One surprising lesson I’ve learned this past month is that it’s entirely possible to grow unbelievably bored with anything at all, no matter how amazing it seemed at first go. Yes, that’s true even of the dozens of palm tree and sunrise instagrams I’ve posted each morning. I’m already feeling a real need to find new ways to capture their jaw dropping beauty.
A basic life rule of engagement is that it forces us to evolve in some way, whether it’s through thinking, creating, or learning. It’s the novel we’re after, even in the midst of the routine. Because the nature of life is to move forward and change, trying to remain safe and stagnant is the fastest way to bore yourself to death. Even when it’s doing something you love. If you’re not pushing some envelope in some way… if you’re not learning new things or learning more aspects of what you already love, your passion will die.
You will have killed it. Sobering enough thought?
It’s a strangely dysfunctional kind of dynamic we’ve got at play. On one hand we feel driven to inject interest and passion into our lives with the novel, and on the other we feel a nagging pull back towards what we know. We cherish the memories and the past even as we become increasingly restless with the desire to get away from it. The juxtaposition of those two drives makes up the push me-pull me that tugs at us at every turn.
No matter what we do, we feel most comfortable when we’ve got a good mix of simultaneously standing in the familiar, yet pushing at the seams every day. This is the natural world’s most prevalent pattern, and it’s found everywhere. The crest of beach waves. Nautilus shells. Plant growth patterns. The cosmos. It’s the result of the two forces… one in its push for outward growth, while the other likes staying within the existing pattern, and it looks like this:
To be overtaken by that very dynamic is my definition of Flow. It’s a personal definition. If you’d like to know more about how the idea started, you’ll want to know more about it’s grandfather, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. And it’s ok if you can’t pronounce his name because I can’t either, but I can clearly see what he saw as the state of happiness. Though he wouldn’t talk about it in the way I’m about to, words don’t matter. What matters is the experience. Let’s dive into that.
When was the last time you got lost in anything and forgot what time it was, or even where you were? At the moment it began, you were likely straddling the familiar territory of having done the activity before, but had come upon a brand new way of approaching it. Walking that particular tightrope brought on flow. Welcome to your passion.
A secret to flow is that it happens when the focus entirely shifts from a perspective of “I’m doing this” to just the activity without the sense of anyone making the effort. All of the thinking moves to creativity and what’s being done, and active reflection upon a doer drops. Why? Because the doer is entirely comfortable and absorbed into the habitual and reflexive aspect of the activity.
Nirvana! And when it happens, we become so absorbed that it may not even register until later than we had been drooling, or standing with mouth agape, experiencing complete joy. And that joy can be defined as the absence of self.
What’s happened is that self-consciousness or self-awareness has naturally fallen away. On its own. That means that it’s a state that can’t be forced, and so all of the articles that tell you how to “get into” it probably miss the mark. So why not approach it not from “how can I get into flow”, but from the opposite paradigm of “when is flow not experienced”, then watch for the circumstances where we naturally back into it.
To be self-conscious interferes with our sense of ease. But have you ever wondered why our sense of ourselves can fall away? Or why we’re more content, and even experience JOY when it does? Because when it disappears, life is fully exposed, uninterrupted. Colors pop, patterns dance. Light falls more beautifully. Movements are natural. There is ease. It happens because the conditions have appeared to allow it.
Part II: How and when I fall into flow, and a hint for watching for your own.
The best part of taking as many photos as I do each day is that when looking through the lens, the focus becomes what’s in the lens rather than what’s behind it. “I” escape myself because I’ve instead become enthralled with the view and how it’s being captured. This carries over to times I don’t have a camera in hand. Every moment that the focus is not behind the camera, things begin to seem unbelievably more rich.
Photography is the way I fall into the pattern of seeing the sense of self drop as the focus moves to rest of the world. The final secret to my being able to remain in the state of ease throughout the day is to keep learning more about how to better capture the sunrises. Or even to fall into the minute details of how they appear. In short, to fall in love with the dance between familiarity in watching and photographing them, and the impulse to push further into the creativity of the capture. To focus outward.
What’s your path to flow?
What do you like to do as a routine activity and what happens when you become enthused about finding new ways to do it?
Note: This isn’t the only definition of flow, but it’s mine.