No Control, No Control, No Control

Last Updated on Teachings

credit: brett.wagner

It seems to me that blogging tends to come in 2 basic flavors. One flavor is where the blogger writes big, long, complete essays on a topic. For the most part, my articles have been of this type. The other flavor has the blogger firing off short, to the point items. These posts never try to be complete, but they nonetheless often communicate something vital to the reader. I’m going to start experimenting with these types of posts. And here is the first one for you.

When you get right down to the nitty gritty of spirituality, you find a very stark realization staring you in the face. And that realization is: you are not in control of your life. “What?” you ask. “How can that be?” Well, just pay attention to one very simple “fact” of your existence thus far: how often do things go your way? From the big to the little, from the important to the trivial, how often does life cooperate with your thoughts, ideas, plans, goals and beliefs? Not looking so good, is it?

We like to think we have control, or we like to think that we have at least some control, but in point of fact, we’ve got none. Hell, we can’t even control the thoughts that flow through our minds, let alone the turning of the wheels of life. And, to get right down to it, there isn’t even a you who is or isn’t in control! How’s that grab you?! No you, no control.

So, who or what is in control? What if I said no one? Or what about everything, the totality of Life? Same thing, really.

I know that this may sound scary to some of you, and downright crazy to others, but the simple truth is this: life has only gotten more delicious and fun the more I’ve come to accept the truth that we have no control. Much like a surfer riding a wave: you have no control over the wave. Your only job is to enjoy the ride! Namaste.

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  • Ariel - We Are All One

    That last statement about riding the wave is sooo perfect. Thank you for that, Tom. There is a certain amount of fear and frustration associated with losing the apparent sense of control, but the metaphor of “riding the wave” is such a perfect example of how “we” stand in relationship to a controller which is seemingly beyond our personal control.

  • Evan

    The surfer controls their movements on the board.

    Most floors I’ve walked on have been reliable.

    The washing up gets done, most people get to work most days.

    There’s lots of control in just about every area of our life.

    Glad to have you back posting again Tom. Looking forward to seeing how the shorter, sharper type posts go.

  • Mike S

    No control?

    Geez, Tom, you seem to have controlled the sentence structure of this essay quite well. Maybe you should start writing your blog posts in “stream of consciousness” allowing whatever comes up to be posted. Or is it more a matter of choosing what to control and what NOT to control?

    And how much “control” is actually applied in accepting “the truth that we have no control”? What thinking patterns, or lack thereof, do we adhere to, or detach from, in order to control our letting go of control. Is “no control” essentially another form of control? Another paradox?

    However, I do understand what you’re saying. Problem is this eastern paradigm or ideology has never really merged well with the western ideology of ‘rugged individualism’ and self-sufficiency.
    I imagine many would love to enjoy the ride that you advocate, yet there is always the underlying threat of becoming victim to the world. A world composed of nothing but objects of flowing consciousness. Well, heck, if that’s all it is, then let me get in there and rearrange the flow. I mean, if it’s my consciousness, why not? (Nisargadatta said as much)

    Control or no control, either way, as the sage who was asked by the child if the sparrow held cupped in his palm was dead or alive. The sage wisely responded “it’s in your hands.”

  • Andrea Hess|Empowered Soul

    Hi Tom,

    I guess it’s all what we want to believe. I believe I’m the conscious creator of my experience … and wouldn’t you know it? I set my intentions and my life unfolds accordingly in an almost uncanny way.

    External life circumstances are a reflection of our Being. And we do control our state of Being – our thoughts, our emotional states, our actions. Or at least we can, should we want that level of power and responsibility.


  • Carla

    Riding the wave is a great analogy. Of course, as Evan observed, one controls one’s movements on the surfboard, but there is that zone one enters when you give up trying to control, or dictate, an outcome, and you simply engage with the present.

    An interesting statistic I learned in a sociology class is that the number one factor in determining longevity, beyond genetics, risk aversion, etc., is how well one rolls with life’s punches. It’s when you fight life, and fight the seemingly negative aspects of it, that it creates the stress that can affect your health. Of course, each person has a unique set of circumstances they deal with, and there is sometimes tremendously challenging territory to traverse, but responding with the wisdom of “no self” is the key to realizing that in truth there is nothing that can hurt you.

