Life Flows On
Posted: January 21, 2019
How different people deal with life's flow…
"Life flow on . . . "
A friend of mine used to say that.
It's an interesting analogy. It brings to mind a swiftly flowing river punctuated by occasional rapids, even a waterfall or two, placid pools, perhaps stagnant backwaters. It's not always easy navigating such a river, I guess just like it's not always easy living out our lives.
As a therapist, I've observed that people seem to choose one of four responses to "life's flow." Let me share them with you using our analogy of the river.
First, some of us choose to just grab on to the bank of the river and hang on for dear life. The riverbank seems safe and secure; out in the current it looks downright dangerous.
Of course, when we try to hold on, we get pretty battered about, what with being pulled this way and that by the current. Holding on gets harder and harder, and we can get awfully frantic whenever we feel our grip slipping.
We get pretty tired, too. If we do eventually let go, we may be so tired that we won't be able to swim at all.
An example of this style might be the person who develops a safe, secure pattern for their life -- job, family, church, whatever -- and refuses to change.
No matter what happens to them, or the world around them, they cling tenaciously to the security of the way they've always done things. To try anything else is just too frightening.
Yet life flows on. Holding on so frantically, we will become increasingly stressed, anxious, frightened and exhausted. We can easily wind up withdrawing from life altogether, or let go of life and sink into stress-induced illness and death.
A second response is just to "go with the flow." We can let the current carry us along, working only hard enough to stay afloat. We don't fight the river, we surrender to it.
It can be comfortable just floating. When we do, though, the natural course of the river inevitably throws us up against a rock, or snags us on a fallen tree, or strands us in a polluted backwater.
And, not accustomed to swimming, we're likely to have difficulty getting free of such obstacles.
"Go with the flow" was a good '60s colloquialism. And people still do it. A good many of us simply wander through life doing just enough to get by. We never really develop our skills or talents; we succeed mainly by luck rather than effort.
Some of us wind up drifting from one mess to the next -- losing job after job, marriage after marriage, developing illness after illness. Mainly we just let things happen, probably because we're convinced we can't do much to change things for the better anyway.
A third alternative is to try to swim upstream. We are dissatisfied with, or downright scared of, what we see ahead on the river. So we decide to go back the way we came.
Ever try swimming upstream? I don't recommend it. We soon wear ourselves out fighting the current. The river never tires, but we sure do. Often, we just wind up swimming in circles. And when we finally give up, we are so exhausted we lose all control of our journey on the river, or simply drown on the spot.
In our culture, we do this all the time. It's the classic "type A" personality. We refuse to accept that life involves such things as getting older, surrendering dreams, missing opportunities and even failing. We deny that we can't control everything. We're convinced that if we just try harder everything will go our way -- we'll make life fit our expectations.
Another good example of this is the often-mentioned midlife crisis, which is simply an attempt to recapture lost youth -- to swim back upstream before it is too late.
A final option, and a more hopeful one, is to swim with the current of our river. We use our energy to avoid many (though not all) of the rocks and snags we see ahead, or to free ourselves from them if we do get caught.
We sometimes swim to one side or the other to explore a particularly interesting stretch of riverbank. We may even hold on for a while, but not too long. And we just drift now and then, resting, enjoying the more placid parts of the river. We control our journey down the river by learning to work with it.
We can live life this way, too. It means acknowledging the passage of years and the inevitable changes. It means owning up to our failures, celebrating our successes, and learning from both.
And it means we become aware of the rhythm of life and live out our years in harmony with it. We control our life's journey by learning both to accept it and make the most of it.
Search all articles byDr. Ken Potts is on the staff of SamaraCare Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove, Illinois. • E-mail the author (gro.gnilesnuoceracaramas@sttopk*) • Author's website (personal or primary**)
* For web-based email, you may need to copy and paste the address yourself.
** opens in a new tab or window. Close it to return here.