2 Truths & A Why: Going With the Flow

A friend encouraged me to start blogging. I like writing so was open to the idea, except for a minor hurdle.. I have no clue what to write about. Now I’m new to this space, still learning, but I believe knowing what to write is an important prerequisite for writing the what.

“What do I write about?”, I decided to pick his brains. His response was, “Go with flow”. I must really be out of ideas that I took his trite piece of advice literally and decided to write about going with the flow. I created a profile on Medium and began my blogging journey with a quick Google search.

To go with the flow means to be relaxed and accept a situation, rather than trying to alter or control it, as per Oxford English Dictionary. It has a straightforward meaning, but I wanted to trace it back to its origin. It appears that the expression was first used by Marcus Aurelius, a great Roman emperor and one of the OGs in Stoicism (a school of philosophy that I’m quite fond of). With the Stoic stamp on it, I was certain that the casual phrase, underpinned by profound ancient wisdom, has more depth to it than we realize.

It’s not easy to “be relaxed” when we’re in the middle of a global pandemic which has cost us millions of lives and caused extreme distress. How do we go with the flow when the waters are choppy? Let’s look to Marcus for advice, as he lived the last fourteen years of his life amid one of the worst plagues in European history, the Antonine Plague. His leadership helped the Roman empire rebound from the fatal smallpox epidemic (which was not ‘small’ by any measure). What did he know that helped him go with the flow?

Truth #1: Nothing is permanent.

“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.” — Marcus Aurelius

Transience is the ultimate truth of life, which is not always apparent. It helps to visualize events happening around us as objects falling in a fast-flowing river. They will all get swept away. It seems that the current pandemic got stuck (like Ever Given in the Suez Canal), but it’s moving.. The river of time will sweep it away and we should trust the process.

Truth #2: Death is inevitable.

Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good. — Marcus Aurelius

He said what he said. Death is an uncool topic that we often try to avoid. The pandemic sucks because it is a glaring reminder of the realness of death. If there’s life, there’s bound to be death. Instead of fearing death, let’s accept that we’re all dying individuals. Let’s make the most of the living moments (however many) that we’re lucky enough to have.

Why should we go with the flow?

An important concept in Stoicism is that of the dichotomy of control. The idea is to separate matters that are in our control from those that are not. What happens around us (eg. a global health crisis) is not in our control. Our reaction to what’s happening (eg. our thoughts, judgements and actions) is in our control.

Going with the flow means relaxing and accepting a situation, instead of trying to alter or control it. This sounds like a good approach when things are not in our control. When things are in our control, we should pick up our oars and row.

Going with the flow and the row helped me publish my first blog post.

I like poetry, philosophy and fridge magnets.