  • Corinne Edwards

    I always make time to read your posts but I agree, short and to the point is better for the reader.

    I also used to write long posts. As a newbie in the beginning, I thought I was writing chapters for a book.

    This article was very timely for me. We had a huge 12 inch rainfall about 10 days ago and my roof gave way and flooded half my upstairs.

    The adjuster for the insurance company is coming this afternoon and what they will pay me IS OUT OF MY CONTROL.

    Thanks. I have let it go!

    You are the best, Tom!

  • Anmol Mehta | Mastery of Meditation

    Hey Tom,

    Like your new writing style, I will keep my comment to the point as well :-D. Great stuff, always inspiring and insightful as usual.


  • Davidya

    Great post Tom. Even more fascinating are the comments. Evan doesn’t agree. Mike S says he understands but doesn’t really. Andrea believes she is in control and her world reflects that. Carla sees control but notes the experience of stepping out of control. Corinne works to let go.

    Ariel and Anmol get the point. None of these perspectives is wrong, but the key here is to understand there is another that is also true.

    This is the challenge of blogging on spiritual subjects. Many people come to descriptions of reality and try to understand them with concepts. Do I agree with Tom? Are Tom’s ideas better than another’s? Is Tom full of it? ;-)

    For me, the key to get here is that Tom is not offering a philosophical argument. He is observing what is. When we are closely identified with our body and mind, we can seem to be the controller. When we step back and become Self, we are the observer of the body and mind and are not the controller.

    There are further changes of perspective but thats off topic.

  • Barbara

    Hi Tom,

    When I first read this post, my reaction was one of amusement, not unlike my reaction to your last post. Last time it was croisants grabbing my attention, this time it was “Not looking so good, is it?” Funny, but very often true.

    I had decided not to comment, tell you my reaction was once again laughter, less I be judged at this very simple level of no capacity other than keeping myself amused.

    But what you said must have stayed with me and this is what came to mind. Not exactly profound, actually more mundane, just some simplifying for me, I think.

    It’s as if my life has put very specific tasks before me. Tasks I have to deal with RIGHT NOW. There is urgency and ultimatum and you aren’t going anywhere until you do it feelings.

    And these tasks are not of a daily nature, such as going to a job, doing laundry, but figuring stuff out. Such as, is there a valid reason I do this, that or the other thing or am I making excuses? Am I unhappy or do I make myself unhappy? Where on any continuum do I land? And these tasks can seem like a full-time job.

    In the end, I arrived at a feeling of my life seems to have a life separate from me.

    As I said, the article stayed with me. Must have activated yet more unconsciousness, what is underneath my laughter. Or maybe it is the laughter that was underneath looking for a way out.

  • Mike S


    “Mike S says he understands but doesn’t really.” Hmmm…interesting judgment. You seem to send two diametrically opposed messages here. You first state that “none of these perspectives is wrong” but then you identify perspectives that, to your mind, “get it” which, of course must exclude.

    It seems that what you are really saying is that some conceptual presentations do not conform to your concept of WHAT IS. Obviously, we’re discussing experiences that cannot be conceptualized or communicated through words, so everybody’s descriptor is as good as anyone else’s. Maybe you feel that certain concepts or pointers are better than others?

    Tom may be “observing what is,” as experience, but once it is expressed, verbally or written, it becomes a conceptualization and thus, contrary to your assertion, it is most certainly ‘philosophizing.’

    Of course, you are correct and I do not “really” understand and this is why many of my comments are actually posed as questions, (again contrary to your assertion, I did understand the conceptual point Tom was making).

    I feel this leaves me open to a drive-to-question that many, limited by attachment to conceptual descriptors, may lack.

    As the masters have proclaimed, once you think you know, recognize you know nothing.

    Thanks :)
    mike S

  • Andrea Hess|Empowered Soul


    I would agree with Mike – a little bit of judgment, dontcha think? Although judgment is also pointing out judgment, hee hee.

    I have a question about this idea of stepping back from body and mind to become Self. Isn’t it all One – each a reflection of the other? It seems your words indicate a division, a separation that I cannot get behind.

    Who is in charge of your body and your mind if not the Self – which is also body and mind and emotion? Can we ever regard these matters as separate?


