My Buddhist teacher once told me, 'living people die before dying people everyday', and indeed she was right. Sometimes people who are dying heal and return home, while their caretakers are the ones who unexpectedly die. Robin Williams' death feels like that to us, he made us laugh and feel hope at our saddest moments, and now he is gone. Williams was our Dr. Patch Adams after all, wasn't he?
At moments of crisis it feels like there is no structure in the world, its just pure chaos. Today is one of those moments; today it feels like we are all out of flow.
At times of chaos it can be helpful to remember that Buddha found liberation by labeling chaos as simply change. Buddha was a master at understanding reality, and in his scriptures we learn that change is a law of life, a law just like gravity. However, Buddha was also a psychologist, and he was adamant that mindfulness was the only way to overcome the suffering of change, and to bring a sense of serenity and flow during life's greatest hardships.
Flow is the optimal psychology experienced during peak performance that is sought out by athletes, artists, business professionals and day-to-day people to help them feel and perform at their best. However, most people struggle with finding flow consistently - myself certainly included. Yet most of us do have experiences of flow from time to time. They are those light moments when we are in the shower, driving, playing sports, dancing, drinking tea, gardening, talking with a dear friend, or even when we laughed at Patch Adams filling a pool with spaghetti to make that elder ladies dream come true.
Moments of flow are liberating because we tend to lose our sense of self-consciousness, and we just do it, or just be. Robin William's helped us just laugh.
However, maybe crisis its important that instead of trying to find flow, we simply need to just go with it, that is, to observe how flow is occurring at all times - even during the tragedy of death. In order to experience flow at times of crisis we need to create a fluid stream of consciousness that is structured and ordered; mindfully accepting change helps us to do that.
Mindfully observing our thoughts helps us go with the flow because it creates a metaphorical bumper that blocks our thoughts from entering the hopeless depths of ours mind's gutter. As opposed to becoming overly attached to our thoughts, mindful awareness helps us maintain space between our thoughts and our sense of self or consciousness. Because we can observe our thoughts, it means we are not them. This attitude helps us self-regulate our emotions during crisis and it creates the psychological flexibility which empowers us to go with the flow, as opposed to being a victim to previous ways our thoughts, feelings and behavioural choices kept us out of flow.
It is paramount that we only focus our efforts on creating flow within our own minds because there is no way we can maintain structure in our external environment. Maintaining a mindful and non-judging awareness of ourselves may be the highest form on intelligence because flow demands us to experience our thoughts, as opposed to efforts to control or fight them. When we judge and do not accept life, we often label our experiences as negative and tell ourselves a story that can immobilize us with fear. Our negative self talk is often the greater obstacle to moving from fear to flow than anything in our exterior environment. Robin William's died on monday, but our negative self-image and the story we tell ourselves about Robin's death can bombard us with self-defeating thoughts 24/7, 365.
Like drugs, peak performance is an addictive high that we can become attached to experiencing and feel depressed when we believe we are not in it. I struggle with the ups and downs of life, often hearing judgmental thoughts that I am either in, or out of flow. Mindfulness helps me not avoid life when I feel out of flow, in fact, the very point of living mindfully is to help us ride life's unexpected waves and to continue to go with the flow of life.
The tragic death of Robin William's brings to life the fact that until we learn to simply go with the flow, as opposed to constantly trying to find it, we may not have any lasting peace within us.
We will miss you Patch, but we must keep moving.
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