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Downstream Life: How to get what you want

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

Everything you want is downstream

I’m sitting on an outdoor couch at my friend’s farm in Northern California one summer afternoon talking to her mom, Carol, a professional astrologer, about what it means to allow life to flow. We were talking about effort versus ease.

Life should be easy. We shouldn’t have to fight for what we want. When we go with life’s flow things should run smoothly and come to us effortlessly. This is the message we’re told often and the message I was discussing with Carol that day, at first. Up for debate: Is this an accurate way to view life? If we’re in the flow, on the path, is life supposed to be easy?

I took the position that everything one wants is downstream. Carol disagreed with this idea. She believed downstream implied ease and she certainly didn’t think that life was supposed to be easy.

Carol cited her sister’s example. Her sister had worked incredibly hard to get into a PhD program. After being turned down multiple times, through determination and perseverance she finally gained acceptance. And that was just step one. Now she must finish the program which will also take hard work and determination.

I held tight to my downstream analogy even in the face of this all too common example of effort to achieve. Not because I believe life is easy, but because I believe even the difficult parts of life are manageable when approached with a downstream mindset. The essence of our dialogue turned away from whether or not life is supposed to be easy, since Carol and I agreed it certainly was not. What we were really debating now was; what does it mean to go downstream?

This, dear reader, is worth understanding. Everything you want is downstream, but what does that mean and, if that’s the case, what can you do to get everything you want?

Let’s look to a river for our answer. Since a river is the metaphor we began with.

I grew up near a canyon with a cold and powerful river running right through the basin. Every summer my friends and I would air up giant tractor tire inner tubes and coerce a parent to drive us to the top of the canyon. Once there, we would hop in our tubes as we jumped in the freezing cold snow runoff that made up the river. Everyday, every season, was a new adventure as we braved what was always the unexpected and unknown.

Some seasons the river would be full and rushing; years when there was a lot of snow and higher summer temperatures meant more runoff.

Other years, the river would be low, so shallow in some places you could scarcely call it a river anymore.

When the river was full, we faced rapids, having to steer ourselves quickly away from rocks, the shoreline and low hanging tree branches. One year I was knocked out of my tube and sucked under water by a current. My child sized body was pushed by the powerful water under a broken tree and shot out the other side. My friends saved my tube for me, but they were far downstream, and I had to work like crazy to catch up to them without being torn to pieces by rocks. Finally, back in my tube, I was soaked, scared and freezing. The sun doesn’t feel nearly as warm at the bottom of a canyon. My only choice was to keep going. The river stops for no one.

During the years when the river was shallow, drier years with less snowfall, we continued to participate in our summer hobby. The waters were slightly less chaotic, but the path was none the easier for it. Now, shallow parts of the river, whose bed was covered with rock and nature’s debris, became prime spots for injuries, no one escaped without a bruise or two.

Sometimes we would simply stand up and walk the shallow spots downstream to deeper water. While this slowed us down, it also protected our young skin from damage. We tried to stay in as long as we could though, holding our bottoms up above the base of the tube hoping to avoid the inevitable; pushing our limits. I can’t count the number of times I knew to get out and stayed in anyway. Laziness or youthful determination? Both?

During these downstream adventures, without fail someone’s tube would pop. It didn’t matter if the water was shallow or deep. The shoreline was littered with broken tree branches which had no agenda. They presented themselves to the world and the bitter truth was if you got too close you could be sure your tube would puncture.

When a tube popped there were only two options; join up with someone else, or swim/walk your way back. Neither option was very comfortable. In shallow waters, the heavy tubes packed with two bodies were certain to scrape the bottom making injury unavoidable. And walking the rocky, uneven tree packed sideline while your friends enjoyed the ride made you nothing short of bored and envious.

This, my friends, is downstream life. The surprise ending: there is no upstream.

There is only the current. You don’t have to find it. You’re in it. All you have to do is accept and let go. It’s happening to you; you have no choice. The river of time flows only in one direction at this level of human experience. You can’t go backwards. There is no backwards to go. It’s already changed so much compared to when you were first in it. Someone else is now traveling your past downstream, only for her or him its shallow where for you it was deep.

When the phrase “Everything you want is downstream” is used it gives the feeling that life should be easy and if it’s hard you’re working upstream. The common advice is to surrender and float. What this analogy shows us though is that “floating” means sometimes you end up getting banged by rocks or pulled underwater by currents. To float is not inherent to ease.

You need to understand something; life is hard. But as it turns out, it’s not life you have to worry about. It’s your lack of presence, your demand that things be easy, your resistance to doing what’s needed and your false belief in surrender. Floating is as important as swimming, both are necessary, but at different times. The danger here is that you’ll do one when the other is called for, and while you can’t go backwards you can certainly get stuck.

So, what then should you do to get everything you want?

You can’t just float, at least not always. Sometimes you have to get out and walk. Sometimes your tube will pop. Sometimes you’ll get sucked under and wonder if you will make it out alive.

The answer is no. You won’t make it out of this river alive.

If you want life to be easy, you have to respond with complete presence. This doesn’t guarantee an easy life, it guarantees a right response, and this is as easy as it gets. A right response minimizes how often you get stuck, a topic for another post. In the meantime, transform the way you view reality, wake up to the good and the bad, float, swim and walk when necessary. Stay present and do what’s needed. This is a downstream mindset. This is how to get what you want, because everything you want is downstream.

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Beautiful. A question though. There must be something in the upstream. Eg why do salmon swim upstream? It doesn’t seem natural, yet they do it. Maybe in life we have to swim upstream to find what makes us whole and fulfilled.

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