Control and Uncertainty — a journey to the truth
My client, Phillipa Bray, shared this beautiful piece of writing from a key phase of our work together and she kindly said I could share here. Each client goes on their own journey and has their own experience of realising what’s true — who knows what your journey would be like, but this is Pip’s. I invite you to swim in the wisdom and beauty of it all.
“I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing Light of your own Being!” Hafiz of Shiraz
Excerpt from my journal, 4 weeks post-mastectomy, 10 minutes after my weekly coaching session
‘Wednesday 21st October 2020 10.55am
I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL!
Cancer is the most wonderful lesson in this regard.
Even as I write this my mind grasps for answers. As the tears drip down my face and little whimpers leave my mouth, like a child that has just realised she doesn’t get to have her own way, even now my mind races for all the solutions for certainty and control … I could get Jo to read my Angel Cards, I could ask Nic to meet me in the Medicine Wheel, I could go see Sis and spend time with the dogs, that would end this sadness … anything to feel in control again.
What if I take 6 weeks and get super fit and healthy and promise to be grateful and meditate every day? What if I stop work and do something else? Maybe I am supposed to do something else. What if I stop being upset and just allow it and surrender?
The answer is always going to be … we don’t know, we can’t say, we’re uncertain.
Cancer! The perfect lesson in zero control. The lesson I have no doubt I am here to learn in this lifetime.
Cold press broccoli, take Tamoxifen, get a water filter, get acupuncture, be nice, be happy?
Still NO CONTROL over cancer. No solution. Just uncertainty.
There is a joy in that somewhere. A freedom. A place of awakening and opening.
Like it’s OK to imagine we don’t know what will happen when it might be fun.
It’s OK to embrace uncertainty when it might lead somewhere good.
But not today. Today there is anger and guilt and shame and childlike rage and tears and fatigue and sorrow. I can even convince myself that this is a vital breakdown, a part of my next evolving, something that will make me a better person but even those thoughts are me just making up rubbish, nonsense grappling for control and certainty again.
The truth is I, we, know nothing at all.’
*End of diary excerpt.*
I am the wisest man alive for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing. Socrates
Writing that journal entry I felt like a child being told she has to leave the party NOW…no she can’t stay just 5 more minutes, not even if she is quiet, not even if she goes to sleep immediately when she gets home, not even if she doesn’t complain about being tired tomorrow, not even if she does chores around the house all week, not even if she smiles sweetly and most definitely not if she throws herself on the floor and starts whaling, makes herself limp when dragged to her feet and scowls her most fierce scowl whilst hurling insults at her evil parents.
On reflection, I wonder what the ‘party’ is. The party that, as a 43 year old adult, I don’t want to leave. The party I will give anything to stay at for just 10 more minutes and make any sort of sacrifice to maintain connection with. Deep down I know, the party represents ‘control’, or the illusion of control and the lack of uncertainty. An illusion I have become so comfortable with having in my life that I am not ready for it to leave, because this illusion is everything. It’s what I build every waking moment of my life on, a belief that I have control.
If I do x and take into account y I can confidently predict that z will occur. This makes me happy.
This makes me feel comfortable, safe and secure.
As a Coach, Consultant and Constellator I notice it interests me immediately to unpick where this addiction to control began or where it has been useful or where it has been challenging or how I can control ‘control’ itself.
I have been doing this inner development work long enough now to tell myself with confidence that it will have its roots in a well-honed technique used to attempt to secure love from my family, thus maintaining my safety as a living being. An ingenious innate ability to morph into what is most likely to bring reward and belonging; if I smile my carers seem to stay closer, if I stay clean and quiet my mum is less scary, if I clean my room my Dad shows me love etc etc ad infinitum creating a human being obsessed with cause and effect, minimising uncertainty at all costs.
But, in this moment, the moment of writing my journal, the moment of looking down the barrel of cancer, the moment of melting into a snivelling wreck, in that moment I realise the control party is over and it was all just a story. And then what happens? Part of my mind, lets call her ‘My Inner Controller’, is desperate to get things back on track. She believes this state of uncertainty, letting go and making a mess is a dangerous and useless place.
My Inner Controller is desperate to put some order back into proceedings.
No point sitting around feeling sorry for yourself, wipe the tears away, blow your nose, turn to a clean page and start building a plan.
Why do I do that? Are the emotions too painful? Is the fear of uncertainty so unbearable? Am I so conditioned to contribute in order to matter and to be loved? Is capitalism so ingrained that my fear of not achieving and competing powers me forward believing I can and must take control? I anxiously search for another story to help make sense of all this inner conflict.
