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Mindful Monday Tip #10: On Control, Power, and Letting Go

Born into slavery in the first century A.D., Epictetus, a Greek sage and Stoic philosopher, advised humans to to “make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens”.  Almost 20 centuries later, Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian, wrote an untitled prayer whose most recognized form is:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

In their own way, both men challenge us to examine our need to control.

Aimed at other people, our need to control often creates power struggles which suck the life of relationships.  How often does the self-esteem of a spouse diminish when living under the control exerted by a verbal or physical abuser?  What about parents who place stifling demands on children just so parents will feel or look better?  What about adult children who tread on  elderly parents’ autonomy when the octogenarians are functioning fine?  How would you like someone to rearrange your cupboards to fit their agenda when your kitchen has been fine for you for 40 years?

Aimed at events, our need to control often creates power struggles with forces outside of our control.  Have you ever railed at weather that disrupted outdoor plans?  Felt hopeless or angry when the stock market took a dive?  Projected doom and gloom when the candidate you didn’t support won the election?  Ruined a meal by complaining when restaurant staff did not meet your demands for service?  Weather, stock market, election results, and restaurant service are generally outside our power to control.  So are a lot of other events.  Such power struggles sap our energy and leave us bent out of shape.

Imprisoned by a mindless need to control, we and our relationships suffer.

If we approach this topic with a mindful perspective, we will recognize and let go of our need to control people and events outside our realm of power.  Like Niebuhr and Epictetus, we will become aware of what is within our control and what is not.  Today’s tip suggests a way we can focus our energies on the former and let go of the latter.

Mindful Tip #10: Let Go!

From this day forward, challenge yourself to become aware of power struggles in your life, and daily make a choice to let go of the need to control some person or event over which you have no true power.

  • Pray Niebuhr’s prayer daily.  (You may recognize it as the Serenity Prayer used in 12-Step Groups).
  • Get a helium filled balloon and a permanent marker, and mindfully write the things you choose to let go of on the balloon.  With awareness of your choice, release the balloon into the sky, and imagine letting go of your need to control in these areas as the balloon  floats away.  If the balloon gets stuck in a tree or something else, mindfully recall that it is not in your hand.  You have let it go.

Nothing magical will happen when you release the balloon, but it may become a powerful reminder of the choice you have: to control or not to control.  That is the question.  

How might we and our relationships change when we let go of controlling people and events outside of power?

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