why controlling people (and punching water) does not work


One day while sitting by the lake I had a spiritual a-ha moment.

Though it might sound a little strange, I connected a lot of what I’ve read from spiritual sources to the light-reflected sparkles on Lake Michigan.

Weird? Maybe, but stick with me.

While staring at the water on the horizon, I connected the idea of universality (the idea that we are all separate and yet connected to one another) to the billions of water droplets in the lake.

Technically, there are tons of individual units of water within an otherwise indivisible lake. This is like us as people, too, but we have a hard time recognizing our connection is truly thatclose because our egos want to believe in separateness and specialness.

I’m special. I’m unique. I’m different. These are the echos of our ego and much of modern society.

Though there may be some truth to the uniqueness that our egos desperately cling to, we all are inextricably linked beyond what we comprehend – at least most of the time.

The differences we have are miniscule compared to what we have in common. It’s like a water droplet saying it’s “so different” because it’s in the harbor, instead of outside the harbor. In reality, water droplets in both parts of the lake are only a few dozen feet apart. They look the same, they have most of the same chemistry, etc.

I also noticed that some parts of the water sparkled, some remained neutral, and some reflected shadows. Just like the photo you see above.

What fascinated me most were the sparkles along the horizon that seemed to glisten like LED lights on a Christmas tree. It was spectacular to watch all of the little bursts of light bounce around the lake.

To me, the sparkling water symbolized the essence of what spiritual teachings mean when they say we need to “be still.”

The glistening patches of water didn’t do anything very different than the darker water patches. They didn’t “force” themselves to sparkle, they simply reflected the light above.

The shining water showed me it was up to us as humans to simply reflect the light, connectedness, and power that is within our intuition or spirit at all times.

We don’t need to go out into the world forcing things to happen. We simply need to share our light, and in doing so we naturally harness the power within ourselves to live to our fullest potential.

No striving. No ego. Just reflecting the peace and presence that is within ourselves at all times.

For a while, I thought this was the entire lesson the water had to teach me. But yesterday I gleaned a new understanding from this water metaphor and how it relates to controlling others.

While Mr. Lively and I took Franklin on a morning walk, we saw a man standing in front of the water sparkles. At first, I thought he was practicing Tai Chi, but I soon realized he was actually practicing his boxing skills.

Seeing this man punching the air in the direction of the water sparkles immediately reminded me of what our egos look like when it they force things to happen without consulting our deeper intuition for advice.

It looked difficult and ultimately pointless. The man by the water, in my water sparkle metaphor, was completely unproductive. He was simply wasting time trying to “make something happen.”

At first, I thought this was the end of the metaphor. But then I got another lesson about that boxer that directly related to my own life.

Though I am well-meaning, I can have the tendency to try to help people in my personal life (okay, let’s be real, I’m talking about Mr. Lively here) so strongly that it can sometimes border on controlling.

If I have a suggestion that might help him “sparkle” in some area of his life, I can get really pushy and/or frustrated when he doesn’t follow my suggestions.

Do I come from a good place? Yes, at least in the beginning. I truly do want to help him in any possible way that I can, but that doesn’t mean that I can force him to do anything that might help him in some area of his life just because I think that it could help.

In reality, that boxer punching at the water is actually me when I’m putting too much emphasis on what I think he should or shouldn’t do in some part of his life.

I keep thinking that if I tell him what I think he should do long enough, that he’ll realize I’m right and just do it. But really, I’ve just separated myself from the water by going on land and air punching.

A completely useless action when it comes to making water sparkle in this scenario.

Instead, I would be better off staying in the water and sparkling myself. Sure, I can make suggestions. But more importantly, I need to simply model what I suggest and let him figure out – at his own pace – what is best.

Punching the air to make the water sparkle is as ridiculous as trying to force someone we love to do what we think they should do.


