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You Are Not in Control

Thursday, May 26, 2016


You Are Not in Control
Thursday, May 26, 2016

To be in control of one’s destiny, health, career, or finances seems to be an unquestionable cultural value. On a practical level it may be partially true, but not on the bigger level. Our bodies, our souls, and especially our failures, teach us this as we get older. We are clearly not in control. This is not a negative discovery, but a thrilling discovery of divine providence; being led, used, and guided; having an inner purpose and a sense of personal vocation; and owning one’s destiny as a gift from God. Learning that you are not in control situates you correctly in the universe. You know you are being guided, and your reliance on that guidance is precisely what allows your journey to happen. What freedom and peace this can bring!

But I must warn you: initially this new empowerment will feel like a loss of power, almost a step backward. You will now need a deepening of faith to go forward. The Twelve Step programs have come to the same counterintuitive insight. You must get through that most difficult first step of admitting that you are powerless before you can find your true power. As Gerald May, one of my own teachers, so rightly said, willfulness must become willingness in the world of Spirit:

Willingness implies a surrendering of one’s self-separateness, an entering-into, an immersion in the deepest processes of life itself. It is a realization that one already is a part of some ultimate cosmic process and it is a commitment to participation in that process. In contrast, willfulness is a setting of oneself apart from the fundamental essence of life in an attempt to master, direct, control, or otherwise manipulate existence. More simply, willingness is saying yes to the mystery of being alive in each moment. Willfulness is saying no, or perhaps more commonly, “Yes, but. . . .” [1]

The needed virtues in the first half of life are quite rightly about self-control; in the second half they are about giving up control. That is a major switch and why I wrote the book Falling Upward. Initiation rites attempted to give a young man the essential life messages early, even before he was fully ready to hear them. Such rites universally tried to prepare a young man for what I call the great defeat, the necessary recognition that you are not really running the show, and any attempt to run it will ruin it. The intense self-will of the autonomous ego must eventually be disillusioned with itself.

Having control is a major desire and need in the early years of life, yet many hold on to it until their last breath. Try practicing to release control early; it will make your second half of life much happier. Practice in small ways, such as contemplative prayer itself, which is habitually “consenting to God’s presence and action within,” as Thomas Keating puts it. Gradually you will be ready for greater surrenders to grace, until you are finally ready for the big letting-go called death.

Powerlessness was often taught by subjecting the young seeker to periods of extended silence and solitude, usually accompanied by fasting—experiments in surrender, under-stimulation, and nonperformance—so one could plug into another and deeper Source. This normally had to be done in nature, so the young man could participate in something inherently greater than himself. The young man was also trained in very practical ways—shocking to us—by various forms of trial, communal life, and hierarchy. Somehow he had to practice not always getting his own way. The lesson was too central and crucial to wait for his marriage and children, failing health, or deathbed to teach him.

Surrendering to the divine Flow is not about giving up, giving in, capitulating, becoming a puppet, being naïve, being irresponsible, or stopping all planning and thinking. Surrender is about a peaceful inner opening that keeps the conduit of living water flowing. It is a quiet willingness to trust that you really are a beloved son or a beloved daughter, which allows God to be your Father and Mother. It really is that simple, which for the human ego is very hard.

Gateway to Silence:
From death to life

[1] Gerald G. May, Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (HarperSanFrancisco: 1982), 6.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2004), 67-71, 163.

Image Credit: Men’s Rites of Passage (MROP). CAC archives.
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