"What she wanted to do was work. She threw herself deeper than ever into her studies. 'She's got the blue flow,' her teachers said. 'She's got the touch. She's got the thing we can't teach."
Ellen Gilchrist, The Annunciation
Meditate on the blue flow, let your eyes go out of focus as your whole body relaxes. Breathe in and out slowly and go deep beneath the surface of the blue stream of your conscious mind. Relax, breathe, relax, breathe... Do this every time you feel stress. Enter the blue flow...
As a long time teacher as well as human being living on Planet Earth and struggling, as we all do, to find my way, when I was reading back through one of my favorite author's books, Ellen Gilchrist's The Annunciation, and came upon the quote at the top of this post, something struck me suddenly and it was akin to those commercials where someone as that Aha! moment when they realize that they could have had a "V-8!" Oh, how very many glasses of "V-8" I could have had in my life, thought I, with a shrug.
What I realized, in reading the quote, was that the blue flow is what we enter when we are not rushing, trying to do too many things at once, scrambling and tumbling our way through life and never sitting still and simply letting go. I have meditated for over 30 years. I know all the techniques, the philosophies, I've read all the right books and studied personally with some phenomenal teachers, but because I am only too human, just like everyone else, and when life's sweeping grand gestures, or sometimes just the little daily hurdles we must constantly cross align with something huge, something that would huff and puff and blow anybody down, the littlest thing can trip us up and we fall out of the flow, into depression, anxiety, anger, and more. My goal, now, is to remember the blue flow and do my best to stay within that stream.
You know what it feels like when you are floating through life seemingly unencumbered, you've found a balance, the sun is shining, you feel loved, the day is good, and everything we do feels easy -- we can take on the world! The trick is to maintain this flow even through the dark and troublesome times, and it takes effort, but once you dip a toe back into that stream it feels so good you are ready to dive in.
The last decade of my life has been particularly difficult -- ending a decades long marriage, coming out as a lesbian, and after a couple of failed relationships that took their toll, going deeper and deeper into myself until the outside world nearly ceased to exist; all kinds of family adjustments and my mother's cancer which still has her dangling by a thread, ready to drop at one moment, and gaining a little more strength and then going lower than ever before, near death countless times in the 3 1/2+ years since they gave her only six weeks to a few months to live. The very slow degeneration, the ups and the downs, are wearying and heartbreaking, BUT, death is part of life, and we all go through it, seeing those we love die around us until our own time comes. Too, we all have little mishaps and roadblocks in our days and in our lives, and we will keep having them until the end. We cannot stop hard times from coming, but we can develop practices that keep us in the stream, help us to dive back in to the deep blue flow, and meditation is one of the most accessible, free, and profoundly life changing things that we can do. Or so I have found in my own life.
I developed a practice called Snail Mind Meditation, and if you visit the cottage site you can read through this simple page and return to it every day, even a few moments help. Simply click on Dragonfly Cottage and you will see the link for Snail Mind Meditation on the left side of the page. This practice will be in the book I am working on right now and can be done anywhere, anytime, and it's amazing how quickly one can restore a sense of equilibrium by meditating even a short time.
Also, there are incredible meditation tapes available, my favorites are available through audible.com which you can download right onto your computer (I store my library of books and recordings right in iTunes.) or onto an iPod if you have one or even burn your own c.d.'s. I have been a member of audible off and on for two years and love it and have amassed quite a collection, mostly of Buddhist material, books by my favorite writers, and wonderful novels that I have wanted to read for ages, or reread but don't have the time. I listen while I do my fiber work and it is very soothing. It puts me back into the stream.
My favorite meditation teacher whom you can get through audible is Thich Nhat Hanh. Thay, (...pronounced "Tie," Vietnamese for Teacher.) because he has the softest, most soothing, gentle voice, and he uses the deep, resonant mindfulness bell to bring us back to our breath when we drift away. Return to your breath, return to this moment, feel the still, calm, waters of gentle ease flow through and around and on beyond your body. Once you can visualize this you can make a practice of entering the stream more easily.
