When we examine our life situations, we typically look at what has gone wrong, what could have been better and the unfairness of certain events, actions or circumstances. What we typically tend to focus on are the elements of these situations that were out of our control. Most of the time we are not even conscious of the fact that we had no control in the first place. The result; anger, anxiety, blame, guilt and depression can color our moods, interactions and perceptions, leading to an inability to move forward.
Can misperceptions about control be the source of human suffering? Think of the serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference. We can easily swap change for control. What it comes down to is our understanding of what lies within our power to control. When it comes to suffering, we are limited in what we can control. Maybe we have the ability to change or control/alter a situation, if not then the only course of action left within our control is our reaction to the situation.
Changing our reaction to a situation can be difficult however because there is a tendency to resist things we don’t like or want to have in our lives at any given moment. What we resist persists. Saying “no” to something we don’t want is an example of a futile attempt to control what “is.”
What about our thoughts and emotions? We place a significant amount of importance on the ideas and thought streams that run through our heads on a constant basis. Our perception of language can color the way we judge our inner dialogue, oftentimes convincing us that certain belief structures are true, resulting in psychological inflexibility. Language can be very restricting in this way because we become hooked on what SHOULD be, rather than the way things truly are.
The more identified we become with our thoughts, especially negative or unhealthy thoughts, the greater the chances of having unwanted emotional reactions will be; sadness, anxiety, anger, frustration, hurt, etc. Certain forms of therapy work to try and dispute unwanted thoughts and feelings (futile attempts at control), rather than just accepting the thoughts and emotions.
Mental wellness therefore depends upon a gentle surrendering, a saying yes to what is, with no resistance or desire for things to be different. It is through that awareness that one can ultimately derive a sense of control through peace, contentment and non-resistenace.