I finished reading Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Steps toward Enhancing the Quality of Life (1990) by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The author spent years interviewing or surveying thousands of people from a broad range of occupations about what conditions allow them to enter into a unique state of consciousness, which is both productive, focused and enjoyable — in other words, getting into the flow.
One evening, I was sitting in a cafe waiting for my wife to get off work and reading the opening chapters of the book. I read the rather dry definition:
“The events that constitute consciousness — the things we see, fell, think and desire — are information that we can manipulate and use. Thus we might think of consciousness as intentionally order information.”
A lot of ideas started falling into place. We can choose how we perceive the world — or that small stream of events that we perceive through our senses and interpret with our mind.”We create ourselves by how we invest our energy ” (p. 33) and I understood that I had a lot more power over what mattered in my life than I thought.
I can’t do justice to the book here, but I do want to mention the eight elements that distinguish the flow experience:
- The task must be attainable or within reach of being completed through employing skills.
- We have to concentrate on what we are doing so that action and awareness merge into a single stream.
- The task must have clear goals.
- It must provide immediate feedback.
- It rises above the concerns of everyday life.
- It makes us feel as if we are in control.
- Concern for the self disappears, but a stronger sense of self emerges out of the flow experience .
- The sense of time is altered, even suspended.
The author cites yoga (and the martial arts) as an experience open to the psychology and physiology of flow. Indeed, he answered a question that I had been chewing on: why does yoga seem so hard for me, even after nearly three years of practice? When I’m in the middle of a vinyasa class, I never feel that I’ve have command over the asanas and movement, but I am still testing my edge, taking poses deeper, holding them longer, adding a bind. Some day I may master Sun Salutation and its variations. Hatha yoga offers an almost limitless horizon of challenge. But in the meantime, I can still savor the initial achievements of riding the breath and turning inward. Physically, yoga opens the door to flow so that I can experience it directly, so that I know what it feels like. Then, I can come back to that same feeling when I am thinking, writing or cutting the lawn.