A sense of Flow
The Feeling of Bliss
An idea that shapes my view of the world is the experience of flow. Flow is losing yourself in an activity. It's about doing something that is just on the edge of your abilities. Something that pushes you. Not too little, not too much. An activity with clear feedback and a clear goal in mind.
When in a state of flow, the world collapses and disappears, there is only my mind and the task at hand and that feeling is just wonderful.
Originally the idea was developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow and I think that it is the most important conscious experience in my life. It's what I want to optimize my time for.
To be able to do activities and completely lose all sense of the world around us...
I want to get sucked into this "mindless" state of pure concentration and bliss. That's something tying together the many things I like doing.
Being stretched to exhaustion but also happy in doing what I love - is my idea of a fulfilled life.
When I spend time in flow, I also get more experienced, I expand my skills and I progress. I can do things that others would consider work but when I get to a state of flow they just don't feel like work at all. Work becomes play. That is flow.
This is the intersection point that I want to spend most of my time at.
The point where work seems and feels effortless. Where I can be concentrated. Where time and hours, pass by.
Gathering skills and mind, and pouring them into one task to get to the desired outcome is what I want to do. It is what I seek.
Flow is also time spent pursuing my interests. It is time spent, with a mind strained, but also, at rest and peace. And it's the time when I feel the happiest.
Flow as a Meditative State
The experience of flow reminds me a lot of meditation. In a way, meditation is a practice to produce flow states. To successfully meditate you need to intensely focus, you need to concentrate and stretch yourself. It's a game, with very clear rules and a clear definition of doing it "right".
While meditating the focus is usually on something that does not usually need concentration, something that feels natural to us, like breathing or walking.
And in doing this work of concentrating on the breath, on the feeling of the body, on the calmness of the mind, on the sensation of being, I can also enter flow states. My mind can forget about time and be at peace, while also straining itself, and concentrating one hundred percent.
I, personally, find meditation harder to do because it is easier to lose myself in flow states with other activities like writing, or coding. Hence I don't meditate regularly. Whenever I try, I feel like it doesn't benefit me enough to be worth the amount of time I need to put into it...
I'd rather stretch myself in pursuit of learning or building something. And get lost in concentration that way. While coding or writing or playing the piano. And so I prefer these activities over meditation. They are things that I know can get me into flow states reliably and therefore I do not need to rely on meditation.
To me, everything that produces flow is, in a way, an act of meditation anyways. Because I think that the two, flow and meditation, are intimately linked.
Meditation is a tool to produce flow and flow is what makes meditation beneficial. Because meditation only relies on you being there, it can produce flow everywhere and at any time, if practiced enough.
For other things, like coding or writing or playing music you rely on other things. If they are not there, you can't be in flow states... Meditation in that way is the simplest activity imaginable that reliably produces flow states.
Another advantage of flow is the growth that happens during it. Sometimes after I have spent countless hours working away on something, I can stop and realize - oh, this thing I worked on turned out nice. And then I smile.
The result, the artifact from the state of flow, that sticks even after the experience is over is rewarding. Some result, some progress. Something worthwhile.
In Parkour this would be a new move learned. In photography, a bunch of beautiful pictures, in painting, a piece of art, in programming, a finished product or website, in music a new song, in writing a piece of text.
All of the activities I value the most have these two things in common.
- They are flow states.
- They have a result. In the end, they create something of value to me.
And the creations serve as a measure of progress. They help to reinforce the flow state and also act as a motivation to do them more often. Kind of like a reminder of why I am doing these things. And in the end, the things created during periods of flow, also communicate who I am and what makes me - me.
This expression of individuality in all of the skills is what they are about. It is one of the driving forces, the motivation, if you so will, to keep going. And this motivation to move on, to grow, to do greater and better than before, to progress and experience flow states, and to try our best, and see how far we can get, is also deeply human. And I am grateful for that.
Even though these activities are worthwhile on their own there is one danger to them. The more destinations we go to, the lesser the distance we can travel. The more projects we pick up, the less the amount of mileage we'll have. And this will act against us if we compare our achievements to those of other people.
It diminishes the greatness of the things we bring back from those journeys of flow. Because they will feel worthless if we compare them to the achievements of other people.
Losing myself and becoming better than I was yesterday is what it is all about.
But it is all too easy to forget that fact and end up comparing ourselves with others anyways. And this can make us lose the ability to motivate ourselves enough to keep doing the activities that give us these wonderful flow states. And that's why it is one of the fundamental problems of life. The weirdest paradox of it all is that if we are only motivated by the flow states and don't compare ourselves at all, we usually excel the most. It's those people motivated by a love for the craft, who constantly spend their time pushing themselves because they enjoy it so much, that reach world-class levels. And they usually don't bother comparing themselves with others at all.
So, yeah, it should not be too important to be the best at the things we do. Ideally, it wouldn't matter at all. Because we will be perfectly happy, if we can be content to be a little better than the day before and spend as much time as possible, flowing through the activities that we love. So what are you waiting for?
Go, do something that you know can keep you in a state of flow.