“Same place, different time, same chase, a different line
A chance to heal. To allow what’s real, to take its course
Like a brush in hand, to paint a picture
Of what we would like to see
And love to be
The vision is clear, taking charge of fear.”
– Chuck Shuldiner (Control Denied, The Fragile Art of Existence, 1999).
“You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your response.”
– Ancient Stoic saying.
Powerful, isn’t it?
It’s a mantra that has stood the test of time. Words that are a basic tenet of Stoic philosophy.
What does it mean though?
We live in a time of great paradox; of advancement certainly, but also of constant fear, anxiety, doubt, and uncertainty. We look towards all sorts of things for strength and purpose. The pandemic has rendered many to feel like their lives have briskly halted.
The harsh truth and the bitter reality has dealt a backhand to us with such surprising force that we are still reeling from the aftermath of the world spinning in fragmented oblivion.
Thus, we have come to realise that:
- We do not control our own fate
- We cannot control our external circumstances
- Life is fragile
- We are not nearly as resilient as we perceived
Sometimes we lose our morale, motivation, and drive because we lose control.
So, what exactly is control?
Control as a noun is defined as the power to influence or direct people’s behaviour or the course of events.
Control as a verb is an extraneous factor that might affect results or someone that supervises the running of an operation, event, outcome, or initiative of some sort.
In this case I am talking about our lack of ability to have any power over a course of events or a series of circumstances, or over the stuff that impacts us on a daily basis. Not having power over others or ourselves result in bitter situations that beat us down constantly, leaving us emotionally drained, mentally bruised, and physically exhausted.
Let’s go with the major culprits here, the Big Four of dilemmas; work, life, society, and family.
- Work or no work
It could be a work situation. Horrible boss scenarios, a stupendous lack of inspiration, a terrible sense of underappreciation, feeling stagnant, and fed up with the same old drivel of work politics, exploitation, and internal obstacles stacked up to your eyeballs.
It could be a scenario where you are stuck and unable to find work. You keep looking but naught satisfactory comes your way. Let’s not forget how many have been let go after the pandemic hit; organisations “cost-cutting” and companies galore terminating employees with no concern for their mental and economic plight. This resulted in the overall job loss and unemployment sky rocketing to interstellar levels. The UN depicted in findings released in June this year that by 2022 the unemployment rate worldwide will hit over the 200 million mark.
- Life to lifeless
Life tends to not just throw curve balls, sometimes it swipes the rugs along with the road we are standing on from under our feet. It’s unpredictable as it is cruelly satirical. Life at times feels like it’s meaningless. That it’s a toxic catastrophe of uncontrollable and unmanageable events. It may seem like life has lost its meaning and purpose. You might be suffering from a blurred perspective, borderline depression, an overwhelming feeling of emptiness or hopelessness, and having an existential crisis that’s nuclear.
Perhaps your personal relationships are in turmoil. Your romantic partnership slipped between Dante’s Inferno and Tolkein’s Mordor. Mayhaps strong bonds of friendship are coming apart at the seams. It could be that your personal life has lost any semblance of vision, joy, and passion – where you are content to just slog away and become deluded by the matrix of existence.
It’s still a dangerous place to be where the gift of life and its worth eludes us. Where throwing in the towel and tapping out feels like a welcome luxury.
- Menace to society
What societal pressures are derailing and denying you of progressing and evolving in your life? Are you a victim of harmful cultural trappings?
Social pressures are legion. Society coerces us to succumb to great expectations and cruel intentions where to be accepted and appreciated we need to be a part of the herd, and follow that higher calling to worship materialism, to thirst for power, and to suffer fools for fame and popularity no matter what the cost. And money and wealth and status? That’s the fuel we live for akin to the spices on Dune.
Society paints a picture of what a model citizen ought to be. How you should live. What you should achieve and own by a certain age or period in your life. We are sheep meant to follow shepherds that may at some point devour us, just processed, packaged goods in a mass production line of flesh and marrow, with mind’s so hollow. Some are content. Some rebel to push against the shove. Yet finally are we all not playing our part of the predators or the prey at some level or capacity?
- Family matters
Ah. The greatest determiner of them all. The maker and breaker of human spirits. Family. It is embedded in many of us that nothing is more important than family. And for family there have been civilisations that have risen and fallen. Family fortifies us. It is the utmost priority in life. The eternal grind is made worthwhile because family is prioritised. There is little argument that family is important and a staple that we should all stand up for and cherish. There is a link between family and culture and tradition, family we are taught will always propel our growth and development. Family is there for us with unconditional love – no matter what.
But consider the downfalls of over reliance on family. The many needless problems and issues that spring up out of dependency of family. How a toxic family passes down negative traits and can hold you back in life. How families can be exploitative, abusive, and manipulative. A toxic family can stifle your growth and progress.
The dichotomy of control
How much prominence do we give our problems? Do the obstacles that taunt and haunt us determine how we think, behave, and respond to situations? How much do our egos and perspectives come into the equation when dealing with life’s troubles?
If we can identify the sources of our unhappiness and dissatisfaction, we may be able to take infant steps in formulating a response rooted in wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance.
Here are a few helpful tips:
Remember how brief life is – It’s very easy for us while weathering tempests to forget that moments of calm follow life’s storms. We should reflect on how brittle the fabric of our existence is and how we take so many things for granted. It’s not a comforting thought, but it’s a start.
Having the right mindset – Developing the right attitude and solidifying an ideal outlook stem from building the right mindset. Just as it takes time to build muscle, so does it take time to hone the discipline and tenacity to uphold virtue in facing every challenge with a mindset that will enable us to establish healthier habits and improved routines. Someone very wise said that you can fail 99% of the time, but you only need to get it right once. Marcus Aurelius wrote: “Turn your desire into stone. Quench your appetites. Keep your mind centered on itself.”
Have a starting point – By that I mean making up your mind that you have had enough of something that is bad and harmful. Learning to say “NO” is a starting point also. Be it people, scenarios or circumstances. The beginning of actualisation is to take action upon the realisation that you are not going to sit at anyone else’s buffet of faeces any longer. The start of making yourself the focal point is critical.
Balance – Equilibrium of self. Find the things you love, that which you are good at, work on those things that bring you joy and a sense of purpose. You, yourself is like a plant that needs the right balance of water, sunlight, and care in order to grow. Don’t limit yourself to settling for mediocrity. Push yourself to evolve. To reflect and gradually conscientiously ingrain the elements that will be tools for your self-development.
Self-discipline – Whatever your predicament, you will need to push yourself out of your comfort zone and the narrative you’ve grown accustomed to. No one else can do this but you. To become better and excel to your full god given potential, to be a better friend, peer, partner, or person you need to first master your ability to accept that the world is rife with external factors beyond our control. Find your purpose and work towards fulfilling your role, duty, and responsibilities with commitment and zeal. Have a plan thereafter to work towards achieving your purpose.
Always starting to discipline ourselves with small things and working up towards bigger goals will get us into the groove of always starting something and seeing it through. It’s vital that we set goals and benchmarks in life that we focus our efforts on.
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.” – Emperor Aurelius
Words to live by.
Suresh de Silva is the frontman and lyricist of Stigmata, a creative consultant and brand strategist by profession, a self-published author and poet, thespian, animal rescuer, podcaster, and fitness enthusiast.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.