I am a long-time reader of a free weekly newsletter titled “Zen Habits” by Leo Babauta, which offers advice on becoming – well – more “zen-like” and calm in the face of adversity and disappointment. On my October 5th birthday, Leo’s post was “Letting Go of the Need for Control.” My reaction was, “What a great birthday gift that would be! Come on, Leo. Tell me how to do that!”
First, Leo admits relinquishing control is a problem for him. “One of the things I struggle with in life is wanting to feel in control of how things will turn out – control of a trip I’m on, of a project I’m working on, of how my kids will turn out.” Yep, sounds like a universal issue. It’s certainly one of mine.
He continues: “I don’t think we ever really control how things will turn out. . . . What’s more, I’ve found that when I want to control the outcome of things, I become more anxious, more tense. I’m less happy with how other people do things, less happy with myself, less relaxed in the moment.”
I am not a control freak. I don’t always have to get my way. I play nice with others and do my best to be thoughtful and kind. I’ve received enough rejections to be humble and enough acceptances to know that some big publishing houses believe I have talent. However, like most writers, I struggle with feelings of powerlessness about my work. When will my agent send out the manuscripts she likes? When will editors respond? Why do things in this business move so slowly? (I had a manuscript accepted seven years ago by HarperCollins that still hasn’t been published!) Why? Why? Why?
Here’s Leo Babauta says: “I can’t stop myself from wanting to control things,” he writes (thus proving that he’s human!) But he has learned to handle it: “I have to just notice the desire to control things, and let the urge happen. Just sit there and see the urge, feel it, be with it.
“Next,” Leo continues, “I turn to the moment and see the beauty of what’s in front of me. Of the ever-changing situation I find myself in. There’s joy in this situation, even if it’s uncontrolled. I don’t need to control things to enjoy them. I can just let things happen.” I warned you about the zen, right? However, I’ve found Leo’s advice to be practical. I continue to find joy in the process of writing. Some of what I write does eventually sell.
In the meantime, I find joy in being with my audience – children – one morning a week as a volunteer nature guide at a 200-acre farm and nature preserve. Last Thursday, while gathering eggs, a kindergarten student got scared by a chicken and threw his egg on the ground instead of putting it gently back in the nest (for another child to discover later.) The egg cracked, the chickens began gobbling it, and the little boy – whose name is Alex – looked stricken.
He was cheered by my zen-like response. “Don’t worry Alex. It’s just an egg. Plus, their behavior proves that you are SO much smarter than those hens! If they were smart, chickens would peck their eggs open and eat them for breakfast, instead of letting humans eat them!” Alex laughed, let go of his worries, and we all went off to visit the pigs. Zen in action! I do wonder what his mother said when he told he learned on his field trip that he is smarter than a chicken!