In the last five months, I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate the reality of currents
We recently moved to a coastal Oregon community, with a home situated on the West facing slope of a hill with an unobstructed view of the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean. So, pretty much everything has started to look like a current! From my perch, I can see leaves floating through the air in uncommonly predictable patterns, dirt flowing along the asphalt propelled by the wind, traffic flowing from the highway to the bridge, flocks of pelicans and Canadian geese flowing along in a current of their own.
I have been seeing how the lessons and energies of currents play out in my everyday life. What can I learn from the free-flowing aesthetics of the currents all around me?
The lessons have been numerous, of course, but I’d like to talk about just one now. The lesson is simple : going with the flow is natural – and easy. Daoism, of course, has plenty to say about the benefit of moving to the lowest place, like water does, and emphasizes the critical importance of that flow state. In Daoism, being aware of and flowing with the current is highly desirable – the very foundation of health and spiritual centering.
Further, in Chinese medicine, we often say that the interruption of flow (blockage) creates pain!
Nì 逆 , or counterflow, is referenced in many other ways in our medicine – but this “going against the flow” always represents some difficult situation in the body – something to be avoided or treated. The currents are interrupted – and it is the duty of medicine to correct the situation. Again, we see evidence for the idea that to go with the current, with the flow, is powerful.
If we extend this idea a bit further, to consider society and individual human lives, we get another perspective. Even in human life, going with the flow is typically the easiest thing, productive of the least amount of pain. As opportunities arise, you take advantage of them. You follow the basic path that is set out for a person with your particular set of characteristics. You optimize within the context of what is currently flowing, but do your best to avoid disturbing the current – particularly so long as everything feels good.
And yet, we can start to see potential benefits in counterflow
Despite this reality, nearly everyone encounters a time when they must say, “No,” to the current that exists and forcibly join or create another. Going along, for whatever reason, becomes untenable or at least undesirable. It’s easy to see this principle at work in the case of social activism on behalf of disenfranchised groups of people in society. In this case, a person or group of people sees some injustice at work in the current social flow, and moves to interrupt it. This usually involves a great deal of upheaval, discomfort and difficulty, and can even result in provoking violence as the original flow tries desperately to assert itself.
We can also see this resistance at work in individual lives of course. People making the decision to leave primary relationships for their own growth or development, or to escape some damaging situation is an example. Switching careers relatively late in life, getting another degree when one already has an established job, spending weekends writing a novel – once you start thinking about it you can think of lots of examples where people have gone against the prevailing current of their lives and created positive change as a result.
The move I mentioned at the beginning of this article is a perfect example of what I’m referencing here. I fled the sexy city of Portland for a small, mostly off-the-radar coastal community. I reduced my formal academic teaching requirements to free up more time for balanced living.
Moving here required that I break with the prevailing current of my life
I could have ridden the wave of academic ascendance, becoming a deep part of the historic restructuring of my alma mater. I could have continued to grow my practice just where and how it is, the gradual accretion process of building and maintaining a reputation for excellence. I could have continued to have my online work be a hobby, something to do on my free time. I could have remained in the exciting, growing city of Portland. In fact, it felt NATURAL and EASY to do so.
But, instead, I chose to look closely at the trajectory of the flow of my life.
I compared that trajectory against the energy and intent of my vision, and recognized the need for a change. I realized I would have to force a radical reorientation of my life towards that which will fulfill me, make me a better practitioner, a better business owner, a better person. I had to turn away from what was easy (the flow), what was sexy (Portland, yes, still), and even what was comfortable (friends, communities, patterns of action) to embrace what was calling me.
The change has not always been rosy, of course. Counterflow, even when needed, does seem to provoke some kind of discomfort. But, overall, the move has been remarkable. Without getting into it too much here, I’d say it’s one of the top five most significant decisions in my life. Doors have opened inside and out that I didn’t expect. Rough edges are being smoothed away by the relentless action of the wind and water. Habits developed to resist the damaging effects of the previous flow are melting away. And business is better than ever – despite the fact that I now live two hours from my clinic.
This process was made possible by the fact that I engage in visioning on a regular basis
I take very seriously, and teach my students to take very seriously, the importance of articulating, and utilizing, a WRITTEN vision for life and work. Without a clear vision, I tend to end up in places I don’t intend, and don’t prefer. A strong vision helps me avoid that. With a vision ready at hand, I’m able to make spontaneous choices in the moment that are in deep alignment with my larger goals. With the power of a vision behind me, my actions are more sure, my confidence is high, and each action I take contributes to the development of the new flow I am creating in my life.
Vision as I discuss it is complex and multi-valent. It’s not as easy as just writing down what you want, or describing some ideal acupuncture clinic that will exist when you reach your goals. A vision, in fact, isn’t “goals” at all. A vision isn’t a tasteless, corporate-speak paragraph hanging on the conference room wall. A vision is a window into the world you are creating for yourself and those close to you through your business.
The foundation of everything good I do at my clinic is built on my vision, but it does not stop there
There is a lot more to the process of planning the operations of a busy acupuncture clinic than simply establishing a vision. You must operationalize that vision by developing it into a robust mission. You must come to understand the values and principles that serve as the moral fiber of your business. You must think about the ways in which your own personality, your background, and the prevailing situation in the acupuncture profession impact the kind of business you can create, and so on…
It’s a process! Fortunately, it’s an understandable and teachable process. And by learning and implementing it, you will be well on your way to establishing the kind of flow that you’ve dreamed of ever since you started thinking of running a Chinese medicine practice of your own.