Go With The Flow: Trust It

Growing up, my dad often told me to, “Go with the flow.”

As with other things he said to me growing up, this only came to have meaning to me after he was gone (…the people we love have a way of gilding us like that, even after they are gone from our lives…).

My father’s advice of ‘Go with the flow’ is majorly resonating me at this dawn of this new year; you could say it’s dawning on me now. Exactly when it is supposed to; for this is the flow. Things happen for us in their proper course and time.

While this notion of going with the flow may strike some as new-agey, it really is an ancient idea that goes back at least to the Tao Te Ching, or ‘The Way’, wherein we are taught that:

The most submissive thing in the world can ride roughshod over the hardest thing in the world – that which is without substance entering that which has no crevices.

This is why I know the benefit of resorting to no action. The teaching that uses no words, the benefit of resorting to no action, these are beyond the understanding of all but a very few in the world.

Lao Tzu

This non-action is known as the principle of wu-wei, or non-doing.

From the wu-wei Wikipedia we read:

In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu explains that beings (or phenomena) that are wholly in harmony with the Tao behave in a completely natural, uncontrived way. The goal of spiritual practice for the human being is, according to Lao Tzu, the attainment of this purely natural way of behaving, as when the planets revolve around the sun. The planets effortlessly do this revolving without any sort of control, force, or attempt to revolve themselves, thus engaging in effortless and spontaneous movement.

The Stoic philosophers, who were pantheistic and believed that the “divine spark” was in everything, held a similar view, in that nature ruled the world and that whatever happened was natural.

The Stoic Roman Emperor-General Marcus Aurelius, wrote in his Meditations:

Every instrument, tool, vessel, if it does that for which it has been made, is well, and yet he who made it is not there. But in the things which are held together by nature there is within and there abides in them the power which made them; wherefore, the more it is fit to reverence this power, and to think, that, if thou dost live and act according to its will, everything in thee is in conformity to intelligence. And thus also in the universe the things which belong to it are in conformity to intelligence.

In short, he’s telling us that there is an intelligence guiding things that we should revere, acting accordingly to its will.

Go with the flow.

And to the Stoic, anything else would be madness.

This is why they are stoic; nothing is disturbing their soul, which was seen as an “inner-citadel”.

Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.”

— Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics were wise, in knowing what they could and could not control (Stoicism became the basis for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), but they were neither fools nor new-age pollyannas. As Marcus Aurelius writes to himself:

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.

Go with the flow.

These words, of course, possess their own meaning for you.

For me, at the core of my personal mythology and center to my very being, there exists this deep and abiding “sense of destiny“. As if it is all going, and has always been going, according to some plan.

This plan does not mean I live in some ivory tower, free from pain. It means that the pain is part of the plan. As a programmer and sci-fi-minded person, I would say that my experiences have “programmed me” – perfectly.

The other option would be to believe that my experiences have been at random and that I wasn’t destined to write this, to be who I am at this moment in order to.

As Einstein said:

There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle.

Or, as Jung put it:

Synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have eyes to see.

Going with the flow is my eyes.

I lose my cellphone in my house before writing this: I’m not supposed to have it then. I walk around, stumble on an old journal in a box, and open it to a passage my soul needed to read tonight.

Whatever happens is supposed to happen. Maybe this is predetermined, my karma, I don’t know. I just know there is a flow to life – a plot if you will.

When you look back on your life, it looks as though it were a plot, but when you are into it, it’s a mess: just one surprise after another. Then, later, you see it was perfect.

— Schopenhauer

And the river of plot runs both ways: forwards and backwards.

As Jung writes in Memories, Dreams, Reflections:

When I was working on the stone tablets, I became aware of the fateful links between me and my ancestors. I feel very strongly that I am under the influence of things or questions which were left incomplete and unanswered by my parents and grandparents and more distant ancestors. It often seems as if there were an impersonal karma within a family, which is passed on from parents to children. It has always seemed to me that I had to answer questions which fate had posed to my forefathers, and which had not yet been answered, or as if I had to complete, or perhaps continue, things which previous ages had left unfinished.

