What constitutes a good day?
One in which everything on the to do list is checked off as planned? Or one in which I went with the flow and did whatever I most desire?
Which one leads to a day in which I fully lived, tasted, loved?
The answer might seem obvious, but let’s look deeper at the question.
Which is better—a day in which I listened to the tides moving in me and in the world and let those tides be more essential than my goals and dreams? Or one in which I stayed true to my nurturing routines and carefully shaped plans?
Are they mutually exclusive? Or aren’t my cherished dreams carried on those self-same tides?
I know “going with the flow” can be a slippery slope and a cop-out in which we avoid what challenges and beckons us for a life of numbed complacency and comfort. I know how easy it is to avoid what we most long to do, especially creativity, which demands so much of us.
But I also know being an automaton, following all the plans and routines to the letter with no flexibility or space for life to show up with surprises, is not fully living. That can easily become dull habit or obsession with control.
To live the balance is not so easy, or rather to go off balance one way then the other and keep swinging, keep moving.
I wrestle within, wanting to get it right, wanting to be free and wanting to achieve things of which I’m proud. To have joy, to dance and sing and make beauty every day. Yet some days I find no time or energy once the daily tasks and the business of making a living are over.
I want to be fully alive and to have made a real contribution to our world. To make those contributions requires focus and structure and a certain doggedness. To be fully alive requires fluidity and grace and attentiveness.
These kinds of questions aren’t easy to answer. And I don’t want to resolve them with easy answers. I want to live the questions, as the poet Rilke said.
But then the world comes in with its crushing demands, its hard work and harder news. And I falter, lose my way, make stabs at things, fritter time away, neglect my heart and soul.
Most of the time I’m trying too hard, doing too much, expecting far too much of myself. But I don’t want to have nothing to show for this life. Nor am I happy and fulfilled when just drifting. Almost everything I do with my time is something I love. That’s pretty remarkable.
Joy, beauty, peace, love and freedom. I desire these. But also a deep bedrock fulfillment. Wholeness.
What brings these? Or, are they there all along, if we just look for them?
I know there are gifts in us that won’t rest until we live and share them. They will destroy us, if unused. People fall ill, become depressed, or self-destruct because they refuse the dreams of their heart and the calling of their soul, because they don’t find adequate outlet for their gifts. And our world suffers for it too.
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”—from The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels
The ambitious part of me wants books published, great art made, and yes, recognition. The animal part worries about having enough to eat, a roof overhead, to pay my bills. Another part wants only to commune with the Divine in nature and ritual.
Should I give up all this struggle and strain, all this effort and involvement, all my dreams and ambitions? Are they just creating suffering, unhealthy striving, attachment? These questions nag at me.
But, would my soul be satisfied if I gave them all up? I couldn’t even do it if I tried. I know this. And, as a teacher, coach and mentor for others, I hear every week the longing in the people I work with for more structure, focus, forward momentum in their lives, and the thrill when they begin to have direction and make time for what most nourishes them.
So, maybe “going with the flow” is surrendering to who I am, how I’m wired, what I love and need, even my restless striving and ambition. Listening to and answering the call of my soul, but staying open all the while to new information and signs, to the livingness and unpredictability of life, to the gifts each day brings.
I make my plans and schedules. I have my stabilizing, supportive routines that help me create what I long for in my life. But I have to not hold to them too rigidly or life becomes frozen. And yet not be too lax either or there are no strong riverbanks to hold my flow.
For each person, the balance will be different, and at different times in our lives we must adapt to differing needs and demands.
I long to relax and just be far more often than I let myself. But more, I long to shine, to create, to live. If I had to choose, I’d choose the latter. Knowing this, I can be more at peace with my structured life. But also not turn away from the one in me who just wants to play lightheartedly, to have adventures, to lie in the grass and gaze at the sky, who needs this sometimes.
How is it for you? How do you navigate the balance of being and doing, of reaching for your dreams or going with the flow, of structure vs. spontaneity? Share in the comments below.
To your flowing creativity, lovingly held in the strong banks of helpful structures,