No, the expression ‘going with the flow‘ was not coined by an Australian beach bum. It stems from the 2nd Century AD and was the money- and energy saving advice of a Roman emperor.
Who else than one of the formidable 5 Good Emperors, in casu the unforgettable Marcus Aurelius.
And that was not nobody. At the age of 15 he caught the eye of Emperor Hadrian, who thought this youngster to be of such excellence that he handpicked young Marco to become emperor himself.
In a circle where there was no shortage of outstanding people, one was deemed to be more so than others. Hadrian thought Rome and Romans to be safe and greater still in these hands. And he was right. You would want he was still a world leader.
Marcus Aurelius did become emperor, went on to beat Persia, then win the war against germanic tribes – the biggest war of mankind so far – while writing philosophy that is read until today, and end up in history as one of the fairest and most benevolent emperors (*). If such a man leaves wisdom, we better listen.
It’s in ‘Meditations‘, still the most quoted book on achieving happiness (yes, more than any self-help book of a modern guru) that he wrote:
‘Ventis secundis, tene cursum’
(‘Hold the course of the favorable winds’)
What does it mean? What does it do for you?
Maybe just that you can detect it. Here in rural Andalusia it’s often still a very visible philosophy.
More importantly: it’s not so of or for so many people. Especially newcomers to our region castigate themselves with years of unneeded stress.
Western and northern Europeans grow up in a very Aristotelian society. ‘The climate and soil say one thing… but let’s have a tropical garden instead‘.
Ergo: the opposite of going with the flow. ‘If life gives you lemons, cut the lemon tree because I dreamed of better views instead‘.
This, we northerners of the 21st century, do all the time. After buying property we can go through countless days or months of stress, frustration with builders, delays with unobtainable materials, and so on. Why? For that property has been dreamt up for a decade. Somewhere in a different country and different climate, we have been planning what our dream house should be like. Our life has to be made, not lived. Can you imagine the accumulated energy wasted during decades of battling against the wind?
We will for sure not be able to be in the midst of a campaign against barbarian tribes, AND write ‘Meditations’. Yes, in that tent at the Danube, a man named Marcus killed 2 historic birds with one stone. While we get stress because the bathmat does not fit the curtains.
Go with the flow is why birds can fly miles and not be tired, why dolphins are great swimmers and have the surplus energy to develop big brains.
‘Life’s happiness‘, Aurelius wrote, ‘depends upon the quality of your thoughts‘.
The crux of his philosophy is the notion that while we cannot control what happens to us or the people and things and materials around us, we can control our reactions to it – and this gives us immense strength and freedom.
“You have power over your mind – not over outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
It’s not a far cry from ‘beauty sits in the eye of the beholder‘ or ‘for the pure all is pure‘: if you find it ugly, it’s your thoughts who do so.
Change your thoughts.
“This art called ‘life’ is a practice suitable to both men and gods. Everything contains some special purpose and a hidden blessing; what then could be strange or arduous when all of life is here to greet you like an old and faithful friend”?
Mr Aurelius! There at the banks of the Danube, on a for sure dreary and drizzly evening, you wrote one of the greatest pieces of advice ever given: ‘All of life is here to greet you like an old and faithful friend’.
You must have been an ex-cel-lent person. Probably your one and only mistake was to leave your son Commodus as the next emperor – that for sure was not a favorable wind, but one so strong it was impossible to battle. So you went ‘with the flow’, that more modern and diluted version of your wisdom. I wonder what you would have thought of Gladiator.
“People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills. There is nowhere that a man can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind… So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.”
To much stress over renovations? Not worth it. Generations before you thought the property to be this way for a reason. 8 months of the year you live outside anyway. Greet it as an old friend.
No tree was cut for this article. No rock moved. No tile bought.
(*) In the second century AD there was no Persia, during 4 centuries it was named the Parthian Empire. I used the name Persia since that is how it was known before and after.
The wars against the Germanic tribes are named the Marcomannic Wars, after the Marcomanni – a coalition of tribes stretching from the Netherlands and Denmark to the Danube. It was during a campaign against them that Aurelius, in current day Slovakia, started to write his ‘Meditations‘.
The 5 Good Emperors were: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Pius and Aurelius. Of course, two of them were born in current day Andalusia – visit Italica just outside from Seville (‘Hispalis‘).
(**) If you like this article, definitely flow to ‘Are you Aristotelian or Platonic‘?