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  1. Julie

    Thank you for this post. I constantly draw inspiration from your blog. 🙂

    1. That’s wonderful to hear, Julie. I’m happy that this message in particular resonated with you so much. : )

  2. That is one beautiful analogy! I have also come to the realization that what I might think of as “helping someone sparkle” could also be construed as trying to control them, or at least of making them do what I think is best. But yes, it’s punching water (or air). Focusing on our interconnectedness is a great way of inspiring by example, rather than by (what some would call) nagging.

  3. Nicole

    Jess, this is fantastic AND timely! My partner is going through a very rough time right now and I sometimes think I have answers, then enthusiastically pass them on, hoping to solve all his problems. Thanks for this beautiful reminder to sparkle ourselves and remember that others are on their own journey and learn in their own way, on their own time. Another approach I try to adopt – particularly during conflict – is “More Love.” How can I bring more love into this exchange when what I really want to do is prove I’m “right” or prove my point or just “win.” It’s not always easy, but it works miracles when it comes to diffusing tension and resolving issues. Keep sparkling and keep inspiring us, girl! 🙂

    1. “More love” is such a great message! I am not sure if you are Christian, but if you are (or like me, enjoy watching things that are Christian based) you might like to check out joycemeyer.org. She talks a lot about this same struggle with her husband and other people in her life and it can really hit home. : )

      1. Nicole

        Thanks Jess! I was raised Christian so it’s in my blood; I’m no longer practicing but I’m a spiritual person and open to the teachings of all religions and philosophies. So thank you for pointing me in the direction of Joyce Meyer – I love her Everyday Answers! A lot hitting home for sure…especially the one about making marriage work – and not being a people pleaser! Great stuff…thank you! 🙂

        1. That’s awesome to hear! I feel like her strong personality can be a bit polarizing, but I love her candidness about her life and how she’s used spirituality (in a Christian context) to help her with so many areas.

          Though I don’t share her views on many subjects and I am not Christian, I still watch her daily and love her message overall.

          1. Nicole

            You put it so brilliantly – even when we don’t fully agree with someone’s point of view, there are always threads of wisdom we can take and weave into our own lives. Finding the continuity amongst us while still celebrating what’s unique/different about each of us is such a beautiful part of life…and one of the things I love about the insights you share on your blog.

          2. Jess Lively

            Aw, that means so much! Thank you! And yes, I’m a “spiritual collector.” I adore messages from any source that seems to point to the universal truth. : )

          3. Nicole

            A “spiritual collector” – I love it! And I can relate. 🙂 I don’t know if you’re familiar with Dr. Arthur Caliandro…he was the senior minister at Marble Collegiate Church in NYC and passed away last year. When I was living in NYC, I used to visit just to hear his sermons. People of all backgrounds and faiths would come in to hear him (even cab drivers would park along 5th Avenue to stand in the back and listen) because he was a humanitarian and a storyteller whose words rose above any religious context to reach all people. He was universal truth to the core and his words helped many people – including me – through some very difficult times. So here’s another for your collection if he’s not in there already…enjoy! 🙂 http://www.marblechurch.org/Blog/tabid/229/articleType/CategoryView/categoryId/3/Dr-Arthur-Caliandro.aspx

          4. Jess Lively

            Thank you! I’ve never heard of him, but I’m going to give them a listen!

          5. Nicole

            You’re welcome! I think you’ll dig him and his words. 🙂

  4. Capella Kincheloe

    I’ve been reading A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose and this parallels much of what the book is teaching. Great metaphor, one that will stick with me. xo

    1. For sure! In fact, Ekhart’s work like A New Earth and The Power of Now are totally included in the spiritual teachings that I’ve been reading. For me, the water metaphor was where I could really internalize the teachings in a new and deeper way. : )

  5. Natalie | Natalie Dressed

    Yess!! I have realized that I do the same thing with Seth. Sometimes I just get so excited about something I learned or realized, or something that’s working for me, that I want to share it to help. But then I remember that the best way to help is, like you said, to model it myself. I’m trying to work on living and being what I believe rather than just talking about it. 🙂

    1. Exactly! “Being” rather than “doing” keeps popping into things lately, and it totally applies like you are saying here, too.

