“Relax. Nothing is under control” (Adi Da Samraj)

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My purpose in this post is not to introduce you to Adi Da Samraj, nor to discuss his philosophy, theology, or spirituality. Other than to say that he was an American spiritual teacher and writer who founded a religious movement called “Adidam.” No, the name is not coincidental. If you’d like to know more about this man and his teachings, you’ll find there’s plenty of information available. My goal in this post is to simply interact with one of his quotations. 

“Relax. Nothing is under control.”

Which is completely true in one sense. Though less true in another sense. I mean that in the ultimate sense, there is really nothing under our control. Ultimately we must bow to circumstances we have no means of controlling.

You may disagree. 

A plan is only a plan

You may claim that from moment to moment we have complete control. We can sit down or stand up. We can walk or remain stationary. We can make a phone call. We can speak or remain silent. We can get into our car, start it up, and drive wherever we want. We can stop whenever we want.

No, we can’t.

We can only plan to do these things. Something may intervene. Even though it may be unlikely that something will thwart our plans—it can happen. It often does.

We have a lot of control

Still, it’s mostly true that we have immense control over our thoughts, words, and actions. In fact, it’s this control that leads to so much pain, destruction, violence, hatred, and cruelty in the world. People have control over their actions, and they sometimes exercise that control in harmful ways.

Of course, we’re free to exercise this control in positive ways too. Control that leads to kindness, helpfulness, encouragement, love, generosity, and support.

So, in one sense we possess a lot of control. We have a lot of freedom to do or not do as we please.

We don’t have complete control

But we must also understand that our control is not ultimate nor is it without limit. There are many things we cannot control. We cannot control the weather. We cannot control the thoughts of others. We cannot control how other people feel, nor can we control what they believe. We cannot control the future. Nor do we have any control over the past. We often struggle to have control over our own behavior, our own words, and our own thoughts. 

We cannot control the time and manner of our death, with suicide being the one exception. Though even suicide does not offer complete control, as many have planned to take their own lives, only to discover they lacked complete control there too. 

Side 1 of the coin—planning

So how does this quotation help us? What wisdom can we take from it? I think it offers us the wisdom on one side of a two-sided coin. One side of this coin we can call planning. The other side of this coin we can call destiny. Here’s how it works.

We make plans. They can be general or specific. They can be short-range or long-range. They can include hundreds of steps or only a few. They can be plans we write down or merely carry around in our heads.

Plans are extremely helpful. They help us be more efficient. They allow us to get more accomplished in less time. They ensure that we do things in the best possible sequence. Plans can help minimize the impact of the unforeseen. Let me offer just one example.

Let’s say I have 5 errands to run during one afternoon. The errands are:

  • Getting gas for my car
  • Picking up milk, chicken, and cheese at the grocery store
  • Buying paper for my printer
  • Mailing a package at the post office
  • Picking up a pizza for a quick and easy dinner

Two approaches to the errands

There are two main approaches to these 5 errands. I can simply get in my car, start it up, and point it in the right direction for the first stop on my errands. Then, after the first stop, I move on to the second stop—assuming I remember what it is. I move on to each errand in this way, and then head home when finished. 

But this is a poor approach to these 5 errands. The better option is the PLANNED APPROACH. How does this work? 

I first determine whether all 5 errands can be completed in the time I have. I may need to shorten my list. 

Are all the places open that I want to stop by? Is there anything I need to take with me? Are some errands higher priorities than others? When I determine there’s time for all 5 errands , I write down the 5.

But I don’t write them in some random order. I write them so there’s a minimum amount of driving. That may mean I arrange the journey in a circle, so there’s no backtracking over already covered ground.

Or, I may arrange them so as to avoid heavy traffic at a particular place at a particular time of the afternoon. If I’m nearly out of gas, I may need to make the gas station my first stop.

I also consider whether the refrigerated items can hold out for the entire journey, or if I need to pick them up later so they remain cold. I may also want to pick up the pizza last so it’s warm and fresh when I get home. You get the idea.

I don’t offer this example to tell you anything you don’t already know. I offer it to illustrate the value of planning. This plan is very simple. The more complex the endeavor and the more steps required, the more complex the plan. But the concept is the same. 

Planning helps us in many ways. So we should plan. It will maximize our precious and limited commodity known as time. There’s only so much available, and wasted time can never be recovered. It’s gone forever.

Side 2 of the coin—destiny

That said, we also recognize that no plans are perfect and no plan has a guarantee of completion as planned. No plan. Everything we plan must be seen as ultimately contingent on things we cannot control.

You may laugh at this and consider it silly. You should not. You might decide to stop reading this blog post for a moment so you can go get a glass of water. And on the way, you could trip and fall, hit your head on a chair, and become instantly paralyzed for life. Things like this happen all the time. This is one reason we have a will, and make sure our life insurance premiums are paid up.

A tragic example of the limits of control

When I was 14 years old, I was an avid baseball player. I lived not far from the town of Annandale, Virginia, which was close to Washington, D.C.

It was June 1, 1967 and a brand new park in Annandale containing 3 baseball fields had just been completed. A detail of 6 soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Belvoir were erecting a 45-foot steel flagpole as the final touch on the new ballpark.

But as they were raising the flagpole to set it in place, they lost their grip and it fell. As it fell, it contacted high tension electrical wires. When the flagpole struck the wires, 7,200 volts of electricity travelled down the shaft. All 6 men were instantly and tragically electrocuted. They were all under 22 years of age. 

It was a very sad day for Annandale and the surrounding communities. Each baseball field was named in honor of two of the deceased soldiers. It’s been more than 50 years since the tragedy, and the signs posted at the ballfields honoring these men remain to this day.

Abandon the belief that you have everything under control

Never think for a moment that you have everything under control. You do not. You have only limited control for a limited period of time within boundaries you may neither know nor understand.

This is not an argument to not plan. It’s a call TO PLAN. In fact, good planning can override circumstances that might otherwise be destructive.

But it’s not possible to know everything in advance. We can only make our best, most informed, and best educated plan. The rest is beyond our control.

And in that sense, Adi Da was right. That we should relax. That nothing is under our control. But why relax? Because if we plan effectively and follow our plans well, we can be confident that our plans will result in what we seek.

But if our plans fail because of what we could not foresee, or because of circumstances beyond our control, we should still be able to live with the outcome. Knowing that we did what we could, and that’s all we could have done. Think of it as destiny. Something that in the final analysis is really beyond our control.

Strive to find the balance

So strive to find the balance between the two sides of this same coin. The balance between planning and destiny. Plan often and plan well. Practice and evaluation should make you a better planner. Expect to see the desired goal of your plans. The better you plan, the more likely you are to succeed.

At the same time accept that plans are only our best effort to control what we can. But we cannot control everything. Planning can mitigate the negative impact of what we cannot control or predict. But it cannot eliminate it entirely. To that extent, nothing is under control.

So control what you can while accepting what is beyond your control. And remember that the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.

Plan anyway. Planning often leads to success. Failing to plan usually ends badly.

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