In Siddhartha, his novel about the Buddha, Herman Hesse wrote, “The river is everywhere.” It makes sense that it was beside a river that the Buddha achieved enlightenment. If the river is the flow of life, all the things we clutter up the banks of the river with serve only to keep us from that flow. And as Hesse pointed out, the river is everywhere. We just have to learn how to see it… and enter it.
We don’t have to achieve enlightenment to find the flow. But we can practice certain things that will bring us closer to it. There are also things to avoid if possible—every day habits and “realities” that get in our way.
So what would being in the flow look like? It would feel different for everyone, but here is a general snapshot of what we’re striving for—
Happiness with right now. We so often think about what’s next, or what just happened—which we analyze and pick apart—that we forget to just breathe in the present moment. We will not find understanding by intellectually forcing the past and the present into an acceptable form, and we certainly will block our ability to focus on the beauty of now. Look (and hear, touch, smell, and taste) around you. Honor this moment.
Feeling the rhythm of life. Does that sound abstract? It’s not really, I swear! We all have “sensors” that allow us to tune in. It’s like what happens when you are on a boat. Your body, if you let it, will quickly become tuned in to the rhythm of the sea’s currents. Your “rhythm sensors” are your intuition, your gut, and other unnamable magic gifts you have if only you listen to them. When you are feeling the rhythm, you are on track and aligned with your values. You are also far less likely to feel hopeless, or as if you are on a treadmill going nowhere, or exhausted.
Emotion is the source. That doesn’t meant that you are ruled by the whims of emotion, but that you are aligned with what feels good, fulfills you, makes you happy, creates peace. It is when we are emotionally resistant, e.g. struggling, forcing things to happen, trying to control situations and people, that we become stressed and frustrated. Living out of your head instead of your heart takes a toll on body and spirit.
Why is it good to feel the flow?
You may think, “I’ve gotten this far doing things my way, and I’m fine.” If you feel good inside most every day, if even hardship and grief cannot derail you for long, if it is easy for you to make new choices or change paths because you can “feel” that doing so is right, and if you are at peace (at least mostly)—keep doing what you’re doing. When we really can enter that flowing river, even some of the time, we find that
- life is more satisfying and fulfilling
- each day, even the most mundane and normal of days, is more meaningful
- things come more easily—relationships, work, money, etc.
- contentment is the norm
- self-discovery becomes not only easier but “the point”
- our awareness is heightened
- stress and conflict diminish drastically
What gets in the way of us reaching the flow?
By now you might guess some of the things that clutter our lives so we don’t realize “the river is everywhere.” Here’s a short list:
Emotional resistance. Instead of resisting, listen to your “flow sensors!”
Fear. People fear so much that really doesn’t need to be scary. Stuff like change, the unknown, rejection, loss, the unfamiliar, strong emotion, risk, passion….
Habits. Not good habits, like meditation, but the habitual ways we do things, react to things, think about things. Notice your “default.” Is it helpful or is it getting in the way of flow?
Ego. That might include pride, control, past or future thinking, intellectualizing. In other words, the constant yammering in your head.
Pre-occupation. Oh yes. The circumstances of daily life. Being in the flow does not mean you forget to fill up your gas tank or don’t bother to cook dinner. It means you don’t allow these things to fill your mind at the expense of being in the joyful now.
Lack of self-esteem. Truly, loving yourself is where it’s at. When you feel strong and worthy, the river is… everywhere! (For help thinking about self-esteem you can check out my blogs: Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence Part I and Part II.)
I want to feel the flow!
First of all, you probably do already. Maybe not as much as you’d like, but more than you’d think. You just don’t realize what that is. It’s that feeling that bubbles up unbidden at times. Contentment, happiness, wonder, or perhaps a sense of timelessness, or being outside time. As with anything, you can practice, and with practice you’ll get better at it.
Be aware of now. See and hear and smell and feel what is around you, rather than letting autopilot blur things out.
Be consciously and intentionally open. Look at things with curiosity, trust yourself, and let go of the outcome. If you don’t have an end result dominating your now, you will see more options and find more opportunities.
Leave fear behind. Figure out what your fears are and how they are holding you back. Then move past them. Easier said than done. Start now. What will help you let go of fear?
Take responsibility for your emotions. Don’t blame others for how you feel. You are not a victim. You are the glorious star of your own flowing life!
Be grateful. Practice gratitude every moment of your life. Even when doing so seems impossible. Find the silver lining.
Being in the flow is not a passive state of being. It takes focus and hard work—at first—to achieve. You don’t have to remind yourself to feel stressed and pressured and anxious when you are running late or your boss is giving you attitude, do you? But you may have to remind yourself to be grateful, live in the moment, or stay open. The more you remind yourself, the more the “flow” will become your default, and being stressed-out and living outside the flow will become a distant memory.
Next week I will talk about how to find the flow in your love life, and how being in the flow can make your relationships happier, easier, and more fulfilling!