Be a Leaf on the Stream

Jess Vice
May 20 · 5 min read
Halfway up the Living Room trail, looking out over Salt Lake City.

Recently, I put myself in a very awkward situation. Awkward for me — from the outside, no one could really tell that anything unusual was happening (I asked!).

The experience lasted maybe an hour, but in the space of an hour, I went through an incredible range of feelings: resentful, petulant, annoyed, frustrated, helpless, panicky, relieved, embarrassed, shaky, bemused, annoyed again, and then just drained.

After work, I hiked to the Living Room — one of my favorite overlooks of Salt Lake City. And I thrashed myself up and back down the trail. I did the entire hike in just under 30 minutes. I kept stopping along the trail to catch my breath, and even saying out loud, “Vice. What is happening? Why are you pushing so hard? What’s going on, sis?”

Looking north and west, from the Living Room, over Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake

I spent a few minutes at the top, with the space to myself for the first time, watching a huge storm roll down on the city from the northwest. And all of a sudden, I knew what had been happening.

I was effort-ing.

Effort-ing is a word my life coach made up. Effort-ing is when we start scrabbling at the loose ends of things and pulling and tugging and wrestling for control. Effort-ing is worrying about ‘how.’

When I started working with Stacey almost two years ago, one of the first things she reminded me of was, “Your job is not how. Your job is to say, ‘This is what I want’ and basically submit your order to the Universe, and then go on with the things you know to do. It’s the Universe’s job to worry about how the thing will come.”

We talked a lot about a leaf floating on a stream. The leaf itself puts no effort into the direction it’s going; the leaf doesn’t fight the movement of the stream; the leaf, in each precise moment, does not experience suffering. Yes, the leaf gets “stuck” in eddies and still pools — but you know what that feels like in life. And inevitably the stream has its way — it moves the leaf along at the right time, to the right place.

Stream in Bells Canyon, Utah

In this recent hour-long experience, I came to realize I’d spoken my opinion several times prior. My opinion was supported by others, but the scheduled events continued, and I felt like I hadn’t been heard. I know that having a voice and being heard are trigger points for me, but I ignored those quiet warnings and stepped in and tried to take control of something that really wasn’t even relevant to my path in the end. And it went exactly how I expected it would. (That was the bemused bit — a very conscious part of me was saying, ‘Mm, good job. That’s exactly what you asked for’ the entire time.)

The Evidence Is Effortless

In the last two years, I have uncountable stories about opening my hands, relinquishing control, stating what I want, and consciously releasing the how. And they are each a tic mark on the side of “Let the Universe do its thing.”

Martha Beck says, “All of your emotional suffering comes from thoughts (language) about past and future, but in this exact moment you are fine. Animals, on the other hand, exist in a language-less realm where they are always in response to whatever is present.” And so they don’t suffer like we do from thoughts and worries about the future or the past.

Effort-ing is looking forward and saying, “This is not good enough!” and trying to do something about it.

Effort-ing is looking backward and saying, “That was not good enough!” and striving to be different.

Presence looks at the mind, body, and spirit in this precise moment and says, “Nothing is hurting me. I am ok,” and trusts that wants have been made known to the Universe, and the order is processing.

For me, it was fascinating how intensely physical this reminder about effort-ing was: my body shifted temperatures rapidly, my speech patterns changed, my gait and breathing rates were increased, there was a fuzziness between my eyes and my brain that slowed all of my actions. I could feel a frantic thing inside me, like a moth beating itself against the glass that separates it from the light. It was crying, “Not this way!” but I couldn’t hear.

And then on the trail, that energy continued: pushing hard up a 2 mile hike in under 15 minutes, barely stopping to breathe, and then pounding back down in the same amount of time.

Martha also says, “Every emotional impulse that comes to you is only guidance for your soul — it is not necessary for your happiness. It is a steering mechanism for the physical vehicle of your body-mind. And every emotion asks for exactly what it needs. Suffering asks to die. Joy wants to abide forever, to deepen and broaden and grow.

“Move through the world, using what is present with grace, adapting when you aren’t getting what you need, and continuously surrendering to the present. What happens then is all emotion becomes quiet.”

Southern view, along the Wasatch Range, from the Living Room

Then we become the leaf on the stream, the floater, the observer, saying, “How fascinating.” Then we stop effort-ing and become present.


I’ve had an interesting year. And I’m beginning to reread and revisit the things I’ve been learning. This is a series of posts pieced together from my journals, life coaching sessions, and booklist. I hope you enjoy.

Jess Vice

Written by

Jess Vice

User Experience. Homeownership. Whiskey. Rock Climbing. Books. Spiritual Exploration. Salt Lake City, Utah.

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