Why We Must Let Go Of What We Can’t Control

“I got you something,” he said, motioning towards the small paper bag marked Royal Coffee Bar lying on the dining room table. It was 10:30 a.m. on an October morning in 2014.

“A donut?” I asked as I picked it up.

“A donut hole. They said it was made with love,” he replied back with a smirk.

I took a small bite and imagined him standing at the coffee bar in his navy cardigan, exchanging words with a young female barista.

Like so many Scottsdale girls, it was likely lust at first sight. Perhaps staring into his eyes was the true origin of the donut hole’s “made with love.” She assumed that the treat was for him, but it was just for his Sunday writing partner. I took another bite.

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“What did you learn this week?” he asked as he poured my cup of coffee. I paused, staring down at the Notre Dame mug as he sat down across from me.

There were so many things within the one week since we wrote together last, I wasn’t sure where to begin.

Looking up, I timidly met the gaze staring back through thick black frames. Despite the fact that we were both probably hungover, his hazel eyes were still as daunting as a professor’s waiting to hear if last night’s course material had been read.

Like a discerning instructor, any answer less than genuine would be quickly detected. The correct response to his questions could be found at the crossroads of vulnerability and introspection.

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“Yesterday, as I walked out of Trader Joe’s, something didn’t feel right, and I wasn’t sure why,” I answered. “Until I realized I wished the sun was brighter.”

His hands remained folded beneath his chin, but his eyes narrowed, silently saying, “Go on.”

“I realized that I didn’t want fall to come.”

“And why do you think that is?” he asked.

I considered the question.

My family doctor would say the cause is Seasonal Affective Disorder and that I should be using an ion therapy lamp. Or maybe I needed to down some Vitamin D. Or, perhaps, I needed to stop being so damn sensitive. I wasn’t sure.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017: Los Angeles

“Are you sure you don’t want to ride it down there?!” my friend, Laith, called out from half a block away. I trailed behind and shook my head back and forth. The idea of balancing on a tiny, moving skateboard that I couldn’t quite control made me uncomfortable so I opted to head down to Culver City’s CicLAvia by foot instead.

I needed a drink before attempting to skateboard and take photos for this post. However, even after a couple strawberry mimosas, I wasn’t totally at ease.

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“Okay, you need to make sure I’m in focus,” I instructed Laith after handing over the camera. “Am I in focus? A lot of people don’t know how to focus.”

“Yeah, you’re not controlling at all…” Laith said with a smile.

Shit, was there anything I wasn’t subconsciously trying to control? 

Are You Trying to Control the Uncontrollable?

Just because you don’t self-identify as a controlling person, doesn’t always mean that you’re not grasping for control. While I thought that I was someone who was just scared of falling off the board, perhaps I am the person too desperate to hold on.

  • I am the type of person who will lose sleep at night wondering if my parents will make it to 90, as if the faster my mind races, the longer they will live.
  • I’m guilty of stalking former crushes’ Instagram accounts, as if the more I know about their present, the less they are in the past.
  • I will worry that I’ll never meet someone the way my friends have, as if picturing a potential future mate will kickstart more meaningful relationships now.
  • I can often be found going down Google rabbit holes, predicting everything from ailments that could strike me to AI takeovers, as if the more information I have, the less likely I will be surprised.
  • I become upset with my age, as if the more I hold onto youth, the less gray hairs will appear.
  • And without even consciously knowing it, I will resist weather I don’t like, changing seasons and a single-digit UV index, as if internally stomping my feet will cause Mother Nature to say, “Okay, Annie. After billions of decades, you win.”

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Why We Must Let Go of What We Can’t Control

“It can be quite subtle, and not easily noticed at first. I find it useful to simply pause and ask: ‘Is there any sense of resistance that I am not noticing?’ And gently wait. I may then become aware of some resentment or aversion towards my experience, or sometimes a faint sense of tension or contraction in my being.” – Eckhard Tolle, “The Power of Now”

Like Eckhard Tolle alludes to, one of the greatest sources of human suffering is the need to control that which cannot be controlled. And while the world sometimes seems unfair by the number of things outside of our control, we must focus on that which we can.

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I am not a shining example of overcoming this natural tendency. However, it has become a regular mental exercise since meeting with my writing partner over a beloved doughtnut hole a few years ago.

Each day – all day – when feelings of anxiety and struggle arise I have to ask myself, “Is this within my control? Or is it best left to God and the universe?”

  • I cannot control if my parents will live until 90. But I can call them every day.
  • I cannot control if someone likes me. But I can be the type of person I like.
  • I cannot control my own age or mortality. But I can choose healthy habits even if it’s hard to do.
  • I cannot control whether photos and memories turn out perfect. But I can take and make plenty of them.
  • I cannot control the weather. Or the seasons. Or the UV index. But I can control who I am with and what I am doing despite it.

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Letting Go of Control

“What’s wrong?” Laith asked later as we sat on the outdoor patio at El Chollo Mexican Restaurant where we rewarded our skateboarding and photo efforts with chimichangas. “Are you anxious that you’re not writing?”

I’m always anxious on Sundays if I’m not writing. Additionally, for many years I was anxious that it was not with my old writing partner. If it were in my control, those Sunday’s spent writing together in front of Notre Dame coffee mugs wouldn’t have ended, and I would still be the one receiving love-filled donut holes. I hopelessly grasped for those Sunday self-help sessions which I thought produced some of my best blog posts.

But I consciously remind myself what I realized when describing that October day in the Trader Joe’s parking lot and the reason I finally provided to why I felt resistance towards the changing seasons. And I remind myself what has transpired in my personal life ever since.

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In that parking lot I was anxious that the sunlight and seasons were out of my control. Similarly, on the proceeding Sunday when retelling it to my writing partner, I hoped that things would always remain the same between us: that I would tell him my problems, and he would always be there to offer guidance. And even after a year of him moving away and finding love, I tried to control our past which is now my present.

However, once I gave up control to God and the Universe, it felt like a weight was lifted. They can have the seasons and aging and chemistry and our destiny. Besides, they do a pretty damn good job at it – which is the reason I was sitting on El Chollo’s sunny patio after a fun day.

“No, nothing’s wrong,” I said to Laith as I took a deep breath in and admired the Santa Monica landscape with my friend. “I can write later. This is lovely, and I’m glad we’re here.”

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