  • Davidya

    Mike S
    Apologizes if that seemed like a judgment. I was simply observing the large diversity of responses, most of them not with Tom.

    This is very interesting. In rereading Tom’s post I see that he is actually discussing a concept, not just relating an experience. He captures the quandary of the experience, even in his title. While the perspective makes it very clear that one is not the doer, there are many habits of mind that keep coming up around control.

    What I first took from reading it was a reminder of the experience. I brought my own debate to the table, that when one simply describes experience, the reader will often interpret it conceptually. Assume you are speaking conceptually, philosophizing.

    Thus my comment was not so much to your responses to Tom’s post but to the experience of not being in control. That was a bit of a disconnect.

    You of course responded to Tom’s ideas with ideas.

    I suppose this is why many teachers have spoken in stories and parables. Gets us less into mind. Most spiritual teachers also start talks with silence to get people a little more out of mind. Words can be a doorway beyond concepts if they are heard without mind. But few people in the west have that skill.

    The real challenge is that no conceptual presentations correspond to what is, as what is is beyond concepts.

    I don’t know that I agree that anyone’s descriptor is as good as anyone else’s. Anyone’s description of their own experience is completely valid, like Andrea’s. And Barbara’s was quite profound, contrary to her comment (laughs)

    But being able to understand those descriptions in some sort of context is very valuable. For example, in the third paragraph of your first comment, you illustrate 2 perspectives/ states of consciousness. They will not merge as they are different realities. ‘Rugged individualism’ is the peak of ego development, a natural part of the journey. Much of eastern teachings begin after that with what Tom is talking about and on into Oneness.

    Thus, I would say that certain concepts are better than others as they are less misleading. But that is somewhat circumstantial. How useful would it be to talk about goddesses here? ;-) In the end, all concepts become a barrier to what is.

    That in a nutshell is the quandary of speaking on these subjects. A framework can be beneficial but in the end, we have to toss it out as Tom is describing.

  • Davidya

    Hi Andrea
    Again, apologies. I was not fully present with the post. (laughs)

    That’s a pretty big question. Everyone’s path is unique. Some just step straight into Oneness. But for most of us, there is a process. An unfolding of clarity.

    First there is the experience of the silence within. The individual experiencing what becomes clear is their deeper Self.

    At some point, there is the awakening, the self-realization. We shift from being the individual experiencing a larger self to the Self experiencing the individual. We are That. There is an inner unity. Around this time comes a growing sense of separateness. While we had been the body/mind before, now we are the witness, the observer. We may even find ourselves awake in deepest sleep.

    Over time in this place, the old falls away and a deepening takes place until we find we are Sat Chit Ananda, absolute bliss consciousness. We are not some body named Fred or whatever, we are peace and happiness itself.

    Also, that inner Self begins to move forward into the experience, absorbing the mind, then the heart. That allows the divine heart to open and true love and compassion to flow. There is an ongoing refinement of perception. We come to see This is That.

    At some point, the sense of identity within falls away when Self absorbs what Adya calls the gut. Then another realization dawns and we awaken from the whole of illusion, the MahaMaya, the dream of God. We become One with all things, all beings.

    Of course this is also a process of integration as more and more is merged into the whole and old aspects fall away. That’s the nutshell.

    Who is in charge? That depends on where you are. Many people even in the west are in more of a Tribal mode and don’t see themselves as in charge. Then there is the in charge of self-actualization. Then Tom’s not in charge. Then the revealing of what’s really going on (laughs). Then we become both creator and created so it’s a meaningless question. There’s a lot of back and forth like that in the process.

    There is of course some concepts here but largely, this is what most people experience in some way or another. Adya has helped hundreds through this. I’ve seen dozens.

    And of course, its NEVER what you expect (laughs)

  • Davidya

    Obviously Tom, I’m still in essay mode… ;-)

  • Mike S


    Wow! I suppose this is why I subscribe to your blog (and Andrea’s and Tom’s and…who’d I miss?).

    However, I tend to relate to Andrea’s questions as they have always been mine as well. I suppose there just seems to be too much straight-lined, linearity to this “process” you describe, although I have certainly read this from many revered spiritual masters. The model seems too representative of the very worldly or illusional “linear processes” we seek to transcend.

