I don’t use cruise control as a rule. I tried it out on the first of my 14-or-so odd trips driving cross-country eons ago and put in the pile of Things That Are Not For Me.
You see, I am a bit of a control freak. If you’ve known me for a long time this isn’t exactly a news flash. But for me I have only really just begun to unravel it and realize that. Sure, I knew I liked things just so. But that was because I (clearly) knew the best/most efficient/easiest/most logical way to do something. (Ahem.) It made sense. To me.
I knew I liked to plan things, orchestrate situations, and obsess about manners, ways, and methods. But, again, that was logic. It was efficiency. Right?
No, wrong. Sigh. I got this totally wrong. Control. I managed my anxiety by controlling, well, everything. And I actually thought I was controlling everything. But, did you know that we have no control over much of anything? True story friends.
My illusion of control has slowly been shattering since I met the Ladyfriend. When you are in relationship with someone who is a therapist by-some-of-her-gobs-of-education, some insight to your ways get spelled out for you.
Then we had a baby. I was pregnant and if that doesn’t
deliver a blow offer up a lesson in loss of control, I don’t know what does. There is shit that happens to your pregnant self that they just don’t warn you about. Once they are born you realize that “Crap, this actual human being now lives with us. And I have zero control over her. How the hell is this going to work?” Yes, you can guide, teach, model, and extol all sorts of desired behaviors. But in the end, there is no real control. Now, I don’t actually want to control my child. It was just particularly eye-opening to me just how little control I had versus how much control I thought I possessed.
Oh, sweet illusion of control.
My Dad’s illness fast-tracked my life learning. I have tried all kinds of things to control the situation. Learn, read, educate myself, and manage. Obviously, it helps to know what you are up against, but I actually thought I could control outcomes by what I was doing. Sure, I could know enough to advocate, push for things, interpret tests, and all that. But I couldn’t actually control what was happening in my Dad’s liver. I couldn’t stop the growth of a clot in his portal vein system. I couldn’t control whether he got on a transplant list. I couldn’t actually control a thing.
Just like my dad’s clot, that can’t be removed or teased out, it is difficult to separate what is a behavior that is beneficial and what is a habitual way of being. While helpful, learning and advocating was also the only way I could manage my anxiety. Or, at least, the only way I could without going into a medicated nap. Managing my anxiety via control is my habitual way of being.
As my Dad got the call that he was at the top of the transplant list I was stunned and overjoyed. Then I fell into an existential hole. The intellectual knowledge of my lack of control has been seeping into my head, but there still remained a disconnect with my actions. In an instant, full of disbelief, tears, and humility, I really got that I can’t control anything. Anything at all. I just have to let it happen. I just have to be present, breathe, and let it happen. That is it. That is all I can do. It was visceral.
The next week I didn’t do anything. I was convinced that anything I planned to do was an attempt to control matters. The depth of that for me, at that time, rendered me useless. If I couldn’t control anything, then why bother? Why bother doing anything at all? Why start a business? Why work so hard to raise an amazing kid? Why get out of my pajamas?
It was a profoundly unsettling awareness. The Ladyfriend and I drove their car from California to Iowa for them and I couldn’t help but reflect. Such vastness is ideal for contemplation.
We humans are so small. So insignificant. So unimportant. It seems like that should be scary. Or something really bad. But somehow, in that smallness and vastness, lies infinite possibility.
It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. It doesn’t matter if we fail. It doesn’t matter if we mess up. What matters is being present to the moment. Joy. Expansiveness. Passion. Laughter. It is here we find strength, happiness and purpose. All that vastness? It is openness. Openness is love.
Surrendering to the insignificance is oddly soothing. Like looking at space, the Ladyfriend says. It is perspective.
Towards the end of our drive I realized I had put the car on cruise control for a fair chunk of the 27 hours. It seemed like Something Important then, but I wasn’t sure how. I didn’t share it with the Ladyfriend sitting next to me because I wanted to mull it over. (Not to mention that saying “Hey! I’m using cruise control!” to your passenger when driving I-80 through Wyoming and Nebraska, as if it is something actually note-worthy, makes you sound kinda nuts. Even to your partner.)
I finally recognized it as significant shift away from control. What a perfect metaphor! A letting go of my illusion of control.
Put it on cruise control and enjoy the ride.
All the pictures were taken on my phone from a moving car so forgive the blurriness.