This snapshot from my MA dissertation seems more relevant than ever. We never were in control and it’s so evident now. And in these incredibly challenging times, where there is death and grief and fear and shaming, there is also emergence, acts of kindness, healing, slowing down, imperfect action…
“What is manifold is often frightening because it is not neat and simple”
(Kaufmann 1970: p.9).
Life can be frightening and uncertain; I maintain a sense of control to keep myself feeling safe. It is easier to believe that my path is determined by my choices than to embrace the messiness, complexity and chaos that I fear. To avoid hopelessness and depression, I cling to the idea that I am in control of my life, that I can decide the what and how of my life course. Yet, this notion of control also feeds my anxiety, my perfectionism, and my impostor feelings. I can be paralysed by fear of making a ‘wrong’ choice, dithering in indecisiveness as a way of keeping all the possibility spaces open, stuck and anxious, but safely uncommitted to any course of action. Believing I am in control enables my belief that I can and should be perfect, which in turn leads me to fear of failure, to belief that I am a phoney and an inability to derive pleasure from my successes because I fear they will not be repeated in the future.
Change occurs at the edge of chaos – when I am out of my comfort zone, life is at its best, its least stagnant.
Journal entry, 2016
Once I started to accept that “the world isn’t stable” (Waldrop 1992: p.17), and that, in fact, control is an illusion, I sought to understand how to operate effectively in the ‘real’ non-linear world in which we live. Complexity theory teaches us that “all of nature’s complex systems are at their most creative when they are delicately poised between fixedness and unfixedness –poised at the edge of chaos” (Zohar 1997: p.50). By re-framing the way I think about chaos and lack of control as not something to be frightened of, but a condition that enables emergence, I am able to trust that I do not need to be perfect and to find a strange comfort in my lack of control. Instead, I am learning to embrace the idea of ‘imperfect action’, which it is both terrifying and causes me to breathe a huge sigh of relief. Quindlen eloquently captures the fear and joy that imperfect action brings when she says “the thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself” (1999: online). Embracing my imperfect nature and recognising my lack of control is a journey I am still on; my perfectionist tendencies and inner critic are still there, and my desire to control that which is out of my control still leads to needless energy spent worrying and fretting, and I am learning to let go, to embrace my messiness and accept what is. And every time I do so, I grow a little.
Nevertheless, the concept of letting go has been a continual challenge. As I continue on a journey where I seek contentment, peace and an oasis for my soul, and where I long to “follow my bliss” (Campbell 1991: p.120) and find my path in life, I struggle to find the balance between action and not-doing. I know that following my bliss involves action: stepping outside my comfort zone, letting go of unhealthy relationships and habits, taking risks, speaking my truth. I also know that I will never find my bliss by doing, that my bliss is found in surrender, in love, in compassion, in acceptance of imperfect action, in hope. I have no answers to this struggle, only surrender to the struggle itself, to the imperfect action that is my ever-changing balance of doing and being, and being and doing.