We are all on the spiritual path; it is only a question of whether or we’re consciously aware of it.
Though some people outright deny that they are on the path, the most common thing to do is to go halfway with it. These are your identified-with-religion-and-still-noticeably-judgmental-folk, as well as the empathic-activists-who-hate-the-1% and constantly complain that “others” are “the problem.” Neither person has a full commitment to the principles they profess to be aligned with—empathy, Love, compassion—because they have unconsciously halted their spiritual growth. They found a belief that felt okay, and clung to it in order to feel safe.
We’re all on some kind of path, whether we like it or not. At some point, a complex question arises: Who or what is in control of your path?
Our unconscious egos would have us believe that we as individuals decide how life goes. We glorify the idea of grabbing life by the horns, dragging it to where we see fit, and arriving at some awesome destination. In the West, where individualism is highly prized, we take great pride in the parts of our lives that have worked out in our favor. On the other side of the coin, we usually feel some amount of shame over the parts that haven’t turned out the way we hoped they would. Our hopes and expectations of life are conditioned by the culture around us; first we must be be sufficiently talked out of our “childish” dreams.
These kinds of pride and shame occur because we imagine we’ve played a significant role over where we’re at in life, when nothing could be further from the truth.
In order to illustrate the illegitimacy of this idea, let’s try moving backwards in time to try and figure out when you gained “control” over your life: Did you have control over your life when you were 20? How about at 15? At 10? At 3?
We can obviously see how limited our control was when we were infants—we had literally no choice in who our parents would be, which part of the world we were born in, what color our skin came out as, or what time period we happened to get plopped into this world. At what exact moment did this magical idea of “control” appear—and do you even have it now?
There tend to be three orientations here, the first two being far more common: Those of us who believe we have control now forgive our past mistakes (“I didn’t know better, but I have learned.”) Those of us who aren’t sure if we have control fluctuate between excusing ourselves and hating ourselves for our past mistakes (“I made a mistake” is quickly followed by “what the hell is wrong with me?”). And those of us who no longer believe we have control are comfortable with the fact that we never had it and never will. “Mistakes,” no matter how many times they get repeated, are regarded as necessary steps towards our awareness of reality. Having judgment towards ourselves is just as unfair as it is to judge others.
In this place, we simply flow with life using our super effective arsenal of innate tools: instinct, intuition, and reason. The point is no longer to gain control, but to become very comfortable without it.
Here, we actually get at as close to having control over our lives as is humanly possible. However, we keep close in mind that the Earth could swallow us up at any moment. Less dramatically, our cars could crash or we could choke on a piece of candy. Our hearts could stop. Cancerous tumors could be forming in our brains right now. I don’t mean to scare you, but these are all possibilities for myself and for every other human being. The threat of death comes for us all, and psychologically avoiding this reality does not make it disappear. In the West, we really avoid this topic, tending to regard death as a kind of ultimate failing. It’s weird and it’s nuts.
So what happens when we seriously accept that we are going to die, and that it really could happen at any time? We see that the only way we continue to live and breathe is through universal grace. From this understanding comes an overwhelming feeling of gratitude, often followed by frantic ways to try and “appease” this source of grace so that it doesn’t make us die before we are “ready.” Many believe that if they accept one particular faith or savior or doctrine, their personal death will never arrive.
It doesn’t work that way, but the untrained mind loves to do its tricks.
Most people tend to falsely equate “having control” with “wielding power.” Control and power are not related in any real way.
Control may give one the illusion of power, but the kind of power that arises out of control is transient and flimsy. A dictator may control a population by way of fear, but in time, the people rise up and there is revolution. An abusive husband may control a wife but, if courage comes to her, she will eventually leave. True, he could also control her very physical life by killing her. Regardless, after this heinous act, he would have still lost control over her as an individual mind and body; thus, that source of control would be gone. Whatever we imagine we control will be taken from us sooner or later. If we are unconscious enough, we destroy these things on our own.
Control must be constantly maintained, but power is always there. Power is either wielded responsibly by us as individuals, or it becomes lorded over us by way of threat and domination: And whereas control can only benefit individuals or concentrated groups, power benefits both the free individual and the collective. Here is an important thing that often goes missed: If you have a modicum of freedom, you are ultimately responsible for owning your power. No one can “give” you power because it is already present within you, though it is often hidden by fear.
In short, power is rooted in reality; control is rooted in illusion.
To notice that control is illusory does not mean it is “bad.” You may control a piece of the Earth by growing a garden, but without consistent upkeep, the weeds will choke it out. There will be a storm, an earthquake, a drought. Your only hope for keeping the little garden is to continually manipulate the piece of property to grow food. This is fine, so long as it’s all in proper perspective: You, your property, and your garden are all extremely limited in the time you will spend on Earth. That’s okay, too, and given the state of the world, we can easily deduce that growing your own food is not a bad idea.
The point is to respect that all things are impermanent (including control) and act from your true nature. This combination helps to create choices that are balanced. This is how we kick off a sequence of goodness. This is how one behaves when they understand how much power they have in a world full of humans who often act as if they are powerless.