The more I “try really hard” to get things done, the less peace I feel. I become more focused on straining for an end result than on the activity itself. With the order that I “must get this done” as I drive myself toward the finish line, there is little energy left for enjoying the doing. It feels like going through the motions in a way that’s enveloped in stress. And I find this is often tied to outside demands, to what people tell me I should want, rather than to what’s really inside me as my deepest want.
For most of my life I believed the way to do things was to make them happen. If I tried hard enough and learned what I needed to know, I could get the result I wanted by using effort and will. I thought that “not giving up” meant rigid determination and forcing things, and even getting angry and abusive if people got in the way of progress.
Seeing the world only through ideas, I often try to convince others that mine are best. It never works. Even if they seem to agree, when I push to persuade them, they can’t help but walk away with at least a little resistance. My pushing closes off receptivity.
Same within myself. If I try to push an idea or activity on myself, it doesn’t work because I push back, I rebel. Strong arming only causes poor quality in what I do. If I try to force my writing, the result is usually artificial and academic – it’s disconnected from the reality of living. Most of the writing I find myself “trying really hard with” gets tossed out.
I occasionally take care of my friend’s dog, and I’ve found that tensing up and sharpening my voice when I call him doesn’t work. Using a stern voice loaded with the expectation of direct obedience doesn’t get reliable results. But building a bond with him, coaxing him with acceptance and gentleness, with no stress in my voice or my body (i.e. without trying to make it happen) – this works far better long term. It’s not 100 percent effective. But it brings us together much more frequently than my more forceful and direct attempts to get him to come or to stop chewing on something. And it’s so much more enjoyable.
In a similar way, my occasional angry outbursts at people are tied to trying to directly control what happens. Over and over again I see that the tension/stress of trying to force life to happen in a preconceived way just doesn’t work.
The definiteness of word-tools which comes from their this-not-that rigid nature is part of what makes me think I can directly control an outcome by tensing up, by forcing, by trying hard to make it happen. Words form buckets that I then expect outcomes to fit into. They are cut-and-dried exclusionary devices. The word tree includes only trees and excludes everything else. I’ve experienced the tension of this exclusion. When I notice words flowing through my mind, while on a walk for example, I feel tension in my face. When I quiet my mind-chatter, the tension settles and dissipates.
I heard or read somewhere that trying to force the petals of a flower to open before they are ready doesn’t work. It doesn’t fit the flower’s growth pattern, which arises out of the nature and complexity of its seed and its environment.
As I realized the limitations of word-tools, and my frequent misuse of them, I became more comfortable with my limited control. With a friendly, affirming nod to the vastness and value of what I don’t know, I can more easily let go of controlling outside events directly. And I more fully realize that my control lies with my ability to point my attention.
In other words, I’ve come to see that while I can influence, I cannot make happen, force, or push a result. When I try to, the result comes out unnatural, faked, and pressured. If I’m open enough, I see that the poor quality of the forced result makes it not worth doing; it works against the purpose of acting toward that outcome in the first place. Forcing a dog or a person to do something may work in the moment. But the long term purpose of joining with this Being in action, including when this Being is myself, can only be damaged by that kind of directness.
Here’s something else making it difficult to let go of control: the idea that events have a single cause. I’m weaning my mind away from the compulsion to always look for a single cause. Here too, word-tools play a role. A word retains the one this while ignoring the complexity of all the rest of reality, that is, of all the thats excluded as part of the process of forming the word. I remind myself again how limiting our this-not-that symbols are.
My immersion in the one this along with my engrained impulse to look for single causes easily leads me to think I have direct control when I don’t. Word symbols are absolutist, e.g. only trees are allowed. In that sense, words are rigid as they have no ability to overlap and no flexibility. They lend themselves well to forgetting the multi-caused Connectivity that surrounds us. Perhaps I should say “multi-influenced”, because what I experience with Connectivity is less direct than the willfulness involved in thinking I caused something and made it happen.
For example, it seems that whenever I think I’ve determined the single cause of a body ache, I notice the ache coming back again months or years later. At first, I’m so happy that I found “the one cause” as I consistently apply this solution that initially worked, believing I now have direct control over the ache. But sometime later, I find that my control didn’t last as I begin to feel that ache, or some similar pain, again. After twenty plus years of thinking I found the solution for this ache or that, I finally realize there are too many interacting causes for my cognitive mind to handle. Sure, I wish I could find single causes and direct control. But reality continues to show me something different.
