Go With The Flow
Posted on 21st Aug 2019
Let’s join two ideas together and see what we get.
Idea One - The other day I was wondering about the speed we’re actually traveling when we’re sitting still. It’s a wonderful feeling, sitting still. Rather quiet and restful. We notice everything around us is still, too –our papers and books and pens, the laptop and coffee mug, the chair across the room, the blinds, the lamps. Maybe someone walks by or a car passes outside the window or trees rustle in the breeze. But by and large, everything’s just there, being still.
So here’s what I wondered: How fast are we actually moving? The answer is astounding.
- The earth spins at 1,000 mph on the equator and more slowly as we approach the poles. Here in Maryland we’re about halfway to the North Pole, so let’s say 500 mph.
- At the same time, the earth speeds through space at 67,000 mph as it orbits the sun
- Meanwhile, the sun revolves around the center of the Milky Way galaxy at 515,000 mph
- And the Milky Way itself hurdles through the universe at 1.3 million mph
- Finally, space is expanding everywhere in all places at all times. The speed of the expansion depends on how far we are from another object in space. Let’s just say we’re subject to more motion as we expand along with the universe.
Why, then, do we seem to be sitting still in a room full of still objects? Why don’t we feel all that motion, or at least get a little hint of it?
The answer is relativity. Don’t stop reading! I won’t geek out on relativity, except to say that we don’t feel all the motion through space because a.) it all moves at a constant speed – if it were herky-jerky we’d know it, and b.) everything we see is moving relative to us. We are our only frame of reference so, if everything moves at a constant rate, we only notice the “little motions” relative to us – a bird flying through the air, a cyclist riding down the street, raindrops running down the window. We’re the measure against which these motions are compared. All the other huge movements through space are constant so we don’t notice them. Just little stuff.
Now here’s Idea Two – I first read a collection of verses called the Tao Te Ching (“The Way of Life”) in college many years ago. The book was written about 400 B.C. by a Chinese poet named Lao Tsu, or so tradition has it. From this simple but profound book of verses grew the ancient religion of Taoism, still practiced by many millions of people today. It’s a religion based on the principles of nature and primarily water – flowing, moving around objects, yielding to resistance, using patience and persistence to overcome obstacles, and letting nature take its course. A number of lines from the Tao stuck with me over the years, each line like a pistachio nut with a tiny crack in the seam that you just can’t quite pry open. One of the lines was this:
“Tao abides in non-action, yet nothing is left undone”.
I’ve pondered and pondered that paradox over the years. How can we get everything done by doing nothing? It doesn’t make sense. Was Lao Tsu suggesting that we spend our lives doing nothing, accomplishing nothing, producing nothing? That hardly seems like sage advice. I doubt that was Lao Tsu’s meaning, especially since he goes on to say that nothing is left undone – we take care of everything that requires doing. Intellectually, of course, I could say that Lao Tsu teaches us to act effortlessly – an approach that in Western terms might translate into acting with grace. That begins to make some sense, but doesn’t get us all the way there. Non-action is a tall order. So is nothing left undone.
So now let’s join the two ideas – moving millions of miles per hour while sitting still and doing nothing while leaving nothing undone. Both paradoxes speak to the essential notions of relativity and constancy. When the motions of the universe are constant, we can experience stillness relative to our unique position in the universe. This is a fact. This is a reality.
Likewise, when we learn to see the constant motions of life around us, we can engage in life by simply taking our unique place in the flow of events. No one can be in our place but us, and we can’t be in anyone else’s place. Yet we cling to notions of success, wealth, possessions, status, power, or happiness in ways pull us out of place, causing frustration, worry, and pain. It’s like getting herky-jerky in an interlocking set of constant motions. Lao Tsu tells us to be constant, to let our lives reveal themselves to us, and to flow with our lives in a way that takes care of everything. This requires us to be attentive and attuned, to allow ourselves to move at the speeds and in the directions that only we can know. And, very importantly, to stay in the flow by not grabbing hold of things – “taking actions” – that get us herky-jerky. The trick is to see and understand the constant flow of events in our lives, then to practice being part of it one moment at a time. Being aware in each moment, we engage in the flow without effort. But it takes a lot of effort to handle each moment when we cram it full of fears and desires from both the past and the future.
And all those objects sitting motionless around you? They’re actually moving, too – at their own pace and in their own way. In time, they won’t be there. They have somewhere else to go, something else to be – just like us.
Now mull that one over while zooming through the universe at two million miles per hour . . .
Gregory Powell, Ph.D., 2019