Going With The Flow
Just go with the flow. It’s a phrase you hear a lot these days. But what does it actually mean? How do I do it? And why do I need to do it?
Let me answer that last question first. Why do we need to go with the flow? What’s wrong with preparing and planning? If plan A doesn’t work, I can create a plan B and if plan B fails, I can prepare a plan C and so on and so on. I used to live my life like this. Imagining every possible thing that could go wrong and having an alternate plan just in case it did. Just in case. In essence, there’s nothing wrong with preparing and planning. If you’re going to camp somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, you should probably pack the rainfly with your tent because you just never know if it’s going to rain or not. If you want to travel during your retirement years, you should probably start investing in your retirement savings now. These are reasonable ways of planning and preparing and it’s actually a wise way to live.
Until our plan fails and the unexpected happens (oh man, do we hate that).
Then we humans tend to go diving down the rabbit hole of depression and anxiety because something in life isn’t turning out the way we thought it should. Although it is important to acknowledge loss and grief and allow yourself to feel those initial emotions, it’s not actually healthy or helpful to stay stewing in those emotions. And we stew because we don’t want to accept what just happened. This is when suffering starts, with our lack of acceptance. Pain is part of life, but suffering comes when we can’t or won’t accept the pain. Going with the flow of life means accepting the pain and detours that we may encounter. We don’t have to be happy about these detours, but acceptance isn’t about being happy. I accept the fact that it rains A LOT here in the Northwest. I’m not happy about it, but I accept it and I find meaningful things to do during these months. In fact, I now look forward to these months because it means I get to return to my indoor loves, like painting, editing photos, writing, and reading.
So why do we need to go with the flow? Short answer: To eliminate your suffering.
But going with the flow does NOT mean going along with injustices or being apathetic. Going with the flow of life still has you as an active participant in life. If you’re in an abusive relationship, you shouldn’t stay because you think you’re going with the flow. You need to leave that relationship and then trust that the flow of life will direct your path without that relationship. But taking that initial step of leaving the abusive relationship is the hardest and at times, most painful step to take. Sometimes we have to take action before we can enter into the flow of life. Sometimes we have to move to another location, quit a job, or make that dramatic shift in some area of our lives before we can join in the flow. But that shift is all part of the process; part of life’s plan. Without it, going with the flow can’t really work because if you’re unwilling to make that necessary shift, then you are essentially blocking the flow of life. You are blocking what life is trying to offer you.
Psychologist and author, David Richo states in his book, The Five Things We Cannot Change and the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them, that we must say ‘yes’ to the (5) givens of life: “(1) Everything changes and ends, (2) Things do not always go according to plan, (3) Life is not always fair, (4) Pain is part of life, and (5) People are not loving and loyal all the time.” If we say YES to these givens (acceptance), then we don’t have to suffer. In the second half of his book, he goes on to say, “There is a vitality in us, a sparkle – a bonfire, actually – that cannot be extinguished by any tragedy. Something in us, an urge toward wholeness, a passion for evolving, makes us go on, start over, not give up, not give in. To accept the things we cannot change does not mean that we roll over but that we roll on. Openness and creative resourcefulness happen synchronously each time we are confronted with one of the givens. Some people write their best poems when they suffer.”
I encourage you the next time you experience an unexpected detour in your life (losing your job, your partner, your house, etc.), sit quietly with your emotions about this detour. Notice which emotions are being felt (usually anger, fear, sadness, or all three). Notice where they are residing in your physical body and start breathing deeply into this part of your body. While breathing, see your feelings there and with some compassion, honestly acknowledge them. Allow your feelings to neutralize a bit. And then ask your highest, wisest Self (or God/Universe/Spirit), is there a lesson for me here? I went through this exercise recently with my therapist. I realized that I needed to let go of some control in a particular area of an important relationship. The ultimate message I received was: If you let go… even just a little, you will feel more supported and life will become a little easier.
Isn’t that what we all want?