I have hung laundry on a morning where the skies are split between a baby blue and a steely grey. Sun? Rain? Even though it looks like I only have a 50/50 chance of the clothes successfully drying, I keep going because this is the day I have decided to do laundry.
Right from the start, I can feel myself falling into a familiar inner struggle; a kind of attempt to muscle something through that I have absolutely no dominion over. I feel it in the way my jaw tightens. I notice it in the way my eyes keep searching the sky. I experience it through the repetitive thoughts I keep having. Somewhere inside, it feels as if my obsessive attention will turn the sun on, and the clouds off. Almost as if my personal efforts will turn the weather in favor of what I want. As if.
I find myself thinking, “It’s not too much to ask to get just a little more time before the rain.” A feeling that I really need this to turn out a particular way, maybe even deserve it to, based on the extra effort I will have to make to take it all down, and still need to dry it. Based, really, on because this is how I want the day to go. It is as if I am trying to force something to happen. That the tightening against what I don’t want will make it turn out the way I want it to. As if I can somehow bargain with something that is clearly beyond my sphere of authority.
I know this might sound like no big deal, silly even. And I might even agree with you were it not for the fact that this one seemingly no-big-deal moment serves as a reflection of the ways in which I attempt to control what is most assuredly beyond my control. Where, when and how I want to manage Life to go a certain way. All of the inner bargaining, justifying, and tension that mounts as I live the fantasy that I have power over what I do not.
And there you have it. How often it is that we spend our precious life force, our sense of ease and well-being, along with our ability to be aligned with reality, on exerting ourselves not only unnecessarily, but without a chance in hell of ever achieving what it is that we are trying to make happen. And even when we do have moments that leave us believing that all of our forcing has gotten us what we want and need, at what cost has this occurred? How much painful delusion do we continue to generate in the process?
Of course we all want life to go as we want it to go. That is only human. The real trick though is cultivating the discernment between that which you can effect, and that which you cannot. Between efforts well spent, and those that are ill-conceived. Between attempts that nourish, enliven and uplift from those that harm, deaden, and are based in unreality.
When contemplating something of this magnitude, it helps to start simple; as in with something that feels like a low stakes situation to you. A place where you can experiment with learning the difference between what you have control over, and what you don’t. Weather is a good one. So is traffic. More challenging are things like what other people do. And while the intellect may rise up and say “Of course I know I can’t control weather, traffic, or other people,” that is often not how we really feel, way down deep. Never mind act.
What this means is, we need to look beyond the rational mind. It means looking to where you find yourself exerting effort that is out of keeping with the reality of the situation; no matter what the mind might be saying. One way to do this is to notice when you find yourself working really hard to try and make something happen. And if you can catch yourself in any given moment, you might try asking, “Is there anything that I can actually do about this?” Or, “Is there anything required of me here?”
As hard as it can be to have the presence to even know to ask this question, the next piece is even more challenging. That being, the letting go. That being, that when you discover it is beyond you, can you stop the wrestling? Can you calm the endless what-if’s? Can you release the non-productive, fruitless and delusional efforting? And when you can’t, can you watch yourself with kindness as you struggle like a fish on a hook?
All of this takes practice. A commitment to see things as they are. Along with the patience that is required to allow for something new to take hold.
In case you are wondering, once I put the weather struggle down and went on with my day, it was effortless to respond when the rains finally came. In the meantime, I had a wonderful tension-free morning reading, doing chores, writing, and picking raspberries.