But why do all humans crave for attachments, always consciously and subconsciously wanting only more and more attachments to define who they are?
The answer is simple: humans want control and the power that often comes with control; they all want to control their own destinies through controlling others and circumstances. But let go of control to live longer.
Origin of control
Control is basic human instinct. Humans are inherently controlling. Out of fear and insecurity, our ancestors living as early as in the Stone Age strove to control their environment in order to survive, and thus developing their fight-or-flight instinct built in the human genes.
Since time immemorial, control has evolved, and most of us are controlling to a certain extent. We, as parents, control our children’s destinies by striving to steer them clear of the wrong pathways we might have previously treaded ourselves. Our culture also tells us that we should be in control of anything and everything around us at all times, including our futures and destinies; controlling, to many of us, is synonymous with advancement and independence.
Irony of control
Stress in everyday life makes us want to control everyone and everything around us; ironically enough, in the process of controlling our stress, we may also inadvertently create for ourselves a vicious cycle of stress-generating-more-stress.
The anticipation of stress often puts us on an alert system, producing stress hormones. We then have to make some choices—choosing this, or avoiding that so as to avoid the anticipated stress. But choosing in itself is stressful, especially picking the wrong choices, and thus leading to regret and disappointment. Even any expectation of the anticipated result may also intensify the stress, often making us do more than what is necessary in order to guarantee the expected result. Over-doing is stressful.
The irony is that controlling stress may only lead to getting more stress, and not less. But stress is the enemy of living longer.
Ways of control
Control may come in many different forms in different phases in life, and we are all susceptible to exerting some forms of control. Given that control is basic human instinct, we all spontaneously want to control how people perceive us, especially if we have an inflated ego-self.
To illustrate, if you ask a child: “How old are you?”, the child may answer: “Five years and four months”, while extending his or her four fingers to highlight the “four months.” The child, in fact, wants to control your perception of him or her—that is. he or she is “four months” older than other five-year-old kids. If you ask a teenager the same question, that teenager may answer: “I am now fourteen”—implying that “I’m old enough to drive soon.” But if you ask someone in the late twenties or early thirties the same question, that individual may answer quite differently: “I won’t tell you; just guess!”—that individual is in fact trying to control your perception of his or her real age in relation to his or her appearance. If you ask an elderly person the same question, that person may be more willing to let you know his or her real age by saying: “I’ve just turned seventy!” But that individual may, in fact, also be controlling your perception: “See, I’m seventy, but I look much younger—probably like a fifty-year-old, don’t I?”
In a way, we all want to control how people think of us. Do you like to wear loose-fitting clothing to hide your belly fat? Do you use heavy makeup to mask your facial lines? Do you dye your hair to make you look a little younger? Control is about changing others’ perceptions of your ego-self.
In addition to controlling how people perceive us, we may also want to control how people act and react toward us by using emotions, such as anger, fear, and guilt, and including many other negative emotions. Furthermore, we may also want to control the circumstances we are living in, thereby controlling what is happening to and around us.
To a certain extent, we are all controlling in that we all have an ego-self with attachments that directly or indirectly control how people think and perceive, as well as how they act and react toward us.
Realities of control
Control is seldom welcome; rather, it is often received with aggression, alienation, and rejection. In addition, controlling of self, of others, and of circumstances is, often than not, out of and beyond any human control.
Whatever that is uncontrollable is divine inspiration with a lesson to learn.
The parable and the real world
In the famous Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), the younger son asked his father for his fair share of his estate. The father then gave him his fair share. With his fortune, the younger son traveled to a distant country, where he led a life of sin, and squandered all his fortune. His financial failure was followed by a natural disaster in the form of a famine. He learned the hard way that covetousness would not make him happy. Ultimately, he became penitent and returned to his father who welcomed him back.
The father was like God, letting a sinner go his own way, but would welcome him back with open arms if he becomes obedient and penitent, letting go of his covetousness.
In the real world, we, as parents, could control our son’s destiny by not giving him his fortune, or setting up a trust fund so that he might not squander all his fortune. But there is no guarantee that he might not incur debts and still lead a dissipated and sinful life with no remorse. In other words, we can control only the money but we cannot control his destiny or how he squanders the fortune given or made available to him.
Dark side of control
What is wrong with controlling others, or even your own destiny? Control has its dark side too: it expands your ego-self, and thus demanding only many more attachments; control is also the underlying cause of many human conflicts.
The bottom line: detach yourself from your ego-self as much as possible so as to let go of some, if not all, of your attachments in the material world in order to let go of your control of anything and everything.
Copyright© by Stephen Lau