Inner Peace Podcast #6: How to turn frustration into flow

Some quotes about flow

“You cannot beat a river into submission. You have to surrender to its current and use its power as your own.” ― Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Dr. Strange

“During moments of strife and ‘dis-ease’, check your flow and redirect your focus to that which is naturally good.” ― T.F. Hodge

In physics, energy has two basic states: potential energy and kinetic energy. I’m going to use my Junior High definitions, since when you get into advanced relativity the issue gets wishy washy. Basically speaking, Potential energy is “stored” energy. Kinetic energy is energy in motion. In terms of spirituality or what I sometimes like to call “dealing with life,” I refer to energy in terms of “Frustration” or “Flow.”

Many people from gurus and philosophers to doctors and scientists have tried to find the best word to describe the ultimate state of happiness and peace. Some call it “bliss”. When I tried to think of it, the word I came to was “Flow.” After doing some research I found that many others had decided on the same word. In fact, my favorite is a scientist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who has done extensive studies and research on the subject of flow. I highly recommend you read some of his books, they’re fantastic. He has done some great work on the subject of flow.

The opposite of flow is frustration. When the flow of our energy is frustrated we experience a heightened sense of sadness, loneliness, anger, fear, confusion. Life throws plenty of obstacles our way, things that make it difficult to flow freely through life:

  • Loss of loved ones or precious possessions
  • Disappointments
  • New and unfamiliar circumstances
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Feelings of low self-esteem
  • Other people can make life almost intolerable

If we don’t transform our frustrated energy back to flow it can become stuck. “Stuck” energy is frustration that we are holding on to. Energy that is stuck becomes intensified. Sadness becomes depression, anger becomes rage, fear becomes paralyzing.


1. Flow is our natural state of peace and happiness. “Flow” describes the free flowing of our energy. It describes the state of happiness, peace, connectedness, beingness, self-confidence and the like. If you think of children, they seem to be in a natural state of flow. They sing, dance and play spontaneously for the sheer bliss of being alive. Even as grownups “flow” is the most natural state of our being, though frustration seems to be more of a constant companion. Whereas children seem to be resilient in the face of adversity, adults tend to get ensnared by the drama of living.

Why are children so much freer, flowing and resilient compared to adults?

2. Frustration starts with resistance. Here are some different sources of resistance that we create for ourselves:

  • Avoiding potentially painful circumstances. When something bad happens, we have very natural emotional reactions. When we experience loss we feel sorrow. When we feel threatened we experience fear. When we need the courage to stand up for ourselves we feel anger. But to be quite honest, none of those emotions feel great. As time goes by we unconsciously think, “No, I don’t want to feel that!” We start avoiding thoughts, people, situations and other circumstances that might lead to these uncomfortable emotions. If our efforts to avoid pain get too extreme we start shutting out potentially joyful, life-enhancing experiences as well. The focus of your life can’t be about avoiding suffering, for a life focused solely on avoiding pain is no life at all.
  • Avoiding difficult emotions. Despite our best efforts, life inevitably drops painful circumstances on our doorstep. Those difficult emotions of sorrow, fear and anger naturally pop up. When we try to circumvent these difficult emotions by burying, avoiding or denying them, this creates resistance.
  • Judgments, assumptions, attachments and expectations. Children are free of judgments, assumptions and expectations. Their love is pure and unconditional. Adults however…our love is definitely not pure and is riddled with conditions. We have judgments about people’s appearance, behavior, conformity or lack thereof. We have assumptions that people see things the same way we do or that they should see things the same way we do. We expect life to follow our agenda for it. We expect people to follow the rules we have for them. We get attached to impermanent things — which is everything — people, places, memories, material possessions.

