In Search of FLOW

As an educated, capable young adult, one is frequently confronted with questions of what one hopes to be, what one will strive for during the long middle period of their life. This idea seems to be almost an obsessive fixation with our generation, a constant gorilla in the room. And perhaps it should be. In country such as this, where opportunity abounds and patterns of life are fairly well defined, one should become productive and earn a livelihood if they are able. And yet, how heavy the weight of this nagging question, this constant sorting and elucidation of dreams and goals, maneuvers and life choices, schemes and evasions, has become.

Sometimes it seems like this milieu is all that anyone is willing to talk about. Rare is the person you meet who will take you at face value, who will study your behavior and attitudes for their first impression of your character. No, they must know what you do, where you live, what brought you here, who you know here. It’s exhausting, being crammed into their little boxes. I have recently tried introducing myself while revealing little of my intention or attachment, situation or goal, and things become very uncomfortable very fast. Confronted with a person who is a nebula, a mental dissonance seems to follow. My friend felt the need to jump in and ameliorate what could have been bad first impressions, simply because I didn’t feel like justifying my drift and translating it into capitalist terms.

But like everyone else, I’m looking for something. Yes, like everyone else in my generation, I want my dream job. I want to be like [hero{ine} or celebrity]. I also want to be wildly successful in my arena. I want abundant money for my hard work, and comfort and luxury and friends and a healthy beautiful family and all the other good things in life.

But at a very real, objective level, what I really want is more FLOW. Flow is a concept that essentially means total absorption in one’s activity. It’s the feeling you get engaged in that activity you like best, or are best at, where 90% of your focus is honed in on decisions and actions related to the task at hand, and whatever the other 10% brings to your attention feels inconsequential enough to dismiss with a wave of your mental hand. It’s the feeling I get sometimes when I am writing, when I am attempting to create the best sentence possible to convey the visual, concept or sense that is wavering in my imagination. It’s the sensation I get playing basketball (even though I’m not very good), where the world drops away and the court becomes the universe, full of signals and cues, information to be decoded and acted on for maximum advantage. Flow is not necessarily pleasure or pain, but it is pure – some would say blissful – focus. It is the feeling of performing selflessly, tapping into training, knowledge, muscle memory any other resources you have and deploying them in an almost automatic, single-minded, goal-driven way.

When I think about how much time I spent in the “flow zone” during my years in the nine-to-five rat race, I wonder how I still exist. I was absorbed in my work perhaps once every three months at my last job – even less at the job before that. The rest of the time, my tasks were less interesting than just about everything. My hobbies offered some relief, but rare were the times where I could string together enough free time to really get the flow going. Being a lonely chump, I often sacrificed flow opportunities for social engagement, only to become aloof and moody when the social event became bland, expensive or unengaging.

And that’s kinda why I came out here. I’m happy to report that my “flow zone”/“mundane mindstate” ratio has been increased greatly, but there’s always room for improvement.

But enough about me. You should ask yourself today. What are your flow activities? What do you want them to be? Are you getting enough time with them? There’s nothing like feeling the productivity rush steadily through you. Sometimes it feels as though your conscious thought and physical actions are little more than a channel, a transcription service for some 8-armed dynamo dictating from deep within your subconscious, or alternately, somewhere deep without, beaming you inspiration from some information-rich corner of the universe.

Flow is not a switch that can necessarily be turned on and off, but it can be cultivated by engaging in and mastering the activities that make one feel productive, edified and challenged. I imagine the perfect life of Zen is to exist in a constant state of flow – to be able to take on any challenge or activity, from the direst emergency to the most mundane rigmarole with full attention and dedication to quality. It’s a very lofty goal. For now, I hope to be able to make my flow activities synonymous with my “added-value” activities, i.e. the productive ones I can do to make money.

Anybody can shovel shit for a living, deny themselves and do what the boss says till they get home. The sacrifice of one’s passions for the sake of the family, the mortgage, the two-point five cars have taken on a certain romance in America over the years, but it’s 2013 and the Millennials are restless. The person who is clever enough to get paid for doing the things that they burrow into, the things that make time fly silently by, that tap deep within and release true brilliance, well that is the person we look at with jealousy and admiration and say “Man, what’s their secret?” Hard work and daring certainly, but also knowing how and when to unleash that storied Ayn Rand potential, that path to the subconscious and unconscious mind, the mighty dynamism of FLOW.

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