The deeper our faith, the more doubt we must endure; the deeper our hope, the more prone we are to despair; the deeper our love, the more pain its loss will bring: these are a few of the paradoxes we must hold as human beings. If we refuse to hold them in the hopes of living without doubt, despair, and pain, we also find ourselves living without faith, hope, and love. Parker J. Palmer
When the emotion settles and my calmer, wiser self can see clearly again a new, more calming story starts to emerge. I start to reflect on how life is in a constant state of unfurling, like a new fern in spring or a wave approaching the shore and how, as living beings, we are on the very front edge of that wave of progression.
The DNA of life is constantly developing through us, through every living organism. We are in service of that ongoing expansion of the universe and all we are doing is merely responding to all of the fabulous unfoldings around us. We are the cells of our universe as it evolves, as Jude Curivan describes it.
Yet, most of us, myself included (with bells on) have done a fabulous job of convincing ourselves that we are here to plan, do and review in an ever more sophisticated and controlled manner. For 15 years as a Project Manager in the corporate world I built a solid career out of it and I was bloody good at it.
“Can I tell you when this new product will arrive in our stores? Most certainly I can! Referencing my wonderful gantt chart wizardry I can tell you with absolute certainty what will happen over the course of the next 12 months.” Huge, proud grin.
That was my job and I liked it. I liked reassuring people everything was under control. That’s why I became a Coach, so I could use the same skills but for a more worthy cause, the happiness of humans.
“Where are you now? Where do you want to be? Here is the plan to get you from A to B. Follow that and all your dreams will come true! You just have to dream big enough and plan smart enough and be disciplined enough and it’s all yours!” Huge, proud grin.
There exists a highly adapted story, so old I can barely peek around the edges of it. It goes:
- People like it when I help them believe they can control their stuff.
- They like me because I help them think they can control their stuff.
- I like me when I help me think I can control my stuff.
- The illusion of control and certainty results in praise internally and externally. It results in money.
- It creates a feeling of security fake enough to allow me to relax and feel safe.
There are wobbly moments in the narrative, sure, when stuff happens that I didn’t quite predict.
Car accidents, Mum’s brain tumor, Dad’s cancer, boyfriends cheating, dogs dying etc.
The kind of moments I fill with endless ‘what ifs’ as that Controller seeks to understand the part I played in creating these events. Anything to manage the risk of future uncertainty.
And then there are moments when things get so wobbly even the Controller takes time out of character, puts down her clipboard, pours herself a large glass of red wine, sinks into the sofa and shrugs. Moments where even the ‘what ifs’ seem redundant. Moments so deliciously swamped in chaos that surrender is the only option, even if only for a fleeting moment, the veil is down, the reality of the charade is clear for even me to see.
2020 has been one such year for almost all of us.
Looking out at the tsunami of COVID, most of us realised, maybe more than ever, that we were all just standing on sand. No matter how many years we had spent building on that beach, digging down with our steel rods, building upwards with our lookout towers, pouring concrete into every nook and cranny, the beach was still made of sand and the tsunami was still looming.
Add to this a totally unanticipated and terror inducing cancer diagnosis and I finally submit to the realisation that it’s time to leave the control party, tears and tantrums included.
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. Albert Einstein.
A week after that journal entry, Kübler-Ross curve dutifully completed, I am aware that something new is emerging in me. A different story of control, no doubt, but this time it seems softer and less full of itself. The idea that everything unfurls exactly as life intended it to seems to provide me with a new anchor point.
I start to imagine what it would feel like to experience this unfolding with neutrality or wonder or awe for ALL of it
Can I really imagine feeling the same magic when I cross paths with a wild fox or my neighbours lovely cat or my best friend or a mugger or COVID or cancer? Do I want to?
As we look into the eye of the storm we realise there is never anything to change or resist, only what is. It is all that we have and because it is all that we have it makes no sense not to love it exactly as it is. In love there is no such thing as tolerance, there is just love. There is nothing to put up with or endure or suffer. Nothing has to change and in that truth is the only possibility of change. Clare Dimond
I might just cold press some raw broccoli and start chanting the Ganesha Mantra… you never know x
If you’re curious to learn more about the work Pip and I did together, you can get in touch with me through here, and Pip is also very happy to talk to anyone who’d like to hear more about it from her perspective. Connect with her here.
With love, Helen