    It certainly makes sense that “we are not some body named Fred” but then, we are that as well. It seems to my untutored mind that in Oneness, nothing is left out, not even the infamous ‘ego.’ For Oneness to be experienced fully, as only Oneness CAN be experienced, everything is included in an experience of pure equality. For Oneness to be ‘one,’ nothing is transcended or discarded or denied.


    Thanks :)
    mike S

  • Evan

    Oneness can be like an organism.

  • Davidya

    Mike S
    Well, any description of a process tends to sound linear, like time. In that sense, more of the illusion. As I mention, something we need to drop. In actual experience, its all over the map. Some growing oneness, some old control concept arising, some deepening clarity, some bliss, some muddiness. But if we know the underlying process, we know whats underway. Whats clear, what needs work.

    Typically the process is self-realization, god-realization, unity. But recently, some people are going self-realization, unity, god-realization. Probably due to less heart development in the west. Some refinement of perception, but not enough to complete that before the identity falls. One of my teachers calls this ‘sloppy unity’. (laughs)

    Yes, we loose the idea of being the body, then get it back again, loose the sense of I, then get it back. But when it’s back it is not localized but rather an aspect of the whole. It’s a VERY different experience. Rather than being body in relationship to world, its all in relationship to body. All moving through this idea of body.

    Yes, all experience is first within, then not separate from Self. Depending on what we mean by ‘ego’ though, that does not join wholeness as it is already lost. Ego in the sense of an idea of being a separate self. Mind seeing itself as unique. The identity of Fred also goes. But if we see ego to mean the person, that does stick around and merge.

    What falls away are the mistakes of the intellect. What remains and is merged is everything else, no exceptions.

  • Tom Stine

    Howdy gang!! You know I usually try to respond to everyone individually, but you all are having too much fun responding to each other. Why interrupt? ;-) You even handled a minor squabble quite well. Cool.

    Okay, I will give you all one response to the discussion so far. And it is this: awakening/enlightenment is all about identity. It is the answer to the question: What am I? That’s why whenever someone asked Ramana a question, he invariably said, “Find out who is the one who is asking the question?” Over and over, the more you look for it, the more you will find in all the awakening literature this theme: identity!

    So, we can discuss lots of facets and nuances of the process. Davidya has laid out a pretty nice summary of the views of Adyashanti, who does an amazing job of teaching about awakening. However, the bottom line to all the discussion is identity. What am I? Nisargadatta summed up what you will find in a perfect way: Looking within, you find nothing. Looking without, everything. And between these two viewpoints, you exist. How amazing! How simple! And so unbelievably true!

    Lastly, as to control and my essay: I was mainly talking from my experience. It isn’t a question of wanting control. It isn’t a question of having control. It really is a question of the one who THINKS he is in control doesn’t even exist. The ego isn’t a someone who has control. It is a thought, a thought of false identity. It has control over nothing. My next article on the subject will be posted later. And I feel a third one coming on. And maybe a fourth? ;-)

    I don’t really think that the word control even applies to that which we could say IS in control. Everything in control of itself? Control in and of itself implies a controller and the thing controlled. But an absolute totality controlling itself? That doesn’t even compute. I know, someone will point out “but there is this worldly experience and something controls it.” But it IS part of the everything. It IS the everything. Just as it is nothing.

    Okay, that’s more than I meant to say. Bottom line to me: as awakening opens us, we begin to see that there really is no control for Mr. Ego. I think it safe to say that he has thought he is the driver of the car called Life, but in fact he has never been driving. He has been along for the ride. Best to just realize that, slide into the passenger’s seat, and enjoy the experience. Oh, you can still pretend to drive the car at times, but does that make it so? :-)

  • Evan

    Tom, you say, “But it IS part of the everything. It IS the everything.”

    It is the relation of these two sentences that is at issue.

    Looking forward to the next article (or three).

  • Eric

    Tom, your last post nailed the issue for me when you wrote “Control in and of itself implies a controller and the thing controlled”. Subject and object. How can this be when all is one?

    I had originally thought of this subject in terms of identifying with either the ego who, like a two year old with a toy steering wheel thinks he’s driving, or the witness, who by definition does not judge or interact. But if we break the matter down to identifying with ego or witness we are still left with the question of who or what is doing the identifying. Now we’re dealing with the whole enchilada.

