The River of Life by Gail Lois Jaffe.
It's seems, at least from reading around the web, that the best way of getting into the magical state of 'flow' where we are super-productive and happy is to manage our affairs so that we can 'block out' periods of time, so there are few distractions and we can focus on just one thing - the task at hand. This post looks at 'Flow' from a very different perspective.
There's lots of advise on using systems like GTD to help us manage the mass of information, interruptions and requests that come our way, in order to protect periods of time where we can get into Flow. But many people struggle to implement systems like GTD and I suspect the reason we struggle is not what we think. We usually put the struggle down to a lack of self-discipline but the real reason is that it goes against a basic law of nature.... that what we resist persists.
The things we do that are in line with natural laws, that reflect how things really work, tend to be easy and simple... not complex or difficult. Like the person who tries to lose weight by going on some concocted diet and suddenly feeling all the more hungry, trying to engineer periods of 'flow' usually leaves us more frustrated, tense and prone to procrastination, taking us further away from the peaceful, easy and supremely creative state we were trying to attain.
The meaning of the term Flow, as first coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has probably been watered down considerably. Certainly, compared with the almost transcendent way of accomplishment that Mihaly first described in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience , the flow we get from following doctrines such as GTD is muted and fleeting at best, and hardly compelling. 'Transcendent Flow' arises from a willingness to be non-resistant to whatever is hapenning around us, to be in a state of 'receiving' instead of planning......listening to our intuition instead of our 'rational, thinking mind' and letting this inner knowing interpret and use everything that arises for it's own ends... our best interests.
This is a very subtle but incredibly powerful change of perspective. Instead of resisting what we don't want - the interruptions and distraction we 'label' bad and have decided are the cause of our lack of ease and productivity......we simply and gently let our attention rest on what we do want and be open to seeing how everything that comes along can serve us. Now I can imagine what you are thinking... and it's easy to dismiss this idea as outrageously impractical when you consider the idea of being unresistant to the fire-hose of distractions that we normally try and avoid; but if you do allow yourself to focus only on what you do want...i.e. be willing to 'follow your bliss', then any 'distractions', 'interruptions' or 'problems' that do arise you will begin to see in a new light.... as a gift. You will begin to see what you previously thought of as unwelcome things, in one of two ways:
- You will see this thing as something that is unexpectedly useful to your cause
- You will be aware of an issue from the past that has kept repeating itself but this time you also see your own part in bringing it about. You will recognise something you have become attached to or some old habit that no longer serves you and holds you back; and in this new light you will now have the opportunity to learn from it. This very act of learning from it, 'receiving the message' so to speak, is what lets it go.
What we find is that what we feed with our attention grows to the exclusion of all else; and so by gently redirecting our attention to what makes us happy, what happens around us supports us in that; and then this awareness and present focus brings us naturally into the flow state. We did nothing to make it happen but we did allow it to happen, and this makes all the difference. I know this is a difficult concept for our intellect to grasp so instead of trying to understand this at a rational level, I think the best way to approach this alternative 'way of being' is go at it crabwise....simply by trying it and then pay attention to the results.
To recap: When our attention is directed towards getting rid of interruptions, hassles or problems that is what we tend to get more of. When we focus on what we want, and hold a trusting openness to recieve, then that is how it must be. It is us that determines the quality of our experiences by what we choose to feed with our attention. Sounds too simplistic and easy doesn't it? We'll that is exactly our problem - we are so indoctrinated with the idea of the need for effort and 'paying our dues' that we have become almost incapable of recognising a gift horse when we see one.
Once trust grows in our inner knowing and we start to relax into this feeling of Flow that comes from within, the miraculous luck, joy and ease that
comes our way we create without any conscious planning is amazing. And all simply by allowing our attention to rest on whatever is here and trusting inspiration to lead the way.
Towards a permanent flow state.
Now, this leads on to an interesting question. If 'Flow' isn't restricted to the times when we are free of the hubbub and distractions of daily life then is it possible to have a life where the 'flow state' is the norm? Is there a way to have 'flow' all the time regardless of where we are, what we are doing or what seems to happening around us? There is. This little story from the book, 'Illusions' by Richard Bach hints at this same thing:
So it was that he went into the countryside the people following began to call him Messiah, and worker of miracles; and as they believed, it was so. If a storm passed as he spoke, not a raindrop touched a listener's head; the last of the multitude heard his words as clearly as the first, no matter lightning nor thunder in the sky about. And always he spoke to them in parables.
