Friday, February 5, 2016

Go with the flow! Really?

     Last week, I made reference to an idea I had gleaned from religious/spiritual author Alan Watts. Coincidentally, at an event last evening, I recalled another work of his, actually his last:  Tao: The Watercourse Way. The reminder came as I was listening to someone describe the spiritual life (or a religious vocation) as getting into a river and, rather than fighting it, allowing the current to carry you to the river's ultimate destination. And I remembered that one of the characterizations of a Taoist way of being was simply (in current parlance) to "go with the flow." As one blogger put it: "Water is the supreme example of acceptance. It never struggles, it simply flows. It does not resist its path. It does not resist The Tao or the way. It just is. And even though water is the most humble of things—offering no resistance—it is also the strongest of things. By simply flowing, it is capable of wearing away even the most solid rock" (emphasis in the original).
      In contrast to that experience/recollection, I immediately remembered another blog entry I had read earlier this week, entitled "
Stay Happy and Healthy:  Go Fishing".* The post touts many of the benefits of fishing (primarily fly-fishing).  Mental health "Fishing is by nature a reflective and meditative activity that forces you to slow down and enjoy your surroundings."  Physical well-being: "The best [anglers] learn to develop casting accuracy through practice. This helps build hand-eye coordination and strengthens the small muscles in your hands, wrists, forearms, biceps, triceps, and shoulders." Rehabilitation: "Even the U.S. Veterans Health Administration has adopted the use of fly fishing and fly tying as a recreational therapy for injured military veterans because these calming, repetitive, low-impact activities help them regain strength and the use of their muscles." But what I recalled last evening was the bit in the blog about wading against the current, and the benefits:  "Navigating rough terrain and slippery rocks while resisting the current in a river challenges your balance, building strength in the little-used muscles and tendons in your feet, ankles, calves, and shins. Hiking up steep slopes or riverbanks builds strength in the large muscles of your legs, such as the quadriceps and hamstrings." I certainly can attest to the fact that, after a day in the river, I'm pretty worn out, and those "little-used muscles and tendons" are demanding a rest. Add to that the claim (in the image above) that 4 hours fishing burns 1000 calories . . . . I love this sport!
      And, so, in reference to making any kind of progress in the spiritual life, I began to wonder whether it was always such a good idea to pick up my feet and let the current carry me where it would.  There is benefit, on the contrary, in working "against the current". Just as in wade-fishing, we strengthen practices that can sustain us in difficult times.  We may also find that some of the extra "baggage" we are carrying gets burned away. We may also recognize that we've stumbled into a side channel that diverts us from our true goal. Carrying the metaphor maybe a bit too far, and changing it slightly, the trout in a stream generally swim against the current, maintaining their position, knowing that the current is what brings them food.
       So, perhaps, it is a good thing to let the current carry us --- some of the time. But turning around and doing the work of wading (or swimming) upstream can strengthen and feed us in ways that resting in the current cannot.

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