On a warm summer morning this week I took Daisy for a walk in the sheep field where, currently, there are no sheep. She loves running through the lengthening grass down to the shallow stream which winds along the bottom edge towards the railway bridge. Running free and wild, ears pinned back, across the wide expanse neither of us, apparently, in control.
Looking back over my shoulder I see a herd of cows in the distance. With her eyesight, Daisy won’t see them, and they are completely uninterested in us. But they’ve been right here sometime recently because almost as soon as I see them Daisy sniffs and rolls gleefully. I know what this means. She’s found the biggest cow pat imaginable and she is covering herself in it.
In these moments it’s easy to curse for relinquishing control but it doesn’t really make much sense most of the time. Our lives, finely balanced as they are, between certainty and uncertainty often feel out of kilter when the scales tip too far in one direction or another, but this is what lives do.
The easiest way to make a nonsense of my own instinct to be in control when I feel a pang of anxiety is to reflect on what a terrible mess I have frequently made of things when they have been absolutely within my control. It’s easy to dispel the myth that I am safest in my own hands.
So if the need to be in control is not a realistic bid for greater safety and security why is it such a powerful instinct?
Sometimes the need to control is an attempt to soothe the chaos of the emotions we feel inside. If I can create order outwardly maybe I’ll feel better inwardly. It doesn’t work and, if anything, it makes the need to feel in control even more virulent instead of accepting the truth, that letting go is the only solution.
But perhaps the most pervasive and damaging aspect of a need to be in control is that it makes our lives much smaller. As we dispiritingly find that virtually nothing can be influenced the way we’d like we stop doing things, stop going places, reduce our comfort zone to dramatic levels. Consequently, there is less of interest in our lives which, in turn, leads to a deep dissatisfaction and an increased anxiety. First, it makes us anxious to lead an empty life. Second, a life lived like this, when it really does eventually come to an end, is a life that is unfinished, and nobody wants to find themselves at the end of one of those.
Back at home, I wash Daisy down with warm soapy water and, when I am finished, we look at each other both knowing what’s coming next.
When she has been washed she hates being hosed down afterwards. She pulls and struggles to retreat as if being showered in cool water were the worst possible thing on an increasingly hot June morning. But if I am watering the garden it’s a different story. She’ll force her head into the jets of water chomping away on the spray soaking herself in the process. Seemingly, it’s the control that makes the difference.
If I could explain it to her I’d tell her that the importance of whether she has to be hosed down or chooses to be is irrelevant. The most important thing is just to have that cool water on her face and be glad to be able to feel it.