The Pathless Path

Wayne C. Allen – a simple Zen guy – writes about living and relating elegantly


Flexibility – How to Get Your Life Together – 2


How to Get Your Life Together – 2- Learning flex­i­bil­ity – stop making excuses for contin­u­ing to do what doesn’t work – is an impor­tant part of living the wise life

flexibility three forks

Number 2 The Need for Flexibility

It’s sad that most people rigidly behave in ways that get them what they don’t want, and then blame others or the situ­a­tion, rather than their behav­iour, for the prob­lem.

I spent several hours last week doing a light re-edit of my first book, Stories From the Sea of Life. It came out back in 1994, and went out of print at the turn of the century. I still think the stories in it are good — so I turned it into a pdf and am giving it away as a bonus for subscribers to my Phoenix Centre Press website.

I’m always think­ing about the next arti­cle for this blog, and read­ing the old stores got me to think­ing. One of the key prin­ci­ples for a rich and mean­ing­ful life is notic­ing the results of what you are doing.

Please! Notice the word notice!

Because if you are just doing… doing because "That’s how I always do it!" … doing because you think doing it another way is hard… doing because your mommy told you to… doing because you’re proud, and never ask for advice about doing another way… you’re likely stuck.

Noticing the results of what you are doing is key.

I have a young friend who says she wants a partic­u­lar kind of guy. She’s even done part of a List of 50, so she kind of knows

what she’s look­ing for.

She swears she will wait until "that guy" shows up. Then "the next guy in line" shows up, and she starts dating him… and bonk­ing him. And then, he turns out to be a jerk.

I wonder aloud about this repeat­ing pattern. She sighs, "You don’t get it. He asked me out! What’s wrong with men, anyway?"

I wonder what’s wrong with what she’s doing, and how she manages, repeat­edly, to avoid any respon­si­bil­ity for her poor choices.

And from there, I thought about Pete from Iowa, and trout fishing in Montana.

No, really.

Here’s a story from Stories From the Sea of Life:

Just a Note! Back in 1994, My first book, Stories From the Sea of Life was published. It’s now out of print, BUT is avail­able as a pdf file. If you’d like to read more of the stories contained therein, amble over to my book site, The Phoenix Centre Press. Once there, subscribe to the site’s mail­ing list, and you’ll get the pdf for FREE!

It’s Refreshing

pete flexibility

Pete from Iowa was one of my Freshman room mates, in 1968, at good old Elmhurst College. He intro­duced me to the idea of mean­ing­less and super­fi­cial refresh­ment.

The town Pete came from was so small that the chief enter­tain­ment for teens was to jump into their pick­ups and cruise around the block, which just about circled the town. Then they’d go over to the A & W, have a root beer and check out the girls. They wore an "outfit" — crew cut, black jeans, white or coloured tee-shirt with a pack of smokes rolled up in the sleeve… and cowboy boots.

Pete liked to feel refreshed. All the time. He told me that. Repeatedly. I thought that meant he show­ered a lot. Wrong.

I noticed that he had brought along to College what for me would have been a life­time supply of the indus­trial size cans of Right Guard Aerosol Deodorant. Initially, I was glad that he was so consci­en­tious, as it was a small room with no air condi­tion­ing, and I there­fore consid­ered deodor­ant to be a direct gift from God.

About a week into the Semester, I was lying abed study­ing, when in rushed Pete. "Boy oh boy, guy," said Pete. "Shore is a hot ‘un out chere." And he grabs a can of Right Guard, lifts his arm heav­en­ward and sprays a goodly dose of the prod­uct on the appro­pri­ate area. One small prob­lem, though. I noticed that he had neglected to remove his white tee-shirt.

Ever the kind soul, ever will­ing to illu­mi­nate this back­wards kid from Iowa, I pointed out the error of his ways. To which he replied, "We always do it that way back home. Cools ya right off." I think it was then and there that I began to hate the expres­sion, "We always did it that way."

