Fear of Losing Control: How Much Do You Really Have?

Do you worry about keeping everything neatly under control?

If you answered “yes”–maybe this story will help put this worry and fear in perspective.

Several years ago, I lived on a cul-de-sac in a suburban neighborhood in Northern Virginia. It was a lovely neighborhood with carefully manicured lawns and neighbors who would instantly appear and clear your driveway with their snow blowers during the blistery winter snowstorms.

We lived in this neighborhood for a relatively short time—a little over two years. As in any neighborhood, I got to know some of the neighbors more than others, as the busy-ness of our separate lives took center stage–but everyone was cordial and friendly and gathered together in the common street for summer block parties.

What I remember most vividly about that block was a woman in her late 30’s, with two small children, being treated for breast cancer. Although I never knew her well, living on that same street I followed the story of her surgeries, treatments, and disease remission along with her subsequent fundraisers, activism against environmental and food toxins, and other awareness campaigns. It looked as if she had beat the disease, as so many others do, and was on her way to fully living the rest of her life.

Until just a week ago—I heard grim news from some former neighbors.

She is in the hospital in intensive care. The cancer has invaded her organs and her body is shutting down. She just got past her 40th birthday and the reality is—she is dying.

As a person who works everyday championing people to not just be a victim of their circumstances, but instead to choose responses to them, and to author their own life story lines, I suddenly find myself at a loss of words.

What do you tell someone who is dying about hope and choices?

What do you say to someone whose life is coming to an end?

We can always remind them of the faith and hope that lies in the choice to believe in eternal life and a “plan” greater than one’s own human illusions of control. Great comfort is found by many in these times from releasing the attempt to control what happens—and relinquishing that control to a greater power.

Perhaps this comfort comes from surrendering control to a higher order –the cycle of life—and the realization that death is a natural part of our shared experience with every other being on this planet. Although our explanations and beliefs are varied—our experience of birth and death is in the end the same.

I think there is much for all of us to learn from dying about control.

As much as we attempt to control our lives—the reality is—in the end we have little control. Instead of trying to be in “control”, what if our goal was to be fully “conscious”? “Conscious” as in “fully aware”, and “awake” to the moments and days that make up this limited stint on our planet called “life”.

What if instead of trying to control the actions of others and the events around us, we focused on waking up to the impact of each one of our own daily “unconscious” actions—and how they affect everything that happens to us.

Think of your day so far today. How many of your actions are truly “conscious”?

Are you aware of the impact your words or behaviors had on your spouse or friend or children this morning? What about your co-workers or your team?

Do these series of actions exemplify who you say you are, what you stand for, who you want to be and the impact you want to have in this lifetime?

Are you going through most of your days essentially “asleep”—unaware of the nuances and ripple effect your words and actions have—oblivious of the gap between your good intentions and the impact of your actual unconscious behaviors?

What if real control lies in fully being attuned to and deliberate about our words and actions in each moment—and making the choice to be fully awake to the impact they really have?

Perhaps the prospect of the inevitability of death and the uncertainty we all share about the duration of our lives is a call to be more conscious in the moments we do have available to us – which is only certain right NOW.

What are you choosing to do with these moments?

How are you choosing to behave?

What are you choosing to say?

What are you choosing not to do?