Provision #855: Control is an Illusion

Laser Provision

There was a time when I thought I had everything under control. My schedule. My mind. My emotions. My running. My routines. My health. In other words, my life. Then it all came unglued. In the twinkling of an eye, it was as though I was living someone else’s life. I went from being on top of the world to barely hanging onto the world at all. But with the help of my family and friends, the incredible world of medicine, and the wondrous Spirit of life, I am alive with a simple message for this week’s Provision: control is an illusion.

LifeTrek Provision

It’s a natural part of life for animals, and even plants, to seek to exercise a measure of control over their environments. That’s why plants bend toward the light. Indeed, there’s at least one plant that does more than bend. When we were in Costa Rica we saw a “walking” tree. This tree, with a gnarl of stringy roots above ground that look like a bunch of bamboo shoots, can move in the direction of the light by dying off and releasing the roots that are keeping it in the shade as it throws out and anchors new roots that move it toward the sun. Pretty cool.

Animals, of course, have much more mobility and, therefore, a natural tendency to want to control even more aspects of our environment. That’s why we build home and office buildings, with heat and air-conditioning, with desks and chairs, with toilets and showers, with closets and vanities – indeed, with whatever our hearts desire, within the limits of our budgets, to make life more pleasurable and attractive.

In short, we want to control a great many things. We don’t enjoy being at the mercy of the elements. That can even be dangerous. Animals need to shelter ourselves in safe, protective places. Birds build nests, deer hunker down in grassy bedding, and turtles sleep in their shells both under water and on rocks, in the warmth of the sun. Sleep is, indeed, a universal bodily need of all animals. And if we fail to get enough sleep, we are soon to suffer negative consequences in terms of both our physical and mental health.

That was a hard lesson for me to learn. I love to work hard and long. That was true before I got sick and it is still true today. Some people are just made that way. It’s hard for me to get off the productivity treadmill in order to sleep. But I am learning to make sleep happen. One might say that I have come to see sleep as a part of my work. It’s what I need to do in order to heal my brain so as to make a contribution in the world. So I’m learning slowly to jump on the sleep bandwagon. It just has to happen.

And in order for sleep to happen properly I have to control just about every aspect of my environment. I have to control the temperature in the room, the firmness of what I lie down on, the light around me, the sounds I can hear, as well as my sense of safety – to mention only five important elements that all animals have to attend to in one fashion or another.

So we seek to control things for the sake of our health and well-being. And it is certainly important to control as much as we can. But I have learned the hard way that control is an illusion. We can easily lose our grip on all the things we do – physical, financial, relational, emotional, spiritual – to control our environments. Indeed, we never really controlled them in the first place. We just thought we did and we acted accordingly. We had a sense of being in charge of our lives and, as a consequence, we may or may not have given others their due.

But that is not the right way to live, because control is an illusion and one never knows when we’re going to need a helping hand. We never know when things are going to come unraveled and need to be tied together. We never know when chaos is likely to break out and a rabbit needs to be pulled out of that proverbial hat. We never know, in other words, when we’re going to need someone to help us regain whatever measure of control is possible.

That’s why it’s important to go through life with a humble and generous spirit. What goes around comes around, as they say, and there will come a day when each and every one of us will need others to extend that spirit to us. Each and every one of is going to die one of these days, so why not start right now to pay attention to the things that matter?

Mindfulness enables us to take that consideration into account. By being attentive, aware, and careful as we go through life, by getting quiet and taking stock of what is going on around and inside us, by pausing to reflect on both the meaning of life and on our place in the grand scheme of things, we restore and guide our souls.

Don’t those words give you a different feel than the concept of control? To attend to life, to appreciate what is going on around us, and to reflect on the very depths of life itself: that is what mindfulness means. And it gives us a tremendous gift; it frees us from trying to control everything since it gives us the true perspective that control is an illusion. Control can be taken away from us in an instant. And when that happens, as it will for us all, the deeper question is whether or not we are able to cope with and esteem the things that are going on.

I know that such coping and esteeming has been a struggle for me, but my family and friends have consistently encouraged me to value even the things in life that are out of my control. Life is here and I am still part of the equation. So even though control may be an illusion, that is not reason for discouragement or despair. We can live in the moment without trying to control things – past, present, or future – so as to enjoy all life has to offer. And isn’t that the point of it all anyway?

Coaching Inquiries: Is your life under control? What would your life look like if that control fell apart? Who could you count on to pick up the pieces and carry you through? How could you cultivate the most positive and strengthening of relationships possible? Why not find a partner or coach right now, to walk with you through the journey?

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


Thank you for your recent posting, Live Your Values, reminding me of the turbulent era that required each of us to find our inner truth during the Vietnam war years. I grew up in a military family; my father was a staunch hawk, officer and Air Force pilot. We had a militaristic upbringing of strictness and respect, no matter what. 

As I grew into my teen years, living in the San Francisco Bay area in the mid 60’s, I saw many of my friends taking their stands, including my older brother. I observed all sides with friends who didn’t register, went underground, burned their draft cards in public, or decided to enter the war. I watched hundreds of young men leave for the war at Travis AFB where my father was stationed and worked at the flight-line. 

At that time, I married a man who left his officer status to defect to Canada when they activated him to Vietnam. Years later I married a man who served as an air force officer during those war years. My heart aches for the ones who went and were spit on when they returned. I now have years of perspective to be able to draw no conclusions or judgments for anyone’s personal decisions.

Had I been a young man in that era I am not certain in which way I would have chosen to resist the killing that would have been required of me in ‘serving my country’. Today I have set my intention on compassion for all, no matter what they chose.

Editor’s Note: I registered for the draft during those years as a conscientious objector. I was willing to go and help the wounded but not to kill. Fortunately, the war ended just as I might have been called. What a gift. It enabled me to meet Megan, the love of my life, and to do what I can to help the world. Thanks for sharing your own journey of “helping” with me and the readers of Provisions.


May you be filled with goodness, peace, joy, and health.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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