The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Flow Is The Door

Byron Katie has four questions she uses to help people investigate their internal states. Taken deeply enough, they can have a profound effect.
1)Is it true?

2) Can you absolutely know that it's true?

3) How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?

4) Who would you be without the thought?

Very good stuff.


Flow is the highest state of "ordinary" mind (in the sense that most of us experience it, on a regular basis) and arguably the most basic of the higher mind states. It is a "threshold" to these states, and possibly the last stop for the rational, linguistic mind before something...else begins to take over.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written at length on the subject of flow, and while his work is valuable, it is more important by far to actually experience it. And the first step it to recognize it. This can be odd, because for many people, recognizing flow pops you out of it. As you go deeper, it stabilizes, and you can actually observe yourself in flow without disrupting it. One of the reasons I encourage people to seek goals in all three arenas is that I think, based on what people told me after I'd swallowed their b.s. for years, that 99.9% of people want love, health, and success--according to their own values. But they grow despairing, and it hurts too much to think about it, and so begin to lie. "I never really wanted it anyway..." is easier than admitting you want something you no longer believe you can have. For the .1% who genuinely don't want these things...I think you know what I mean, and my intent, and these comments don't offend or disturb you in the slightest. If you feel angry, frustrated, or disturbed, on the other hand...yeah, I'm talking about you.

Anyway, that's one reason. The other is that if you learn to experience flow in these three arenas, if you overlap the experiences in a little Vin diagram, you'll learn something interesting about the commonalities. This became clear to me when I'd found "flow" in the following physical arenas: tai chi, yoga, running (the sense of standing still while the world is moving around you is simply phenomenal. The sense in Tai Chi that you are standing still while the universe folds and unfolds you like Origami is stupendous. And no, I don't experience that any more--I simply haven't done enough Tai Chi over the last decade). A little in karate and silat. Kali and escrima...yep. Got a great story about that involving psilocybin, but that was a long, long time ago. Honest. Scott Sonnon's TacFit is simply gorgeous for teaching flow, if you will actually follow his instructions and NEVER take the relative pain above a "3" while simultaneously seeking a level of technique at a "7" or above. Add the "Be Breathed" technique, and you have a genius-level way to experience one of the most powerful forms of meditation: physical flow.The dissolution of the subject-object relationship. "She's moved into the danger zone, where the dancer becomes the dance."

The last few seconds before you reach an orgasm, where the ego boundaries between you and your partner begin to fade, and there are no longer two people: "it" is happening. Speaking to women who are non-orgasmic, I've repeatedly heard the fear of "losing myself" expressed.

Anyway, I got it. Flow is also experienced by many people in the mental realm. Writing, drawing, ...many others. The place where the page just "opens up" and you fall into the story. Time dissolves. Outside distractions fade. In a sufficiently deep state, the room could be burning around you, and you wouldn't notice. The "absent minded professor" is dealing with such focused states. In fact, my own suspicion is that the core human talent is the capacity to focus on a single thing...and then another single thing...and then another, until the job is done, or the lesson learned.

Emotionally, this is trickier. Imagine a crystal tube filled with rocks. You pour in gravel to fill the spaces. Then you pour in sand to fill THOSE spaces. And now, when it seems pour in water. The water is flow. Regardless of the obstacles in life, there is still something clear, and cool, and pure. Not the things you can see, or name. The space around the obstacles.

Anyone reading this blog knows that I've been dealing with major challenges on this level. My life, my environment, my career...many of the external things that I've used to define myself have changed massively, due to my relationship commitments. And it has been unbelievably painful and challenging, and has involved the death of much of my ego definition. And in the midst of that, I have to find a way to be loving, and connected, and supportive, and move on. The last weeks have, in other words, been a microcosm of life itself.

To do what must be done: love my family, do my work, care for my mind and body, find joy in a place I never ever wanted to be, begin to embrace a new existence by seeing the ways life is the the depths, life is the same. Only the rippling surface has changed. I'm not there all the time, by any means. But more often I have that quality of focused release, of effortless exertion, that I recognize from martial arts, writing, and meditation.

And where all three of these things: body, career, and relationship overlap, there is a quality of being present, aware, alert but unattached...that doesn't quite have language to express. It is real, but unlabeled. When in that state, zen koans make perfect sense. I'd think this might be nuttiness, except that by the subjective measure of observers my martial arts are most efficient in that state. The writing I produce in that state is better. And the quality of my companionship is superior. It also feels better. The problems are there. The fear, the depression, the anger, the doubt are often there, like rocks in the tube.

But if I don't take myself seriously, my ego shrinks until I can flow in the water between the grains of sand, the gravel, the rocks. I start to laugh. It simply isn't serious: it is just life.

My mother died twenty-seven years ago. I have her ashes on the shelf in my office. Every day I ask her: "How'm I doing, Mom?" And in the way only a loved one who has passed on can do, she reminds me that none of this is important enough to attach to, to take seriously. And that therefore I have no reason not to do my best, and adhere to my deepest values at all costs, to move beyond pain, and fear, and doubt, and jealousy. To contribute every day, and tell the people I love that I love them.

Because none of it matters. And everything matters.
And that makes perfect sense when you flow.

1 comment:

Viagra said...

My mother died twenty-seven years ago. I have her ashes on the shelf in my office.