Go with the flow. Depending on where you are in life, and what is going on around you, that phrase will either not mean much, encourage you, or just piss you off. I’ve been in all three places! The idea of going with the flow is part of the reason I picked the photo of the winding river for this blog. If you have ever been rafting on a large river, if you get thrown from the raft, they tell you to point your feet downstream, hold on to your life jacket, and just relax. Eventually you will clear the rapids, with no effort of your own, and come to smooth water.
Someone said that personal suffering comes from life being how it is, but we want it to be some other way. I’m here, but I want to be there. Many times, the flow of life takes us to places and through events that, at the time, we would rather not have experienced. But in the middle of one of these places or events, my wishing it wasn’t so will only make it more difficult.
I’m certainly not saying that we shouldn’t make plans or have goals. Or if we are in a situation that we don’t want to be in, that we shouldn’t take steps to change that. But along the way to the goal or a change in my situation, if things don’t seem to go as planned, that’s where go with the flow comes in. There is a great book that uses characters and stories of Winnie the Pooh to explain Taoism called “The Tao of Pooh”. Taoism is not a religion, it’s a way of looking at life. Whether a person is a Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, etc; I believe that they can all benefit from Taoist teachings. Here are a couple quotes from The Tao of Pooh that kind of talk about this, going with the flow:
“Things just happen in the right way, at the right time. At least when you let them, when you work with circumstances instead of saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening this way,’ and trying harder to make it happen some other way.”
“When you work with Wu Wei (effortlessly flowing with life), you have no real accidents. Things may get a little odd at times, but they work out. You don’t have to try very hard to make them work out; you just let them. If you’re in tune with The Way Things Work, then they work the way they need to, no matter what you may think about it at the time. Later on you can look back and say, “Oh, now I understand. That had to happen so that those could happen, and those had to happen in order for this to happen…” Then you realize that even if you’d tried to make it all turn out perfectly, you couldn’t have done better, and if you’d really tried, you would have made a mess of the whole thing.”
Again, going with the flow doesn’t mean we don’t “do anything” in life. I’ve found that when I’m in the flow, when decisions need to be made, it seems like the actions that I feel that I need to take come more freely and naturally. Also, I seem to have more wisdom about what to do. But when I’m tense and fighting against what is, I either get stuck not making any decisions, or the decisions and actions are forced and don’t always work out as well.
I’ve practiced martial arts for most of my life. As most young people do, I started out in a traditional Korean style of karate and trained in that for about 20 years. As I’ve gotten older, my body finally said, “enough”, and I have switched over to tai chi. It’s totally different than what I trained in for so long! I’ve heard tai chi explained a few ways. It’s yielding to overcome. It’s using 2 oz to redirect 1,000 lbs. And try to imagine punching a silk curtain. It gives with the force without being damaged. Many principles of tai chi apply to this flow of life. In tai chi, even though we learn forms and techniques and practice self-defense drills, we won’t know exactly what to do until the attack comes. At that time, we feel what needs to be done in that instant, without any kind of pre-planning. My instructor tries to get us to think less, and feel more. It’s hard to do! We have to be in the moment, with total relaxation, and just follow the force that is coming at us. If we think too much about it, tension creeps in. Many times, my instructor will attack with force and I’ll get stuck, not able to redirect. Then he says to me, breathe and laugh! As I breathe and laugh, the tension disappears from my body, the natural flow of energy happens, and I’m able to easily defend myself with no effort at all. It’s really fascinating! Any fighting against what is happening with force, just gives the other person more force or power to use against me. How much like life is that? A situation arises that I don’t like, and I start complaining about it. Well, that just makes the situation look bigger or worse than it really is. Does anyone else experience this?
I’ve learned some things that I practice that help me “flow”. There are probably some folks thinking, “oh great, next he’ll have us burning incense and using essential oils”. LOL Not just yet. 🙂 All this is not as “woo woo”, out there as it might sound. These are just practical exercises, like doing pushups to strengthen your upper body. The first one is not judging what is happening as good or bad, but it just is. We will talk more about that idea in more depth another time. Breathing is a big help as well. I breathe into my belly through my nose, and as I simply let the air out with no force, I try to focus on an area where I feel tense. It may take several breaths for me to notice a decrease in tension, but it works. Lastly, purposely smiling more. And if you can work in some more laughter, that helps a lot as well. I encourage you to practice these and see if they don’t help you get through some of the not-so-fun parts of the flow of life.
Smile, breathe, go with the flow. And maybe try burning some incense. 🙂