When to Control and When to Let Go

Gwen Randall-Young

It has been said, (by a Buddhist thinker, no doubt), that life is very simple for those who have no preferences. If we accept that change is inevitable and do not become attached to specified outcomes, then there is less struggle. To do this, we must release any notions we have about being in control. 

But wait, don’t we also hear a lot about creating our own destiny and the importance of setting goals? Aren’t we taught to create our vision, visualize it clearly, and to keep working towards it? How can both be true? It has also been said that truth lies at the heart of the paradox. Where is the heart in this paradox? 

Well, it might be that we need difference perspectives at different times. If you are going to build a house, you need a plan, you need goals and you must keep to them, especially if you are scheduling sub-trades. If you want to change careers and continue to support your family you need to schedule when you will do upgrading and when you will leave your old job. If you are planning a theme birthday party for your child, you can pick exactly the type of cake you want. These are all things over which we have some measure of control. You cannot, however, choose how the weather will be that day, if all of the invited guests will show up, or how they will behave. 

The Buddhist perspective serves us very well when it comes to those things over which we do not have control. We cannot control whether or for how long anyone will love us. We cannot stop our children from growing up, or the years from slipping by. We cannot control the stock market or interest rates. Nor can we control when others will die, or the outlook of our teenagers. If we try to exert control over these things, or become attached to certain outcomes, we will most definitely create stress, strain and struggle. 

Similarly, if we take an attitude of non-attachment to the timing and quality of the construction of our home, we will also create headaches. If we simply accept changes that lead to the destruction of the ecosystem and are unattached to the long-term implications for the planet, we are not acting in accordance with the highest good for all. The wisdom is in knowing when to hold on and when to let go, when to dig in and when to surrender. 

As in all things, neither side of a polarity holds the whole truth. We must expand our perspective to reach a level that encompasses all of the parts in a complete whole. Wisdom arises not when we embrace one side of the paradox or the other, but rather when the fulcrum of the paradox rests right in the center of our own consciousness.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit www.gwen.ca. Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration.