Go With the Flow

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

A yogini told me about her family vacation several years ago, a week-long river rafting trip.  Her father had worked for two years to get rare reservations for this special trip plus assembling all his children and grandchildren for a great adventure.  They had a great time, all the way through the last rapids of the trip, where the guides checked all the straps on everyone’s life jackets, and then told them they would be running the rapids without the raft.

Assuring them that it was safe, and that they had done this with hundreds of people, they gave the secret teaching that would make it work.  “As the water swirls you right into a big rock, just relax.  It will swirl you up and over the rock and you won’t get any scrapes or bruises.”  Our yogini repeated a mantra of her own devising through her whole ride, “Shavasana, Shavasana.”  She was the only one who emerged with no scrapes or bruises.  Laughing.  Victorious.  Ecstatic.

Go with the flow.  This means is that control is an illusion.  You are not in control, no matter how hard you try to be.  Life is actually not about control.  If it was, and if you really could control everything, you’d never laugh.  You’d never love.  You’d never be ecstatic.  You have to give into the flow in order to laugh and in order to love.  You have to flow with the river in order to experience the bliss.

Life is a lot like that river.  Some sections are smooth and idyllic, and others have big boulders and churning water.  While you’re not in control, you still must understand the cause-and-effect nature of the universe, just like the river guides who paddle in just the right places and who use their paddle to steer the boat in others.  That’s not control.  That’s intelligence.

You must learn to use your intelligence in a different way than you have been.  You have been using it to try to get what you want, or to impress others, or to learn more and more stuff that fills your head with more and more thoughts, which make you more and more unhappy.  Thoughts do make you unhappy.  Just watch your mind for a few minutes and you’ll realize it.  This is why yoga focuses on quieting your mind.  This is also why we love rivers, because watching one, or even rafting on one, has a wonderful effect on your mind.  Even thinking of a river has this effect – it calms and quiets your mind.  Technically, that’s called yoga:  the quieting of your mind.

If you thought river-thoughts all the time, your mind would be your friend.  Right now, it’s not so friendly.  It harasses you.  It cuts you down.  It drives you crazy.  It never gives you a moment of peace.  So you do yoga to quiet your mind.  The lessons you learn in your yoga class and personal practice apply to life so beautifully, as do the lessons you learn on the river.  Sometimes, like in this story, the lessons are the same:  go with the flow.

Originally published May 2010