So, how to turn frustration into flow?…

3. Accept that flowing with life means taking the good with the bad.

  • Flow with all circumstances in life. Yes, we will do our best to create peace and happiness, but life will bring difficulties to our door, nevertheless. The point is to FLOW with those difficult experiences. When you flow with the good experiences you realize they won’t last so you make the very most of them.
  • Flow with all emotions that arise. For years I had difficult, painful emotions to deal with from my past. They were so intense I thought they would overwhelm me. Part of me truly feared those emotions might kill me. It was a silly fear, but it was very, very real. It prevented me from dealing with my past and moving on. This in turn made my “present” painful and awkward, and that made for several more difficult years in my future. But…I chose to face my fears head on. When I did, I realized that I am NOT my emotions. When they are done flowing, I will return to peace and joy. Also, rather than trying to hold on to peace and happiness, I flowed with those. This allowed me to make the very most of them.
  • Ditch your judgments, expectations, assumptions and attachments. Once you start paying attention you will be astonished at just how many judgments, expectations, assumptions and attachments you have. Ditch them every chance you have. Life is like a great ocean, and we are barely a bubble in comparison. It is better to accept life’s ebbs and flows and to do our very best within the great tides and waves the life moves us through.

4. Some other tools you can use to transform frustration into flow:

  1. Take a timeout whenever you need.
    • Stop. Interrupt whatever negative mental state you’re in.
    • Drop whatever you’re doing.
    • Breathe. Check in with yourself. Be present in the moment. Just breathe.

    Interrupting and Being Present may be the most powerful tools you can put in your “Happiness Toolbox.” They are enormously helpful for getting you out of your head and out of the stories that generate unhappiness so you can tune in to reality.

  2. Ground yourself with a powerful symbol, ritual or image.

    Being ‘grounded’ means being connected. “Connected” energy is energy that flows. Disconnected energy is erratic and destructive.

    • A symbol with special meaning. People use many things such as stones/crystals/gems, statues of Buddha, or actual symbols like runes (such as my tattoo).
    • A ritual that gives you a strong sense of meaning and/or connectedness. This could be meditation, prayers/”spells”/mantras, volunteer work, even yoga or hiking can be immensely grounding and spiritual rituals.
    • Root yourself in your Higher Self, Best Self, etc. If you constantly check in with, “What would my Best Self do?” you are more likely to make wise choices.

    I use all of the above, and the tools I use to ground myself change over time. My personal favorite symbol right now is the Tree of Life. I envision the roots growing deep and communing with the strength of the Earth, the trunk standing tall and steady, and the branches reaching out and communing with the light of the Sun. This imagery reminds me to flow with my own inner strength, and to connect with the Infinite Universe.

  3. Let go.
    • Judgments, assumptions, expectations.
    • Let go of the emotion. Sometimes emotions just have to run their course.
    • Let go of the illusion of control. Remember the quote about trying to beat a river into submission?
    • Forgiveness is a form of letting go.

    If you don’t let go, frustrations become like a poison that spreads to everyone in your life.

  4. Identify your triggers. Paying attention to your triggers will usually identify patterns of thought, behavior or recurring themes in your life. Triggers can be a thought, a certain person, buzzwords or certain kinds of circumstances. When you know what your triggers are, you can start cutting the frustration process off before it even starts.

5. Embrace the adventure! Whatever’s going on in life, good or bad, embrace it as an adventure. This attitude will empower you to make the most of the good stuff, and empower you to transform the bad stuff into something…better. Embracing the moment fully means you must let go of the previous moment, so, stop holding on to the past so you can embrace the present.

Homework Idea:

  1. Identify a frustrating circumstance in your life.
  2. Figure out what is causing this circumstance. Familiarize yourself with the thoughts, emotions and triggers that go along with it. Zero in on any judgments, expectation, attachments or assumptions you might have. Are you flowing with the emotions or not? Are you trying to avoid something painful?
  3. Plan some good ways to turn this frustrating circumstance into flow. I’ve given you tons of great tools above. Some final ones for turning frustration into flow are Gratitude, Forgiveness and Compassion.

A couple more quotes about flow:

“The task is to learn how to enjoy everyday life without diminishing other people’s chances to enjoy theirs.” ― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” ― Alan W. Watts



Photo credit: Alex Iby

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