Friday, October 30, 2015

Control and Freedom

When something we care about is outside of our control, we often force something else which we can control to act as a proxy for that thing. My husband observed early on in our marriage that when I was upset about something, I would wash dishes. A sink full of dirty dishes was never the thing that was upsetting me, but cleaning them up really did make me feel better because it was something that I could control; I couldn't immediately solve the bigger problems in my life but I could at least put my house into order.

I do something similar with running races. What I care most about is running as fast as I can for a sustained period, but there is no clear way to measure my success at that effort other than a nebulous sense of how I feel. So instead I monitor other closely related things which are easier to control and measure, such as how many steps I am taking per minute, and how many steps I take with each inhalation and exhalation. I focus on what I can control and quantify, and stand these things in the stead of that which is outside of my control.

Our sense of control over our lives, over our ability to obtain what we need, is the constant work of our minds. We are always busy with the energy of that task, however subtly. Sometimes that effort reaches our direct consciousness, often when we fear loss of control. The use of proxies, of substituting something we can control for something we cannot, is just one of many ways that we maintain the illusion of control. We are desperate to maintain it.

But while the mind toils to control things, our hearts crave the opposite of control-- freedom. I love the Christian concept that love cannot exist without free will, that the God who created all things and could have chosen to maintain control over all of creation nevertheless created human beings who are able to choose not to love-- which is another way of saying that human beings can love. Any attempt to control love ends it. It can only be given and accepted, never required.

Last weekend I spent some time running alone in a cemetery to warm up before a race. I kept my pace slow, and focused on my form. I watched several docile geese tottering silently out of my path as I approached, and deer springing noisily around in the distance in their fright. As I rounded a corner near the back of the grave yard, I came face to face with a wall of tall grain swaying quietly just beyond the path, with their heavy heads drowsing in the wind. They all moved as one, like dancers. They seemed to radiate love with their movement, and it struck me that all things in this world, anything to which life has been given, is full of love. It lives in the tall grasses as much as it lives in me. We all draw our graceful movements from the same source-- from life, love. They are one. We all are one.

I felt relieved of some wrong notion of love, some feeling that love comes in limited quantities, that it must or even can be earned, that it could ever be withheld. Nobody can deprive us of love because it is in our breath. No one can take it away because it is everywhere-- in each blade of grass, in the geese, the deer. It is the force that sustains the world. When someone important fails us, love is nevertheless available to us in abundance, because the person who hurt us was never the source of love anyway. They were just one conduit and there are many. Ultimately the only way to cut ourselves off from the experience of this great love is to exercise our free will to refuse it. We can insist upon receiving it from a certain source, while closing ourselves off to its million other manifestations.  Love is in all things; it is only ours to be open to it. This is always a choice that we have.