Saturday Upsides: The Illusion of Control

saturdayupsidesbuttonDamn, this is hard, I thought. I laid on the bench, struggling to remember all of her instructions as I pushed the bar up as straight as possible. Of course this is hard. Bench pressing isn’t meant to be easy. Shut up and focus! I have to shout to myself internally otherwise I’d lay here all day debating the best way to get this bar up. I felt the bar wobble left and right until I finally got the balance needed to cleanly get it straight up and down. By the end of the set, I knew it wasn’t perfect, but I was able to get a few in that were controlled and stable. A few is better than none and next time it’ll be better. Perfect control is the goal. At least in my head.

Out of the gym, this idea of control takes on different meaning. I constantly feel like I’m on a tightrope where I wobble from side to side on how far I should stick my neck out to change my circumstances. It’s like someone else has control of the wheel and I’m left a bystander to my own life passing by before my eyes. I’m totally helpless in this scenario. But I’m also blameless, and this is where I fight myself. I’m totally to blame here for not taking control of my life. No one else has the power to change my thoughts and force my hand except for me. But… do I really have control? What does control really mean anyway? And more importantly, do any of us have true control in our lives or are we just deluding ourselves?

I’ve recently started an intensive exploration into my fears and attitude via a forty-day program that incorporates meditation, affirmations, and writing. I’ve never really tried anything like this and I figured now was as good a time as any to proactively change my thoughts so that I can finally feel in control. Again, perfect control is the goal, right?

Well, the thing is, in less than a week I’ve started to question the very idea of who or what has the power to influence my actions and create change. The obvious answer is, I do. But how much power do I really have? Or rather, where do I draw the line between what I have the power to control versus the influence a situation or experience has on my mind or emotions? I mean, I’m not a robot. Sometimes things happen and I’m going to react in that moment the way that feels natural, be it anger or shock or amused. How can I control that or why would I want to? Aren’t those experiences what forces me to learn and eventually grow? Everything shouldn’t culminate in some foregone conclusion where I can already determine my feelings simply because I have control. That seems….unnatural.

Yet, here’s where that tightrope plays a role and why I wobble. I admit that I do have control over my actions and some of those actions include the thought process that goes with. But maybe control isn’t the right word.

Let me take a step back here. Here’s how Merriam Webster defines control in the form I’m using it:

con·trol verb \kən-ˈtrōl\

a : to exercise restraining or directing influence over :regulate

b : to have power over : rule

c : to reduce the incidence or severity of especially to innocuous levels <control an insect population> <control a disease>

Each of these definitions points to direct and immediate influence over something by exerting power. Control, in essence, is a tool of power.  If I try to translate this to my predicament, I assume this would mean that in order to be in control, I would need to display unflinching power towards my mind and all of its ruminations so that I could force a  desired outcome, which in my case, the desired outcome is true happiness. It’s a bit like making your mind a totalitarian state where your conscious mind plays dictator with your subconscious mind so that you can pull your ego into check and do whatever it is you need to do to achieve your goal. Sure, it’s an extreme metaphor, but this is extremely important and it puts things in perspective. So what happens when you aren’t successful? What happens when the subconscious fights back or the power isn’t total enough to influence your conscious mind the way you want? If you follow my metaphor, you can only imagine the consequences.

In some ways, I already know the answer. Trying to control my mind has been, and in some ways, always will be a losing war. I beat myself up each time I fail and it becomes a sick cycle with repeated acts and repeated punishments. I admit, this is insane. Like I said, I’m not a robot and it’s unnatural to try to force your mind with the intent of total control over its processes. Besides, don’t I always point out that the mission of this blog and really, the point of everything, is to acknowledge that I’m on a journey, and a big part of that journey is the gradual process of figuring things out based on my experiences? As desperate as I am for change in order to fully embrace happiness in my life, I can’t dismiss the journey. And unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) that’s going to take time and forgiveness. Lots of it.