This little trip to the aerosol can took place not once a day, but every time Pete left the room. I began to wonder how he was able to raise the arm of his shirt, so heav­ily laden was it with Right Guard. Right Guard ceased to be my prod­uct of choice, from that day on.

Refreshment (becom­ing fresh and alive again) has more to do with a state of mind than it does with taking a day off. It is an atti­tude, not a tech­nique. It can’t be bought and applied. It must be lived. It is an inter­nal choice, and thus is not about vaca­tions, relax­ation, exer­cise or eating right. It is about a change of heart and a change of mind.

End of the first story.

The lesson I learned was to slow down on offer­ing unso­licited advice. I mostly wait for people to sign on as clients or sign up for the blog. But the "We always do it that way back home. Cools ya right off." thing is no differ­ent from my young friend getting lousy dating results, and endlessly repeat­ing the pattern.

The defense, "That’s how WE do it" is a way of deflect­ing respon­si­bil­ity for results. It’s focus is on "them" or "the past." I truly believe that the only place your atten­tion ought to be is on you and your behav­iour.

Example: if your kids act up, your job is to provide clar­ity, or punish­ment, or what­ever. However, you really, really need to moni­tor HOW you react. Do you yell? Say inap­pro­pri­ate things? Roll over and give in?

Then, monitor your results.

The thing you can do some­thing about is what you do. In other words, you pay atten­tion both to the results of your behav­iour, and the behav­iour itself. Rather than say, "That’s what I always do," you make another choice.

Here’s another story, about changing what you are doing to get better results.

Back in the late 70s, my parents retired to Three Forks, Montana. Dad had family there. I briefly thought about moving there too, but didn’t.

Three Forks, as every­one knows, 😉 is "The head­wa­ters of the Missouri," — where the "Gallatin, Jefferson, and Madison Rivers converge to form the mighty Missouri." Thus, three forks. Get it? Nothing at all to do with eating. (Parenthetically, Darbella and I may just be there this summer, as a part of a road trip. Photos to follow.)

Now, I continue to make jokes about Three Forks, (more bars than banks…) but let me tell you, those rivers contain a pile of trout. And my uncle Barney was one hell of a trout fisher.

(Historical notes: 1) the movie "A River Runs Through It" was filmed in the area. 2) In the 70s, when they moved the Fly Fisher-persons Hall of Fame (or some­thing) to the region, President Jimmy Carter (a prodi­gious fly-fisher) came in to dedi­cate it. My Uncle Barney was one of his guides for a fish­ing trip. 3.) No rabbits attacked President Carter during this trip. The first person to notice and explain this last refer­ence by making a comment on the blog wins an auto­graphed copy of my newest book, The. Best. Relationship. Ever., includ­ing free ship­ping anywhere!)

flexibility fishing

Uncle Barney decided it would take too much work to turn me into a fly fisher. So, he and my cousin Mike taught me to fly fish using a spin cast­ing rod. I got pretty OK at it. Dad learned to fly cast, as he was retired and had the requi­site time on his hands.

One day, dad and I headed out at 6 pm to catch some fish. I think we were on the Gallatin, but maybe not, as there are at least three other choices. We stood on the banks, picked out a fly or two, threaded ’em on, and proceeded to catch water for an hour.

Nary a bite, as they would say in Three Forks, and elsewhere.

Next day, I was deject­edly wander­ing the street of Three Forks (I jest. Three Forks has more than one street.) I found a fly-tying shop. I decided to wander in and look around.

The nice (and by nice I mean cute) lady behind the counter asked if she could help me. I assumed she meant as related to fishin’, so we began a dialogue.

I told her where dad and I had been the evening before. I griped that I’d used my favourite fly, and then my second most favourite fly, and that "I’d been skunked."

She asked me what I’d been usin’.

horse and rider flexibility

Now, you need to know that I’m not shy about blend­ing in. People dress like cow-persons in Montana, and I was doing my best to look the part. I was dressed in (hiking) boots, jeans, a cowboy shirt, and a wide brimmed cowboy hat, which I had bought on my first trip to Montana.

