Throughout decades of pursuing personal development and cultivating a spiritual practice, I’ve seen popular philosophies come and go. The one that always seems to come back around, or never truly disappears, is the idea that we can control our lives and/or get what we want if only we ________ fill in the blank.
Usually that blank consists of ideas such as:
- Heal ourselves enough
- Get in alignment with the universe
- Find the right teacher
- Want something badly enough
- Match our thoughts to what we deserve
- Think the “right/positive” thoughts to attract what we want
You get the idea. What is most appealing about this approach is that it gives people tangible actions to take. It also provides a sense that we are in control of our lives and what happens around us. So instead of feeling stuck or helpless, this way of thinking empowers people to “take control” of their thoughts and actions in order to create the life they want. This kind of approach does work for many people.
However, the other side of this is that if somehow, we do control our lives then we are also at fault when we do not succeed despite our best efforts. I’ve seen too many people who blame themselves when for instance they can’t get pregnant or they don’t get the job they desperately wanted. They blame themselves for not attracting the “right” kind of energy or healing themselves enough to be given what they want, as if they can control every aspect of their lives.
Unfortunately, the truth is that mean-spirited people who never try to be in alignment with the universe are tremendously successful. Women who may have a lot of work to do on themselves but have no desire to acknowledge that or do it get pregnant easily. No matter how much we visualize it, believe it or try to manifest it, the idea that we control the world we live in is an illusion.
When I see very loving, kind people blaming themselves or feeling they aren’t enough because somehow they aren’t doing enough “right” thinking or “soul alignment” it breaks my heart. While tools like visualization or meditation help us live richer lives and understand ourselves more deeply, they do not confer control over the world at large.
The desire for control is something that I’ve grappled with my whole life. If I could control the world with my thoughts I think I would have mastered that by now. The only thing I can control are my own thoughts, emotions and actions. We all make decisions every day that determine how we treat ourselves and others. We can choose to practice mindfulness and be present in the current moment. We can catch ourselves when we begin to buy into negative internal stories and cut them off. We can choose to move forward with compassion for ourselves and others.
In every moment of life we have the ability to decide how we want to act, react and move forward. That is where freedom truly exists. The idea that our thoughts control the world around us creates a burden of responsibility that can leave us feeling disappointed and unsuccessful. The idea of control is as seductive as it is illusory. We find joy in this world by being present to all its possibilities not by trying to control it.