What it Really Means to "Go With the Flow"
One beautiful afternoon out in nature, a teacher took his students to visit a grand waterfall. As they pondered its beauty, the teacher explained how powerful and dangerous these large waterfalls can be - that attempting to swim near it would result in being sucked under, thrown against rocks, and drowned.
Just as he finished cautioning his student, they spotted an old man caught in the torrents of the water, being whipped around helplessness. The teacher knew it was likely a lost cause; by the time they would reach him he would too far gone. However, he and his students rushed to try and help, hoping for a miracle.
When they got there, the man was casually swimming away from the waterfall, safe and sound. When he exited the water, the teacher and his students surrounded the old man, demanding to know how he survived.
The old man explained he has been swimming with waterfalls his whole life and stated:
"I don't really think about it very much. If I had to describe it, I would say that when the powerful torrents twist around me, I turn with them. If a strong current drives me down, I dive alongside it. As I do so, I am fully aware that when we get to the riverbed, the current will reverse course and provide a strong lift upward. When this occurs, I am already anticipating it, so I rise together with it. Although the water is extremely forceful, it is also a friend that I have gotten to know over the years, so I can sense what it wants to do, and I leverage its flow without trying to manipulate it or impose my will on it."
In this story, the waterfall represents life and the struggles life's brings us. If we fight against it, we will likely be thrown around like a rag doll and dashed against the rocks. At the very least we will find ourselves drained of all energy from the effort.
However, if we become curious about the nature of the waterfall this leads to awareness of how it works and the ability to harness the powerful forces at play for personal gain rather than fight those powers and be left exhausted.
We can choose to allow the downward pulls in the current (setbacks) to take us, knowing that it cannot continue downward forever and will eventually turn upward and take advantage of this knowledge. We can make this a habit and allow ourselves to enjoy life rather than feel powerless to it's changing currents.
(Modified from a Confucius/Taoist/Zen Story)