Navigating Life’s Ebbs and Flows

I am one of those people who really likes to be doing things instead of just hanging out and watching Netflix. My life prior to being in Guatemala was perfect for this. As a business strategy consultant, I was always on the move. Every Monday I’d head to the airport and fly somewhere. My workdays were long and busy, filled with one meeting after another, and then staying up late, working in whatever hotel room I was in that week. I’d fly home at the end of the week and spend the weekend doing things that I love: visiting with friends, dancing, and spending time outside.

Even after I quit working as a consultant, I had a very active life: I traveled, launched a book, and then spent a year traveling and living in different countries, all while juggling designing and building a house in Guatemala, moving my belongings, rebuilding my website, developing an online course, launching a radio show and writing a second book.

In fact, until recently, I have been really busy. And then everything just slowed down and then stopped. I was alone in my jungle house, feeling restless, bored, trapped and a little depressed.

I started to look at all the negative things going on and at all the things that were not coming to fruition as quickly as I wanted to. I began to feel disenchanted with this new life that I had built.

Granted, so much had changed in my life that it was inevitable that at some point I would need to face — and live — my new reality. Being busy and flying all over the place had made it really easy for me to ignore any feelings I might have been having. At some level I needed to mourn the loss of my old life and way of being. While it hadn’t been perfect, it had been how I lived for over 16 years and it was comfortable and familiar…which my new life was not, at least not yet.

I had hit an “ebb” time of my life. And while I knew that I needed this “pause” time to catch up to myself and what I had created, it just didn’t feel good to be at this place after all the energy, movement and fun of the creating part.

Everything ebbs and flows. Our world is a cyclical world. The moon waxes and wanes. The tides go in and out. And our lives have times full of action, adventure and movement and times where everything seems to stand still (or even go backward). Each is needed so that we can learn, grow and transform.

The ebbs are a time of going inward, of things waning in our lives. Things slow down, and you may find you need more quiet or personal space. You may feel detached, disconnected, depressed or down. And sometimes, it may feel like your entire world is falling apart.

If I were to describe the ebbs as a season, I would say that they are autumn going into winter, because that’s the time of year when things start to recede, die back and go within.

In fact, the Mayans, an ancient civilization in Central America, marked the autumn’s fall equinox as an important time on one’s spiritual journey. They believed that the annual cycle of the sun represented a spiritual path of enlightenment that each person could take to increase his or her level of consciousness. To them, the cycle started with the fall equinox, since it heralded a time of growing darkness, and symbolically, a time for someone on a spiritual journey to go within and face his or her inner darkness and fears. By identifying and letting go of those parts that no longer align with higher consciousness, such as separation, polarity, judgment, hatred, intolerance, etc., a person on this spiritual journey could then re-birth him- or herself.

The Mayans viewed the winter solstice as a time of rebirth. At this time of the calendar year in the Northern hemisphere, our days start to become a little longer. Symbolically, on our spiritual journey we begin to come out of this inward, ebbing time and shift into a time of birth, creation and awakening. We’re not quite into the “flow” time, but we’re moving in that direction.

Of course, our life can ebb and flow at any time of the year, and sometimes even at different times in one day! But the symbolism here is pretty powerful, and can remind us that the ebb times of our life are important.

Often, we tend to think of the ebb times as negative or bad times. They do tend to have some not-so-pleasant aspects to them.

But what would happen if we shifted our perspective of them to the bigger gift that the Mayans defined, that ebb times are times for us to squarely face, head on, with incredible courage, our fears, our ego and our own inner darkness?

When I think of an ebb time this way, I instantly have this vision of me dressed up as an Amazon warrior, ready to do battle and bring more light to the world, to MY world.

This is exactly what the ebb times are for: to release whatever needs to be released — aspects of yourself, relationships, jobs, beliefs, etc. — so that you can bring more light in.

These are times in your life where things are in an increasing or growing mode. Perhaps you have more energy, or your projects are coming together quickly and easily. You may feel passionate about something or someone, and may have a greater feeling of connection with others and world around you. There is a lightness around you and what you are doing. You may even feel like you’re on top of the world.

From a season perspective, flow time aligns with spring going through summer. Spring is when things start to wake up and grow, and we realize that the long, dark winter is coming to an end.

The Mayans marked the spring equinox as the beginning of a time of growth and resurrection. For those on the spiritual journey, it was time to begin something new, expand something already started, or to set intentions on what to create during this time.

We often view flow times as positive times, and it can be! You may be on such a groundswell of energy and forward momentum that you lose all track of time. You may discover skills, strengths and internal wisdom that you didn’t even know you had. But like everything in life, the flow times have both a light and a shadow aspect. For example, we can get addicted to the flow time and the energy movement associated with it, like I did, and resist the ebb times. Or we can get so caught up into the flow time that we lose perspective or ignore other important things in our lives.

If the ebb times are meant to help us work through and release as best we can our fears, our ego, and our inner darkness, the flow times are meant to help us grow even more after the releases have been made.

It is a time to bring our newly defined self and our newly defined aspects of our lives that we wish to create forward, and let the sun (ourselves and our community) nurture them and let them grow and take root.

That’s the cycle of our lives, of our ebb and flow times: we go within and work on ourselves and what we want for our lives. We get clarity, and then we bring it out into the world and take the steps to make it happen and integrate it. We make some progress and then we stop again, go within and go deeper, to further refine ourselves and our life vision going forward.