Here’s another word to consider:

choose verb \ˈchüz\

transitive verb
a : to select freely and after consideration <choose a career>

   b : to decide on especially by vote : elect <chose her as captain>
a : to have a preference for <choose one car over another>

   b : decide <chose to go by train>
intransitive verb
1: to make a selection <finding it hard to choose>
2: to take an alternative —used after cannot and usually followed by but <when earth is so kind, men cannot choose but be happy — J. A. Froude>

Emphasizing the point that making a choice means that you’re doing so freely after doing due diligence and weighing the options, I can conclude that this is not only a better word but a more worthy one in relation to my goal. It doesn’t require inhuman power over the mind nor does it ignore all the parts that make up your journey. It nudges you to look around and decide for yourself what the alternative would look like if you took a different course. I would argue that the act of choosing gives you more power than the act of control because it requires more effort and I think, it demands more of your heart.

I can choose to get out of bed to write that cover letter or send an email instead of procrastinating by watching another episode of Battlestar Galactica on Netflix (FRACK!). I can choose to accept that invitation to meet up with a friend instead of staying at home to wallow in self-pity. I can choose to sit and write down what I’m feeling instead of reaching for food to drown out my emotions. I can choose to take a risk on something new instead of standing still, unhappily repeating the same things each day. It’s the power of choice that I should embrace and consider more keenly as I seek to rebuild and strengthen my relationship with myself.

When I look back and view my life with all of its ups and downs, I’m hoping to see how the decisions I’ve made were done out of hope and happiness and not out of fear. I’m hoping that will outweigh the bad and allow me to see that I’ve been happy all along simply because of the very act of choice. I’m not there yet, and it still feels far away. But today I’m choosing to see that control is just an illusion and that with time I can relinquish the idea of control in favor of the positive influence of love.

ADDENDUM: Upon discussing this post with one of my close friends, I came to a couple of realizations. When I sit down to write these posts, they’re mostly ‘figured out’ as I’m committing the words to the screen. I don’t plan them out and it usually makes it way out of my head as a stream of consciousness that I try to translate in a way that makes sense. It was awesome to continue this process after I published with a trusted friend. So I decided to come back and share the most recent stream, unedited, with you. Perhaps it takes things one step further. I choose to think it does. 🙂

Pearl: I love the forgiveness piece that you’ve been talking about
 me: yeah thanks…forgiveness fridays!
  its the hardest part
 Pearl: 🙂
  so true
me: between that and overcoming the fear
  ridiculously hard
 Pearl: I honestly don’t even know what it really feels like
  to forgive
 me: yeah?
  yeah me either
  were so hard on ourselves
  u know
  one thought i had, a dark thought
  this week
  was that i dont remember the last time i felt happy
  like truly happy
and i dont know really what to think of that
  but
  i guess part of what im exploring are the semantics and what words mean
how to define them and what weight to give them in my life
 Pearl: I like that…
  especially with words like happy and success we’re so influenced by what the world tells us that looks like
Pearl: by happy do you mean a certain “lightness in being”
  i think i associate happiness with calm and lightness in the way i walk in the world
and that has a large part with my thoughts about myself
  and how i react to the world
  now you got me thinking about this 🙂
me: lol
  yeah i havent gotten around to defining “happy” yet
  but i know i don’t feel in the “light”
  and i haven’t in a long time
  i experience moments of good
but a perpetual state of good or happiness is…elusive
  and thats because of fear
  the fear has become….everything
  like a cancer
 i think what i struggle with when it comes to control is this idea that i need to change my thoughts and pick myself up to get shit done
  and i constantly refuse to
  out of laziness or indifference or procrastination or whatever
  and then i punish myself for that
  but again, semantics
  contol inherently ties in with negative meaning and associations
choice doesn’t shirk responsibility and the flexibility of choice brings with it more consequences
  hmm..something i shouldve put in the blog post
  but
the point is that in some ways i need to take pressure off my back while also applying more of the responsibility on my shoulders
  its a give and take
  almost a 1:1
  but going from dark to light
  …ha
  i like the way im descrbing this
a lot of these thoughts are so organic, its funny
Pearl: why is it funny?
  you’re a wise owl
me: lol
  like the potato chips

Share you upsides and read others on Bonnie’s page, Recipes Happen, each Saturday.

