“Let everything flow.” “Be in the groove.” “Follow your bliss.” “Be one with universal flow."
These kinds of phrases appear to be everywhere these days, both in everyday as well as in personal growth and spiritual development conversations. But what do they actually mean? For those of you who have ever asked yourself that question, this post is my best explanation.
We've all had the experience of doing things for the wrong reason. Pursuing a traditional path of study in university because of parental pressure (but really you want to be a painter), dating a guy because he's rich (but he's a boring jerk), or staying at a job that you hate because it gives you status (but you dread getting up each morning, and are physically and mentally exhausted).
Along the way you may have felt inauthentic, or faced constant roadblocks, or may have just been miserable. You may have also noticed that these decisions made to please others, or made from a place of ego—such as to make yourself look good, or to gain an advantage over someone else—often haven’t worked out very well for you, nor felt very satisfying, in the end.
Why is this?
As humans, we love to be in control—or at least think we are in control! Many people strongly resist the idea that there might be an unseen higher power that influences our lives despite our prestigious university degrees or how hard we have worked for a high salary.
But for those of us consciously on the spiritual path, this is, in fact, exactly what we believe is happening. We accept—and from time-to-time actually experience—the presence of an infinitely wise, unseen, all-present force in our lives, which I sometimes refer to as “the Universe.” And I believe that the Universe will open doors for us, and that unexpected opportunities will come our way, when we are heading in the direction of our true soul's path. Both the experience of doors opening for us, and new opportunities surprising us in a good way, are positive signs that we are “in the flow.”
On the flipside, this same force can place roadblock after roadblock in front of us. It can make us feel uncomfortably inauthentic, and make us feel as though we are forcing things, in order to push us away from so-called “opportunities” that are not aligned with our true path. In terms of our spiritual growth, the critical issue is whether we take the time to observe the events of our lives. How mindfully do each of us observe and reflect upon the course of our own life?
Lee Papier, in an article entitled “The Universe Has Divine Timing,” writes the following:
"The universe always has the first move and it is in charge. Some things happen before you can think of them and other things happen much later than you want. There is a divine design and divine timing to everything."
For example, maybe you fail job interview after job interview looking for work as a new accountant, a career you're only pursuing to follow in your Dad's footsteps, when on a deeper level you've always known you wanted to study art therapy and start a non-profit organization to bring such work for free to immigrant children in your city. When you finally listen to your soul's nudging and actually decide to jump ship and go after your dream, you get into your first choice program AND receive a full scholarship, you get hired by your idol in the field to work under her while you get established, and you soon meet a wealthy philanthropist whose own daughter benefited greatly from art therapy and decides on the spot to give you $2 million to start your organization! MAGIC! You wake up jazzed about life every day, your body is healthy, and you feel a deep sense of purpose. THIS is flow!
There is a distinct difference between trying to force something to happen in your life because of the dreaded "should" word vs. pursuing what you love and letting things flow. The first way often leads to unhappiness, a lack of meaning, struggle, and failure, compared to the second way, which is trusting your intuition, your inner felt sense of direction, which will often lead you to a life that you are totally in love with.
This is well and succinctly put by Joseph Campbell, the renowned scholar and mythologist, who recognized the truth of the above when he observed: "We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one we have waiting for us."
What is important to clarify is that trusting in an unseen force doesn't mean that when you have a challenging day, or have to put in long hours at work, or have the first project you dislike, that you should take that experience as a sign that you are on the wrong path. Day-to-day mundane and even tedious work, and challenges of all kinds, are still stuff that is part of even the dreamiest of careers. For example, even in the most interesting of jobs travelling internationally, you still have to regularly add up your expense receipts and submit a month end accounting of your expenses. Think of the arduous training, and serious challenges that must be overcome, to have a career as an astronaut, or a cardiologist, or any number of life paths. As long as you understand that tedious or confronting times are just normal incidents in an overall path of satisfaction and purpose then you are good to go.
