Yesterday I came across a post by Leo Babauta, the Illusion of Control, an article that describes exactly what has been happening in my life these days: Going from the illusion of control to letting go of control. Interesting detail: it turns out to be surprisingly simple.
A fish swims in a chaotic sea that it cannot possibly control — much as we all do. The fish, unlike us, is under no illusion that it controls the sea, or other fish in the sea. The fish doesn’t even try to control where it ends up — it just swims, either going with the flow or dealing with the flow as it comes. It eats, and hides, and mates, but does not try to control a thing.
We are no better than that fish, yet our thinking creates the need for an illusion.
Flashback: Having the Illusion of Control
Two years ago the Land Cruiser underwent a major renovation in Bolivia. To cut an epic story down to 4 words: it was a disaster.
Control, or better: the illusion of control, had a lot to do with it.
We couldn’t control the workshop, we couldn’t control the mechanics, the boss, the Bolivian work mentality, the Bolivian market with cheap Chinese import junk (spare parts). We tried. Boy, did we try! And with good reason: we explained to them that if they didn’t do the work properly, we would be having the problems 6 months down the road, probably somewhere in the wilderness of the Amazon Rainforest.
This they didn’t understand, or they didn’t care. One way or another, the job was badly done.
Looking back, my biggest frustration had been exactly that lack of control. We had tried to control a culture alien to us and a work mentality we hadn’t grown up with. We had tried to force our mentality, our way of working and quality standards onto people while ignoring that to them these standards came from another universe.
Despite all that went wrong in the workshop, Coen and I worked hard to fix as much as possible ourselves. One of my goals had been to get a car free of dust. If I used enough Sikaflex (kind of Silicone kit) to fill all non-fitting parts, slits, tiny holes and what have you, this would do the job.
Today: Letting go of that Control
Today, 2 years later, all our prophecies have come true, including our being stranded in northern Brazil with such serious cracks in the bodywork that we couldn’t continue. In order to get the cracks properly fixed, the Land Cruiser had to be dismantled again (although to a far lesser degree than in Bolivia, I have to add).
Six years of traveling on this continent has taught us that Brazil generally has higher standards than Bolivia. Coen prefers getting work done in Brazil to Bolivia, which has to do with work mentality as well as the quality of the work. Having said that, Brazil isn’t Germany (where the car was bought).
After the welder had promised he could weld aluminum (not a matter of course) and we had dismantled the Land Cruiser, he concluded that the bodywork’s aluminum is of a much higher quality than was available here. He could fix it, but with a lower quality aluminum.
Here we go again! I thought when Coen told me.
This was immediately followed by a feeling of déjà vu. I took a decision: NOT AGAIN. I can’t control this. I can’t control the aluminum quality in this city or country, or how a mechanic welds cracks. LET GO.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Well, so be it then,” I said and returned to my part of the job: cleaning all our belongings from 2 years of dust – my dust-free strategy had failed hopelessly.
Joy instead of Control
We will put together the Land Cruiser again and then fix holes and slits with Sikaflex once more as much as possible, but no longer under the illusion the Land Cruiser will remain free of dust. It won’t. Not while driving in South America and doing what we enjoy the most: driving those dusty or muddy back roads in the middle of nowhere.
I know that weeks/months from now – no illusion about years anymore – cracks will reappear: in the same spot, or somewhere else. Unlike two years ago, when I expected to get a perfect car that would run without failure for 10 years, I can now honestly say: It’s okay for the car to break down. We’ll get it fixed again.
Letting go of that illusion of control is liberating! I learned another thing as well: it’s not only about letting go of control: It’s about enjoying the process.
Once more we are experiencing Brazil’s incredible hospitality. A Jeepeiro (Jeep Club member) has offered us a spacious room in his factory grounds. I have all the space I need, and water available to clean and sort all our stuff. I enjoy having my own space for a couple of days, rummaging around.
Cleaning is pleasant enough when you have the time, the space, the necessities such as water (which, I have experienced often enough on our journey, isn’t always a matter of course). I’m in the tropics and have the luxury of using all the water I need without having to worry about using up somebody else’s water supply, or a well running dry.
Our friend’s employees are helping Coen as much as they can to get the welding and other jobs done. We daily eat with the family of our Jeepeiro friend and meanwhile we’re learning all about the “Christmas of Para”, a unique celebration of this state called Círio de Nazaré – ever eaten a meal that needs 7 days cooking?
How difficult is it to enjoy all that?