From the time I was 11 until I was 16, my family lived in a house that had a small creek that ran along the back of the yard. It was just a tiny little creek that in most places you could just step over it.

creekDuring the East Texas spring we had plenty of rain to keep the creek running. My brothers, neighbor friends, and I found lots of ways to have fun. We used rocks and sticks and mud to build dams. We tied bacon to the end of a string and caught crawdads. At certain times, we could find thousands of little tadpoles swimming around. Over time we saw them grow little legs, lose their tails, and gradually become tiny frogs.

However, it gets very hot and very dry during a Texas summer. When that happened, the little creek would slowly dry up. The water would stop flowing, leaving little puddles full of tadpoles and crawdads and other living things. As the summer wore on, the puddles got smaller and smaller. If we didn’t get rain for a long time, the puddles eventually dried up completely, and all the little water creatures died.

One summer, I took it upon myself to save the tadpoles. As the puddles shrunk, I brought buckets of water to replenish them. But I couldn’t keep up. One day I went to see the puddles and they were dry. Thousands of tadpoles were baked into the dried mud. I cried.

In order for there to be life, water had to be coming in and going out.

Lent: Stillness, and other disciplines of Lent allow me to develop the capacity to let thoughts, feelings, insights, joy and suffering to come in and go out unobstructed. I can appreciate the moment in front of me, and then let it go.

I get jammed up (and eventually dried up) when I allow an obstruction, and that obstruction is usually in the form of a judgment. For example:

A person comes to mind and my thought is, “I despise that person.”

A memory comes to mind and my thought is, “That was an awful time in my life.”

I think of something I need to get done that day, “Oh, I dread that” or “I can’t wait for that.”

A pleasant memory produces the thought, “Why can’t I do that again?”

All of these are normal thoughts, memories, ideas, insights. But as soon as we turn them into a judgment, they stick in our minds. Try thinking about a conflict you had and see how long it takes you to get it out of mind. We gnaw on them like a dog gnaws a bone.

These days, when I am engaged in a remodeling project, if I am “in the flow” it doesn’t matter the task. Even the most tedious tasks become just part of the whole project, and I can keep moving. Even snags in the work go more easily. When the flow is dammed up, everything becomes harder.

frustratedMy favorite moment for observing myself is when I lay my hammer down and then can’t find it two minutes later. It seems there are only two options. Be patient and think of what I was doing last. Or, start berating myself with all forms of profanity for being so stupid. It happens so quickly.

I’m getting better at stopping those moments of rage and saying aloud, “Hmm, will you look at that.”

Going with the flow is not passive. It is an active yielding to the present moment, fully observing and participating in it without judgment.