That Lao Tzu was one wise dude! Just look at that quote above. “Natural…don’t resist…let reality be…let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” It all sounds so easy and relaxing. Heck, it calms me just to read the words! It is completely rational, too: resisting the realities of Life definitely makes things harder (or “creates sorrow,” as the sage would say). I am in complete agreement with the concept of letting it go and letting it flow. Acceptance of what is. It’s a philosophy I can get behind….theoretically. Put it on my bumper. Sign me up!
There’s just one little problem: I simply cannot do it!!!
I am hopeless! I really am. I like to think I am the guy who is absorbed in the moment–very present and centered–and completely grateful for everything about my life. I am happy, too. Very much so. I wish everyone I know were as happy as I am. And yet, in the midst of all of this happiness and gratitude, I must admit to an undercurrent of tension that I have become increasingly aware of recently. I feel myself straining against the realities of my life. I am in a constant state of striving. And while striving all by itself is not a bad thing—it’s how we take the next step and grow and achieve—in my case, striving carries along with it my old friend Strife. Definition of strife: “1. Heated, often violent dissension; bitter conflict. 2. A contention: struggle between rivals.” Whom, you might ask, am I struggling against? Who is my bitter rivalry with? LIFE. Yes, LIFE itself is what I seem to be always battling. The normal flow of things and the general rules of how things go seem to be always at odds with what I want and how quickly I want it.
I want more. More time. More money. More of the freedom that comes with time and money. More time with my wife and kids. More people to read my blog. More clients. More writing gigs. More impact. More Peace. More fitness. More knowledge. More hobbies. More skills. More leisure. More of the outward and inward signs of career success. MORE!
I have a problem with patience and tolerance. I am spoiled! I really am. I simply don’t endure things very well that are not exactly to my specifications. I want the world to go a certain way. MY way. I want my dreams to come true. I want the world to see in me the greatness that I see. I want the Universe to go out of its way to align circumstances in my favor so that I can give my gifts and have them be received and appreciated by great masses of people. I want to live big and leave a lasting impact in the ways that I choose. When all of that is not happening—you know, like today and all of the other days—I become very frustrated and annoyed with the Universe. “Why are you making it so difficult for me???”
Maybe my issue—well, one of my issues—is that I don’t just want the Universe to cooperate with my dreams; I expect it to cooperate. I expect it will put that right person in my path who has read my blog and is dying to publish it in the form of a book. I expect my wife will get some huge pay raise at work so I will no longer have to work for anyone else and can focus on my own pursuits. I expect that when I finally finish my other book, people will be dying to buy it. I expect my consulting business and coaching business will catch on like wildfire.
Of course, my brain is well aware of the potential pitfalls of high expectations—especially when they are grounded in fantasy—and thinks it would be wiser to play it safe with my dreams in order to avoid being let down by the world. “The world,” after all, is full of examples of unfairness, unfulfilled dreams, and plain old bad luck. They seem to far outnumber the examples of amazing good fortune and dreams fulfilled. And Heaven knows I could avoid all of this existential angst by listening to my brain on this one. But I don’t seem to listen to my brain. It’s too logical most days. I prefer to listen to my heart. I want to follow my Bliss.
I have a lot of passions and interests. I am deeply driven toward self-knowledge, which is how my daily journaling practice began almost twenty years ago. I am perhaps even more passionate about helping others to know themselves and fulfill their potential. This is where my drive to write and speak and coach comes in. I am also insatiably curious. The list of topics that I want to study is endless. I could live happily in a library (especially if it had a well-equipped gym, because I am also passionate about health and fitness). I could read autobiographies forever. I am addicted to fresh air, too, and adore the outdoors. I am a student of religions and spirituality. I love sports, too. And travel. I am also dying to learn the guitar and the piano. Oh, and did I mention that I have these two amazing little kids that I try to spend every waking minute with (I only write these letters to you after they go to sleep)?
I REALLY want to do all of that stuff. With all of my soul, I do. Thus, I feel like I must. I don’t want to betray the callings of my soul by neglecting any of them. I feel like I wasted too much time earlier in my life by working too much instead of listening more closely to my heart and soul. I am unwilling to do that again. I have drawn the line in the sand. But how can I do all of that stuff I just listed? How do I fit it in, especially with the kids in there (believe me, I have tried to eliminate sleep from my schedule, but I just couldn’t sustain it)?
This is where the strife comes in. This is where I butt heads with LIFE and all of its normal rules and rhythms. The Rules step in and say, “Life is tough. Who ever said it was easy? Get a job that feeds your family. Pick a hobby to do one night per week. Maybe you can squeeze in one other thing to read about before bed. But don’t get greedy. Be realistic. There just isn’t time for more. You can’t improve everything all the time. Be like Lao Tzu: just let things flow.”
I get that. It makes total sense to me. And sometimes, I can convince myself to follow along for a night, or even a few days at a time. I pull out a book and start to read for some leisure, or I do some mindless web-surfing some night after the kids go to bed. It seems okay at first. I tell myself, “See, this is what normal people do.” I even think about finding a television series to follow.
But I don’t. I start feeling itchy. My soul intervenes. “Fit it all in! Carpe diem! Seize the day! MAKE YOUR LIFE EXTRAORDINARY!!!!”
That’s all it takes for me. I am back to swimming upstream again, grinding hard against the grain of LIFE, trying to fill a five-pound bag with ten pounds of my passions. I can’t help myself. It seems clear that my speed and the speed of the world will never match up. Heck, our roads don’t even go in the same direction! I am quite sure I will never be content. I will be striving for more, for better, for extraordinary. What can I say: I gotta be me!
How about you? How well do you go with the flow of LIFE? Open up your journal and bleed a little of your soul into it. Are you able to take Life as it comes and comfortably roll with it? Does the world allow you about as much time as you need to feel satisfied with your day or your week? Are there things that are important to you that you feel like you must consistently leave out of your schedule? What are they? How badly does that bother you? Is it just mildly disappointing or irritating, or does it pain your soul (my neglected passions pain me in a way I cannot even begin to describe)? Are there hobbies or interests—or even a career—that you would like to pursue before you die? Is there time available for you to begin? What is stopping you? If you have more passions than you have time to pursue them, do you think you simply have a time management problem, or do you really have an overabundance of interests by any measurement? What could you cut out of your day to make room for more of the stuff that makes your heart sing? How much do you accept the idea that LIFE is difficult and that you simply don’t get to do all of the things you want to do? Are you okay with that? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you struggling against The Rules of LIFE, or do you go with the flow?
I wish you Peace,
P.S. If this post resonates with you, I would greatly appreciate it if you would share it with your family and friends via social media or old-fashioned word-of-mouth. My hope is to positively impact as many people as possible every week, and I need your help to do that. Thanks in advance for your support.