Getting Low and Going with the Flow

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When I was a young girl, I was obsessed with playing basketball. Taller and stronger than a lot of the other girls in my class, I excelled on the basketball court as a fourth and fifth grader (unfortunately, I peaked early…). 

One of the lessons I learned early on in basketball practice was the importance of bending my knees, feet firmly planted on the ground, and ‘getting low’. Squatting down into this kind of stance, as a basketball player, had lots of advantages: it meant my center of gravity was lower, I was more agile and better able to change direction, and faster to respond to movement of the game.

Surprisingly, the lesson of ‘getting low’ continues to serve me today – even if it is only metaphorically. Here’s what I mean:

This time of year, we’re all about resolutions and intentions. Making plans, making lists, making sense – of everything. Where am I heading, we ask? What are the changes I wish to make in my life or work?

Like many of us, I also closed out 2017 with an eye toward making plans. On January 1st, I woke up feeling resolute about my decisions and enjoying the calm smugness that comes with neatly and definitively answering the questions we ask ourselves. Then, on January 4th, I got news about a new opportunity that – in the time it took to read an email – completely threw my original plan into question.

In four days – FOUR DAYS – my hard-won, firm plan of action had met its first challenge. Those carefully crafted answers that I thought had solidified my roadmap for 2018 suddenly seemed a bit less certain.

What do we do when life throws us an unexpected curveball and our previous plans go out the window?

For me the answer comes down to two things: giving ourselves permission to change our minds, and setting ourselves up to be more adaptable the next time. 

First, giving ourselves permission to change our minds. This one is hard but it’s also a no brainer. We all make mistakes, we all make the ‘wrong choices’ at times; that simply won’t change. So how might we be like Issa Rae, who recently proclaimed on Twitter: “I make excellent mistakes”?

The problem with making resolutions – at the beginning of a new year or at any time – is that we want them to be concrete declarations of a decision. But the truth is we make these declarations with incomplete evidence: drawing from the inputs and information we have at the time, but not taking into account that the territory around us might look different tomorrow, or even later today. 

In “The Map is Not the Territory,” Pascal Finette takes the map metaphor further, saying that our biggest challenge is remembering that a roadmap can only take us so far; that rather than relying on what the map says, we must take into account the terrain – our reality – and make adjustments based on what we’re seeing, learning and experiencing.

Our future selves will always be smarter and wiser than our current selves, which means our task at hand is to actually expect that new information will come our way, and to make it ok for us to use that data and adjust course. 

Next is to set ourselves up to be more adaptable the next time, which brings us back to basketball. At times of stress, uncertainty or flux, I often remind myself to ‘get low’ - sometimes even literally bending my knees, planting my feet, breathing deeply, and finding focus. While I’m not often on the basketball court these days, standing this way (even channeling that posture in my mind) helps remind me to move and flex depending on what I see in front of me. It physically and mentally puts me into a position of being prepared for something new, ready to respond and adjust to whatever comes at me.

For the non-basketball-inclined among us, consider this one: I’m a member of a creative women’s group that meets monthly, and this month one of the women read a John O’Donohue poem titled "For Equilibrium, a Blessing.” One of the stanzas reads:

“As water takes whatever shape it is in / So free may you be about who you become.”

I love this image of water flowing, of flexibility and shape shifting. Like getting low, this image of water asks us to be prepared to flow and morph as the world around us changes. How might we make it ok for us to take the shape of whatever container we find ourselves in – at this moment? And how might we, like water, adapt when our life’s container unexpectedly takes an altered form?

At this beginning of 2018, I encourage you to hold your resolutions lightly in your hands. We all want to make plans, we all want to create certainty for ourselves (life feels so much safer, quieter and easier that way)...but we also know that plans change. Whether we get low, envision our life as a flowing body of water, or simply pick our head up to take in the terrain – know that tomorrow will undoubtedly bring you new information and insights. Our work, then, is to pay attention to those signals, give ourselves permission to change course, and adapt as needed. 

And when all fails, remember this from Wendell Berry:

“It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings. 

From one baffled planner to another, happy 2018. Onward,

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