(I dug up this photo of the outfit, sans fishin’ rod, but adding a horse. Yup. That’s me. Noticeably younger — I’m told I have a good seat! I was disap­pointed to later learn that this means I ride horses well.)

I took off my hat, and extracted the flies I’d used the night before from the hatband.

She laughed. (Not because I had ’em in my hatband. That’s where you chuck ’em.) "No wonder you didn’t catch anything!"

"Huh?" I replied. "They always worked before." (Variation on, "We Always Did It That Way." See above story.)

She reached into her display case, yanked out a plas­tic box, grabbed a tray from the box, opened a stor­age container and tossed 4 flies on the counter. "Use these. You gotta match the hatch."

"Huh?" I replied.

"There’s Mayflies (or some­thing) hatch­ing right now. The trout ain’t gonna bite on nothin’ else."

I figured she was trying to rip off the bozo from back East, but I really wanted to catch some fish. I risked, "So, how much for the flies?"

"Two bucks, for the four."

Sheepishly, I plunked down a fiver, and got my change. I didn’t need a bag — My hat band had plenty of room.

That night, dad and I went back (Fish story alert! Fish story alert!) to the exact same spot. We tied on the new flies. One hour later, we’d caught and released 20 or so large trout. We also kept 6 for break­fast. The only reason we quit was that our arms were tired from reel­ing them in.

"You gotta match the hatch, ’cause the trout ain’t gonna bite on nothin’ else."

Spraying deodor­ant on one’s shirt covers up a deeper prob­lem. All that happens is that the deeper prob­lem goes back­ground for a moment or two, and then rears up again. Plus, you end up with a really disgust­ing shirt.

Now, stripping away the shirt and getting down to skin, to soap, and to washing takes a bit more time, but the results are much better.

Now, admit­tedly, if I’d have waited a month or two, maybe the flies I started out with might have just caught some fish. But that’s dumb. Changing flies at the time of the fail­ure — and chang­ing them again and again as neces­sary, is the secret to consis­tently catch­ing fish in the here and now. It doesn’t matter what used to work. All that matters,, to repeat, is right now.

If it ain’t work­ing, doing more of it ain’t gonna work either.

  • If you’re yammer­ing on about some­thing, and no one else is biting, maybe you need to let the thing go.
  • If you’re ignor­ing some­thing and hoping it will go away, and it isn’t, maybe you have to deal with it.
  • If you find your­self saying, "It always turns out like that," maybe you need to try another fly. (Jeez, consid­er­ing my young friend, that could be taken a couple of ways”¦)

This week, match the hatch. You might gain a fish success story of your own.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s arti­cle sit with you? What ques­tions do you have? Leave a comment or ques­tion!

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Wisdom – How to Get Your Life Together 1


Dropping Duality – How to Get Your Life Together – 3


  1. Hi Wayne! Thank you for these last two posts! I’m loving them and you always surprise me, I wouldn’t have imag­ined you as a cowboy on a horse and there you are!

    • Hi Isabel!
      Glad you like the posts — they\’ve been fun to write, and to do a bit of look­ing back. Spent a lot of time on horse­back in Montana.

  2. Peter

    “On April 20, 1979, Jimmy Carter went on a solo fish­ing expe­di­tion in his home­town of Plains, Georgia. Afterwards, the former pres­i­dent stated, “A rabbit being chased by hounds jumped in the water and swam toward my boat. When he got almost there, I splashed some water with a paddle.” Upon return­ing to his office, Carter’s staff did not believe his story, insist­ing that rabbits couldn’t swim, or that they would never approach a person threat­en­ingly. The inci­dent was captured on footage taken by a White House photog­ra­pher.” – – Wikipedia

    I’d heard this story some­where before, and it certainly didn’t help Carter’s repu­ta­tion as a wimp and a bit of a crack­pot. He put solar panels on the roof of the White House, which Reagan promptly tore down when enter­ing office. Maybe they should have listed to the wimp a bit more.

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