  6. That’s a great message, thanks for sharing Lamisha. : ) The way you shared it kind of reminds me of another water metaphor – of gliding down a river in a kayak, rather than walking along the water carrying the kayak over your head.

    Flowing is way easier than walking with a boat on your head!

  7. That’s another great metaphor / visual for the “air boxing” our egos like to do. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Sarah van Loon

    Woah – this is so deep and spot on. Jess, way to knock it out of the park (such a poor metaphor for this incredible post, but really, woah). Yes to this times a million. Thank you for sharing your invaluable insights with us readers!!

  9. Thank you for sharing, Kristin! I hope your conversation with your sister goes well. It is hard not to want to shake people when we want to help them, but really that is our ego’s getting in the way and only makes it harder to affect real, long-lasting change. People need to want to be self-motivated for true transformation. Modeling and acceptance is often our best course of action (when things aren’t life threatening). : )

  10. This is amazing. Seriously what I needed to read as I embark on marriage and wanted the best for both of us. You are right though, you can’t force it, and we just must simply empower them through taking actions ourselves. Thank you for this!

  11. Flannery

    AMEN! I love the idea of staying in the water and sparkling yourself! SO TRUE!!!

    1. Exactly!!!! I have an exciting new thing to add to the shop at the end of the month that says simply: “be the light.” I can’t wait to wear it to remind me of this simple, but powerful message. : )

  12. Just came across this post, such a good one, I LOVE how you used the lake sparkles as a metaphor! I wanted to add something I learned recently too via a personal renewal group I’ve been involved with. Basically, I learned that what you said is true – I need to go in the lake and sparkle myself. But when I do, my sparkles will shine on others and eventually, they will start to sparkle too! That is just a metaphor for setting an example, but I love using the lake sparkles!! I miss Lake Michigan!!! There are a few lakes here in Austin to get your water fix though thank goodness! Thanks for all you do Jess, you are amazing!

    1. That is so great to hear, Katrina! I have often thought about how it will be sad to leave the lake since I get such connection there – and won’t live near the lakes in Austin. I’ve thought about getting a mini fountain feature outside of some sort. Is that crazy talk since it gets so hot there and there can be droughts?

      1. There is water around Austin to get your fix, like Lake Austin, which is a river, but we all call it a “lake”, ha. A little fountain is a great idea though! During drought times, they impose water restrictions which include fountains. But, I doubt that applies to a little fountain in your back yard! It may dry up quickly after many days over 100 degrees, however, this has been a really cool year for Austin. I don’t think it has even reached 100 yet. 😉 If you end up living in the soco area, you won’t be too far from “lake” Austin!

        1. Totally! We’re going to be in Hyde Park, so we’ll be a ways from the lake, though I do plan to go on weekends – we’re thinking about getting a kayak. : )

          And thanks for your thoughts on whether a fountain is practical or not, given the heat.

          1. Katrina Berlin Design

            First of all, I think it’s amazing how you reply to every comment!! Second, I’m glad you found a place to live! You won’t be far from some of my favorite vintage shopping – Room Service vintage on North Loop is my all time favorite thrift store and there are a few others near there. And Uptown Modern is not far from there on Burnet – although more spendy, they have some really cool stuff. Also, check out Foreign and Domestic (restaurant) on North Loop and Epoch Coffee. There is also a really cool bar that makes fancy cocktails across from Foreign and Domestic, I forget the name. That’s all I know about that general area, but it is a good one I think, I’m jealous! There are so many amazing restaurants in Austin too – I was worried about that coming from Chicago. Ok, back to work for me!

          2. Jess Lively

            Yay!! This is all awesome info, Katrina!! Thank you, thank you!

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