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The word “flow” has gained considerable popularity, and there’s a reason why. In a stressful world, the notion of gliding along through your day is very appealing—it sounds almost like a dream come true. Yet you meet very few people who have managed to overcome stress and achieve flow.

To change these patterns, you have to look deeper. Flow doesn’t work unless life itself is naturally a flow. Certainly, that’s true for every life form except Homo sapiens. Evolution flows. That’s how one-celled organisms have survived for billions of years, and despite mass extinctions, complex life forms are supported by the flow of life. Just by being itself, a creature in the wild survives and thrives.

Why doesn’t human life flow? Humans have doubtlessly evolved from the earliest hominids, so the threat doesn’t come from Nature. Therefore, it must come from ourselves. Among the many positive things about human evolution, there is a huge negative: We are the only life forms that can put up resistance. By resisting the flow of life, we become conflicted, confused, defensive, and self-defeating.

In the Vedic tradition, the key to being in the flow is to stop resisting it. Left to itself, life is an unbroken flow of creative intelligence. Unfortunately, resistance wears many faces. When you disagree with someone or say “no,” you are putting up resistance. (Let’s leave aside why you feel justified saying “no,” since doing the opposite, always saying “yes,” isn’t the solution.) When you doubt yourself, you are putting up resistance. There are a host of circumstances where old, hurtful experiences, stubborn habits, fear of change, and the memory of past failure cause us to resist the flow.

Everyday solutions, like thinking positively, are band-aids. According to Vedic wisdom, you must eradicate resistance at a deeper level inside yourself to stop resisting the flow. This is an achievable goal because the source of resistance isn’t a mystery.

The source of resistance can be described as four illusions. Everyone is subject to them, but everyone can also dispel them.


Most people are trapped in their attempts to make life feel safe by pretending that it is predictable. Today will resemble yesterday and tomorrow. This attitude blocks the flow because spontaneous, creative, fresh responses are being resisted. The only predictability in life is mind-made and therefore an illusion.


This illusion is part and parcel of the ego. Your ego’s agenda is twofold, to escape what you fear and to grab what you desire. This attitude sets up a pendulum swinging between pleasure and pain. That’s not what the ego hopes will happen, but in the face of every evidence that life cannot be controlled, the ego resists any experience that doesn’t fit the either/or setup of “I like this, I hate that,” “I want X, I don’t want Y.”


You can do everything to be open-minded, altruistic, generous, and of service to others, with the result that you have gone a long way to overcome the ego agenda of “more for me.” But the Vedic teaching points to the next illusion, that you are a separate entity whose identity is localized and fixed. In reality, the self you identify with is fluid and provisional. You are the flow, not a fixed object like an island in the stream. The illusion of identity forces you to resist transcendence, because only by transcending your localized, fixed “I” can you escape the boundaries that enclose you.


Your deeper wisdom, which flows from your source, is timeless. This is the level of collective consciousness where human beings discover the highest values in life: love, compassion, insight, empathy, creativity, inner growth, and spiritual inspiration. No one invented these values. They exist at the level where everyone is timeless. The journey to the timeless comes naturally. You only need to experience silent awareness without the distraction of constant thoughts and feelings. As long as you cling to thoughts and feelings as your everyday guide, you will keep resisting the pull of your deeper wisdom, which is in you but hidden by the noise of the active mind.

I’ve tried to offer a description of the four illusions that you can identify with. No one is asking you to be mystical, spiritual, or a dropout from everyday life. Your awareness is with you always, and it is in awareness that illusions take hold but also where illusions are dispelled. The important thing is to see these illusions for what they are. The next step is to examine how you personally put up resistance. This examination is open to you all the time, and you can pursue it at your own pace with a sense of comfort. The only necessity is to be aware and honest with yourself.

Begin by personalizing the four illusions. Resistance isn’t hard to spot. There’s an inner feeling that can be angry, nervous, anxious, doubtful, conflicted, or ready to say “no.” At such a moment, don’t fight the feeling. It isn’t easy to halt an impulse once it has been launched inside you.

Instead, when you have a moment to reflect, don’t let the experience fade away immediately, which is what people naturally want to do, because resistance doesn’t feel good. In a moment of reflection, ask yourself, “Did I resist because something unfamiliar came my way? Was I afraid to change? Was I stuck in an old response that I’ve given many times? These questions expose the illusion of predictability.

“Was I trying to control the situation? Do I automatically think I know what’s best or right? Is my opinion always better than other people’s?” These questions expose the illusion of control. “Was I being selfish? Was I thinking of myself first? Did I fear I was about to lose something I wanted?” These questions expose the illusion of identity. “Did I feel threatened by the unknown? Was I overly influenced by my past? Was I acting out of lessons learned?” Such questions expose the illusion of time.


DEEPAK CHOPRA The writer is MD, FACP, FRCP founder of the Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global

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