It’s pretty easy to know when you are in an ebb time or a flow time. However, to best manage and maximize the ebb and flow times of your life, you need to first be able to recognize when you are transitioning from one to the other. There are a number of things that, when taken together, can indicate a time of transition:

  • One of the first things you can look at is your energy level and what it is doing. Has your energy been low and now you’re starting to feel restless or just a little bit more energetic? You may be transitioning from an ebb time to a flow time. Or, have you felt really energetic but now are starting to feel tired or that you’re slowing down? You may be headed from a flow time to an ebb time.
  • Likewise, what is going on with your creativity? Are you waking up in the middle of the night or can’t take a shower without ideas popping into your head about what you should be doing with your life, or on that project, or with that relationship…when just a brief time ago you were unsure of what to do and couldn’t come up with creative solutions to the issues you were working on? You may be transitioning from ebb to flow. Or are you finding that your creative ideas are starting to slow down? You may be moving into an ebb time.
  • What is going on in terms of your social life? Have you been surrounding yourself with friends and family outings and are now having an urge to just stay at home and curl up on the couch in quiet? Or, has the opposite started happening: you’ve been in a hermit mode for a while now and suddenly are feeling like you want to go out and about with friends?
  • And, what is going on with your emotions? Have you generally felt positive and excited about what is going on in your life, and then you wake up one morning feeling “off” or sad or depressed or just not quite the same that you had been? You may be shifting into an ebb time. Or, if you’ve been feeling neutral or sad for no reason that you could ascribe to, and then wake up one morning and feel a spark of interest and positivity in life, you may be heading toward a flow time.
  • One other thing that could indicate a transition time is the status of what it is that you’re creating. Have you gotten to a point where your creation — whether it is a project or a relationship or anything else — has reached a stage completion or complete completion? You may be heading into an ebb time to get further insights and vision about the next stage of your completion.

Finally, keep in mind that you can be in both the ebb and the flow stage at the same time, but in different areas in your life. So, for example, you can be in a new relationship that you are dedicating time to and are really connecting with this new person. You are in the growth or flow stage of the relationship, while at your work, you feel as if your career is stagnant and going nowhere. You’ve been doing some deep introspection about what it is that you want to do with your life and are, therefore, in an ebb stage for your career.

First, know yourself. You have been through ebb and flow times before and have made it out to the other side. Know that you are strong and capable and have everything you need inside of you to manage through the transitions and the time you are in, even if you are going through an extremely difficult time or a time where everything is happening so fast that it is making your head spin. Remind yourself how you have gotten through in the past and let that help serve as a reassurance if you need it.

Remind yourself that this state you are in is temporary. My mom often says, “This too will pass,” and she is right. Whether we are in the depths of an ebb time and are not sure we will see the sun again, or we are on top of the world and feel like a champion — the time will pass and things will change. It can be reassuring to know that even in our darkest times, the sun will come to us. In fact, the more you can be in the present, the better, regardless of whether or not it is an ebb or a flow time. During an ebb time, if you are dealing with depression, by being present, you give yourself the opportunity to see the positive and the gifts right in front of you, rather than letting your mind create more drama for you. And it can cause us to savor our top of the mountain flow times, because we know that it will not always be like that.

Make time for self-care and nurturing. It’s easy to lose track of time, forget to eat or sleep, when we are in a flow time. Make sure you are giving yourself the breaks you need. Likewise, you may fall into some bad habits when you go inward during an ebb time — so please continue to exercise, eat healthy food, etc.

Remember to look for things to be grateful for. Gratitude has been shown over and over again to have incredibly positive impacts on our lives. When you keep your mind and your heart open, doors can open for you in both stages.

Connect with your heart and trust in the process. Ebbing and flowing is part of our lives and is part of nature. It’s necessary for all things to grow and expand. An oak tree would never be an oak tree if the acorn didn’t go “inward” under the dirt in the darkness so that it could sprout. The same is true for you.

When you are in a flow time, recognize it for what it is and work with the energy. It is a time of creation, so go for it! Actively seek out people, information, music, or whatever you need to help you continue to work with and move with this energy. Give yourself the time and space you need to do your creation work. Call in others as needed to help — you’re on fire at this time and can motivate others to join you by sharing your vision. But also make sure you are taking time to rest and recharge.

When you are in an ebb time, recognize it and that it is a time that is finite as well. Look at it, if possible, as a gift to allow you to continue to grow, evolve and develop as an individual. This shift in perspective may be all you need to do to feel gratitude for where you are at this point in your life. Set aside time to mediate, journal or do shamanic journeys so you can get in touch with what you need to work on. Be gentle with yourself and take care of yourself. You are going through some potentially deep spiritual work and this time can be draining.

At the end of the day, life’s ebbs and flows are completely natural and necessary for our own personal development and spirit evolution. When we accept that there are ebbs and flows, lows and highs, we can better navigate through life. Neither is good or bad or better than the other. Each has a purpose, and the more we can recognize that purpose and where we are in the cycle, the more we can align with the overall rhythm of life.

In my case, once I embraced that I was in an ebb time, I had a major insight about something that I had been figuratively been carrying with me for years that I had to release. Once I had that insight and acted on it, things shifted and I’m now moving toward a flow time.

Want to learn more about how to live your life authentically and courageously? Visit my website at and download my free report.

Helping people live courageously authentic lives. Six-time award-winning author, coach and shaman currently taking a walk-about the planet.

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