This is one of my favorite summertime activities because let’s face it, if you’re floating down a river in a tube, your job is to simply let the current carry you while at the same time making minor adjustments to make sure you pass safely through obstacles in the water such as rocks, logs, little islands, other people, etc. This all got me thinking, as spending time in nature often does.
This time, I was thinking about the fact that at some point in our lives, most of us will spend some time contemplating and questioning what “the point is” of being here, especially in the difficult and painful times. It’s always a little easier to say, “I was meant to experience this wonderful moment,” when the moment really is packed with joy, but it’s not always so easy to say, “I was meant to experience all of this pain,” in the most challenging of times. So then, what is the point?
First, let me be clear, I recognize that there are many different ways to answer this question depending on one’s personal beliefs, religious views, spiritual practices, and life experiences. I hold the belief that there’s plenty of room in this world to accommodate every single one of them and that we really don’t need to be going around killing or hating one another because we can’t agree (oh, and by the way, we were never meant to agree on everything, we’ve just not figured out that it’s actually possible to disagree respectfully and peacefully), but I also believe that in general, we humans are driven by a couple of fundamental desires:
1. Desire to be happy
2. Desire to discover and express our unique purpose
If we figure these two things out, the rest takes care of itself…..no really it does (I’m living proof of this, but gaining this particular wisdom was no easy journey). So to explain all of this, I’m going to use floating down a river as a metaphor.
You come into this life and immediately things are put into motion. Maybe you can’t comprehend all of the details as a newborn, but a journey has begun that will not stop flowing until your physical body returns to the Earth (we’re just talking physical Earthly journey here). So you’re sitting on your little tube all happy, just floating down the river, but as a child, we’ve got people to worry about all of the course adjustments to keep us from getting hung up on the big rocks or getting stuck in an eddy, until we have acquired the skills to do this for ourselves, while all along we’re still in constant motion….moving towards something. And for those of you that did not have the adults around to take on this responsibility as they should have, well, you did the best you could at that young age and if you’re reading this, then you are still here, moving on down that river and what a testimony to your resilience and courage to have figured it out on your own!
At many points in our lives, we are faced with making some pretty huge decisions and choices that will radically alter our course. These are the moments where we try to answer questions like, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”, “Who am I going to spend my life with?”, “Do I want children?” and so on. Now this is where the wisdom of the river is often times ignored or discounted, and these are often the times when we actually end up creating unnecessary suffering for ourselves, because we forget that even though it looks like we’re not moving, we actually still are.
See, I genuinely believe that each soul born into this world has an incredibly important and unique story to live. Some souls go on to do things so great that it changes the world. Some souls lead simple lives that may appear “normal” to everyone else, but trust me when I say, that simple life is no less important than the world-changer’s life. Here’s why.
Every single one of us is on a tube on a river. We are being carried towards something. That something is our potential….our unique gifts that are waiting to be expressed and shared with the world (a.k.a. “the point”). There is almost no way of knowing where exactly we’re headed, but it’s happening nonetheless. When we get to these big life decisions and choices, if we’ve lost touch with our passion, our bliss, our soul-selves, our inner guide, then we will be much more prone to creating unnecessary suffering for ourselves. And by the way, call it what you will, soul, spirit, intuition, sixth sense, that funny feeling in my chest, a gut feeling, a hunch….this part of you will always guide you in exactly the right direction if you just choose to listen to it, but we have become exceedingly good at ignoring that inner guide and making choices based upon all of the external rules (i.e. after high school you must go to college, after college you must get married and have a family and earn six figures or else you’ll be deemed a failure by society or your family or maybe you’ve internalized this bullshit—I call it what it is folks—to the point that you deem yourself a failure).
What this means is that you’re on this river, flowing effortlessly and making minor course adjustments to move around dangers and obstacles and you don’t have all the answers, and you don’t have the next 25 years of your life all mapped out (honestly…how could you?), but when it comes time to make some of these big life decisions, we have to remember that we’re already moving towards the place we need to go….we just have to trust the river and remain open to the possibilities of the present moment. However, if we decide, “Oh, I know best and I’m going over there because it sticks to my plan,” then all of sudden you’ll find yourself butting up against a current so strong that it will eventually wear you down and carry you off anyway, but the whole experience was much more painful this way. The difference is that in one scenario, you go with it, and in the other scenario, you exhaust yourself by resisting the current because you’ve got some fixed idea (that you created in your brain by the way), that “this is the right path for me and come hell or high water that’s what I’m doing!”
