The “Flow” State

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In the past few years, I have learned how to surf, snowboard, and float on a OneWheel. With all three of these sports, people often say things like, “catch a wave,” or “shredding the mountain,” or “keep the stoke,” which are various ways of saying something we all say, get in “the flow state,” or in “the zone.”

What is this “flow state” or “zone?” How do we get there? What prevents us from getting there?

I define “the zone” or interchangeably, “the flow state,” as a mental state where mind, body and Spirit intersect in a way that creates ease and joy while simultaneously being fully immersed and focused on the moment at hand.

Wikipedia defines it as:

In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.

In other words, it’s another way to say, “connecting with Spirit.” Pretty cool that we all want to be connected to Spirit, right?

So, how do we get there?

For everyone, it is different. When I reflect back on the times I’ve been in the flow state, I am focused while simultaneously not TOO focused – there is a balance between being in control and allowing things to happen. There is a certain awareness that I am totally present – all of me – my mind body and Spirit. Totally present for the task/moment at hand. Totally immersed in it. All of me is there, doing this thing…doing something where I’m not controlling it necessarily, it’s more of a calm, get-out-of-my-own-way allowing process.

If you read my last blog post, I reviewed Martha Beck’s book, The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self. The author defines integrity as being whole or undivided. To achieve structural integrity, a person needs to be fully aligned with their true self – mind, body and Spirit working together.

When I’m in the flow while playing the piano, my mind is focused on the music and what’s going on with my body – my fingers, the feeling of playing and the emotion of playing while NOT being distracted by the myriad of other things my mind tends to get distracted by. AND, it does not over obsess with trying to control my piano playing. My mind’s job is to read/remember the music. What I mean by not over obsessing is: allowing and letting the music happen. In “the zone,” the music almost plays itself. I am the conduit. Something happens near the beginning of playing the music or somewhere along the way – my Spirit steps in, and from that point forward, I’m allowing.

So, if it’s as simple as allowing, why don’t we just allow things to happen instead of trying to practice or exert control? Isn’t allowance just a lack of exerting control? No. True allowance can be a tricky thing. You think that all you have to do is step back, but when you’ve been practicing your whole life to exert control, allowing is an art that takes as much dedication and practice as picking up any new sport. This is why meditation is so important. Meditation is the practice of calming the mind and the body to allow space for the Spirit to step forward.

In this new age and time, the definition of meditation is starting to take on a wider meaning. Any activity that has the ability to calm the mind and body, can create that space for the Spirit. In my practice, I not only practice traditional meditation (where I sit or lay still while I calm my mind and body), I also practice painting, music, running, hiking, OneWheeling, ceramics, gardening, singing, dancing, etc. All of these modalities keep me in the present moment while activating my mind and body in different ways which creates the “spark” for my Spirit to emerge. The more I practice, the easier it is to get into “the zone.”

When my mind departs from the task at hand, that’s when things go downhill very quickly. If I’m thinking about chores while I play the piano, suddenly, I lose my place in the music and the notes stop flowing. When I start worrying about how to control my snowboard instead of calming my mind while I’m snowboarding, I fall hard. When I’m not paying attention to what’s going on around me while I’m OneWheeling and instead start working on my long list of todo’s in my head, bad things happen.

It is so important that we work on having what Martha Beck calls “structural integrity.” Taking care of our bodies, not allowing our minds to run off, being fully present and immersed in the moment, and in turn, creating the space for our Spirit to step forward – allows that “flow state” to just happen. The music plays itself. Shredding down the mountain is epic. Running is effortless. Painting is magical. Life unfolds with ease and joy.

With a whole heart,