How Going With The Flow Can Be Bad For Your Health.
I’m sitting with my eyes closed in a school hall in Dublin. Forty people I met only yesterday surround me. John Denver strums over the sound system and we’re encouraged to sing along.
This is the 80’s.
This is personal development.
“Sweet, sweet surrender. Live, live without fear. Like a fish in the ocean. Like a bird in the air.”
After 36 hours of emotional peeling I’m tender as a new born deer. Tears flop down my face as I cry-sing along to what I think is the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard in my life. Oh yes I want to surrender. I want to be free like that bird. I want to swim like that fish. What have I been so afraid of, so worried about? In that glowy moment it’s so clear that the universe is a benevolent force that just wants me to be happy and will take care of me, if only I will surrender, sweetly.
Fast forward to the other night. I wake up with a disturbing pain in my chest. I think I’m having a heart attack. Is this my time? I try to relax, to surrender. As I do I wonder who decides when it’s time? Not me obviously, I’d rather stick around for a while longer. It must be the universe, the benevolent old universe taking care of me if only I will surrender sweetly. Like the fish in the water. Like the. . .
Hang on a minute! The universe is in the process of killing me. Surrendering right now would be a really bad idea.
I get out of bed, and as I stand up the biggest burp in history explodes out of my throat like one of those trumpets heralding the end of time. When it finishes the pain in my chest is gone. Mental note; in future, no beer and pizza before bedtime. I sit down warm and fuzzy having just witnessed a Domino’s miracle.
Drifting off to sleep I wonder about surrender. Going with the flow is such a lovely sentiment; it’s full of relief and warmth and ease. The flow I’m going with is, well, call it the universe, call it life, call it God, call it whatever you like; it’s basically this vast mysterious thing you can’t see or touch, but you can feel in your whole being, well I can at any rate. I can feel it because it moves, in obvious ways like the wind and the sea and the clouds, but more subtly in the passage of lives, mine and everyone else’s. Like John Denver’s fish we’re swimming in a great unseen river that surrounds us and flows through us. I’m part of the river and the living of my life is part of it too.
And it’s not just splashing about either, the movement of life seems to have purpose, particularly in hindsight; everything comes together so elegantly, much more so than if I had tried to organise it.
I know this because most of the difficulties I’ve had in my life came about as a result of stamping my foot and insisting things go my way. It took me years to figure out that if I can tune into the movement of life and go with it, rather than fight against it, my life is so much easier. But more than that I feel a deep sense of joy when I’m in tune with life. Not the sort of joy that has me running down the street hugging complete strangers, we’re not in the 80’s anymore, but a deep satisfying joy that comes from feeling in harmony.
Of course once I’d figured out about surrender it wasn’t long before my subconscious got involved.
It wasn’t pretty.
I did outrageous things convincing myself, “it just feels right,” which was true at the time but had more to do with my unconscious feelings than feeling the movement of life and being in tune with it.
When I hadn’t a clue I’d say, “the universe will give me a sign.” and then I’d wait for some random event that seemed to point towards whatever it was I wanted to do.
The notion of a benevolent universe was equally co-opted. I’d blunder into something with disaster written all over it telling anyone who’d listen, “If it’s meant to be, it will happen.” in hindsight I’m sure there were people in the sidelines muttering, “If it’s meant to be, it will be a fucking miracle.”
Eventually I figured out what was going on and realised that the only way to tell for certain if something was the right thing was in hindsight. Nowadays I don’t use the universe as an excuse. I make my best guess knowing full well I haven’t a clue if what I attempt is going to work out or not. I do what I want with no apologies, because as far as I can see the universe is doing what it wants too.
Even though I didn’t die the other night, it looks like it will happen at some point in the future. One day I’ll face the ultimate surrender because one day the universe will kill me like it kills everything else.
“I looked for refuge in nature as many spiritual teachings used nature as an example of divinity in action. The birds of the field, the lotus blossom and so on. It didn’t help. When I looked into nature it seemed cruel and violent. Everything was eating everything else. Cute little furry creatures were gobbled up with shocking detachment. Disneyland it wasn’t. Nothing was safe.” from Maya Noise.
John Denver’s fish and the bird probably got gobbled up by a bigger fish and a bigger bird minutes after the song ended. From the outside, benevolent isn’t the first word that comes to mind to describe the universe, impersonal is more like it. I know it’s probably seeing some bigger picture that I can’t and whether I live or die fits together elegantly like everything else but I don’t know about that. I just know what I want because unlike the universe I’m very personal. What I want may not matter to the bigger movement of life but it fucking matters to me. And it’s supposed to. The fractal, holographic, all-is-one, one-is-all, model of existence sounds right to me. The whole of life is contained within me and I am a tiny part of the whole of life. What I want, life wants. What life wants, well, that depends…
I walk the fine line between wishful thinking and arrogant obstinacy. I’ll go with the flow for as long as it doesn’t try to kill me and if it does I’ll fight tooth and nail.
As usual I’m writing about myself because I don’t like to assume it’s the same for you. What’s your experience? Do you like to go with the flow? How far would you take it? Would you let it kill you?