Go with the flow. It’s catchy. You might have even said it to people when you saw them struggling. But what exactly did you mean when you said it? What is going with the flow? If you had to put that into other words what would you say? That’s where a lot of people get stuck. How does one go with a flow anyway?
Let us analogise your life into a river. Way up in the high peaks you melt into a little baby trickle. You burble along to the point of becoming a toddler/brook. You don’t impact the world around you much, but you are continually growing to the point where eventually you’re a creek and you have a real flow/personality of your own. Now you can start to have a hand in shaping your own shores.
Along the way you intersect with occasional tributaries. These are the people that help you become who you become. Through them, your creek will grow and grow to the point where you’re a full-on raging teenaged river.
As a river you will continue to grow you will move through a lot of different terrain (social situations, work situations, ages, eras in time etc.). You will pass through stunningly beautiful terrain, and hostile difficult terrain. Sometimes you’ll be at your kid’s weddings. Other times you’ll be taking your spouse to cancer treatments.
You will sometimes move wide and slow, like when you’re either lazily relaxing, or other times when the bottom’s so shallow you’re not sure which way to flow. Sometimes you will crash through canyons so narrow that your sheer force of being will carve solid rock, just as you may have left a very serious scar on the person you once hurt. Sometimes you’ll move so slowly you’re silent. Other times you’ll thunder with the crush of a waterfall. All of these ways of Being are very different and yet all of this is you.
But none of that really matters because eventually you spill back out into the ocean where you are reunited with All—you become indistinguishable from your surroundings as you diffuse and ultimately evaporate—the infinite parts of you rising into the sky like some ephemeral angel to be reincarnated into new snowfall that will melt into new trickles that will form new brooks, creeks and rivers. This is the cycle of life. But what’s that got to do with defining the phrase go with the flow?
100% of that river’s journey is your life. From trickle to ocean, that’s all you. Sometimes you’re lazy and slow. Other times you’re falling so fast you can’t hold on. Sometimes the world tells you where to go and other times you make your mark on it. But whether it’s rapids or flats, the river is the river. Going with the flow just means that you’re okay with whatever part of the river you’re on/being. The point is: don’t stand on the flat parts wishing for more excitement and danger, and don’t stand in the rapids worrying because things are so exciting or dangerous.
Every river has its own flow—and yes, some are more dramatic than others. But they all have to get from the mountain to the ocean, and they’re all going to see a variety of terrain, so don’t get caught up in using your thoughts to want different terrain. Just acknowledge where you are on your river and then go with the proverbial flow. Don’t add to your challenges by talking to yourself about how you wish this part of the river was like another part of another river. Because that’s a nonsense conversation and your attention would be better placed in the Now.
All lives have rapids and slow spots. All move through beautiful backdrops and ugly wastelands. But since there is no getting around those facts why not just stop the internal discussion about what should, could or would be better? Why not just stay quiet?
This is what the Buddhists mean when they talk about acceptance. You stop arguing with what is. It’s not that you become enlightened and you have no more challenges and everything goes your way. Becoming enlightened means to come to an acceptance that there will always be such challenges. The point isn’t to prevent them from happening. The point is to be able to comfortably have them happen.
If things are tough, let them be tough. If they’re going really well—enjoy it fully. But don’t fight gravity by arguing with yourself about which way the river should have gone. It will always go the way it goes, just as you will. The point is that you shouldn’t judge your flow. You should just follow your nature and go with whatever your life presents you.
If your life is currently quiet, then you should be good with quiet. But if it’s rapids, then you should be just as good with the rapids as you are with the quiet parts. Or in other words, you should be just as good with vexation as you are with peace. That’s what it is to live the good life. That’s what people should mean when they say, just go with the flow.
Have an awesome day, regardless of where your water is flowing. 😉
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.