I remember my first time in a Canadian canoe on the River Wye in the UK. I had this mental image of the trip. Idyllic. Floating gently down the river listening to the birds, watching dragon flies and passing a pleasant afternoon in this way.

The reality was somewhat different. There wasn’t much flow that day. The river was sluggish which meant actual paddling was called for even going downstream because we were trying to get somewhere! And somehow in the reverie I’d conjured I’d completely forgotten about paddling back to return to the starting point all within an allotted time frame.

Well. It was hard work. With young children in tow who tired easily, the lazy summer trip on the river turned into something of an endurance test, stress levels rose. Any thought of contemplating the wildlife was forgotten as it became a matter of cajoling everyone to keep paddling. We ended the trip with relief.

It struck me, we often do something similar in life: setting expectations and then creating stress for ourselves

We create a mental image of how something in our life is going to look, it might be family life, a holiday, a new job, a work project, a relationship or our retirement plan or simply that we should be in a happy and contented state of mind.

Unfamiliar with how life actually works, we blithely create what I call a Kelloggs Cornflake picture of how it should look and feel. Complete with rose tinted edges.

Then the reality shows up and something is off. The children are arguing, the weather is poor, the new boss can’t delegate, the project is going to take far longer than you’ve allowed, the man or woman of your dreams snores, your pension pot was raided by Fat Cats while you’ve been working away these past 40 years, you feel not serene, but frustrated and bored.

So we put our heads down, grit our teeth and try to work harder

We stick with the plan as best we can, feeling that familiar tinge of disappointment. Because we have set our minds to how it must be, there is no room for deviation or fresh thought.

There is another way….

When we understand that nothing  on the outside can ‘make us happy’ (because our well-being is inherent, we’ve already got it) then we find we are more inclined to settle down and tune into the flow of life.

We realise we can slow down, and go with flow of life instead of against it

It’s like putting ourselves into the flow of the river and letting it take us downstream. We might use our paddles to stay in the flow but when we realise being in the flow is all that matters, we suddenly begin to notice the scenery and our whole awareness shifts from reaching our destination to simply enjoying the journey.

In the same way in life, when we realise all we need to do is set the general direction we want to head in and then let the flow of life take care of the details we can allow our awareness to expand and enjoy the amazing show that life will deliver for us when we are awake and aware enough to notice it. The general direction can apply to something big or small.

From this settled down place, even our wish list has a different feel. It becomes more about things that occur to us to do that might be fun, fulfilling, exciting, joyful etc rather than goals we are setting to help us ‘be better’ or ‘do better’.

For example, we might want to finish a work project; be promoted to head of department in our company; learn to ballroom dance or meet a life partner. Knowing that none of these things are the source of our happiness, takes the pressure off. Allowing things to unfold has a totally different energy from the push and striving of trying to force things to happen.

When we try and direct all the proceedings we think only about how to achieve the end result.  Any hiccup feels like a spoiler and we can feel like a failure. Letting go of the ‘how’ and trusting that life will take care of those details allows a completely different relationship to time and your experience.

‘Slowing down to the speed of life’  (Richard Carlson)

Each moment becomes an unfolding as we slow down enough to notice those small nudges that prompt us to go get some breakfast, send an email, take a different route home, call up an old friend, check the job ads and a myriad other expected and unexpected cues which move us step by step in the general direction of the things we’d like to see take shape in our lives.

It may not look that different on the outside but on the inside, the experience is incomparable.

So rather than going about life as if it was just you in this poor form trying to paddle up and down your stretch of life in the allotted time, how about you put your canoe in the middle of the flow, hold on lightly to those paddles and allow the river of life to take you downstream? Who knows what wonders you might see on the way: a kingfisher, a dragonfly, an otter or a water vole?

What have you got to lose? Is paddling upstream working well for you?

I’d love to hear what you are seeing …. please add your comments.

© Juliet Fay 2017

Juliet Fay based in West Wales, UK. is a Marketing Geek and Three Principles Facilitator. Facilitating conversations in person and online with individuals, groups and teams to point people towards more ease in life and work. She also writes poems, articles, essays, prose and short stories. Contact Juliet via the Solcare website. To hear about new writing, events, programmes and meets ups, sign up to the e-mailing list here

To learn more about the Three Principles ask to join Love Your Life Again, a Facebook group hosted by Juliet Fay of Solcare, for individuals social care workers and social entrepreneurs experiencing mental stress (or serving those that do). A place to look towards a deeper understanding of who we are and how our experience gets created. In this group you can connect with others and share insights into a new understanding of how the mind works known as The Three Principles as first articulated by Sydney Banks.This is an extension of the work Juliet does at a local mental health charity facilitating conversations with members, staff and volunteers.Please ask to join. Once you are a member you can invite others into the group.