Going with the Flow — Of Intuition

Going with the Flow — Of Intuition

This piece was first drafted in 2016, as part of a manuscript I later abandoned. The book’s idea was to treat the mind-body relationship like an intimate partnership, so both the mental and the bodily could contribute their gifts in an environment of mutual respect, even love.
We’ve all heard the cliché, “go with the flow”, but we don’t always heed it. Too often, we swim against the currents of Life.
Resisting Life affects the body. To soften into acceptance, it’s helpful to look at our style of listening in the mind-body relationship.
We surely listen to the body when we can’t ignore it, such as when winded by vigorous activity or bursting with a full bladder. These strong sensations force us to respond to bodily needs.
Then there are discomforts that grab our attention but can’t be relieved by resting, bathroom breaks, and so on. Think of muscle spasms and aching joints. We hear the body’s complaints but know few options for resolving them. We may try medicating or otherwise treating the symptoms, perhaps with some effect. Beyond that, we either obsess about them, try to push them out of mind, or both.
On a more subtle level, there are myriad milder signals that convey important information, but we often fail to hear or heed them.
Listening to the body, it seems, isn’t straightforward. I frequently say we should gratefully attend to its guidance, as if it were a wise, honored counselor. But in practice that’s not so easy.


For instance, it is common to feel pain or suffer insomnia and take analgesics or sleeping pills. Medicating discomfort is almost automatic in our culture. Less habitual—and more challenging—is acknowledging what these experiences imply about our lifestyle and how it needs adjustment. We are accustomed to viewing discomforts as afflictions; it’s a stretch to see them as information and guidance. Even harder is following their lead.
Yet it’s obvious that if our back hurts after sitting at a computer for hours, the pain says something about how well (or poorly) we’re caring for our body. So does feeling too energized and tense to sleep.
Think of it like this: the mind is in a relationship with the body, and the rules of that relationship are the same as for any other. If we ignore what our loved ones tell us about their needs, our relationships sour. In the same way, when we ignore the body’s messages and needs, we grow alienated from it. Pain and tension worsen, often prompting us to go further into resistance and denial. We thus get caught in vicious spirals of discomfort, disconnection from the body, and worsened discomfort.
A pattern of ignoring the body isn’t easy to change. For instance, I face a conflict between how much work I do at the computer and how much my spine can tolerate. With depressing regularity, spinal pain is the price I pay for uninterrupted hours at my workstation. Yet even though I understand the connection, I resist taking regular breaks or committing to adequate yoga practice. Too often, I simply power through, working long hours and devoting minimal time to stretching. This means ignoring warning signals, such as sharp twinges in my neck and aching in my lower back.
In this case, I hear my body’s complaints and understand what they imply, yet I resist heeding them.
In other situations, I fail both to notice and properly interpret signals. This goes beyond simple bodily pains to include social intuitions.
A common pattern for me is to downplay feelings of frustration in friendships. When friends display behavior that strikes me as self-serving or unkind, I make mental excuses for them rather than acknowledge and address what I’m feeling—emotionally and bodily—in the relationship. Though that saves me the stress of confrontation, it is a disservice to both my body-mind and the friendship. And it eventually proves unsustainable. Sooner or later, I get overwhelmed with irritation and blow up with outsized rage. In all-too-many cases, this ends friendships that might have been salvageable—if only I’d listened to my body and set needed boundaries earlier.
It’s helpful to look at the reasons for ignoring signals or failing to heed them.


When working at the computer, I believe my writing and other projects are more important than the pain I’m feeling and what it signifies. (Notice this happens even though I’m writing about the importance of caring for the body!)
In unbalanced friendships, accommodating the other person and avoiding conflict feel more important than to asserting my emotional needs. I prioritize a warped vision of friendship over my need to set boundaries.


When working, my mind is used to being productive for as long is it wants; it isn’t accustomed to taking regular breaks from producing. But the truth is that although a strategy of ignoring my sensitive body worked when I was younger, it’s not workable now. And a further truth is that even though ignoring the body seemed workable at an earlier age, it fueled neck problems that ended my career.
In friendships, I have a habit of believing I’m lucky to have any kind of friend—even a narcissistic or overbearing one. Years of undervaluing my worth has conditioned me to overlook unfairness.
Looking at these reasons helps me find ways to overcome resistance:

Be clear about priorities

When working, I try to remember my body’s needs and the consequences of ignoring them. When I feel the twinges and aches that tell me it’s time to stop working, I ask myself: which is more important: finishing this blog post right now or protecting my spine?
In friendships, I remind myself how many worthwhile relationships I’ve lost because I failed to set boundaries early on. I endeavor to prioritize longterm sustainability over the short term convenience of avoiding conflict.

Make small changes

Rather than telling myself I’ll change all my bad habits all at once, I focus on one at a time.
Right now, I’m concentrating on building in short periods of yoga practice at the beginning and end of every day. This feels like a realistic goal. After twice-daily yoga becomes part of my routine, I’ll focus on breaking up my screen time. This doesn’t mean I don’t take breaks while rebuilding my yoga practice; it just means I’m currently focusing my willpower on making yoga a habit.
In friendships, I’m trying to see the dynamic clearly. Does the relationship feel nourishing? This is a question I’ve failed to ask in the past, so accustomed was I to clinging to any sort of friendship while ignoring misgivings about its quality. As a first step, being honest with myself sets the stage for eventual boundaries. If the relationship feels healthy enough to cultivate, I admit where I will need to assert needs. If it doesn’t, I admit that it’s time to step away. Taking action on those realizations can come later; the first step is gaining clarity around them.

Choose activities wisely

My choice isn’t always between work and rest. Sometimes it’s between writing on the computer and recording guided meditations, filming presentations, or listening to audiobooks that inform Mindful Biology. When my neck gets stiff from screen time, I can work in a different way. The mind feels like it’s being productive, and the body feels like it’s being accommodated. It’s a win-win!
In friendships, I can be flexible in how I relate with people. For example, some friends insist on not making plans and only contacting me at the last minute, when they feel like getting together. Rather than believing I must drop everything to accommodate them, I do my best to be honest with myself: do I feel like this is a good time for me? Sometimes it is; sometimes it isn’t. When I take care of myself by not jumping to comply, I feel less frustrated. It’s true this means avoiding a difficult conversation around my need for more advance notice, but it protects at least some of my boundaries. Choosing to take care of myself feels a lot more empowering than complying to please others.

Stay in touch with the body

All of this is easier when I listen to bodily feedback. As often as I remember, I scan my body for areas of pain, tension, or unease. I notice pleasurable sensations too. I may even silently tell the body, “I’m listening. I care.” As I become more familiar with my body, I get better at hearing and heeding its messages.

Decide consciously

When I choose to ignore my body’s signals, I admit that to myself. I make the decision consciously. Is it important to me to sit at the computer until this post is done, despite the pain? Do I want to meet with this friend right now, even though my body feels a need for some at the gym? There’s a difference between simply ignoring bodily feedback versus hearing it and deciding—for good reasons—to override it. I try to be clear about the decision I’m making as well as the price I might end up paying for it.
Becoming consciously aware of our decisions is the first step toward improving them. It also cultivates a healthier connection between mind and body. After all, nourishing relationships depend more on being present and honest than on always doing what our partner wants.

Understanding healthy flow

Of course, going with the flow isn’t about letting outdated habits or social pressures determine our course. It’s not the path of least resistance.
Going with the flow means letting the body’s intuitions guide us into the wisest currents of Life.