Flow 2022

And the sky, the road, the glass of wine?

The sky is a shirt wet with tears,

the road a vein about to break,

and the glass of wine a mirror in which

the sky, the road, the world keep changing.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Before You Came

After 2021, I swore that I would not start 2022 with a resolution. I was planning to let the year be and make of it what I could and what it allowed. Helen Blunden provided the perfect theme for my year on Twitter – Flow.

Flow opens up a range of meanings that resonate with me now. The first is the recognition of the passage of time which I feel keenly these days. Isolation, deferred plans and as yet unrealised dreams sit uneasily on me as time passes. In a global pandemic, it is hard not to consider that the sand may flow out before I get it all done. When I get the chance, I will make the most of my urgency against this flow.

In contrast, I am also much more inclined to ‘go with the flow’. Expectations and plans are tyranny when the circumstances are so volatile. I lost a third of my New Years’ Eve guests when a rapid antigen test showed the wrong stripe for one party. We make do and we make the most with what is possible without regret. We are carried along by circumstances and must recognise they limit our influence. We do what we can, not what we wish.

This is not water running here,
These thick rebellious streams
That hurtle flesh and bone past fear
Down alleyways of dreams.

Countee Cullen, Harlem Wine

Water flows and always finds its level. It’s the same way our dreams and desires push us along even when the circumstances are against us. Even when we go with the flow, we are still carried to the sea. We merely choose how we arrive there. The force of our desires is a source of energy and momentum for our lives if we let it flow. Damming this flow is so often counterproductive.

Flow is rarely a straight line. Water (& air) flow involves swirls, eddies and all kinds of curves along the path. Another reason why airborne Covid infection is so random. Turbulence is an everyday experience in these complex dynamics. We can be carried a long way of path or trapped in circling for a while before the passage resumes. These swirls can change the course of great rivers cutting off some destinations as isolated billabongs, even as we still move forward.

Flow in the sense provided by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly reminds us that there are many rewards to be had in the efforts along the way. Balancing challenges with growing skills and living intensely absorbed in the present moment feels called for in this time of ours. As 2022, progress I want to choose to spend my time in flow when I can for the satisfaction and the productivity despite whatever circumstances surround me.

My thirst, my desire without end, my wavering road!

Dark river beds down which the eternal thirst is flowing,

and the fatigue is flowing, and the grief without shore.

Pablo Neruda, [Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs]

Flow also reminds me of the practised deliberate movements of Qi Gong combining slow motion with mindfulness and breathing. As I launch into 2022, I want to preserve as much rest, relaxation and mindfulness that I have been able to create between Christmas and New Years. I also want to recognise that all the skills I wish to develop take deliberate, consistent and careful practice.

My last theme of flow is to recognise that some solids like glass are actually flowing, just on time scales beyond our perception. For someone who works in and drives change in large systems, it can be a comfort to know that what looks solid may be amenable to change in the right circumstances. So much of my work is engineering circumstances where change can flow in the hands of those with agency.

So as I amble into 2022, I have chosen to go with flow.

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, I’ll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

Robert Burns, Afton Water

PS the story of glass flowing is largely a myth on any reasonable timescale or range of temperatures.

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