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The Paradox of Control

M.C. Escher's "Drawing Hands" with psychadelic spiral overlay
"The true purpose is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes. This is to put everything under control in its widest sense." -Shunryu Suzuki

As I sat on my bedroom floor meditating, I would’ve sworn that my timer malfunctioned. My knees ached, my feet were hot, numb, and tingly, my neck and shoulders were tight. “Surely it went off and I didn’t hear it. Or maybe I forgot to hit start in the first place,” I thought over and over again.

Finally, after many rounds of my grueling wrestling match with time, a voice in my head stated, “Well, here I am… might as well allow it to be as it is…" Following this thought the painful sensations in my body slowly transformed into something else entirely.

It wasn’t that the sensations were gone—not by any means—but as my resistance to them lessened so too did their association with pain. They became just sensations. Not only that but there was also a palpable sense of peace that accompanied. It was almost as if the pain had turned into pleasure.

Not pleasure in the typical sense. A more subtle, peaceful pleasure. The type of pleasure that comes from the relinquishing of control. Like the feeling you get when you know that you’ve done all that you can do, and now it’s simply out of your hands. A pleasure of the soul, rather than of the body.

Eventually, my timer went off, proving to me once again that time is relative. I opened my eyes, slowly stretched my legs, and reflected on my experience.

One barrier to reaching this state of peaceful surrender is that we often don’t feel that we have any control to relinquish in the first place. When we’re experiencing pain of any kind, it’s often accompanied by a sense of powerlessness. When we feel powerless or out of control, our natural reaction is to try and regain it.

It’s important to remember that while we often don't have control over what happens, we always have control over how we respond to what happens, so long as we’re paying attention.

Sometimes when I’m meditating and I notice tension in my body I’ll consciously soften that area. Other times I’ll adjust my posture slightly. And sometimes I’ll just sit there, like today.

Who knows why I choose to respond the way that I respond. I don’t. Some days I spend the entire duration of my meditation pushing away these sensations and I feel that I’m ‘bad’ at meditating. Other days I end up peacefully allowing the sensations and I feel that I’m ‘good’ at meditating. But every morning I end up on my cushion again, willing to do the delicate dance of control and surrender once more.

Never forget the choice that you have. Sometimes you'll choose resistance, other times surrender, most often some blend of the two.

But the more you do the dance, the more you'll find your rhythm.

So just keep dancing,


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