Monday, January 20, 2014

This is a story about control.

Pem wrote yesterday about letting go of control, and about the challenge of learning to let go of control. I thought I would follow her good example, and try to put some of my own thoughts about this down, too.

Go read her post, because I want to write in response to it.

She writes, and I'm quoting selectively here, 
The letting go of control I imagine is letting go (though not completely) of my role as researcher and advocate. … I realized I need to some extent to let Hospice be the ones who know what John needs.  But then I have to face my own powerlessness instead of hiding it behind a front.
This resonates with me, although my situation is extremely different. Instead of being a care-giver, I frequently need a care-giver. Instead of struggling with a partner's illness, I am struggling with my own. And while I do not believe that I am dealing with an illness as extreme as John's, it has proven to be something beyond my control.

I have long been invested in my ability to exert control over my situation, whether that situation is financial, academic, professional, athletic, or even (at least sometimes) emotional. I had gotten quite expert at not losing control--at being able instead to see what a situation requires and then take those steps. I keep a careful calendar. I turn off the lights. I watch my weight. I watch other drivers vigilantly. I listen for noises at night and when I hear something unusual, I devise a careful plan for dealing with it. I can swim 20 50s of freestyle on a fairly tight interval and keep my pace even, with a second's time.

I think I believed that by taking control of things I could control them.

This illness has taught me otherwise.

I can monitor my sleep, my diet, what I drink, my activity, my meds, my workload, etc., etc., etc., and still not control how I will feel. I have studied and studied and studied. I have tried many things (and indeed), and I have not figured out "the answer."

Because of my desire for control, this inability to control makes me crazy. I think I am not trying hard enough. I think that I have been a lax patient. I think I need to try harder, read more books, study more websites, see what I am missing.

This has been an unproductive path.

Now I exist in a strange double-consciousness, where I continue to "seek the solution," as a former swim coach of mine says, as though this is a clear path with a definitive answer at the end. But I also practice letting go of control, accepting that there may not be an answer.

I say practice, of course, because I need a lot more practice. Another former swim coach used to say (probably still does) that practice does not make perfect--perfect practice makes perfect.

I have decided that that, too, is a false hope. When I practice acceptance, I draw on some of the techniques I have learned in swimming. I know, for instance, that a new skill feels rotten at first, like you are swimming wrong. And I know that "at first" really means "for a good long while," particularly when the skill you are trying to learn replaces years and years of doing things some other way. And I know how good--how deceptively good--it feels when you slip, and do it the old way, the wrong way.

And I also know that there comes a time when you "get it," and the new skill finally clicks. There is still room for back-sliding, of course, but this is a big moment.

Anyway, practicing giving over control, and accepting how things are can be something like learning a new swimming skill, and like swimming, an effective practice is an attentive practice.

But at the same time, there is this double-consciousness, and that need to seek the solution is there, too, which makes the acceptance complicated. And there is the chorus of voices recommending various cures that they have read about or heard about or that someone they know had success from. This chorus does not want to accept things for what they are. They seem to want me to remain in control (or at least this is the intention I tend to project on them). I get mad at them, this chorus, but really I think I am mad about my own dreams of a cure, and the ways that they hinder my letting go of control, my accepting things for what they are.

In this world where we schedule, plan, set goals, and assess progress, it is always challenging to let things unfold as they will, to surrender control. I am not a person who believes in "God's plan," but I do know that the universe is a bigger and more complicated place than I can understand, and that by trying to control it, I can only misunderstand, and so misdirect.

Or, as T. S. Eliot has said,
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

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