Stay warm, stay positive, forgive yourselves, and keep paying it forward. 🙂

Saturday Upsides: Call My Bluff Because I’m All In

saturdayupsidesbutton

It’s been a little while since I’ve taken the time to look at the upside. That’s not to say that I haven ‘t been optimistic here and there, even through my bout with the flu this past week. There’s been a shift in my perspective however, which gives me pause to consider what some changes could mean for my future, as hazy a picture as it may seem right now. I’ve spent a lot of time looking back and picking apart the decisions I’ve made to relive the failures over and over again, promising myself that I’d do better next time. But when is “next time”? When do I actually make it to the next step? When does the future begin?

taking-the-risk2

I feel like I’m in a state of perpetual waiting. For what, who knows. The stars to align. For me to see the light. The skies to open up so a booming voice from yonder can tell me the secrets of the universe and what my place is in the grand scheme of life. Okay, to be honest, that’s all bullshit. I don’t like the idea of letting fate decide my future while I sit here and do nothing. But the thing is, I do sit here doing just that: nothing. What am I waiting for? I usually have about a dozen answers to that question on any given day. There’s always something that holds me back from taking the next step towards the unknown.

I’ve spoken in the past about fear and how that paralyzes me. But I’m really sick of talking about it. It’s my tell, this urge to over-analyze and break down whatever emotional pathology there is behind my decisions (or rather, lack of action) so that I can bluff my way through life. Sitting here and typing up an upside to cleanly state that I’m going to do this or that now that I’ve had this “epiphany” is easy enough for me. But enough with the easy. It’s time to start getting uncomfortable and take risks.

I met with a friend of mine this week who was brimming with ideas. She could barely sit still for the excitement she had about exploring all of these different avenues for herself. It was fantastic to witness and to lend an ear for her ideas. What was really great, was that I found myself getting swept up by her zeal. We were both excited at the same time, which  believe it or not, doesn’t happen very often. We’ve both gotten so bogged down by the minutiae of daily life and our lackluster careers, that usually we don’t meet on the same page about things. That is until now.

She approached me to help her with something that’s crossed my mind once or twice, but I never really thought about seriously. I’m not going to lie, it scares the crap out of me. All the old insecurities kick in, and I’m automatically thinking of ten different reasons why I shouldn’t do it because I’m just not capable. But this time it was a bit different. That negative voice wasn’t as loud as usual. I’d snuffed it in favor of genuine curiosity and enthusiasm for something I’ve never done. It reminded me of when I first started blogging. For years, I had friends suggest that I write but I usually shook them off. I never thought I could do it, until I buckled down and did it. Why should this be any different? The fact is, it isn’t, and I need to remember that.

My recent trip on the nostalgia train which brought me back to my school years, identity issues, and the insecurity of an adult life that looked nothing like I had dreamed about when I was younger, left me sort of lost. This isn’t an unfamiliar feeling as I’ve managed to just drift along forever it seems. I’m really tired of coasting. Like, physically exhausted from the effort of it all.  I feel older than my years and on edge about things that ultimately, don’t matter to me.

Some of my circumstances changed the last couple of weeks and that’s allowed me to gain clarity on a few of these realities. At some point, the drifting and doing what’s expected just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I know my roots and I understand the fears, but its not enough to know these things. I need the spark of a risk and of the unknown.

taking-a-risk

The wonderful part about being in a state of constant self-awareness while leading an unfulfilling life as I am, is that you get this moments of openness that you would otherwise be closed to. Whether or not I take the chance on something completely extraordinary and out of my comfort zone is almost irrelevant to the fact that I’m actually exploring the option. And that’s where I’m finding myself right now while sitting here writing another upside. Exploring. Considering the impossible. Taking mental leaps towards a blurry but bright future and actively building instead of destroying. Looking forward instead of backwards. Poised to take the bet and throw everything I’ve got into it all. Besides, no one ever got anywhere without taking a bit of a risk.

To my friend who got me revved up this week: count me in. 🙂

Looking for my upsides? Check out Bonnie’s site at Recipes Happen for new upsides from bloggers featured each Saturday. Stay healthy can keep paying it forward!