Now, having said that, it is as Gilchrist wrote, "the thing we cannot teach." I can tell you what I do, but my way may not be your way. The most important thing is to get ye to that flow as soon as possible and stay there as long as possible. Finally, you'll find yourself entering the blue flow automatically, without thinking. You will fall away, and you will remember. And when you are in the stream, no one, no thing, no circumstance can touch you. That doesn't mean that you won't have to deal with anything difficult, but that you can remain calm and fluid at your center, and like water flowing around rocks in a stream, you will maneuver your way through your days with an ease and grace heretofore, for the most part, impossible. We all have "old tapes" in our heads, looping around and around from as far back as childhood. These things can trip us up, pull us under, but if you have your practice under your belt you can find your way.
This reminds me of something we hear in the news every beach season here in coastal North Carolina. Every year there are reminders about what to do if you are in the ocean and caught by a Rip Tide. These are deadly whirlpools and if caught up in one you will be pulled under the water to your death. We are told not to try to swim back in to shore from where we are because in doing this we will surely drown. Rip tides only encompass small areas so what you must do is to swim parallel to shore for a time and then, out of the reach of the deadly tidal pool, you can swim safely back to shore. The thing is, as in so many other things in life, we know this, we hear it every year, and yet every year people die anyway in these turbulent waters because they panic and try to swim for shore anyway, pulled under to a certain death.
Any time we encounter a devastating or frightening event in life, it is just like the rip tide. We scramble as fast as we can to try to make something happen, and in rushing and pushing and trying to scratch and claw our way to safety, we are pulled under. If we can stop for a few moments, collect ourselves, close our eyes and breathe in and out, relax our bodies and become still, and approach the problem only when we are calm and can move slowly through it, we will find that we can walk through the storm far more steadily and accomplish more than if we were rushing through like white water on the river. It is the slow, still waters that I seek. To be a frog on a lily pad simply sitting and watching the world go by would be a very lovely thing to experience. Why did the Tortoise beat the Hare? Slow and steady beats running like a jack rabbit gone wild every time.
In the stunning, mind-altering book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, 1990, he writes:
"To know oneself is the first step toward making flow a part of one's entire life. But just as there is no free lunch in the material economy, nothing comes free in the psychic one. If one is not willing to invest psychic energy in the internal reality of consciousness, and instead squanders it in chasing external rewards, one loses mastery of one's life, and ends up becoming a puppet of circumstances."
Wise is the man or woman who follows those words. Csikszentmihalyi's book is not an easy read, but well worth the time and effort and it changes you forever. I prefer those kind of books to quick, easy reads. We've only to look around us today to see a world gone mad with materialism, dancing as fast as one can, and never, no matter how much money is made, material things purchased, or recognition gained, one rarely sees truly happy people who are using every ounce of energy to seek fame and fortune. There is more drug addiction, alchoholism, suicide and more among those seeking that path for the end result only. It is in the doing of the thing, the living of the life, the marching to the beat of one's own drummer, at one's own pace that is the key to a happy, flowing life. No one, nor anyone's life, will be perfect, but we can enjoy the ride a lot more if we work toward our goals and dreams.
Finally, I love this quote from Csikszentmihalyi's book as well...
"Half a century ago, the Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote that happiness cannot be attained by wanting to be happy - it must come as the unintended consequence of working for a goal greater than oneself."
I believe this with all my heart and so, in the face of people who think me odd or crazy, and amidst enough animals to fill Noah's Ark, and living as close to the singular moment I am in as much as possible while I do my chores, my fiber art, research and write a book, or simply kiss a pug on the nose, I do feel that "flow" coursing through my veins, a gentle streaming sense of calm. I lose it of course, but I never stop trying to reconnect to that Source within me, the still small voice within, and I will spend my life doing just that.
Be gentle with yourselves, be patient, and kind. When you slip and fall away from the path, as surely we all will, don't beat yourself up about it, simply glide back into the water, watch your breath, and begin again. Come sit with me on a lily pad...