Empowerment, Embodiment, Impermanence, and (the illusion of) Control

We turn to tarot for many reasons… one of them is to exercise some sort of control over our situations — or at least feel as though we have or are taking control. We seek ways to ease our confusion, pain, and suffering; either looking at how to take matters into our own hands, or manage what is beyond our control. As readers, we attempt to empower those we read for, whether that’s ourselves or others.

But is empowerment really that valuable?

Empowerment gives us a sense of control… & we all like to feel we are in control, even — or especially — when we are not.

Control may be what we want, but is it really what we need?

Before answering that question, we must first look at what control is. Control is essentially an illusion: it is a method for dealing with fear — fear of the unknown. Control is an attempt at filling the space of the unknown with an illusion of false knowing, and there is comfort in that.

We are so attached to the idea of control that our minds trick us into thinking we have control by providing situations that are going to turn out a certain way and then say, “see that? I did that. I have control.”

This kind of affirmation is empowering. It feels good… temporarily. But it’s a trick. A trap. One we gladly, willingly, blindly walk into.

Empowerment is ultimately illusory in that it is a projection hinged upon a sense of control — and we reinforce that illusion daily.

When projection becomes reality, it reinforces the illusion of control, which empowers us, and the illusory cycle continues — that is, until we encounter situations in which we have no control at all; situations that show us our lack of control. These can be large or small, but usually occur in our interactions with others, or natural circumstances like the weather, the seasons, sickness, and death.

There are rhythms of course, there are patterns, and they are sometimes very predictable — like the setting and rising of the sun. We can ally ourselves with them or not, we can ride the waves, and we can even change them to a degree, but ultimately there is no control — only our attachment to that persistent illusion, especially when we identify with the inevitable results.

So, perhaps we could lean more toward embodiment, rather than empowerment.

But what’s the difference? Aren’t they the same thing?

Not really. Embodiment is totally different.

Embodiment is here and now, and doesn’t involve control or projection — it requires only being. It recognizes that not only do we ultimately have no control over things or events, it acknowledges to some degree that we are participants in the entire process. This is what has become the catch-term: “co-creation” …but it goes further than that. In co-creation, we keep the persistent illusion of control, but share control with others, and we take responsibility for our share of the results. For the most part, fine enough.

Within the Buddhist teachings of impermanence, however, this is just a stage on the path. This stage recognizes how important control is to us, and lets us keep some of that control (and the comfort that comes along with it) while we look deeper into its heart. Then, when we really look deeply into the heart of control, we find it empty.

We find that what’s really going on (most of the time) is that we are either riding the rhythms, patterns, and waves of life that are beyond our control, or we are acting out of reaction against those same rhythms, patterns, and waves — conditioned responses that run sneakily and incessantly beneath the radar and when detected masquerade as conscious, willful choice.

But, what we often call “choice” is nothing more than conditioning — and this conditioning causes us to act or set up conditions that actually remove our choices. The “choice,” then, is either to act out of conditioned reaction, or to act cleanly, in the absence of conditioning. It sounds simple, but we are ruled by conditioning: what looks like choice is, essentially, autopilot. We realize that within conditioning, choice is absent — and without choice, control vanishes.

Embodiment gives us the opportunity to step out of conditioning, even if only for a moment.

Mindfulness training, and the idea that “you can’t control others, but you can control how you react to/behave towards them” is an important part of the embodiment process: it asks us to become observers, and that very slight distance, that slight separation, is the space in which we can cease being ruled by reactive conditioning. It’s not so much “control” in the sense we are used to, but rather stepping back and not letting our reactions run the show.

Eventually, it becomes what Krishnamurti called “choiceless awareness” in which, again, you ultimately have no control — there is only one right way to act in a given situation (but of course since situations are infinite, one can never know that one way to act until they are actually in the situation itself), and all the meditation and mindfulness training that initially says “you have control over your reaction” goes *poof!* and you see that the reaction itself was never a choice — it was merely conditioning.

To remove the layers of reactive conditioning is to reveal “choiceless awareness” — to rest in presence and become embodied. In that place of choiceless awareness, there is a deep, unassailable know-ing that springs from the root of your be-ing. Control is given up, and a singular course of action is revealed, without concern for the effect or repercussions.

I’ve certainly not mastered choiceless awareness, nor “embodied” total lack of control; I too benefit from and perpetuate control’s comforting illusion. In tarot, we may be able to see through this illusion: to see that we cannot control our circumstances or the results of our actions, but we can embody who we are, be fully present, act from deep knowing, and then weather the circumstances and results… From that embodiment, there is no longer such importance on outcomes or the desire for control, yet we find that the comfort we seek is within ourselves, in our presence alone — and that’s pretty damn valuable.

View the entire Pairspectives series here.


Photo by Mario Gerth

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