    Heady stuff, or perhaps more correctly, Hearty stuff! For I believe only the Heart can be the experience/experiencer of Wholeness. The ego/intellect sits here, staring at this screen, and tries vainly to understand so it can manage reality; never going to happen! And yet, and yet….

    Peace to All.

  • Tom Stine

    @Eric Yeah, in the end, that’s really the bottom line. The you that wants to control ISN’T. The you that you are, the One, has no subject-object dichotomy to worry about. What would it control? It IS everything, and everything flows naturally from it. It might appear that someone who knows themselves as Truth and appears to work miracles, like a Jesus, would have ultimate control. But “he” didn’t. Such a one is just the One playing with Itself. And I DID mean the double entendre!! :-D

  • Davidya

    Perhaps I could make a point. Wholeness is how you come to wholeness. Not with the mind or the heart but with It itself.

    That said, the heart has a much more direct access to That and is described as the bridge to That. So it is an important part of the journey.

    hmmm – also wholeness cannot be experienced. It is beyond duality, beyond subject-object that you mention. One can only BE it. This is the nub of why the mind cannot grasp it. Words fail. Yet it is the reality.

  • Ariel - We Are All One

    So I just rediscovered this discussion. There’s been some brilliant responses by Davidya and Tom.

    Allow me to add a few more things to the discussion. :)

    Andrea brought up some of the ideas from the Law of Attraction about how we create our own reality. This is certainly true and it is a valid perspective at a certain level. It’s also helpful to get people to start taking responsibility for their lives and out of the victim/perpetrator mindset.

    Now, something that happens naturally as one continues along the spiritual pathway is that, as Tom mentioned, the duality of controller and that which is controlled begins to dissolve. What’s left is simply the flow of life itself, the perpetual unfoldment of creation.

    Andrea also suggested that Davidya was judging her for not directly agreeing with Tom. Regardless of what had happened, it sparked within me the idea of judgment vs. discernment.

    Discernment is saying what’s so. Judgment is saying so what? Discernment is the capacity to recognize the difference between an apple and an orange, a dualistic truth of the mind and a nondualistic truth of the ego. Discernment is great. It’s what allows us to know the difference between your car and anothers so that you don’t mistakenly try to drive away in someone else’s car! :) Judgment is when we start building a story around what happened, calling it good or bad, and so on. It is the judgment that people suggest we let go of, not discernment itself.

    Finally, regarding the issue of creating separation by saying I am not the body or mind and I am this sense of awareness, we already are what we are. The “goal,” so to speak, is not to become who we are, but rather to stop pretending to be something we are not. As mentioned earlier, it is by letting go of identification of that which we are not (which, on the surface, appears to be creating separation), we naturally come to know our true nature as the One and the All and then integration occurs. Instead of previously thinking we were the body and mind and not the tree, that which we are is recognized to be the infinite which includes the body, mind, tree, and everything else in existence.

    This can be adopted as a simple belief system, but then it’s a “me” who has a belief system. It hasn’t actually been realized on a core level. One hasn’t become the Truth. They simply believe it which, IMHO, is not sufficient. Awakening can’t be accessed by adopting appropriate belief systems and engaging the mind. Awakening is the natural “result” of letting go of all identification to thought, and any idea of the validity of thought itself.

  • Ariel - We Are All One

    (oops, typo above. I meant nondualistic truth of the Self.)

  • Tom Stine

    @Ariel Thanks for the comments. I’m glad we got to hear from you. :-)

  • Anthony

    Without reading all the comments on this article, i can see a basic argument forming…

    People are saying ‘HEY, HANG ON, WE DO HAVE CONTROL!’


    & Tom says ‘WE DON’T HAVE CONTROL’

    I think it’s best to redefine the meaning of control to ABSOLUTE CONTROL.

    We have choices, we have decisions, we have options. We do have a degree of control. Most people are reasonably happy with it. But we don’t have absolute control and there are no guarantees.


  • Phone Number

    Short and quick!

    Great article loved the read through, its good to have a mixture of both long and short

  • Davidya

    Hi Anthony
    I think you’ll find that Tom means all control. No qualifications necessary. We have the appearance of control, choice, and options. But when you step back into being, you discover that the process continues by itself. Just like the body breathes, it drives, eats, works, and types on blogs. Ideas come up in the mind and are acted or not acted upon.

