The Pursuit of Happiness and Liberation

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:

  1. The task must be attainable or within reach of being completed through employing skills.
  2. We have to concentrate on what we are doing so that action and awareness merge into a single stream.
  3. The task must have clear goals.
  4. It must provide immediate feedback.
  5. It rises above the concerns of everyday life.
  6. It makes us feel as if we are in control.
  7. Concern for the self disappears, but a stronger sense of self emerges out of the flow experience .
  8. 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.