Believing words to be powerful beyond their capability lends itself to longing for a predictable and direct form of control that simply isn’t real. But my mind continues to argue. I put my hand on the faucet and turn on the water as I ask, “Isn’t that direct control?”
This incredibly simple act of turning water on, initiated by pointing my attention, is different than most efforts to control relating to people and events. People, events, and body aches involve a multitude of interconnected influences from countless sources. Even turning on the water, although it appears I have direct control as I enact a “single cause”, involves so many connections not typically in our awareness. If the main line at the street is shut off, or if the water company suddenly stops functioning, there will be no water. If those interconnections are not maintained, the direct control of reaching for and moving the handle of the faucet will not make water come out.
And yet my mind continues to cling to single causes – the belief that I have direct control in making things happen, fixing things, and then keeping them working forever.
As children we are surrounded by people who emphasize the value of word-based education. We feel we must gain great quantities of word-based knowledge in order to live. We hear Francis Bacon’s famous statement that “knowledge is power”. Many of us are taught that the only kind of knowing is word-based, conceptual, cognitive, and we easily dismiss consideration of any non-word-tool type of knowing. We may have never realized that words are only one of many different types of tools, and that like a hammer or a screwdriver, each tool is suited for something specific.
One of the first times I recall thinking outside the box of word-tools was after I read the following quote from psychoanalyst Karen Horney. In discussing a child’s development, and after acknowledging that a child learns and acquires skills as he/she grows, Dr. Horney wrote:
But there are also forces in him which he cannot acquire or even develop by learning. You need not, and in fact cannot, teach an acorn to grow into an oak tree, but when given a chance, its intrinsic potentialities will develop. Similarly, the human individual, given a chance, tends to develop his particular human potentialities.
I’ve discovered that I stifle my growth when I fail to acknowledge the “forces in him which he cannot acquire or even develop by learning”. I cannot grow naturally when I try to apply direct control. It’s like trying to force my petals to open before they are ready.
Now I view myself as a growing thing, like a seed that can develop “particular human potentialities”. But to do that, I have to allow things to happen rather than tensing, straining, and struggling to make them happen.
Connected to the passage above, Dr. Horney goes on to say: “Like any other living organism, the human individuum needs favorable conditions for his growth”.
One of these “favorable conditions” is allowing things to come together in Connectivity. But I can’t know or express this Connectivity with words. Words simply can’t carry enough information. They can only indicate, and they can do this constructively only when I remember their limitations. When I forget this, I revert back to trying to force life to fit my preconceived images, which are made up of word-tools. If I hold too tightly to my word-tool reins, I constrict life as I interfere with favorable conditions for growth.
As I allow my growth, my direct action lies in watering and fertilizing my “garden” environment. And again, as I care for my environment, I cannot make a particular result happen in the exact way I want. I can’t force myself to meet a specific, predetermined outcome, and I can’t rush the process of blooming, at least not if I want the best of what can grow through me.
Nurturing my environment through where I put my attention is where my control lies. If I put my attention on being around people, I may find new friends. If I put attention on learning a new subject area, I may get a college degree, and then a job. But I may not. I cannot make those end results happen, not without diminishing quality and not without a diminished awareness of Connectivity. Any specific result isn’t guaranteed ahead of time. Yet where I place my attention is influential, especially when I am in tune with Connectivity.
I can’t make things happen directly, but I can influence and nurture. And if I allow the natural processes to unfold, an outcome I could enjoy is more likely to come than if I did nothing. Whatever the result, it will be one that fits me in my environment, within the Connectivity from which I grow.
When I more often put my attention on the best in people, and honor the value that’s inherent in life itself and in all things; when I remind myself of the limitations of word-tools, and remember the vastness of what I don’t know; then I can nurture my environment in a way that allows for the whole of reality, not just the disjointed slivers carried by my system of word-tools.
If I open up to and allow the flow of “the forces in me which I cannot acquire or even develop by learning”, I place my attention and move through life in a way that leads to natural growth for me and others. As I realize that word-tools are not the only way to know, and as I let go of trying to make life be what I want it to be rather than what it is, I regain Connectivity to the whole of the environment from which I grow. And this is something that happens indirectly, not directly.