So there is no resenting past, future, or present – this is not to say abandon yourself completely to wu-wei, but if you do, you are meant to.

Just as if you suffer some inner or outer situation willfully, and continue to, you are choosing to.

However, our pain usually ends up making sense – giving us meaning. It’s nonetheless difficult to endure, but I say aleap into trusting all of it. The pain too.

Leap into the wholeness of the flow. Release your assumptions about how things are supposed to be (Ego is the part of us that wants things to be or not to be a certain way).

Synchronistically, I’m listening to Van Morrison on shuffle via Alexa as I write this – he has a huge catalogue btw – and the song on now, he is singing:

On thing I’ve learned after all these years, you’re gong to save yourself a lot of tears….

You’ve got to roll with the punches. Man you’ve got to try and go with the flow.

We must. We really have no other choice when we think about it.

And I’m far from advocating passivity. I’m advocating receptivity.

This is a feminine principle. The Tao is feminine. Our western religions and ideas are very masculine. Our history is. But as we enter a new age, our thinking and our feeling can shift to a different state. One of allowing rather than controlling.

Jung writes in The Archetypes of The Collective Unconscious:

Emptiness is a great feminine secret. It is something absolutely alien to man; the chasm, the unplumbed depths, the yin.

The chasm; this is what Joe Campbell was telling us, same message:

A bit of advice
Given to a young Native American
At the time of his initiation:
As you go the way of life,
You will see a great chasm. Jump.
It is not as wide as you think.

We have to jump into the flow. You see, the chasm is not bottomless, waiting to spit us out: it’s waiting for us. We need only follow our bliss to find it.

Campbell again:

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.

And where there is bliss, there is flow. Where your flow is, there is your bliss. To borrow ‘flow’ from ‘go with the flow’ and apply it to the ‘flow-state’, we have a double meaning with a whole new level of depth.

My flow is in writing, reading, nature, exercising, dancing, singing, self-care, these are all flow spaces for me.

And while I wish I could exclusively apply myself to flow-activities, I’m not there yet. I still have obligations, spaces where I am having to push myself. But that’s flow too. It’s the yang to the yin. And we have to also direct the flow (of ENERGY).

We can’t just float lazily down the river of life. We are the authors of our stories. We have to swim against the tides too.

From Hamlet:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

We must oppose our troubles. Life takes will. Life takes work. But often we are suffering from troubles that are really our own children, in that we have borne them in our minds – yet, were we to go with the flow and focus our energies on the true causes and effects of our lives, we might find a lot more power available to us.

Flow is focus. It’s focusing on the things that matter and accepting the things that don’t.

While none of us are Gods yet in a truly omnipotent sense, our Wills are nonetheless capable of directing flow now.

In the 1903 Self-help classic, As A Man Thinketh, James Allen tells us:

You will be what you will to be;
Let failure find its false content
In that poor word, ‘environment,’
But spirit scorns it and is free.

It masters time, it conquers space;
It cows that boastful trickster, Chance,
And bids the tyrant Circumstance
Uncrown and fill a servant’s place.

The human Will, that force unseen,
The offspring of a deathless Soul,
Can hew a way to any goal,
Though walls of granite intervens.

Be not inpatient in delay,
But wait as one who understands,
When spirit rises and commands,
The gods are ready to obey.

So, I implore you to “wait as one who understands” flow.

And when your spirit is ready to rise and command, things will begin to happen.

I think the problem is that we often want certainty. This is masculine thinking.

We need a balance of certainty AND trust in the uncertain. What we are talking about when we talk of leaping into the chasm or going with the flow, is entering the LIMINAL space. This is the threshold, the gap between what is and what WILL be.

In every rite of passage and throughout magic, witchcraft, alchemy, and shamanism, the liminal space is an important aspect of the transformation. Vital because it requires a trust in the unknown. I think of the liminal space as the necessary unknown. If you have taken a entheogen, you have been in the liminal space. You’ve leapt.

