“Go with the flow”

My thoughts on the phrase first penned by Marcus Aurelius, and later popularized in America during the 1960s

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Photo by Mourad Saadi on Unsplash

Phrases like “go with the flow” or “let it wash over you” always made me uneasy. I love organization, schedules, and having a clear plan for everything I do. If I’m being honest, I have a hard time accepting that many things in life are out of my control, which means I often strive to create order in a chaotic world.

All I had ever known was to fight the highs and lows of life — I much preferred to suppress emotions than to acknowledge consistent inconsistency. I had formed a habit of fighting the waves (external events of life) to the point of exhaustion, and that’s when I found myself in a place where I was burnt out from things I loved and my mind was constantly overwhelmed.

A woman who I admire very much explained to me why the idea of going with the flow is important, and it has changed my perspective ever since. She said it with such eloquence and grace, but essentially her message was:

  1. It is not weak to let emotions come over you like waves — actually it is quite healthy to give yourself permission to feel. Waves come and go just like emotions, so when you’re in the midst of something difficult you can cling to the fact that it will pass.
  2. Events outside your control are going to happen. You can either fight the current situation, which is an exhausting endeavor that does not stop the various waves from coming, or you can allow the tide to take you to new places you might not have ever experienced before.

After hearing this, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine myself in the ocean letting the tide wash over me and carry me. In that moment, I found comfort in the motion and peace in being present.

I’ve heard the statement “go with the flow” used in many ways, so I’ll tease out a bit of what the phrase does/does not mean to me. I don’t think that going with the flow is complacency, but instead an active acceptance of a beautiful relationship between the natural world and myself. It’s the acknowledgement that I cannot fully live well if I am always exhausted from resisting things that are out of my control. It’s the generous act of freeing up mental space to focus on creating positive change in areas of my life that I do have control over.

Now, I embrace the *cliche* idea to go with the flow. My acceptance of this mantra has not reduced my motivation and I continue strive to do the absolute best in the work I’m doing. I do not use it as an attempt to justify laziness or lack-of-action, but instead as a filter in which I can check and see if I am participating in meaningful activities and healthy ways of thinking.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed (and when I remember), I close my eyes and imagine myself in the ocean, where I can release physical and mental tension and just be.

I hope you take whatever is positive, applicable, affirming, or thought-provoking from this piece. I am a strong believer that different things work for different people, so I also acknowledge that it is okay that this might not have relevance to every individual’s current reality.

If you feel compelled, let me know your what you think in the comments — your thoughts are valuable!

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Lover of the outdoors and urban life

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