Monday, November 12, 2012

Understanding Letting Go and Going With the Flow

wisdom, spiritual path, going with the flow, letting go
Wisdom Road Can Get a Little Bumpy
Two of the ideas that seem to cause a whole lot of confusion are "letting go" and "going with the flow." The confusion lends itself to views that on the spiritual path we become mindless jellyfish that get tossed about in whatever direction the sea is going. People seem to think that having a will or sense of direction is somehow imposing that will on others or on life. But that is not the case.

In the interests of clearing up some misconceptions about this aspect of the spiritual path, let's talk about what letting go and going with the flow really are.


Going With the Flow and God's Will

In many respects, going with the flow is God's will. It means to tap into that eternal consciousness that permeates all of us and to listen to the rhythm and the song that is there. As we listen to this sound, we find our own harmony. And of course, we have to sing our harmony. Doing so comes from a place of effortlessly. It's much like the wind going through the leaves of the trees. Sound comes of its own accord, but there is still energy being exerted to move the wind. Without that will, then no sound arises.

Perhaps a better metaphor is that trees simply produce chlorophyll and grow leaves. It's what they do. They are exerting an energy, but it's part of the flow and part of what they naturally do. What they don't do is bark, play dead, and roll over. Dogs can be taught to do that, and the reason for my hyperbole is that in many respects people live their lives trying to be something that they are not. In so doing, they do jobs they hate. Everything feels like a struggle. They are so divorced from themselves that they even consider this struggle to be a normal part of life. "Work is work. That's why it's called work. If it was fun, they'd call it fun." And so on and so forth.

But in saying that, going with the flow isn't always easy. It may take you into the rapids and rocks of your life, so I also want to take apart this idea that somehow going with the flow is always easy. The spiritual path does not take us to a life of luxury and ease; it takes us to the life that we are meant to live whatever that may be.


Jesus and Going With the Flow

To further emphasize this point, Jesus is a man who went with the flow. Going with God's flow, however, brought Jesus into a lot of places of pain. Being in conflict with the religious establishment of the time (the Pharisees) put him in places of discomfort. He spoke out against how the dominant religion had strayed from its path, and he became a center of a movement. He also had to correct a lot of ideas that his students had in error, and eventually, he gave his life as a symbol for others. This was clearly not the path of ease and luxury, but it was an incredibly important path. Could you imagine if Jesus was all like, "Yeah, I'm not going to do this work. This is too hard. I just want to hang out and surf." How many people would never have been touched by his work? How many people would never have been able to read his parables?

So, I offer this idea to you because many of you may be called into difficult and dark places. This may simply be where your soul's path leads you, and you may never fully know how many people you will help by having the courage to do so.


Letting Go and Other Ideas About Passivity

At the core of a lot of this is the desire to be free of all pain. This is different than the idea to be free of suffering--which is one of the major tenets of Buddhism. Suffering is in the mind. The mind and ego suffer from remembering a heartbreak again and again or worrying about the future over and over. A heartbreak comes once, and then it is gone. There will be pain, and then it is gone. Life will always have pain, but holding onto it in the mind will bring suffering. In holding onto it, we act and interact with others from a place of suffering. We spread it. We become aspects of the disease itself. To cure that, we learn to let go. In letting go, we don't forget things. We don't become mindless zombies. Instead, we learn the limits of what we actually can do, and we let go of the illusion of control that we have for all the other aspects of our life. In so doing, we gain a huge amount of energy and freedom. I can't tell you how often I see students getting more and more energized as they let go of fear. All that fear was chewing up huge amounts of their energy. With that gone, they suddenly want to run around and do all kinds of things.

To which I encourage them to sit a little longer and breathe a little longer to start to own even more of their own beautiful inner space.

But what letting go is not is passive. It doesn't sit around and decide to do nothing all the time, usually (perhaps that's what it means for some people's path, but I encourage you not to hold onto this idea or immediately apply it to you). Most people will actually become very clear about when to act and when there is no need to act. All the fighting and struggling people have been doing suddenly begins to seem pretty useless. This can be a humbling realization as you see all the ways that you've mindlessly wasted energy. This inevitably returns you to a cycle of self-forgiveness; it's a place all of us return to regularly on this path.


Tapping Into the Energy of the Flow and God's Will

When you are no longer fighting yourself and you let go into the flow, you may suddenly feel really full of energy. The flow is naturally energizing. God is empowering you to live the life you want to live. With God, we're not being forced to do things we hate; we're being empowered to do what we love. And that's an incredible feeling. For some people, they'll think they are having an awakening just from no longer fighting themselves and finding this natural rhythm of life, and I'm not going to say that that won't be the case. I would only point out that you are just finding out how alive you already are regardless of any big spiritual moments. I am pointing out that the vastness of energy and ease has always been here, and while it may take you into moments of intense difficulty, I've found that more often than not that my life is so much easier on a daily basis when I am not beating myself up or forcing myself to do things that I don't want to do.

And of course, you have to do your work to discover yourself. You have to go beyond your pre-programmed, already downloaded ego-self. You have to hack into it and figure out how it operates. The more you do this, the more you understand yourself and why you want what you think you want. That's part of learning how to let go with integrity and maturity. There are plenty of immature "spiritual" ideas out there that think not caring about anything is going with the flow and letting go of attachments. It's not. Awakened and consciousness people care very deeply about the world, but we know what we can and cannot affect. We know when we are called to action and when we have to simply be present to whatever is happening even if it is something horrible. There is a clear-sight that comes in this space, but it's only going to be available when you are willing to look at the whole picture.


No Rose-Colored Glasses: Seeing the World As It Is

This last point is vital: we are not trying to see the world in any particular way. We are not trying to make the world be any particular way. We are not trying to see ourselves or make ourselves be any particular way. Letting go of ideas about the world and ourselves is what this is primarily about. Learning to find that inner flow in ourselves and trust where it takes us is also what this is about. As you do this, you may find that you have to do some very difficult things. It may mean leaving the job you hate, leaving the abusive relationships in your life, leaving your hometown, and other things. Additionally, it may mean multiple failures in the physical world, but failing by the physical world's standards is not failing for the internal world. That too must be appreciated. With that appreciation, you will have a sense that for all the energy you have exerted if you've been in a flow even if you your music shop went bankrupt after a year. Spirit does not judge these things the way the physical world does. The only way to truly know if you are in your flow is to see if you love what you are doing. If that is the case, you are on your path regardless of the outcome and regardless of how easy it is to work in the world, although I would say for my part that the physical world seems to cooperate and support me the more and more I trust the process and do the work of my heart.

With all that said, there are no rose-colored glasses here. There is no unrealistic idealism here. There is only life, and as we let go of ideas and go with the flow, we simply see life as it is. That is the only way to paddle our boats in the great stream of consciousness. If we still are imposing our own views on the world, we won't see blockages up ahead, and we'll run straight into a reef and ground our boat. Then we'll get angry at the rock and go back down the path of suffering. Instead, we learn to laugh at ourselves. It'll all okay and unfolding as it should--even in this painful moment. On the spiritual path we will still make mistakes, and then we'll start again. Because each new moment is a chance to let go, go with the flow, and start again.

Today's photo comes from my friend and reader, Becky Stiller. Please feel free to check out her beautiful work on her flickr link.
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