But a mushroom trip won’t make our dreams come true. We need a deeper, longer dive into the unknown.

This is a new year. It is the unknown. We are at the dawn of our desires, goals, and hopes for the year.

To reach them, we must go into the unknown, we must go with the flow.

It will carry us there.

If we can only trust It. This is the leap.

All we need do is trust ourselves, the universe, life.

Isn’t that what 2019 should be about? Flowing.

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the heartbeat of the universe.

— Joseph Campbell

Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations: Editions and Translations

About five years ago I purchased a vintage edition of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius from a neat little bookstore in Seattle called Arundel Books. This copy was a reprint of the 1862 George Long translation (in case you missed the Wiki link, Aurelius wrote his meditations in Greek during 170-180 AD (eighteen-hundred-and-forty years ago).

Now where I’m confused is as to whether I purchased the other edition of Meditations that I currently own before or after my trip to Arundel Books. I think it may have been the latter as I likely wanted a copy I could dog-ear and fall asleep on. Truth be told, I can hardly recall opening the vintage edition except perhaps to read a passage here and there when I’ve picked up the book to move it – from desk to shelf – or new city, as has happened since my romance with Seattle (I still love you my dear Emerald City).

As a testament to my lack of intellectual copulation with the 1862 translation (and my own lack of scholastic familiarity with Greek Philosophical works), it wasn’t until this very evening (it’s 4:57 a.m. – it’s evening if I want it to be.) that I discovered that not only do I own two separate editions but that each is a distinctly different translation of the Stoic Philosopher’s Greek writings to himself (his meditations).

Now, this is the rare occasion when I re-read one of those long David-Foster-Wallacey-sentences I just wrote and think to myself: ‘G-ddamn I sound like an airhead‘ – but in this case, I mustn’t edit myself lest I lose the tangibility of such an exciting discovery. I feel like this guy (Loved this movie).

The reason I discovered this tonight was because I began digitally transcribing two (sublimely wonderful) passages from the Fourth Book [chapter], and in wanting to save myself time I looked up a digital copy, which led me to a copy of the Long translation from MIT. Being that I have been reading the dog-eared Penguin Classics version (Translated by a gentleman named Martin Hammond), I quickly realized the two passages varied significantly in their wording.

Here are the passages in question from Hammond’s 2006 translation: (Book Four, Chapter 3, and Book Four, Chapter 3, Section 4)

Men seek retreats for themselves – in the country, by the sea, in the hills – and you yourself are particularly prone to this yearning. But all this is quite unphilosophic, when it is open to you, at any time you want, to retreat into yourself. No retreat offers someone more quiet and relaxation that that into his own mind, especially if he can dip into thoughts there that put him at immediate and complete ease: and by ease I simply mean a well-ordered life. So, constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself. The doctrines you will visit there should be few and fundamental, sufficient at one meeting to wash away all your pain and send you back free of resentment at what you must rejoin.


Finally, then, you must retreat into your own little territory within yourself. Above all, no agonies, no tensions. Be your own master, and look at things as a man, as a human being, as a citizen, as a mortal creature. And here are two of the most immediately useful thoughts you will dip into. First, that things cannot touch the mind: they are external and inert; anxieties can only come from your internal judgement. Second, that all these things you will see change almost as you look at them, and then will be no more. Constantly bring to mind all that yourself have already seen changed. The universe is change: life is judgement. 

And here are the SAME passages as translated by George Long in 1862

Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquility; and I affirm that tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind. Constantly then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself; and let thy principles be brief and fundamental, which, as soon as thou shalt recur to them, will be sufficient to cleanse the soul completely, and to send thee back free from all discontent with the things to which thou returnest.


This then remains: Remember to retire into this little territory of thy own, and above all do not distract or strain thyself, but be free, and look at things as a man, as a human being, as a citizen, as a mortal. But among the things readiest to thy hand to which thou shalt turn, let there be these, which are two. One is that things do not touch the soul, for they are external and remain immovable; but our perturbations come only from the opinion which is within. The other is that all these things, which thou seest, change immediately and will no longer be; and constantly bear in mind how many of these changes thou hast already witnessed. The universe is transformation: life is opinion.

