You might have no idea what flow is. But if you do, you would know that flow is an experience of heightened awareness where effort falls off and focus zones in.
You would know that when you are in flow, you dissolve in the act and become indistinguishable from its purpose.
You would know that the ordinary mechanisms of your perception are altered to accommodate for your highest level of performance.
You would know that flow is that state of presence where you are so absorbed in and focussed on a task that you need not even think about it to execute it with grace.
You would know that because of that your inner critic zips it, and the boundaries between you, the world, and your focus dissolve into a stream of effortless performance.
You would know that when you are in flow you operate at your creative best, efficiently and fast. You might also know that many have written about the symptoms of flow, and that flow has been correlated with your natural state happiness and dubbed the optimal state of experience.
What you would know by now, even if you did not know what flow was, is that flow is just another way of saying that you are in the zone and operating with utter clarity.
If you play an instrument or if you draw, paint or sculpt you might be familiar with this experience. Or it might have appeared when you read a book with full concentration, or played a sport in utter focus.
Flow is usually a spontaneous occurrence if you perform on a high level. The ability to experience flow is usually preceded by a period of mastery. It’s when you become so good at a particular task that you don’t register any interruptions, and any obstacle becomes but another stepping stone to a higher learning experience.
Just like water entering a dry river bed, it will be chaotic at first as it crashes into the soil, off the rocks, and around the plants. After a while, however, the masses of water merge with the terrain and adapt to its contours as they generalize into a smooth, unified flow.
Traditionally, flow has been seen as an experience with an object, that is being in flow with a task, rather than as a state independent from it. The majority of research into the phenomenon has focussed on the symptoms rather than its causes. Knowing the conditions of flow when it has already arisen, however, won’t help anyone to create the conditions that cause it. A cold might make you sneeze, but deciding to sneeze won’t give you have a cold.
You can’t be in flow when you are standing in your own way. It’s no surprise that descriptions of peak experiences, whether spiritual, physical, artistic, relational or intellectual share the very same characteristics. Because when we perform at our peak we enter into alignment with ourselves and the world.
This experience of resonance, this fusing with all that is at our disposal turns us from a collection of drops into a unified mass. In flow you stop trying to fight the beast of conditions, in flow you learn to ride it.
That is why the most important element of flow is the dissolution of the self-concept. When you forget who you think you are, you are not bound by the notions and limitations you carry about yourself. This frees you up to be who you really are. That is yourself in a more boundless way, unaffected by the ordinary limitations of your ego. This is not to say that flow will make you excel at everything, but that it will allow you to dive into a process with singularity of focus allowing for the pain of effort to recede from your experience.
However, flow is not just an experience in relation to a task. Flow is a state of presence. Once you begin to see flow in this way, you will notice that the experience needn’t be anchored to a task. Just as you can remember the humor of a joke without remembering the joke itself, you can be in the state of flow without needing a task to anchor it to.
What stops us from experiencing flow is our compulsion to impose conditions on our experience and on its outcomes. Presuming that we already know just how it is supposed to be, we prevent it from being just the way it is. When we refuse reality, we stick our heads in the sand. But when we accept everything just as it is, we become what is and dissolve into it. Then, we learn to play what is like an instrument, and dance with it as it dances with us.
When I realized that I could sustain the experience of flow independently from an object or task, it became obvious that it’s not just an experience but a discrete state. Without the worry of failure, without the tyranny of boundaries, without the intrusion of doubt, flow can be a generalized state.
It was a groundbreaking moment to not only discover this but to make it a reality. I was not just in flow when I worked, or when I spoke, or when I made music, or when I wrote, or when I drafted and developed ideas, I was in flow with myself and in flow with reality whenever and spontaneously. And it was just as easy as moving myself into that particular mode of attention and presence without connecting it to any one object or process in particular.
The experience of generalized flow feels like personal infinity. Your focus is laser-like, your attention wide, your emotions just pure, and your mind brilliantly clear. While a silent mind is by no means unique, the experience of yourself as not mind, nor body, but as the electric presence that gives life to both is. Especially because, then, you are able to use your mind from a position of independence, as a tool rather than a fixation and express whatever occurs to you as immediately as you intend it.