Saturday Upsides: Daydream Believer and The Power of Cranium

saturdayupsidesbuttonUpside time! I’ve still got three hours left of this Saturday so I guess this counts. And I’m being completely spontaneous right now. I had no intention of writing anything at all today, but I figure I’d live on the “wild” side just this once. I blame it on the sugar.

This has been a stressful week. Understatement of the year (all three weeks of it) but it was seriously challenging and I imagine if I checked my blood pressure, it would’ve been in the clouds. I battled writer’s block and struggled with some big personal issues. Then there were the dreams. I have trouble sleeping most of the time, but I know I’m off when I start having dreams, and I don’t mean the good kind. These leave a layer of weirdness draped over me the next day, like I’m still sort of half asleep. It’s…odd, for lack of a better word. I thought after I busted through the block and got my last post out that I’d sleep like a baby. Then I woke up this morning with that same residual yuckiness post-strange dream.

I’ve never been one of those people to really look into the meaning behind dreams. I don’t decipher symbols or interpret scenarios to find the metaphor and its relation to my life. It’s not to say that I don’t appreciate some of the inferences people can make from dreams, but it’s just not my thing. I can’t really say what my dream was about, other than it was some sort of survival type scenario where I was fighting to stay alive with a group of people who I didn’t recognize and then one part stood out to me and it was what was on my mind when I woke up. I had this moment in the dream when I sort of had a melt down (typical) about how much faith I’d lost in having a happy future when life was just about survival. Just what was the point in at all? was what I kept sobbing through big fat tears. And then I heard Nelly Furtado singing and it was my alarm jolting me out of bed.

Shoving the dream aside, I got up and went about my business. Run errands. Buy dog food and groceries. Pick up package at the post office. Bake birthday cake. Set up decorations. It was my niece’s fourteenth birthday today (although the kid is really 14 going on 30- seriously, she’s way more put together than I am) and I ignored that weird post-dream layer sticking to my skin so I could focus on enjoying the day with my family.

It didn’t hit me until about a half hour into playing Cranium with my niece, her dad, and my sister. We were sitting there laughing until we cried, goading each other to see who would win, and I just sort of felt that ‘off-ness’ I’d been feeling all week, had disappeared. I was partially sated by carbs and sugar and fully satisfied by the simple joy of just chillin’ with the fam. A winning combination.

Later when my niece opened her gifts and we helped ourselves to pieces of cake, I felt like I had shed a bit of light on a particularly dark thought. I can’t interpret dreams, and I won’t attempt to do that here, but that dream-speech I gave about feeling hopeless for a future that’s lonely and full of despair was an incredibly dramatic and overwrought projection of something I hold deep inside. It’s that gnawing fear of heading towards nothing that keeps me standing still in virtually every area of my life. Spending the afternoon with my family, especially in celebration of a truly amazing kid, sort of slapped me back, like a big, “Hello! Snap out of it now!” reminder that I have no reason to think that I’ll be alone or that there won’t be a bright future with happy moments like today. I’ve already proven to myself in the last couple of weeks that I can step forward to do things I’ve wanted to do and those have been HUGE accomplishments. Like I said last time, it’s a fight to believe that I’m ever doing enough to get myself there, but sometimes I just need the visual to put things in perspective. And that moment, at our kitchen table, with our ridiculous drawings strewn about, and my brother miming a speedo with clay was just the silly visual I needed.

I’m shrugging my shoulders right now. Who knows? I’m not a dream whisperer or a sage or whatever these people are called, but it’s all in my head and I spend a lot of time going through it, so I suppose I have some idea of what I’m talking about. Maybe my subconscious was looking for a way to get me to stop and smell the roses more often. I’ll be asleep soon enough (once I drain all this sugar from my blood) and hopefully I can finally have a good night’s sleep free of dreams or at least free of the memory of those dreams tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m going to bed with a bit of a smile and a laugh at a joke my sister and I shared about a chicken. I’ll keep that one between us.

Happy Saturday folks! As always, keep paying it forward. 🙂

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