“But anyone who has experienced flow knows that the deep enjoyment it provides requires an equal degree of disciplined concentration.” ― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which is approximately an hour from Philadelphia. The Delaware River flows nearby. In the summer, it provides a lovely respite from the heat, as people lounge in colorful inner tubes and drift down stream. Sometimes, after a heavy rain, the water level is consistently high and the movement rapid.
A few years ago, the river was in the betwixt and between state. At some points along the three-hour journey with the sun beaming brilliantly down on me and the droplets of water cooling my skin, I was transported effortlessly, not needing to do anything but lie back and allow the water to carry me. At other points along the way, I bumped up against boulders beneath me and had to steer my way around them by moving my arms and legs, so as not to get snagged. At other times, I could stand up and wade around them. All part of the ride. At the end of it all, I returned to the shore, rested and rather exhilarated.
Such is it with life.
Jeff Brown, MA, author of Spiritual Graffiti, poignantly shares his thoughts on the subject:
“We are all tired. Really, we are. It’s a hard road, but it’s also a beautiful one. Perhaps we expect too much from ourselves and from others. Perhaps humanity can only make slow progress, like an inchworm. Perhaps we need to celebrate how far we have come. And rest more. And relish the simple pleasures. And look for love everywhere. There is a river near where I live. It meanders slowly, peacefully. It doesn’t ask itself why it isn’t an ocean, or a raging river, or some other thing. It just surrenders to what it is. Maybe we just need to surrender more to who we are. I think I will lie down tomorrow beside the river. And take a rest. And sweet surrender.”
What makes us wish we were somewhere else or perhaps even someone else? Is it the human condition to chronically insist that being here now, as is encouraged by spiritual teachers and conscious therapists alike, simply isn’t sufficient?
Consider your relationships. When you are with loved ones, are you truly with them, or is your mind elsewhere, all a-chatter with thoughts of everything you need to get done? Are you making eye contact with them, or is your head down, looking at an electronic companion rather than a living, breathing one? Connection grows and relationships thrive when we are in flow and harmony with each other.
What Happens When We Insist On Having Things Our Way?
Sam and Janice were engaged in the same argument that they had a week ago, a month ago, and several years ago.
This 40-something couple seemed to have it all. A magnificent home, two luxury cars, three beautiful and talented children, and yearly vacations to exquisite destinations. Even so, they were chronically unhappy. Why? Each wanted to manage their lives and schedules, since neither completely trusted the other to do it.
Janice had a more rigid and structured approach, born of a childhood in which her military-trained father ruled the roost. Sam grew up in a more laissez faire household in which he and his siblings were permitted ample freedom. Both Sam and Janice were convinced that the other, left to his or her own devices, would cause them to lose everything.
While in couples counseling, their therapist encouraged each of them to share their worst fears and deepest desires for their relationship and family. Once they did, each was more willing to let go of the symbolic rope with which they were playing tug of war. Letting it out incrementally made it safer as they were able to go with the flow.
Benefits of Going With the Flow
- Increased flexibility
- Thinking outside the box
- Open to insights that would have been impeded
- Greater resilience
- Acceptance of what is, rather than focusing on ‘what if?’
- Reduction in frustration and anger
- Lower levels of unhealthy stress
It’s All Small Stuff
In 2014, in the midst of a series of health crises, I was on my way into a restaurant to have breakfast with two friends. I had just been told about ‘incidental findings,’ while being tested for one medical condition. My first statement to my friends as I sat at the table, was “Oh no, now what?” I quickly revised it to, “Okay, God, now what?”
It felt like a total reframe as I surrendered and sought solutions, rather than falling prey to victim mentality. That allowed me to enter into flow mode, and as author Richard Carlson, PhD. encouraged, ‘not sweat the small stuff,’ as panic over something that was not a certainty would not have been productive. I knew at that moment, I had two choices. I could worry over what might be, or accept in the moment, that I had no idea what the outcome would be, so I could enjoy time with my friends and wait for the results of the tests. It was indeed a relief that the best-case scenario occurred rather than the worst.
In his bookCarlson encouraged “…when you let go of your expectations, when you accept life as it is, you’re free. To hold on is to be serious and uptight. To let go is to lighten up.”
I know that some who read these words will think I am minimizing the genuine pain and challenges that people experience. Rest assured that I take seriously the struggle that many people endure as a result of illness, injury, and loss. What I have found, both in my personal and professional lives, is that when I allow rather than worry, the river still flows and I have a choice about whether to paddle through the current or let it carry me home.