In the zone: autotelic/flow states for anxiety and depression

Flow states are often discussed in terms of peak performance, both individual and group.

Mystical experience is presented as spiritually therapeutic, enlightening, and consciousness-expanding.

The two are closely related – mystical texts often draw on common experiences of flow to engage the reader. Mysticism is flow, and flow psychology seeks to demystify it.

An autotelic state is an end-in-itself. Flow feels so good; yet flow psychology also frames it in terms of performance, encouraging forward-thinking corporations to enact flow-positive policies and practices to enhance productivity.

Crippling anxiety and depression led me to explore mysticism in hopes of understanding the fundamental meaning and purpose of existence, along with the promise of complete freedom from suffering.

Many years later, flow psychology provides an apt mainstream depiction of a better way of being, primed for synthesising with law-of-attraction-based theories and practices.

What Abraham-Hicks calls “getting into the vortex”, “alignment with your inner being”, and myriad other wordings, is in essence the same as achieving flow state in everyday life.

What does flow state feel like? Letting go of your sense of self and bringing your focus into the present; allowing impulses and ideas to arise naturally, flowing seamlessly one to the next.

I found my perfect expression of flow state/alignment in the Japanese texts “The Unfettered Mind” and “The Life-Giving Sword”. The former comprised of letters from a Zen monk to a famous samurai on the essential congruity of their mutual professions; the latter comprising the samurai’s personal collation of methods and techniques for combat.

What they describe is a flow state, a state of consciousness where “the mind doesn’t stop” in the sense of getting caught up on any single thought or fear or detail of immediate experience.

But it proved difficult to enter this state while burdened with many negative beliefs and physically ingrained trauma. Difficult to enter and difficult to maintain.

Over the years I let my focus shift to cognitive and finally to somatic methods of releasing past trauma and retraining my body and mind into a more healthy homeostasis.

At the same time, the Abraham-Hicks material completely reframed my understanding of the flow state, what it means, and how to get into it.

Abraham teaches that this state of alignment is simply an “allowing” and “receiving” of everything we have implicitly asked for throughout the contrast of life experience.

Our inner being already knows what we want and how to get it. We don’t need to strive or struggle at all. Simply focus on thoughts that feel better, and when our resistance is low enough “the vortex will take you in” – which is to say, you will naturally enter a state of flow if you aren’t doing something to hold yourself apart from it.

It requires practice and it requires focus. But I discovered for myself that in the context of sparring in a martial art that our body and mind don’t need to be told “don’t get hit”. In a state of flow, if someone throws a punch and the punch is on a trajectory to hit you, your body will naturally respond in the most appropriate way possible.

But if you stand there thinking “I mustn’t get hit! Oh no he looks really quick! Damn that’s a good punch! I should block it with this technique…” your own thoughts will interfere with what your body and deeper mind know to do.

Likewise Abraham teaches that our inner being doesn’t need us to constantly pick at or push for or worry about our desires in life. If we allow ourselves to enter a state of flow, we immediately begin receiving thoughts and ideas that are as naturally our response to life-itself, as an intuitive deflection is to an incoming punch.

This is where the law-of-attraction context is important, because it facilitates in everyday life what the flow psychologists have found predominantly in a goal-oriented context, with unpredictability and risk also contributing to the achievement of flow.

Abraham would tell us that we don’t need risk or unpredictability or big goals. All we need is focus. And the law of attraction gives us a perspective of reality that makes an everyday focus far from “mundane”.

We each create our own reality. Our thoughts and our focus shape what we are able to receive. The flow state is what happens when we allow ourselves to receive thoughts and impulses coming from our inner being without resistance.

Following these thoughts and impulses within a state of flow feels great. It also leads us in the direction of everything we desire. As most of us can attest: strange and miraculous things happen when we let go of our resistance on a subject.

Meaningful coincidences that feel like magic despite our attempts to rationalise them. Feats of timing and the coming together of ideas as if we are being guided by a benevolent and omniscient deity. Subtle shifts in our own and others’ personalities that effortlessly resolve seemingly impossible situations.

Abraham’s teachings give us reason to see each moment of the everyday as an opportunity to enter the flow, not for the sake of these miraculous coincidences, but for the pure appreciation of how good it feels to not resist, and align at last with the deeper, all-powerful part of us.

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