I was catching up with my best friend a few days ago and we started talking about my new chapter of life in Wilmington. Settling into a home for a couple of years was not on my life plan four months ago and he was curious how I was doing. I told him I was doing fine and that changes like this don’t really effect me that much, you gotta just roll with life sometimes. He told me that he admired my ability to “row with the flow” (which I find kind of funny because I admire that about him).
“Row with the flow” is kind of a mantra for me (and probably many others). I first explicitly encountered the concept through a YouTube video (see below) by Halcyon when I was preparing for my first Burning Man. My application of the concept kind of goes like this…. we are floating down this river of life and we can either fight the flow, row with the flow, or pull in the paddles and just let the river rush us along. “Row with the flow” is kind of the golden mean of how to approach life.
There are certainly times when we should bunker down and fight the current, but that shouldn’t be our default position. So much of life is outside of our control and if we exert all of our energy trying to fight things out of our control we just end up too exhausted to safely navigate the river. Energy should be applied efficiently to help us reach our goals and not just used up because “we have to do something!”. No, we don’t have to “do something” if that “something” won’t bring about positive change.
On the other end of the spectrum is just letting life push us along. Instead of fighting the river the whole way, we can just let life push us around. This is victimhood and defeatism, we can blame everyone else and every circumstance for the good and bad in our life. This view is to accept that life is based on luck, fate, or God’s plan, and all we can do is forfeit our free will and suffer through it. Every success and failure is pre-determined, so why even try?
Fuck that, I’d rather row with the flow.
Rowing with the flow is to pay attention to your life and alter your course to your desires, but it involves more than that. It involves recognizing that we can only see a short way up the river and someday new bends and splits and opportunities may arise, so we may need to alter course. It means that yesterday’s notions of what will make us happy or bring us success may not apply to today. It also means that sometimes you need to navigate around blind turns into unexpected territory if you want new experiences. Sometimes, you gotta row off the map when the river gives you the chance to get out of the main current and check out an uncharted tributary. It might lead to another river or the ocean or it might dry up and force you to trudge back to your previous course… but no matter what, you will learn something if you row away from the mainstream.
Now that I think about it, I guess we have a fourth choice. We can find an eddy and just paddle our boat into the safe, calm, comforting water and die in stagnation. We can find a place that poses no risk (and thus, no reward) and is “good enough”. We can stay in shitty jobs, never leave our hometowns, and stay in relationships that aren’t good. The fear of the unknown can be overwhelming, I get that, but the unknown is where you create the life you want. You can’t change your life without making changes. You can find an eddy that has some shade and won’t allow you to get harmed, but you’ll be stuck staring at the same rocks for the rest of your life. That might be comfortable, but it certainly isn’t living.