Finding the flow

Imagine the human being like a complex, vastly intelligent and finely balanced machine.

When it works smoothly it is magnificent and flows without effort.

But when something goes wrong it grinds and tears at itself and makes horrible noises.

The human being is not really a machine but it does flow with impeccable smoothness and ease, and it does grind and tear and make horrible disturbances when something goes wrong.

I’ve been interested in religions, philosophies and other teachings that address on the one hand the perfect state of flow we all innately desire, and on the other hand the “something” that went wrong with us to disturb this flow.

Through my studies and my searching I’ve slowly merged and converged these many explanations into a core set of principles.

Flow is natural

Flow is our natural state of being. Natural means “from birth” (natal) and denotes what belongs to us innately (in-born), our essence.

Flow is ordered

Our natural state of being is ordered, it participates in an order that is expressed through all things, all being. When we participate in the state of flow we feel connected to the greater pattern, the chorus, the flow of all existence.

Flow is empowering

When we connect with this state of flow we remove resistance from our immediate experience. This may feel like handing over control to something greater than ourselves, and at the same time we feel as if our physical self operates on a kind of intelligent auto-pilot.

This is empowering because it demonstrates in real time the ease of non-resistance. The power is in the freedom from effort, the timing, the sense of being guided, the sense of being able to sit back and relax rather than micromanage. Going with the flow, within the flow, rather than fighting our way through life.

Resistance disrupts the flow

Resistance occurs whenever something grabs our attention and pulls us out of the flow.

The primary source of resistance is our belief in negative consequences or outcomes. When we think something bad may happen the flow is disrupted in us, and we experience the disruption as fear in various degrees and forms.

Most of us accrue a number of fears in early life, typically learning them from other people and our own experiences.

Layers of resistance

We tell ourselves complicated stories and enact patterns of behaviour in an effort to manage our fear.

Flow is replaced by our own efforts and struggles to control resistance. But typically we just create more resistance.

For example, we begin to crave things that we believe will make up for the problems caused by our fears. Fear and craving dominate our motives when we are no longer in a state of flow.

Flow is fearless

In a state of flow there is no belief in bad outcomes or consequences.

A state of flow can only come when we believe nothing bad can happen.

The moment we think there’s something “important” at stake, we are pulled into micromanagement and a focusing of attention that disrupts the flow.

Flow is freedom

Daoist, Neo-Confucian, and Zen Buddhist literature has some great resources on the psychology of this flow state.

In particular one of the more famous samurai wrote about this state, and received illuminating teachings on it from a renowned monk contemporary.

In the context of fighting, the mind must not “stop” at anything: not thoughts of losing nor thoughts of winning, not fear of being cut with the sword, nor thoughts of using some particular technique.

In a life and death struggle, these people believed the state of flow to be of greatest significance and value. Surely we, in our easy modern lives can find it too?