I honestly can’t say I’ve compared both enough to pass any sort of judgement beyond the fact that Long’s (the latter) translation reeks of antiquated language (which I’m not at all adverse to), but in doing some searches on the different editions of Meditations, I came across some interesting opinions on their merits, which led me to seek out the Gregory Hays edition from 2002.

Meditations Book Four, Chapter 3, and Book Four, Chapter 3, Section 4 from Gregory Hays, 2002

People try to get away from it all—to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like. By going within. Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more free of interruptions—than your own soul. Especially if you have other things to rely on. An instant’s recollection and there it is: complete tranquility. And by tranquility I mean a kind of harmony. So keep getting away from it all—like that. Renew yourself. But keep it brief and basic. A quick visit should be enough to ward off all < . . . > and send you back ready to face what awaits you.


So keep this refuge in mind: the back roads of your self. Above all, no strain and no stress. Be straightforward. Look at things like a man, like a human being, like a citizen, like a mortal. And among the things you turn to, these two:
i. That things have no hold on the soul. They stand there unmoving, outside it. Disturbance comes only from within—from our own perceptions.
ii. That everything you see will soon alter and cease to exist. Think of how many changes you’ve already seen.
“The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception.”

In doing some brief research into Hays’ translation, I found that he was ‘deliberately trying to move away from the rather “stodgy” feel of some earlier translations, which he thought made Marcus sound too much like a sage.’

In his own words:

“I think different translations reflect different aspects of the original, like looking at a sculpture from various angles (you can’t see all sides at the same time). I was deliberately trying to move away from the rather stodgy feel of some earlier translations, which I think make Marcus sound too much like a sage. I wanted to reflect the fact that this is a text compiled for his own use, not with any expectation of other readers. He’s writing memorandum for himself, not handing down wisdom-with-a-capital-W.”

Hays also states that:

“Actually the Vatican is quite generous about allowing scholarly access. But you’re right that with the Meditations I wasn’t working directly from original manuscripts. I used several modern editions of the Greek text, of which the most recent is by the German scholar Joachim Dalfen. There’s an old but still very helpful commentary on the Greek text by A.S.L. Farquharson. I also consulted other translations for specific passages. There are a number of cases where the text has become confused in the process of copying and different scholars and translators have reconstructed the original in different (sometimes very different) ways.”

Personally, my initial reaction is that while Hays accomplishes the feat of making the writings of Marcus Aurelius approachable and digestible – the reader also misses something in the brevity and simplicity of his translation; however, I’m buying a copy of Hays’ edition because I will admit that it is in a sense much more digestible, and I wish to study the various editions – as this is without a doubt a book that I have a sincere love affair with.

I’m particularly excited to get my hands on the A.S.L. Farquharson edition (Published 1944) as he is said to have spent a lifetime on it, as well as the Maxwell Staniforth edition, (Published 1964) as a review I read mentioned his eloquent yet modern writing style.

Eventually I hope to own and become familiar with each, and I imagine the stoic philosophers would approve of my journey to find personal meaning in the various translations. And while I don’t expect I will ever learn Greek, I like the idea that I might one day commit myself to the creation of my own edition using the previous translations as Gregory Hays has done.

Perhaps a project for my retirement. Perhaps in three years. Who knows. (Starting a collection of the editions) But for now, I am going to ruminate on the two passages I have published within this entry and I hope to find meaning that I wouldn’t have found without the ‘discovery’ of the various editions.

Coincidentally enough, while I always had a sense of connection to this book, it’s become much deeper as I’ve begun producing my own ‘meditations’ and learning more about my spiritual-self. I look forward to writing more as I become more well-versed on the material. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is definitely a topic I expect I’ll be enjoying and writing on for a long time to come.

Note: If anyone has any thoughts on their favorite edition, or any recommendations for me in reading them, please leave a comment.