    What decides? Small shifts in awareness are constantly going on, adjusting perception to determine a specific result.

    So the entire sense of control falls away and we discover this value is not about doing its about allowing, surrendering to the process.

    As it deepens, the doer is found to be multi-layered – local system needs, the field of action interacting with itself, and then a few key pushes from Self Itself. And you find you are That.

  • Tom Stine

    @Anthony and Davidya You know, I think the simplest way to sum it up is: you, the sense of a separate you has NO control. The totality, the All, could be said to have complete control, but it really isn’t control. It is just Becoming flowing from Being. The All moves, and an action occurs. Everything is literally the cause of everything because everything IS everything. No separation. All words like control utterly fail at this point.

    But one thing I can guarantee each and every one of you: if you hear words in your head that say “I have some control over my life,” what said those words has -0- control. Nada. Zilch. Zip. A big fat goose egg. You can go to the bank on that one. Although, in the current state of world finance, I WOULDN’T go to the bank! Our wonderful government, and every government in the world, is about to get a rather harsh lesson in NO CONTROL. :-D

  • Darla

    Great post, Tom. By the way, I think it would be okay to have a combination of longer, thoughtful essays sprinkled with some of the shorter ones. I like it mixed up.

    re: Control: I believe you can learn to control what you do with those thoughts. Release them. Notice them. So while I am not in control of them, I am in control of releasing them, observing them; choosing to become centered. You do have a choice as to how you react to thoughts and events in life, so I guess that is within our control. But it does take some training.

    Great question to get one thinking though.

  • Tom Stine

    @Darla Glad you liked my post. Nice to have your comments. So, let me ask you one more question, one you will find in a follow-up article on control. Here is the question: who is “doing” something with those thoughts that just arise? Who notices them? Who lets them go? Who observes them? Who is this “I” that does all these things? THAT’S the question.

    9 times out of 10 Ramana Maharshi would respond to a question by asking, “Who is it that wants to know?” Always we go back to identity. Namaste and welcome!

  • Evan

    No I Tom? Then who is this “we” you refer to?

  • Davidya

    we are the us. ;-)
    Tom is an illusion, at least in so far as seeing him as someone else. As a teacher recently remarked, the only I is the cosmic I. The One I.

  • Tom Stine

    @Evan There really is no way to get around the use of pronouns like I and We. When I say “I”, I’m referring to Tom. When I say We, I’m referring to Tom and others. But Tom isn’t who I am. I’m far more than that. I’m You! :-D

  • Evan

    And yet we do seem to have disagreements. At least at a superficial level. (Levels and unity is an interesting and related topic I guess).

  • Christine Kraft

    We all need some practice with losing control. We need a chance to playfully lose control of whatever it is that has become too rigid.

    The more we are able to fall the less we crack.

    Reminds me of the wonderful book, “Going to Pieces without Falling Apart – A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness” by Mark Epstein.

    Thanks for the blog experiment. I think shorter is better for cerebral topics. The readers who are already tuned into these ideas don’t need too much exposition. Try Twitter!

  • Tom Stine

    @Christine I’m not sure we can actually “lose” control. We never had it to begin with! :-)

  • Davidya

    Yep. If you observe, you will notice that your moods and thoughts of the moment, and thus the decisions and actions you take, are determined by your current outlook or perspective, in that moment. Your state of mind. And it’s constantly shifting, more so as we change roles like worker or parent. What determines that perspective? Consciousness. When you see that, it becomes very clear.

    Ego doesn’t like to see this and sub-conscious habit mind processes much more quickly than conscious mind. So it can be tricky to see. But once seen…

    When ideas of control come up, it’s just mind talking to itself. Telling itself a story. The idea does not affect what is, only how it is willing to be seen.

  • Tom Stine

    @Davidya All and always from consciousness. No matter where we look, no matter how we look, we always wind up at the same place: consciousness. It really misses something to say “all is consciousness” because it is to a depth and in a way that no mind will ever comprehend it.

  • Davidya

    (laughs) but if it’s not said, will it be seen as easily? ;-)
    It’s the challenge of words – they can lead help us see truth or build illusion. Who is listening is more important than who is speaking…

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