Saturday, October 19, 2013

Losing Control

Last winter I attempted to drive up this alley on glare ice:

I felt in control of what I was doing, thinking I had the right speed and momentum. What I did not have control of was gravity, the sun melting the surface of the ice, and soon the truck and I slid backwards and sideways until--by a miracle--I hit a snowbank-turned-icebank, and stopped inches from the garage on the left (apologies if you recognize the garage as your own). If not for the icebank, I'd have taken out the south wall and continued my slide into the street.

Control is an illusion. But it is an illusion we love. "A firm grip," "self-possessed," "holding others captive" and "keeping it together" are apparently good things. While "coming unglued," "falling apart," and, of course "losing control" are all bad.

Buddhist friends tell me that "non-grasping" is a core virtue in their tradition (Sanskrit: aparagraha), and that the desire to grasp, control, or possess (especially outcomes) is the root of suffering. I used to think this meant acceptance of everything, passivity. But no, they tell me, passionate, skillful effort for good ends are required. Huh? When I ask for clarification, they tell me to plant a tree. Perfect.

There is great subtlety and freedom in this teaching. To work, even to fight, for the good, while letting go of the outcome, knowing that is not in your control. I think of that phrase in basketball, "Leave it all on the floor." How different from: "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."

"Do not worry about your life..." and "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today." Words attributed to Jesus by Matthew, have become more deeply meaningful to me through dialogue with Zen teachers.

Our entire culture, economy, and every system to which we belong is predicated on worrying about tomorrow. RESULTS. Bottom lines, achievement, accomplishment, and the like are what we are supposed to be... not just working for, but producing.

Control is an illusion. Still, we imagine very bad things happen when we lose control. Example from the world of garbage:

One could call this a loss of control. Or one could say that the control never existed, and the poor devil suddenly woke up to the fact.

A fellow hauler was running behind and pushing at the end of what had already been a long day. Tired and anxiously trying to complete his route, he was anything but present and alert when he drove his 11 foot 10 inch high truck under an 11-foot 6-inch bridge:

Who cannot relate to how unmindful we become when in a rush? Luckily, no one was hurt in this crash...

I keep a souvenir in my garage from my first week on the job. It reminds me of the importance of care-full-ness when operating heavy equipment.

I was rushing to finish my route in time for a meeting. The territory was new to me. I was rolling down a deserted street, glancing at the map to locate my next stop... BAM! I crashed into a row of mailboxes. Destroyed them all. Not only was I late for my meeting, but afterwards I went back to re-build and replace what I had destroyed. It cost more than my paycheck that day...

For those of us who are prone to try to control outcomes, it is well to remember that trying to control outcomes results in less-good outcomes. For better results, let go of the desire to produce better results. Think on it. And then go plant a tree.