first published April 2018
Sometimes it seems that having a good plan, and being well organised, is the best way of moving forward in our lives. To have made the decisions that we’ve been uncertain about - finally - and to know, at last, where we’re going. Smart goals (Specific, Measurable, Agreed upon, Realistic, Time-based) committed to, action plan written, nothing forgotten. What a relief to feel that we are in control of our lives and know what we need to do. Certain parts of ourselves thrive on this way of living. It’s great for those times when we feel paralyzed by indecision or pushed and pulled between too many options. Yesterday morning was one of those times for me. I was all over the place, trying to multitask, and getting nothing done. I felt much better when I’d written myself a plan.
But sometimes the plan is made, the list is written, and the aliveness in us ignores it completely and moves in the opposite direction. That part of us that thought it was in control feels slightly put out as its arrangements are ignored, and yet, it witnesses the energy that’s available when we follow a living impulse and act from the gut rather than from the surface mind. And it’s in tuning into that aliveness, using it as the compass point we’ll follow, that we have our best chances to enter creative flow. Today I didn’t follow the plan that had soothed my scrambled brains so successfully, but the big oil painting that’s been unresolved and uninviting for ages, has been transformed into something I’m now excited about.
We could consider planning versus spontaneity as a polarity, but paradoxically much from the list - and more - got done anyway, as energy was generated from working from my gut. When I paused briefly during the painting session, I put on a washing, and in a space where possibilities for the painting’s progress were incubating, I emptied my bin and lingered outside long enough to tidy up a couple of flower beds. Then back in to paint again.
When it’s pure will power that’s running the show, it’s more tiring. We’re pushing those parts of ourselves that are resistant to being pushed. Then it becomes either/or, as there’s no extra energy.
The book title, “Don’t Push the River”, by Barry Stevens, was in my consciousness for many years before I actually read it (I loved it when I did eventually read it, a year or so ago). But there were other phrases, like drifting with the current - seen as a negative, or going with the flow, often seen as a positive. Yet as Eckhart Tolle says: “Going with the flow is for some people an excuse for not taking action and it refers usually to one's life situation.”
I was aware of these contradictory sayings when I was a student in Cyprus, and I gained some clarity about them one day when I was swimming in the sea, and a strong undercurrent began to pull me out of my depth. I’m not a good swimmer, and I was alarmed. In a moment, I realised, I could be pulled under and drowned. It happened to someone else at that beach a few months later. But as the next big wave came my way I managed to ride it far enough in to get my feet back down on the seabed, and I was able, with some exertion, to get out of the water. To aim for life can take effort.
I’m not giving up on planning. If I’m in my mind, and my mind feels fragmented, plans help. Little but important jobs are less likely to be forgotten. If there’s a current that threatens to pull me into drowning in apathy or indecision, plans can be so effective at keeping me afloat I’ll even use a timer. But if I sense a big wave going where I want to be, the plans can wait. I’m going surfing.