So let’s say you are very strong (as we all are in early adulthood/mid-life) and you actually manage to paddle back up the river a little ways and off into this little cove that leads you to a little side stream that you have deemed to be the “right path because it fits my plans.” Then what? You’ll paddle around, explore some stuff, maybe face some obstacles you didn’t expect to face like running into a big swarm of biting mosquitoes or being chased by a water moccasin, but eventually you keep hitting bigger and bigger obstacles until you literally get stuck or hit a dead end. Oh what a horrible feeling that is in life. For those of you who have been here (and yup…I’ve been there too!), it’s literally the most helpless feeling in the world which then leads to all kinds of problems/addictions/denial because it’s so damn uncomfortable we’re willing to do just about anything to not have to feel it (this is a giant neon sign stating “Go Back!”).
You sense you’re no longer moving towards anything, but you don’t quite know why or what you’re supposed to do about it. You traveled this little side stream as far as it will go, and it’s dumped you into a mucky swamp that goes nowhere and just feels sort of crappy, but it so perfectly matched your plan and this pisses you off because you feel betrayed. So now what? You’ve done everything you were “supposed to do” right? It appears your only choice is to stay stuck and live out the rest of your mediocre life settling for the basics that you need while at the same time always feeling that there was supposed to be more (that’s the current of the big river tugging at you again by the way, and you will always be able to sense it as long as you choose to acknowledge the feeling).
Sometimes, you’ve followed that side stream so far back into the swamps that you aren’t quite sure how to get out and sometimes you even tell yourself (again, created by you in your own brain) that you can’t get out despite the fact you at least remember how to retrace part of your path back to the flow of the main river (and there will even be other people or animals that appear that are trying to point you in the right direction again, but it’s always you that has to choose to listen to them). And now…you are miserable…stuck…feeling as if there is no point….unhappy with your job, your relationship, your body, or the city you moved to—maybe you’ve got several college degrees that you never really had a desire to use, or maybe you’re in debt up to your eyeballs because you decided that you too should have the big house, fancy cars, expensive clothes and vacations (a most popular side-stream to take in our country and let’s face it, there’s a sense of safety in numbers right?), or any number of circumstances that we generally “blame” for our unhappiness. You now find yourself addicted to anything from food, substances, shopping, and even work, but if you’re honest with yourself (boy is this a tough one), then the hard truth to own is that at some point, you made the choice to paddle against the current and into this place. Now for the good news….you will always have the choice to paddle out again and hop back onto the main river! The question is and always will be….how much unnecessary pain and suffering are you willing to tolerate as a result of your own self-created fears and self-created obstacles, or because you are totally stuck on “following your plan”? Happiness (authentic happiness) awaits you…what are you waiting for?!
See, here’s the deal folks. That river you were on from the very beginning simply needs to be trusted. You will absolutely face rapids, rocks, floods, floating trees, maybe even a water moccasin here and there, but the key to true life happiness is to stop resisting the current even if your brain wants to convince you that another cove looks better. If you float down the river, remain in the present moment, work around each obstacle as it appears (and by the way, each obstacle was meant to appear at exactly that moment as they have been there waiting for you because they exist as part of the river!), then you will discover “the point,” which has actually always been the journey not the destination. It’s by taking this journey that you discover your potential, your unique gifts, your life purpose, your Truth!
So here it comes!
What if we all realized that the more we try to control our lives (there is a difference between controlling and responding by the way), the more often we’ll find ourselves paddling upstream and into mucky coves which only serve to frustrate and exhaust us? What if we woke up each morning trusting the current and simply said to ourselves each day, “Today, I’m going to kick back and enjoy this amazing view, and when I need to make an adjustment to continue down this river I will….but in the meantime, I’m just not going to worry about it until it faces me.” What if we approached the experience of being in life as a dialogue between us and life? (We are human beings after all, not human doings). This dialogue might go like this: I say hi, Life says hi back. Life says, “Hey, I’m throwing this opportunity your way…what do you think?” and I say, “Oh wow, I hadn’t thought of that, but I choose to embrace the possibilities of now instead of ignoring them and carving out my own self-created path through the side-streams and swamps where I’ll eventually get stuck. I think I’ll choose to go with the current instead of choosing to resist it.”
This sounds simple enough in some ways, but the key here is the willingness to let go of the idea that you somehow have some sort of control over external things. You and I and everyone else really don’t. What we have control over are the choices we make and our responses in this dialogue with life…that’s all. I didn’t understand this personally for many years….but after getting myself seriously stuck in some pretty mucky quicksand way back in one of those coves….I finally came to terms with this, and you know what? I can literally say that every morning I wake up with one primary feeling surging through my body. I am blissfully (seriously) excited to see what today holds in my adventure, and the happiness I genuinely feel almost all of the time now is due to the fact that I realized my only true job in life is to let the current take me where I’ve always needed to go….and the rest is just pure joy. This does not mean things don’t irritate me or that I don’t feel angry ever. What it means is that I actually allow myself to feel irritated, to feel the anger and express these emotions as they come up, and then I leave them behind as I float past these obstacles and onto the next beautiful view around the bend.
So what if we listened to the wisdom of the river? Are you ready to be happy every single day while knowing you are on your way to discovering all of your potential?