Saturday, October 24, 2009

Real Life Tao - Letting Go

In both the series on the Tao Te Ching and the Hua Hu Ching, one of the issues we encountered several times over was the human penchant of desiring control. Lao Tzu cautioned us that trying to control all the aspects of our lives is what brings about much of the tension and stress we each routinely face. It is only when we can let go to follow the flow of the universe that we can discover peace and contentment.

One of the chief problems with trying to control other people is that, when they are squashed under our thumb so completely and finally are able to break free, they often behave like a mutant bottle rocket -- shooting off in every direction imaginable and, sometimes, completely OUT of control.

I have a relative whose father was a stern taskmaster. His papa had a very narrow view of right versus wrong, proper versus improper. All throughout childhood into mid adolescence, my poor relative's life was controlled from sunrise to sunset. He could hardly go to the bathroom without checking in to see if daddy dearest would give him a green light.

When he set off for college, he went right passed it and road the rails as a hobo for nearly a year. He grew his hair long and became the exact opposite of what his father had intended. This relative is really a cool guy -- probably my favorite relative outside my immediate family. He turned out a-ok because he knew himself, but I've known many other relatives and friends who have not fared as well.

My best friend growing up also had a very domineering and controlling father. Unlike the fellow mentioned above, unfortunately, when Greg was finally able to break free, he fell apart. His life has been marked by inner demons, severe substance abuse and violent outbursts. Over the last 20 years, he's spent almost an equal amount of time on the streets as in jail or detox. His remaining future is dismal and bleak.

While my family had its own dysfunctions, my parents were NOT controlling. My mother, in particular, allowed my brother and I much freedom. We were encouraged to question and to explore. I feel very lucky that my mom understood the flow and rhythms of life and that we each must discover them for ourselves.

From my perspective, the reason that trying to control others generally is not a good idea can be best illustrated with the example of a metal spring. When the spring is pushed down hard, it compresses into a very small space and stores up a lot of dynamic energy. As long as the spring is kept under control in this way, it won't budge. That stored energy will only be dissipated IF we let up on the spring very slowly.

On the other hand, if we release the pressure all at once, the stored energy is allowed the space to spring back with great force. The spring will lift off the ground, shoot high in the air and go bouncing around all over the place. It may crash into objects so violently that it damages its coils and be rendered useless for the future.

When we try to control other people (or situations), we're pushing them down like the spring. Because we can't hold the spring down forever and the people being pushed down generally are looking for a way to escape, a point in time usually comes when they break from our control and, like the illustration above, they go bouncing around willy nilly.

Some eventually will find their center and turn out okay. However, many others will be forever damaged and never able to feel in balance. Even worse, because each of us tends to internalize our experiences, many of these damaged people will try to regain their lost sense of independence by trying to control others and, thereby, perpetuating the disharmonious cycle!

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.


  1. agreed. :) my parents i would say were more controlling than i wanted but definitely not as bad as some! and they did teach me to be responsible and let me work things out on my own. i'm just not a very rule oriented person. (in fact i'm the least rule oriented person i know!)

  2. Good. Pass that trait on to your sweet baby boy.


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