There is a huge difference between working your ass off to launch something that is clearly your soul's calling vs. working constant overtime at a job that makes you absolutely miserable to be around and feels totally incongruent with your deepest knowing about what you are meant to be doing (i.e., what your intuition is telling you).
Facing challenges (while doing your soul's work) - OK
Feeling like life is one big challenge (that you cannot overcome) – Not OK
Lee Papier confirms this, and echoes Joseph Campbell, when he states:
“Going with the flow isn't always easy. It may take you into the rapids and rocks of your life, so I also want to take apart this idea that somehow going with the flow is always easy. The spiritual path does not take us to a life of luxury and ease; it takes us to the life that we are meant to live whatever that may be."
So, having a deep sense of knowing within your body that you are on the path of soul doesn’t necessarily mean that things will be smooth sailing and sunshine and roses all the time, but you'll still come to know that it's right.
You may have read Mark Manson's “Fuck Yes or No” article, where he author states that unless you are able to say “Fuck yes!” about a potential partner, and they say it back to you, then you should not proceed. Simple.
I'm proposing a similar filter for you to use in your life: Every time you go to make a decision, check in honestly and deeply with yourself, and determine if it feels forced, or does it feel good in your body and soul-driven? It can be your new litmus test, your compass.
I invite you to stop and consider whether there is anything you are trying hard to make happen in your life that isn't evolving organically and joyfully. This may be an indication of an ego-based decision, or a guilt-based decision, that is not coming from the deepest, most authentic part of you.
Jim Tolles states, “…people live their lives trying to be something that they are not. In so doing, they do jobs they hate. Everything feels like a struggle. They are so divorced from themselves that they even consider this struggle to be a normal part of life. 'Work is work. That's why it's called work. If it was fun, they'd call it fun.’ And so on and so forth."
My friend, it's a lie, scam, and ugly myth that you need to suffer through things you hate for a long time to eventually be happy and successful.
Suffering is an indication that you are not doing what your soul has set out to achieve in this incarnation.
ENDLESS STRUGGLE IS NOT REQUIRED! FRUITLESS TOIL WITH NO END IN SIGHT SHOULD NEVER BE CONSIDERED NORMAL.
So get the hell off that path and re-route!
What do you love?! It's as simple as starting there.
Joseph Campbell is perhaps most popularly famous for his oft-repeated phrase, “Follow your bliss.” His full statement, from which that phrase is taken, goes like this:
"If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be."
Choosing the path of soul invariably leads to doors opening in positive and often pleasantly surprising ways. When doors aren’t opening, I believe it is the Universe's way of intervening to ensure that you do not go down a path that is going to be detrimental to your soul’s growth and the work that you are most meant to be doing. Sometimes it is a very painful process, such as letting go of a person, or a job, or a vision of your future that you want so desperately to manifest in your life—but it just isn’t meant to be.
Yet let’s be honest with ourselves. How many of us have such trust in that unseen force that we are willing to follow our bliss? And if we had the courage, would we know what to do?
Choosing joy should not be seen as representing irresponsibility—whether financial, familial, vocational, or otherwise.
In fact, many believe as Joseph Campbell does, that when you actually follow your passion, your bliss, that you cannot help but eventually be successful and take the world by storm! This is because it's what you are meant to be doing and the Universe takes care of people listening to soul and following its calling. I definitely believe this and have also experienced it.
Enduring years of hating your job for the sake of making good money doesn't have to be the only way to make good money. Things can come to you easily when your heart is in the right place.
Joy and authenticity reflect a path of soul. Constant struggle and inauthenticity often reflect a path of ego. Look out for these differences.
Trust the Universe. Trust your intuition. Put into practice your new "force vs. flow test." And always, always follow flow.
The much beloved 13th century Persian poet Jalal ad-Din Rumi put it this way:
"Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray."
I will continue to delve deeper into the topic of flow over the coming weeks by sharing a significant personal experience of this fully brought to life for me, as well as some techniques that you can use to help differentiate between forcing vs. flowing. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, always remember: the good that you are seeking is also seeking you!