Monday, November 21, 2011

Allowing the River to Carry You

There is an art to the act of surrender.  It requires a belief that all will work out for the best (successes and lessons), and having trust and faith in ourselves, others, and/or something larger than us.  This is no simple feat, yet it can be much easier than we make it if we “allow” it to be.

I am a master of scenario planning.  When faced with a decision, challenge, or even a possible situation, I identify and examine all the potential outcomes I can imagine.  With that, I work backward and distinguish the issues that might arise, the resources I have and may require, and what choices I will need to make – all the way up to the immediate moment.

While this might sound like intelligent strategizing and preparation, it can be maddening and a source of worry and stress.  Particularly when these scenarios are only possibilities, or when I only have limited information.  I can put myself on a hamster wheel, turning the thoughts over and over looking for holes and missing pieces to the potential outcomes and courses of action.  I recognize that while there are unknowns, I can make some reasonable assumptions and plan accordingly. 

This vigilance (or hyper-vigilance) is useful to a point, but it is also detrimental.  It takes away from being present and fully able to objectively see all points as they arise.  If our minds are directed toward a particular course, set of criteria, or potential warning signs and triggers, we are more likely to see only that.  There is a need for certainty and a sense of control, attempting to be adequately prepared for most any situation. 

However, there needs to be a balance.  The motto of the US Coast Guard has always resonated with me – semper paratus (“always ready”) -- and I have lived much of my life by that.  However, as I’ve witnessed all the stress and worry I inflict upon myself over the years, I am finding it equally important to cultivate this idea of “surrender.”  Let me share a metaphor that helps me visualize this act of “letting go.”

Imagine yourself in a small canoe on a wide, powerful river.  You have a pair of oars and are paddling madly, attempting to direct yourself upstream.  You are struggling and sweating to row against the current, fighting to move in the opposite course from where the river is taking you.  You suffer and stress for fear of what’s around the bend and are doing your best to resist, defend, and survive.

Now imagine that this river is life, a journey, and your situation.  That there will be many twists and turns ahead that you can’t quite see, but the river is your friend.  Any waterfall or jagged rocks you meet are there for you to navigate around and through, and you get greater experience and wisdom with each encounter.  You and your little canoe are safe, and  you can trust it will be a wild ride that can be fun if you let it be.  But also know this: the river is going to take you there whether you like it or not.  You can struggle and suffer and fight the current, or you can take a different tack. 

Take a deep breath, mustering the strength and courage to have faith and trust in you and life.  Picture yourself pulling your oars into your canoe, surrendering and allowing the river to carry you, whatever may come.  This does not mean that you can’t consider the “what ifs” and potential scenarios and make some preparations (steering the canoe with your oars).  But it will allow you to let go, relax, and pay greater attention to the scenery as its occurring.  Calm and focus will better allow you to effectively respond to whatever arises than you having your head down with your arms frantically paddling against a powerful force.

I might say carpe diem (“seize the day”) as a Latin companion to semper paratus, recognizing that there is a balance between being prepared for the unforeseen future, while drinking in the now and relishing its fragrant bouquet.  However, I think I’d prefer to close with a quote from the 1986 film character, Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  If you keep focus on fighting the current, you’ll miss out on not only life, but the many signs along the way that can help you navigate your journey.

1 comment:

Claudia said...

Hi Judah Buddha (love the name), I recently discovered your blog and enjoy your perspective. I too am a planner, and have lately begun to realize the same thing you say in your post - that because of all the constant "what if" scenarios I create, I am not present to the moment. Thanks for the gentle reminder. Happy Thanksgiving!