Apr 3, 2017

Stillness vs. Control

“The Still is Master of the Restless.”

-Lao Tzu

The Cult of Control

In 1875, while William Ernest Henley was recovering from multiple surgeries resulting from tuberculosis, he penned the poem Invictus, which concludes with this famous proclamation:

I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul

This statement perfectly encapsulates the tough individualism that is celebrated in our culture. In life, in family, and especially in work, we Westerners tend to believe that our effort is the sole key to success. We actually believe, on some level, that everything that happens to and around us is our own doing.

This belief reflects a compulsion to control. And it’s a one-way ticket to a whole host of problems: anxiety, insomnia, relational breakdown, loss of identity, and uninspired work.

The World Goes On

The solution is simple, but difficult: be still.

Slow down, take a seat, and—for some appreciable period of time—do nothing.

At first, we can be still on the outside, but inside, we’re still playing captain.

We worry—an attempt to control by planning.

We evaluate how well we’re doing at being still—an attempt to control by striving.

At every turn, we fight stillness because we feel that if we truly stop, the world we’ve been holding together will fall apart.

With some persistence, we eventually come to rest, even if only for a moment. And something revelatory happens: the world goes on without us. In this state of stillness, we poke holes in the illusion of control and discover that we live in a universe that has its own motion apart from us.

Freedom from Control

So, then what? Do we stop working? Of course not.

We practice stillness not to avoid doing work, but to approach it as free people. Free to labor, free to rest. Free to do the grind, free to risk. Free to dream, and free to wait. Through stillness, we learn to place trust outside of ourselves, and to move through life with a lighter burden. Through stillness, it becomes possible to value the work of others more, to value things in an of themselves, and to value life as a gift rather than as as resource.

The practice of stillness is not a magic bullet, but a simple habit that helps us be human.


Choose a time and place that you will be still. Put away all distractions, and sit quietly (or with instrumental music) for 15 minutes. Use a timer so you don’t have to worry about when you’re done. Let your thoughts come and go. Repeat as needed, modifying your practice to suit you best.

Inspired Product

Our love for mystery inspired one of the products we make, the Stillness candle. It’s a simple tool to help you remember and practice stillness in the rhythms of ordinary life.