I’ve written before about noticing patterns in life. While causality is not an absolute fact, observing your own patterns can be helpful. I have made a lot of big decisions this month, and also taken some risks. Regardless of what it’s about—love, money, anything else—I notice a repeated reaction to situations. If it’s a situation I’m very attached to, I’m also very interested in controlling the outcome. I have to have a plan, I have to know how it’s going to work out, and I need to know RIGHT NOW. If any kind of crisis arises, or any need to look at the future, I speculate wildly in both directions—positive and negative. And I end up feeling drained and frustrated, because I don’t “know” the answer.
The fundamental lesson here for me (and maybe for you, if you’re like this) is one of trust. I think about what Alan Watts said about growing up in society:
“Instead of being quite direct with our children, we say ‘You are here on probation, and you must understand that. Maybe when you grow up a bit you will be acceptable, but until then you should be seen and not heard. You are a mess and you have to be educated and schooled until you are human.’ These attitudes which are inculcated into us from infancy go on into old age, because the way you start out is liable to be the way you finish.” (The Tao of Philosophy, 13)
In short, there is the attitude that we cannot trust ourselves, we have to be educated and let our education system tell us how best to second-guess ourselves. I’m not suggesting that education isn’t important; heck, I sometimes think I can’t get enough of it. But we put too much emphasis on logic, facts, figures, statistics, and never actually trust our feelings. There are situations when we should rely on those things, and they are important. But the power of our instinct shouldn’t be discounted. There needs to be a balance.
Tied to the lack of trust in ourselves is the need for perfection. If we make a mistake, we beat ourselves up for it. We don’t want to take risks because we “might make a mistake”. As Jung once said, “the soul demands your folly, not your wisdom.” If you don't make mistakes you aren't living. Only machines don't make make mistakes. (Well, some do, but that usually involves a human error somewhere along the line.)
So, I am trying to learn to deal with the “flow”. The expression “go with the flow” is quite clichéd, but it’s very simple advice that we often don’t take. It involves being in the moment and not worrying about how it will come out. It means not getting annoyed when plans don’t work out. And, it means not getting upset if you’re momentary decisions don’t turn out to be the right ones. In a world that stresses “minimizing risks”, this is likely seen as immature or irresponsible. But I find that if I learn to listen to myself, I don’t make the wrong decision, even if it seems like a crazy thing to do at the time.
Life is rarely a smooth ride, and things are more likely to happen through unexpected encounters, conversations, and opportunities. And because they are unexpected, you can’t plan for them. If you worry about the unexpected rather than embracing it, you spend your whole life not living your life, because of “what might happen tomorrow.”
So, in spite of some questionable circumstances, I have gone along with my feelings and decided to be celebratory rather than living under the mantle of austerity. I’ve planned a trip to New Orleans, just because. The idea came into my head for no reason, and it felt like the right thing to do, so I did it. Similarly, I have changed my course a lot lately, planning to do one thing, but changing direction at the last minute to head down a different road instead (sometimes literally). I know I’ve made the right decisions, because they feel like right decisions. I always think, wow, if I trusted myself and trusted in the process of life, I'd make right decisions all the time.
I have a good friend who was recently having some difficulties (now sorted out, thankfully). I remember her saying to me, “You know, I should be worried right now, but I’m not. I just feel like it will all work out, even if I don’t know how.” By contrast, I was tearing my hair out about my “plans”. Joseph Campbell once said that if your life is going according to plan, it’s probably someone else’s life. Life is what happens when you drop your plans.
I still have my long-term interests and goals. But how I get there is not so important now. What matters is what is right, right now. I can’t say precisely how I feel about a lot of things, and that is how it should be, as far as I’m concerned. I wake up chock full of thoughts in my head, and as I drive to work and watch the sun rise, I realize how nice it is to be doing that on a beautiful country road. I do not worry about traffic, I don’t worry about exactly what time I will get to work. I forget about time. In the end, I get there just when I'm supposed to.
I enjoy the flow, and hope that I don’t sabotage my sense of going with it.