Dancing with Eternity: A Déjà vu with Flow
It could have happened while you were executing your favorite sports move. A basketball dunk? A three-point shot perhaps?
It could have happened while you were moving as if by magic along with the volleyball, while executing the drop.
Or perhaps while driving on a winding road through the mountains, deftly orchestrating steering wheel, pedals, shifting gears, in effortless ease, man and machine as one it seems.
Your experience of a similar situation, no doubt about it, has left an indelible mark on your memory. This is characteristic of having been “in the flow” or “in the zone”, as it's mostly called, and which I refer to as a Dance with Eternity.
What constitutes being in the state flow? Does it come happenstance or can we predispose our self to experience more of this state in our life?
What the Experts Say
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."
Below are some examples that happened in real life:
- Artists Performing for the Crowd, from azlyrics.com
"All you people can't you see, can't you see
How your love's affecting our reality
Every time we're down
You can make it right
And that makes you larger than life
Looking at the crowd
And I see your body sway, c'mon
Wishin' I could thank you in a different way, c'mon
Cuz all of your time spent keeps us alive
All of your time spent keeps us alive"
- 'Larger Than Life', Backstreet Boys
"[B:] I'm up against the speaker, tryin' to take on the music
[B:] It's like a competition, me against the beat
[B:] I wanna get in the zone, I wanna get in the zone
[B:] If you really wanna battle, saddle up and get your rhythm
[B:] Tryin' to hit it chic-a-tah
[B:] In a minute I'm a take a you on, I'm a take a you on
Hey, hey, hey
[CHORUS - as before]
[B&M:] Get on the floor, baby lose control
[B&M:] Just work your body and let it go
[B&M:] If you wanna party, just grab somebody
[M:] Hey Britney
[B&M:] We can dance all night long"
- 'Me Against The Music', Britney Spears
- Magic Johnson and the Crowd
“His [Magic Johnson] uncanny knack for throwing passes blindly to spots that were not yet occupied by intended receivers created pandemonium in arenas when Lakers showed up out of nowhere to catch the ball for an easy slam-dunk. He’s not called “Magic” for nothing. His intuitive sense as an athlete enabled him to dominate the National Basketball Association for more than a decade.” – Thinking Body, Dancing Mind by Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch
Nine Component States of Achieving Flow
According to Csikszentmihalyi, the nine component states are as follows:
- challenge-skill balance
- merging of action and awareness
- clarity of goals
- immediate and unambiguous feedback
- concentration on the task at hand
- paradox of control
- transformation of time
- loss of self-consciousness
- autotelic experience ["… autotelic personality is one in which a person performs acts because they are intrinsically rewarding, rather than to achieve external goals. ... a trait possessed by individuals who can learn to enjoy situations that most other people would find miserable."]
Autotelic Experience: The Present Moment as the Intrinsic Reward
Much has been speculated about what makes for an intrinsic reward. The four intrinsic rewards, as applied to the workplace, according to Kenneth Thomas are meaningfulness, choice, competence and progress. In the workplace or at school, in the end it’s probably all about the satisfaction of knowing you did a great job.
According to the description of the autotelic above, he or she can enjoy even experiences that others find miserable. In line with that, is the train of thinking that if you can’t do what you enjoy (e.g., don’t have the choice as to what tasks you are allowed to perform), enjoy what you do.
“Concentration on the Task at Hand”
Assuming that we have achieved challenge-skill balance , clarity of goals and autotelic experience, it seems that we can simplify the list by saying that the others follow provided there is concentration. When we focus our attention and concentrate, what we are doing (i.e., action in the present moment) is what is in our awareness, in contrast to our mind being elsewhere, thinking of something that may have happened in the past or may happen in the future.
Concentration as a Conscious Decision
Most people may then be hindered in their ability to experience flow, to the degree that they can concentrate. We prefer the activity to be enjoyable, for us to give it our attention and concentration. For example, we can focus better on hobbies that are even without extrinsic value than on boring workplace tasks that are high on extrinsic rewards.
Using creativity and the power of choice, we can inject meaning to even boring tasks to help us decide in favor of concentrating. When doing the laundry, we can do this lovingly and willingly concentrate because we love the people who are going to benefit from wearing clean clothes (i.e., we are inspired). This love that we feel is not to be mistaken from others’ approval, which will end up as extrinsic.
To take it to a deeper level, we can give the meaning to each moment as it being the opportunity to pursue our passion and fulfill our destiny.
An example in my experience, which I am currently trying to learn better, is the understanding that the only time there is is the present moment and that there is no other place and time more perfect than this one. This moment is what I have come here for---to be who destiny has meant me to be. This moment offers me everything I need to know, do and be at this point in time.
Recalling your moment in the flow, you would have experienced, the Self that is beyond space and time, free and entirely without care. Blissful. That moment caught you unaware, as if in a movie playing in slow motion, oblivious of past and future, knowing only timeless eternity.
The lesson like the teacher arrives when the student is ready. We all have our own context from our experiences, as well as the linguistics we are accustomed to. Yet when our own insight arrives, we will know.
“Everyone has experienced what he could call a sense of being transported beyond himself. … a sudden unawareness of the body, and a joining of yourself and something else in which your mind enlarges to encompass it. … What really happens is that you have given up the illusion of a limited awareness … asking no questions of reality, but merely accepting it. …
This can occur regardless of physical distance between you and what you join. … Time is not relevant; it can occur with something in the past, present or anticipated. The ‘something’ can be anything and anywhere; a sound, a sight, a thought, a memory, and even a general idea without specific reference.
… you rush to meet it, letting your limits melt away, suspending all the ‘laws’ your body obeys and gently setting them aside.”
– Beyond the Body, A Course in Miracles