There is an old saying, “you can never stand in the same river twice.” The perspective here being that a river is forever flowing and changing. It does not remain constant or the same. Life is like a river. It is forever changing. How we view the flow of life determines our level of joy or suffering. In this week’s blog I thought I would share my thoughts on going with the flow as food for thought.
As I was traveling home from a business trip this week, the airplane that I was on turned around about 3/4 of the way into the flight. The pilot announced over the PA system that we could not land due to bad weather and that we would be returning to Vancouver. For many this can create great angst. However, there wasn’t much I could do so I thought I would simply watch and see what unfolded. Upon arriving in Vancouver the agents were in full recovery mode and had already began rescheduling people for alternate flights. I was given the choice of staying overnight. I fully expected to pay for another night’s stay in Vancouver but they offered me free accommodations. I felt a bit of resistance as it wasn’t the hotel that I had planned on staying at and I would have to take a shuttle to get there but I maintained the view of being curious to see what would unfold. As it turned out the room was fine and I was able to get a later dinner. However, the evening could have been more stressful if I wasn’t able to be curious to see what unfolded. I also felt gratitude that I was able to get a place to stay. I was safe, sound and able to catch an early morning flight. If I had let my disappointment about not arriving home overshadow my curiosity about seeing what would unfold I would surely have been much more stressed, creating suffering for myself.
While this is a minor life event, it occurred to me with the birth of a number of babies this week that major life changing experiences are often stressful rather than curiosity to see things unfold. When expecting a new baby, especially for the first time, there can be many mental stories about what it will be like, how it will change one’s world and all the fun things one can do with their son/daughter. There is the sense of moving from a couple to becoming a family. Our preconceived notions of what it means to be a family comes rushing in. Yet, when you arrive home with your beautiful new born the reality of the moment can sink in. The thoughts one has made up of how it will be are different from the realities of everyday life. Your newborn child sleeps more than you thought. Fatigue and exhaustion of all the emotions, birth and transition can leave you feeling overwhelmed and excited at the same time. If during this transition we can be open to what is unfolding versus what we think will happen, we are able to enjoy the moment more. The stories we have created in our mind will not create stress as they simply are observed as illusory thoughts that come and go. We can feel gratitude for the moment.
Death is another one of those major life events that we create stories about. Each of us will pass one day and will likely be surprised when it happens. We never know what the next moment will be and yet we go along as if we have all the time in the world. I lost a work colleague this past week unexpectedly. The pain of losing a friend is difficult, a loved one torturous and a child inexpressible suffering. In all deaths, there is the pain of loss for their physical presence and companionship. Yet, one cannot have birth without death. Life is never static or unchanging. We can’t put it on pause or hold. Each moment we are replenishing cells that are dying within our body. There is no end to the flow and cycle of life and yet there is the continuation of all things. Thich Nhat Hanh uses the analogy of a flower to express this truth. A flower could not exist if it was not for the one before it. From a single seed of a dying plant, another is born. The new flower has the essence of the former and with a combination with the sun and water will grow. It is a because of those before it and all of life that it is able to mature and bloom. So too are we. We could not be in existence if not for those before us. Their essence is in us and lives on through us. In this way, there is no death and no rebirth. The form may change but life’s essence lives on forever.
Yet, we are faced with our thoughts that say it things should be other than they are. We embrace those things that we feel joy over (a birth) and resist other events (a death) because of the story of suffering we have created for ourselves. The stress we create for ourselves would be far less if we could only be okay with whatever is happening. The stories we have already made up in our minds of how things should be is the cause of our suffering, not the event itself. How different our lives would be if we could be curious about whatever is unfolding; a change in travel plans, the birth of baby and the death of a colleague. This is not to suggest that we still won’t feel things but that we could approach life’s events with curiosity rather than resistance.
My question for you this week is, are you going with the flow? Are you resistant to whatever is happening? How are you holding yourself back or limiting your experience? Play with being curious. Suspend the story you make up in your mind and be open to whatever is unfolding. See for yourself what you create moment to moment.