and repeatedly forgotten when my husband was working at a job that he hated. He came home every night in a horrible mood. Unsettled and unwilling to admit that it was rough, I could feel the unhappiness emanating from his pores, and yet nothing I did could turn it around for him. My motives for “making him happy” were selfish I must admit; who likes being around misery all the time? He wasn’t making any choices differently and his unhappiness was getting worse. The only thing I concluded that I could do was take care of my own business, work on keeping my emotional balance and my own happiness level where I wanted it, and be there for him however I could.
The problem with trying to make someone happy, or believing we have more control over a situation that we do, is that eventually we become resentful of the very person we are trying to help. Subconsciously, we become frustrated and resentful because inevitably our efforts will be futile; you can never make another person happy – EVER. That is something that can only come from inside them and within the context of the choices they make for themselves.
While my partners unhappiness threatened to pervade our lives, I made a conscious choice to do two things; first, to acknowledge that I couldn’t change it. He had to make his own choices. The second I had to acknowledge that somewhere in my head, if I was trying to fix someone’s life, it was because I was arrogant enough to believe I knew ,more or better than what they did about their own life. It meant that I thought I knew better than God, because obviously I wasn;t willing to wait for answers or inspiration – I was just ready to take action based on my will, and if the best predictor of the future is the past, then I can tell you that when i take my will back, trying to control the uncontrollabe and I don’t trust that my partner or whomever can make the right decisions for their own life, I am showing an abject lack of respect for their ability to manage their life. I can;t even manage all the circumstances of MY OWN life half the time – what makes me think I can manage someoe else’s??
Relationships are the key to understanding letting go and our issues with control and trust. Control and trust sit easily on the opposite side of the same coin. Lretting go means you trust the the universe will give everyone what they need – not necessarily what they want. Often our motives for trying to chage someone’s issues are unconsciously selfish. You cannot control another person’s circumstances just so that your life feels better. That is selfish and things that are motivated in self only don’t usually work out so well. But most of the time that is exactly what we are doing, especially if the thing we are trying to control is another person’s emotional state. Your most intimate relationships, with spouse, partner, children, brothers and sisters and parents are the most effective tools you have in discovering where your control issues lie.
It’s easy to say “let go” of things you cannot control in a relationship, but it’s a completely other thing to do it when the knock of change or uncertainty comes to your own door. However, the more you choose to be conscious of the things in relationships and daily circumstance that you do and do not have control over, the better you will get at knowing when to take action, and when to just listen and observe. For example, after three weeks of unemployed bliss my has husband returned to work this week. I was sad to see him go. We had a great time over these weeks and I do realize that three weeks of nothing but being together is like a giant holiday, but it was nice to remember that I like spending that much time with him, even after so many years. It was also nice not having someone who hates what they do all day coming home to you at night. Doing a job you hate is just not worth it. It’s hell on you and everyone around you. For me, the exercise of detaching from his unhappiness and having confidence that he would make a decision to make his life happier when he was ready, was very effective and took daily conscious thought and discipline.
When the news came of his losing the job I immediately was able to remind myself that this was a shift and change was happening and change is natural. it happens in every way every day. Resistance to change is what causes me most of my problems, and so choosing just to feel confident that God had a plan, that i was perhaps not privy to it, but that we had never been let down in the past made me see the whole experience as very positive and even fun. Like another chapter in a great adventure that is our life.
What causes me to grab back control and become fearful and focused in the past and future is when my ego starts begins doubt that I will get the result I want and I will be left devastated. I take back control when I become attached to the outcome of something. \when I think I know better what should be.
Some of the fears that went through my mind when my husband lost his job included – what if we lose the farm, i’m going to lose the horses and my life here, I wont be able to sing anymore. what if we end up in an apartment in the suburbs, he will start drinking every day, we wont play music anymore…and so on. It was all about fear of losing what I thought i needed. Note to self: You have never been let down – why would God start now? My mind is fresh ground for fearful imaginings.
Letting go feels like relief. It means acknowledging that I have these thoughts, like any other normal person would. The difference is that I choose not to react to them. I won’t take an action based on a fearful thought. Running out, selling the horses, getting a day job, stopping my book, cancelling my gigs – any number of hair-trigger fear reactions would have caused the situation to turn out very badly very quickly and with much more stress and turmoil than necessary. Conversely, just sitting back, observing watching and being there as support, an ear to listen but not to suggest, insist or fix, actually added to the depth and sweetness of my marriage, rather than placing an additional burden where it wasn’t necessary.
It’s a humbling thing to discover that if I do NOTHING, usually things turn out better. I guess that’s part of the wisdom of the Tao te Ching, written in 500 by Lao Tzu. One of the underlying principles of Taoism, which has been so helpful in teaching me practical thinking regarding “letting go”, is the principle of “do less to achieve more”. This repeating concept of the analogy of water as the way to envision how to handle the constantly changing circumstances of our lives, has worked incredibly well for me. When circumstances hit, times change, things come up, I envision myself “being like water”. Water resists nothing, is incredibly lazy and powerful all at once. Water is stronger than stone – it erodes stone. If I try and control the uncontrollable, I am being like a stone, standing still, trying to make the river as I would have it. But the river will just keep working on me until eventually I am just a pebble on the shore.
When I tried to fix everyone in my life, I was exhausted. I was tired and angry and resentful that if I was trying so hard to make everyone’s life perfect, why wasn’t it working, why wasn’t I feeling happier. It is a much more serene and realistic life to reserve my energy for the things I can manage, like my own thinking, my own actions, my boudnaries, how I communicate for myself and how much presence I bring into my relationships.
The best thing you can do for someone going through something terrible is to be there, completely and entirely, 100% in mind, body and soul. Give someone your complete energy and attention. When they are talking, don’t be thinking about all the ways you would have done their life differently; you have no clue what you would have done! You only have the experiences of your life to reference; they have a whole other library to reference from and presuming that you know more about how someone should ru their affairs is insanely egotisital. This goes for kids too. I have 7 kids, five teenagers living at hime. There are days when I would do just about anythng to “make them happy”. Let’s face it…teenagers are rarely happy, not for any considerable length of time. This would really be like fighting the ocean with a teaspoon – eventually I would drown in the frustration of my own futile efforts. It’s not our job to make our kids happy! That’s their job. It is our job to teach them how to handle life’s circumstances on life’s terms. The best thing I can do for them is learn to listen without judgement or conclusion; just to be present for them and don’t DO anything. Just BE.
Letting go will become a habit and over time I have found that my reaction to let go comes quicker. As a result, my life is sweeter, calmer. The more trust I show God, the more easily it becomes to work with God and the energies of the universe rather than wasting my time following the un-humble ego that thinks it knows way more than it really does.
But what about the potential that the universe will give you answers you don’t want? Trust takes practice too. Everything in our world is suspended in such a perfect balance of circumstance, that I cannot possibly hope to understrand the profound and rippling effect each one of my decisions has. Therefore it is complete insanity to think I could have any notion of how things should work out, for anyone else’s life either.
I am only grateful for the lack of fear and stress I feel today and the miracles I see happen in the lives of people I love keep me humbled and in awe at the potential of our world. For now, I will stand on the edge of the ocean on the shore, keep my teaspoon neatly tucked away and simply watch as the tides turn and change.