And he said unto them, "Within each one of us lies the power of consent to health and to sickness, to riches and to poverty, to freedom and to slavery, It is we who control these, and not another."
A mill-man spoke and said, "Easy words for you Master, for you are guided as we are not, and need not toil as we toil. A man has to work for his living in this world."
The Master answered and said:
"Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river. The current of the river swept silently over them all - young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going it's own way, knowing only its own crystal self. Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learnt from birth.
But one creature said at last, I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging I shall die of boredom.'
The other creatures laughed and said, 'Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you will die quicker than boredom!' But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks.
Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more. And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, 'See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!'
And the one carried in the current said, ' I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.' But they cried the more, 'Saviour!' all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a Saviour."
There's an un-examined assumption we make when we try to manage the events of our days and that assumption is that we do not create these events and circumstances ourselves...... and therefore we need to eradicate, avoid or manage those things we consider unwanted or bad. On the face of it, this assumption seems totally valid, especially when we look around at the and all the 'random', 'chaotic' and 'bad' things we see happening in the world around us. No wonder we never really question this underlying belief. But there is a different way of looking at this, that was recently popularised in the film, 'What the bleep do we know!?', that's worth considering.
What if we were mistaken and we had cause effect the wrong way round? Instead of us seeing ourselves as getting stressed about a precarious, chaotic and troubled world, what if life actually worked the other way around, and the world we look upon was simply a reflection of our state of mind? Seems far fetched I know, but more and more this perception makes sense and answers the big questions that we still seek to have answered.
Some (who can see far clearer than me) have reported that there is an underlying loving purpose behind everything that appears to happen and that purpose is to awaken us to the recognition that we are indeed the cause, and that we can just as easily create our world as a reflection our true loving nature instead of one that reflects our fears and insecurities. Could this be true?
Many would scoff at this idea, but there seems to be an idea growing in our collective consciousness that this is indeed the case. It speaks of the process of life as being simply an unmasking of our true, loving and miraculously creative nature..... that life's one loving purpose is for us to be happy......and not at some point in the future, or after we had achieved or learnt something but right now.... by just following our bliss and stop defending ourselves against what we 'think' is hapenning around us and let our intuition, our inner knowing, be our interpreter and guide.
Problems can show us where we still resist the flow of life. It has been said that we come together in this dance of life to perfectly reflect back to each other our resistance in order that we might see it for ourselves ..... the sinner and saint, the victim and victimiser, the deep thinker and the uncaring, the needy and the protector. What a brilliant plan! By choosing to follow our bliss we can start to recognise that everything is a gift, and is in some way useful.
'Flow' is a state that arises from non-resistance and happens, funnily enough, when we allow ourselves to go with the flow of events and use each circumstance as another wave to surf, by seeing and accepting the gift it brings. All the planning we need do is be clear about what we want and stay open and receptive to receive the gifts that serendipitously flow our way when we follow the path of whatever it is that makes us happy, and start to trust in our Self as guide.
I know it seems a weird idea that our safety, happiness and comfort could lie in the unknown, in defencelessly letting go into the flow of events that fill each day, but once we do let go, once we let all things be exactly as they are and start to relax, then those things happening around us start to take on a different light. We begin to see that in choosing to call life friend that is what it becomes to us, and that is what we see reflected back to us in everything we look upon..... because this is what we have chosen.
We are not and never have been powerless; and we can live this life in perfect health, safety and happinness without defence of any kind. Life itself teaches us this when we choose to let go of our need to control our days and trust the flow to lift us free. You may think I'm a hopeless dreamer, but if you are one of those brave souls that's become tired of clinging and chosen to 'let go' you'll quickly find you're not alone.
I hope I meet you there!
This is the first of three posts that look at a more serendipitous and effective way of being in this world. This first post looks at the 'flow state', the second at how to 'follow our bliss', and the third looks at an effortless way of 'problem solving'. I've put them together because the three ideas are inextricably linked.