Wednesday, July 20, 2011

To be in flow

To be in flow is considered one of the fundamental states of happiness, next to pleasure and meaningfulness. Go with the flow, is one of the oldest recommendations, especially by those who prefer to be outside the mainstream of analyzing, goal-setting, planning, and doing. You hear it rarely in war, in business or in chess play. It also can be utter nonsense.
I remember for the first time canoeing on a river with a noticeable current. A few miles took me hours, going several times over the top, being most of the time across on the stream, hindering other canoes no end. It was the most tiring experience I ever had of making a fool of myself.
An other piece of wisdom I came across recently, a Zen saying or something: The fruit falls when it is ripe. A load of crap, as everybody knows who has fruit trees in his garden. Unripe fruit rains for over a month on your lawn. Ripe fruit stays on the tree, eaten by wasps, rotting on the branches. Such pieces of wisdom are for people who don’t do anything practical and don’t want to do anything practical. They make us feel wise and profound during reveries on languid Sunday afternoons. Or in ashrams where it is always Sunday afternoon.

To go with the flow requires often subtle and experienced navigation. Rare are the situations in which we can passively and dreamily drift on. And if there are more currents than one, with which flow do we go? And if the flow leads to sharp rocks? And what means ‘go with the flow’ if you are nearing a roaring waterfall?

The advice should rather be: don’t fight the flow. Use it if you can, and at least reckon with it. The principle of least resistance can’t be followed when you ignore the flow. If you want to cross the river, don’t try to do that at right angles. And if you really want to arrive straight ahead, walk upstream before plunging in.

To be in flow is truly great. It is enormously efficient. It is rewarding. It is beautiful. It is the hallmark of true professionals: it is a pleasure to watch them while they work. One of my favorite quotes is from Tom Peters’ A Passion for Excellence’: Real success comes from the soul and the marketplace simultaneously. That is what to be in flow means: a perfect alignment of talents and efforts with circumstances and customers or audience. We forget the time. We forget our petty selves. We are not sidetracked; we are not blinded. We don’t wonder if we are meant to do this or if this is useful for our career, our future or our soul’s salvation. We get into a rhythm without knowing it. Higher and lower brain functions stomp along happily. We got swing. We are cool.

And what when there is no flow at all? When everything oozes stagnation, when nothing happens or is about to happen? Go with the no-flow? Well, maybe you have no choice. Dress well, eat well and sleep well and wait till spring comes. If it comes. But remember the times you were in flow. What did you do? Where? When? With whom? Under what circumstances?
We truly are ourselves in situations where we don’t reflect on ourselves. Because we don’t need to. Maybe we can only find ourselves in flash-backs.

Anyway, you can’t go with the flow if you keep staring at a computer screen. Or can we?

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