May is rich with the real-life drama of transition. The warm weather that’s been poking around finally comes out and takes over the streets. Trees leaf out with such vehemence you can almost hear them unfurling. May is the start of the season of graduations, commencements, and family reunions – and inevitably, the season of high expectations.
And nothing sets us up for disappointment like high expectations.
My brother, my niece and my nephew were due to arrive at my house last week for a rare week of vacation together. I had stocked up with all their favorite goodies, made up the guest room, and prepared for the 10pm ride to the airport with giddy anticipation.
When the first text came in telling me their flight was delayed by 3 hours due to bad storms, I was disappointed – but not as disappointed as I was an hour later when the flight was cancelled, and since every flight in 6 surrounding states was also cancelled, they couldn’t get a new flight for 48 hours. I was crestfallen.
How can we best enjoy the excitement of this season – and the inevitable changes in plans – without setting ourselves up for disappointment? Here are some words of wisdom I’ve been working with this week…
“Go with the flow.” My grandmother used to say this. It conjures up images of floating effortlessly down a sun-dappled river in an inner tube. It echoes many of the ancient wisdom texts, like the Bhagavad Gita, “do your action, and be unattached to the outcome.”
When I have an intended outcome and it doesn’t show up, usually that is the moment I become aware I was attached to an outcome. As long as life is flowing in the desired direction, I don’t feel “attached” to it – it’s just reality!
However, when that flight got cancelled, I was suddenly aware I was quite attached to a 10pm drive to the airport. I was attached to the special breakfast I had planned for the next morning. I felt so frustrated and heartbroken.
The next morning, I remembered I had the option to “go with the flow,” especially since there was nothing I could do to change the fact that they weren’t here. I started looking for what was flowing with me in this new direction. I looked ahead to a day of no commitments. It was beautiful out, so I went for a long walk, and ended up in my garden for several hours – missing my niece and nephew, yes, but content with the present.
“Go with the flow,” implies there is a natural momentum in life around you, and you can let that momentum carry you downstream – when obstacles arise, let the current take you around them by creating less resistance to what IS.
One of my mentors offered me this subtly different take on the concept of flow: “There is only one choice: go WITH your flow, or go AGAINST it.”
Here, we turn our attention to the flow WITHIN each of us. We aren’t often encouraged to observe the natural rhythm of our own flow. For those of us with people-pleaser tendencies, we are particularly adept at noticing the rhythm and needs of others – but tuning in to see what WE are drawn to, what OUR body needs, what OUR passion draws us towards – well, that’s a less familiar undertaking.
Ayurveda teaches that there is a natural current within us that can serve as a guiding force. Often our body is the access point to observe our unique flow. Our body’s urges remind us of our needs – the need for activity, food, elimination, rest. Often we ignore those communications and go against our flow. How easy it is after a long work day, for example, to deny the body’s desire for rest and force ourselves into some activity we’ve lined up for the evening!
Alternately, our particular desires, our passions, the activities that energize us with enthusiasm – all too often we talk ourselves out of spending more time on such “hobbies” or diversions. We discount that our unique flow is guiding us in that direction, asking us to put more energy and attention there.
My mentor’s statement, “There is only once choice: Go WITH your flow, or go AGAINST it,” asks us first to do the soul-searching to recognize what IS my flow? In what direction is it trying to move me? And then, it points out that in every moment, we get to choose. We ARE choosing, even if we don’t realize it.
Working between these two sayings helps me figure out my path forward. At times, I feel myself railing against reality, fist raised against the wind, “But I want it MY way!” And then I remember to step back and look for the next inner tube to ride downstream.
At other times, I feel the people-pleaser in me getting way too active, and then I remember to turn within and ask, “What is MY flow here, and how can I go WITH it?”
In this season of graduation, of metamorphosis, of celebrating transition with those we love, finding our own middle way can be the best path out of disappointment – and a worthy skill to develop for any season.