Close Connections: The greatest illusion

NancyNormannewmugwebBy Nancy Norman

Greater than the magic of Harry Houdini, greater than the grandest illusion from David Copperfield or the highest levitation of David Blaine. The greatest illusion is that we are in control of our lives and our destinies.

Now that’s not good news for most of us. We get up in the morning and usually think nothing of our breathing, which goes on regardless of our will. We decide what we will do today and go about making that happen. Sooner or later we learn that we may or may not make today’s activities happen the way we planned.

The struggle to control life for me grows out of an anxiety that comes from knowing I can’t. That’s pretty weird, really. Paradoxical. The more anxious I get about not having control, the more I try to control what’s happening to me and things and people around me to make the anxiety disappear.

I’d get away with this if other people weren’t honest–if those few brave souls didn’t say, “Hey, stop trying to control me.” When I get that reminder, I have to figure out how to live in a different way.

Here’s what I’m thinking so far:

EXPERIENCE: If I manage to make things happen in a certain way, I’m happy. Temporarily. The anxiety goes down but begins to creep back up when I begin the next project or start to run the next errand. The key words are “happy” and “temporarily.”

NEW EXPERIENCE: Acknowledge that something bigger than me is running things. The earth continues to spin at 1,000 miles an hour at the equator and rotates around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour (according to NASA). Gravity works its miracle or we’d be unintentional astronauts.

EXPERIENCE: I get frustrated with myself for trying to control outcomes. My internal dialogue on a good day would be harsh: “Stop it! You know better than that. Why can’t you just stop thinking you are in control.”

NEW EXPERIENCE: Have compassion for the scared person inside. Realize that I’m not behaving in a controlling way because I like it. Admit that anxiety is high and gently, with understanding, remind myself that I’m reacting out of an old pattern to make myself feel better.

EXPERIENCE: I believe the only way to feel better is to take action and accomplish what I set out to do.

NEW EXPERIENCE: Believe there is more than one way to relieve the anxiety of knowing that I’m not really in control. Slow down and focus on the experience of anxiety instead of trying to fix it. What about the current situation is anxiety producing? Concentrate on breathing and reassure myself that I will do the best I can to face what happens next.

“Life is just what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” sings John Lennon to his son, Sean, in “Beautiful Boy.” And isn’t it true? I’m working on accepting that for myself in the kindest way possible. Join me?

Nancy Norman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, musician with The Storys duo and former “Intimacy” columnist for “The Wichita Eagle.” Email her at




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