Monday, June 18, 2007

Trying to Create Flow

I'm trying to get back into the Flow, especially after reading most of Flow: The Psychology of Optimum Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Some people, especially athletes, refer to the Flow as being in "the zone." I guess we could probably consider it the "groove," too.

In the book, Csikszentmihalyi explains that the Flow is essentially a time when our attention facilities are honed and at an optimum point. It can happen spontaneously, but more often than not, though, we engage Flow through the practice of a skill and/or activity that focuses our attention a ton. Meditation, ritual, habits and other things that help organize our attention can help us get into the Flow.

As a warning, though, we can get addicted to the Flow. One semester, I had got really into enter It. It involved a lot of dance classes, a yoga class, a martial arts class and playing 4-square after meals (which reminds me, I've really got to check out the 4-square games just down the street on Sundays. . .). All these disciplines gave me a good excuse to get away from my writing and classes that weren't going so well. Where once I found Flow, I couldn't find it again. Not necessarily the best time of my life for productivity. . .but I've gotten over it and have moved on.

I also found Flow pretty good when I had worked a state park in Vermont for about a month or so. Early in the morning, I would wake up, do some stretches then meditate a little. Throughout the day, the team would do work around the Park, have meals together, have some interesting discussions and do a lot of chilling. Lots of writing got done then, too. I really enjoyed the Flow I experienced there and wish I hadn't messed it up. Once again, though, that's in the past, and I've come to a good place again.

Back in September and October, when I worked at Fannie Mae, I had a good groove going on. It switched around a little, but it basically went: get home from work, empty litter box, clean dishes, make food for the next day then write, write and write some more until I couldn't write anymore. Unfortunately, I neglected the job search at the time but everything has turned out well, for now, and I really enjoyed the experience of doing all that writing while in the Flow.

A couple months ago, when the Chicago-SF writing workshop started, I wrote A LOT. Every day I would come home from work at the insurance agency, get my pen and paper out then start writing like a fiend. While in the Flow then, I could write something like 2 or 3 pages without even trying. The experience just carried me away and sucked me into it. I lost myself.

Now I may have some factors against me: wedding, tons of people coming to stay with us and help do tons of wedding errands, the wedding errands, family, work at the insurance agency has started hitting a rough spot (because I need to use my empathy and imagination more, apparently, and find Flow there, too), practicing the fox trot for the wedding, attempting to have a social life, trying to keep the TiVo from getting cluttered and making sure that shows don't conflict now (especially since Comcast in Chicago has digitized most of the channels, so they end up going through the cable box rather than direct to the TV), playing with kitties, etc. etc. I doubt I'll have a great routine set up until after the wedding, but I'm OK with that. Then. . .then I'll get my Flow going.

One thing I always wonder, though, about creating Flow. As much as it's good to enter, things will happen that will throw off routines. A long while ago, I brought up a conversation I had with someone where they criticized my large amounts of organization and routine as not normal. Well, it gets me into Flow, but there's a point there: What happens when that routine gets thrown off? Making that routine and creating Flow is hard work. Does it take a special person to shrug off the routine getting thrown off on a regular basis? How much work does it take to get back into that routine? How possible is it to enter the Flow without routine? How does one acquire the sense of calm and flexibility to adapt to different situations and create Flow even as things change?

On some level, I'd like to make Flow an important goal and topic of my life. I think I'm doing that even now with my bachelor's project, focusing on utopianism. Utopia and Flow could be synonymous, for all we know. At least, I'm following that path for my project.

Here's to Flow.


Dawn said...

I actually tend to get more into the "flow" without steady routine. But the danger inherent my my way is that instead of getting consistent time to do creative things, they're rather sporadic and I procrastinate--a little more routine probably would help, but too much tends to stifle me.

The_Lex said...

I would think it depends on what you want to flow into

If it's artistic creative flow, I can understand. Inspiration can be a bitch.

If it's something like a sport, a skill or even a craft that doesn't necessarily involved too much artistic stuff, I would think it would be less intimidating.

But when you do want to get artistically creative, do you have any kind minor "rituals" that you do before getting into it? I'm kinda trying to figure if I do now. . .(I like to have most of my chores done first, for instance).

Dawn said...

Actually, for dancing I need to be dancing semi-regularly to get into the flow, but dancing regularly doesn't necessarily help any more. More depends on the atmosphere, music, other dancers that are there (since it is a partnered dance, the partner makes or breaks it).

I don't think I have any rituals for creating art though.

The_Lex said...

My mind certainly works funny. Part of it wants to study your ability to enter flow often without routine, another part wants to prove that you're just lucky that you cab enter into it often without routine while yet another aspect wants to force you into routine simply because that's what works for me.

But my overarching executive branch tells the other parts to shut up and just go with the flow. Maybe I'll learn some interesting lessons just by picking up anecdotal information from you about it.

Mainly, though, I'm more concerned about the ethical execution of flow. The book about flow that I'm reading seems to be dodging the topic of ethics by lumping Napolean and Mother Theresa into the same category. Grrrrr. . .

Something that sticks out in my mind, though, you seem to be quite organized when it comes to presenting information and such. The flow book seems to emphasize that entering flow is pretty much an aspect of very focused attention, which for some people, requires routine and practice. You could simply have a naturally organic organized consciousness, at least for some aspects.