zenhabits : breathe

The Illusion of Control

‘The Master allows things to happen.
She shapes events as they come.
She steps out of the way
and lets the Tao speak for itself.’
~Laozi

Post written by Leo Babauta.

When you think you control something, you’re wrong.

It’s amazing how often we think we’re in control of something when really we aren’t.

Control is an illusion, as I’ve said many times before.

We constantly make plans that never actually turn out the way we envisioned. ‘If you want to make God laugh, make a plan,’ an old saying goes.

We have been trained to set goals, and then work on the actions that lead to those goals … and yet how often do those goals fail? How often are we trying to control a future that we cannot predict?

Did you know five years ago that the world would turn out as it has — that Obama would be president, that the stock markets would have crashed, that we’d be deep into a recession, that earthquakes and tsunamis would hit, that you’d be doing exactly what you’re doing today?

Of course not. We don’t know the future, much less control it. We like to think we do, but that never turns out to be true.

And yet we continue to believe in the illusion of control. We face a chaotic and complex world, and seek to control it however we can.

Our attempts to control the world can be seen through:

If we can let go of this illusion, what are we left with? How can we live among this chaos?

Consider the fish. A fish swims in a chaotic sea that it cannot possibly control — much as we all do. The fish, unlike us, is under no illusion that it controls the sea, or other fish in the sea. The fish doesn’t even try to control where it ends up — it just swims, either going with the flow or dealing with the flow as it comes. It eats, and hides, and mates, but does not try to control a thing.

We are no better than that fish, yet our thinking creates the need for an illusion.

Let go of that thinking. Learn to be the fish.

When we are in the midst of chaos, let go of the need to control it. Be awash in it, experience it in that moment, try not to control the outcome but deal with the flow as it comes.

How do we live our lives like this? It’s a completely different way of living, once we let go of the illusion:

This might seem like a passive way of living to some, and it’s against our aggressive, productive, goal-oriented cultural nature. If you can’t accept this way of living, that’s OK — many people live their lives with the illusion of control, and not realizing what it is that makes them unhappy or frustrated isn’t the worst thing ever.

But if you can learn to live this way … it’s the most freeing thing in the world.



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