The ability to go with the flow depends on our ability to listen deeply to the voice of our own wisdom in order to hear what life is speaking. We need to learn to relate to ourselves in a way that optimizes the mind’s natural organization and balance.
Learning to “go with the flow” is one of the basic goals of many awareness practices (such as mindfulness meditation). By bringing conscious awareness to life as an ongoing process, we can endeavor to receive life: to open to life instead of struggling against it. We can practice understanding that it is simply not possible to push the river.
When we can go with the flow in this way, we come into greater harmony with ourselves and with reality. We increasingly discover, as Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron famously said, that this moment is the perfect teacher. Life carries us downstream and unfolds without effort.
The quality of presence is deep knowing of the Here-and-Now. To be present means being aware in a way which is open, attentive, balanced, and flexible. We can cultivate the ability to Be Present deliberately by practicing bringing our attention to the Here and Now. This is the art of Meditation.
We can also cultivate Presence in our relationships in the simple act of connecting deeply with someone else. When we participate in another person’s lived story, or when we create a mutually lived story with them, more than just an exchange of information occurs. Something new emerges. Happiness is born in this act of connection, of interpersonal presence. This is one of the secrets of the “here and now”.
Relational connection is the heart of our humanity.
The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
— Wm Faulkner
We are all influenced by memories and experiences we may not remember or fully understand. These live in the mind as emotional tangles or knots of emotion, thought, and behavior: areas of ‘non-experienced experience’ in the psyche which encode unhappy, negative events from the past. These tangles become the basis of self-fulfilling prophesies: long-standing repeated patterns of upsets and problems in which our emotional history repeats itself.
Emotional tangles become ingrained in our lives and show up in the recurring experiences of reactions, upsets, and problems. We need to identify these patterns and begin to see how these reflect and express unhappy, negative views of ourselves that we have taken in from others. Bringing awareness to the experience of being upset is the first step. As we change what is inside, the outside can also change.
Psychotherapy is about finding those parts of us which have been lost from awareness. What has been lost from consciousness leaves a hole , a place which feels empty – an inner sense of deep deficiency or unworthiness. When we turn our attention to exploring these empty places within, we can find memories of hurt feelings and conflicts that block our natural ability to connect to others.
Our most habitual and compelling feelings and thoughts define the core of who we think we are. When we are caught up in a sense of being unworthy, the universal sense that ‘something is wrong’ turns into the feeling that ‘something is wrong with me’. This felt sense keeps us on the run, driven by desperate efforts to get away from ourselves.
In psychotherapy we pay attention to what someone is doing to ‘fill’ the holes they feel within: addictive attachments to substances, activities, and people. Ironically, our improvised ‘solutions’ to pain most often result in new, worse problems! By exploring the strategies used to block the feeling of what is painful, and by bringing awareness to the underlying feelings, we find the path to healing.
Our empty places, our ‘holes’, can ultimately only be filled by connection: by being listened to and by learning to listen deeply to ourselves. In psychotherapy, this involves bringing attention to what is being said and what is not being said. This quality of deep listening connects us heart-to-heart and cultivates the capacity for self-compassion.
Problems are the leading edge or horizon of change in our lives. Before real change is possible, we first have to see, feel, and understand what is. What is the source of the reactivity we are encountering in ourselves? What do we perceive to be at stake? What assumptions are we making? What representations of ourselves and others are involved?
Finding the opportunities for growth within problems is possible only when we can learn to look at them in a way that reveals what we most need to see. There is intelligence in the ways that problems are constructed in the mind. This idea is expressed in the image of a lotus flower with its roots in the mud and beautiful blossom above. Metaphorically, this evokes the possibility that the mud of our struggles can give rise to growth in the sunlight of awareness.
These reflections can be the subject of deep inquiry in mindfulness meditation practice and/or in psychotherapy. We can learn to practice with problems: to bring self-reflective awareness to the mind-set we bring to problems and to cultivate a wise relationship to problems.