You Can’t Push the River

By Sara McGlothlin

I was recently listening to The Art of Living Well podcast, and Dr. Will Cole was interviewing Aaron Alexander. Alexander is a functional movement coach and founder of The Align Method, and so when I selected this particular episode, I thought I would be listening to an hour of movement-centered information. Their conversation shifted into so much more than that, and at one particular point, Alexander – when talking about business and life in general – said “you can’t push the river.” That resonated so deeply I have adopted it as a mantra. 

Additionally, I have recently started to re-read Michael Singer’s The Surrender Experiment, which holds one of my favorite quotes of all times: 

What manifests in front of us at any given moment is actually something truly extraordinary – it is the end result of all the forces that have been interacting together for billions of years. We are not responsible for even the tiniest fraction of what is manifesting around us. Nonetheless, we walk around constantly trying to control and determine what will happen in our lives. No wonder there’s so much tension, anxiety, and fear. Each of us actually believes that things should be the way we want them, instead of being the natural result of all the forces of creation. 

Are you starting to see a pattern here? There is something in me that longs for more of this mindset. One of freedom, peace, flow. Even typing those three words allows me to take a deep breath. To be honest, free, peaceful, and flowy is quite the opposite of how I feel most days. Anxious, overwhelmed, distracted, and scattered pretty much sums it up. But I have worked hard to become a student of life, so I won’t allow myself to sit and stay in that space. So again, with curiosity and questions, I find myself asking why.

Anxiety serves a purpose. It encourages action and alertness. It is a survival mechanism that is very strong. If we, as human beings, walked around feeling free, peaceful, and flowy, that increases the chances that a saber tooth tiger would catch us off guard and eat us for dinner. I have to keep reminding myself that we no longer live in the stone age, and there are only metaphorical saber tooth tigers. These take the form of work projects, to-do lists, and household chores. When you spell it out, these things don’t seem very scary. 

To surrender is to realize that you can’t push the river. Life will flow; days will unfold. There is a lot you can control, and a lot you can’t. But I always find myself showing up, doing the best I can. If I don’t get it all done one day, I will try again the next. Resistance occurs when you are dragging your feet, fighting against the current, or trying hard with all of your might to make the unfolding move faster. These mindsets will only make you feel more stressed out. 

In college, before classes started, a big group of us would float the river. This entailed rented inner tubes and coolers full of beer. Literally for a few hours, we would float down the river. It was so much fun. If I ever find myself in a mindset of resistance or pushing, I will visualize myself in an inner tube, simply floating (whether I have a beer in my hand depends on my mood). I will pick up my feet and flow.

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