Ok, first of all, what is flow? I’d say that when I talk about flow, I’m talking about a kind of experience, one where it feels as though we’re fluidly moving along, rather than in starts and stops. But what is moving fluidly? Well, perhaps it is one’s mind, since the mind can also become fixated or get stuck on one topic or another. It seems to me, though, that one thing that is always flowing fluidly, even as we fight it mentally, is our feelings. Why is this? It seems as though feelings seem to flow from one moment to the next because they change in response to what’s going on in the moment. One moment to another…
Well speaking of which, my feelings just changed on this topic, because it feels to me like I’m trying to describe things I don’t fully understand. The thing is, I had a strategy in that last paragraph, in terms of what I was going to talk about. I was going to define flow, and how feelings flow and how the mind can get stuck… but truth is, I’m not positive on those details. But what I do know is that feelings can inspire unexpected changes in direction, and that when I talk about “flow”, what I’m really talking about is the ability to flow with those unexpected directions. Maybe you don’t always take those directions, but perhaps there is something to consider in the way one’s feelings change. One can observe feelings, be aware of them, and strive to better understand them through techniques like expression of those feelings.
Staying in the flow, for me, amounts to staying close to one’s feelings. That experience is like a flow, and we, present to our feelings, can flow along with them.
Many times, though, we can get stuck. We stop flowing. Why?
Well, one source can be anxiety. The direction our feelings seem to be flowing towards might seem dangerous, like something worth avoiding. I go into this in the page on anxiety, here, but the main point is that by thinking through what we’ll do if things don’t go the way we intend, we can feel safe in the flow once again.
Another phenomenon that can restrict our flow seems to be when we mentally fixate on where we’re going. Here’s the situation: we get the feeling, early on, that we’re going to be going in a certain direction, and, on recognizing this, we look only in the direction we think we’re heading. Then, when feelings change and obstacles come up, we can get stuck up against our own obstacles. Those obstacles become like rocks in a stream that we get caught on, and we don’t flow around them like water. It seems that by staying close to our feelings, we can retain our ability to flow around our obstacles instead of getting stuck on them.
Impatience with Flow
This flowing sort of substance of our feelings can at times become quite still and slow-moving, and at such times we can get impatient and want to push ourselves out of it. But at the same time, we may be surprised at the things we can find in these more calm states. Maybe remaining calm and restful at some times helps us to reflect, or to refresh ourselves internally. Maybe, sometimes, more active choices don’t really make sense to us.
Flow is an easy sort of movement, but staying where it’s easy can have a lot of stigma attached to it – we might feel like we’re stagnating, or that we need to keep doing things, or that it’s boring to not act. But if we keep ease as part of our choices, and part of how we move from place to place in our lives, then we know that when we move, it’s towards choices that we feel at ease with.
And one of the main struggles with flow, I feel like, is when we feel we need to go in a certain direction, and are willing to break our sense of ease to take initiative. It may seem important to take action, but maybe we’re not at ease because we’re still in conflict over a decision, and maybe what we would flow more easily towards would be thinking through that decision more thoroughly, and refining our choices. This way, when we act, we act in a way that’s more balanced, and measured. We end up acting in ways that feel right to us, instead of being forced to break our flow just to complete an action that we thought was correct. After all, what steps seem correct to us when we start on a journey may not be the ones that make sense during any point beyond that start. Maybe we end up having to take an extremely circuitous route to our goals. But perhaps those unanticipated routes can more reliably get us to our goals, as opposed to when we just try to force our way through, based on the notions of how things would go that we had at the start of our journey. Conditions change. What looked to be one way when it was on the horizon could be totally different once we see it up close.
And sure, we can really go all-in on breaking our flow, and totally disconnect from our feelings in favor of repeatedly butting our heads against a wall. But when we’re tired from a lack of progress, and from the punishment and struggle of trying to force our way past an obstacle, we may remember the soft flow of our feelings, and begin to hear again the things they’re trying to tell us. Feelings can show us new ways of looking at a situation that allow us to handle it in a more complete way. They can alert us to little problems before they become big. And yes, it may seem like we’re making no progress sometimes. But won’t we act anyway, when it feels like a decision worth making? And by listening to our feelings, and flowing with them, it seems as though we can then take an ever-changing, quality pathway towards our goals.
Article on Anxiety – it seems as though anxiety can be one of the main ways we exit our flow, or rather when we are in conflict with our flow. This article talks about anxiety and ways to work through it when it comes up.
The Natural Self and the Intellect – this article talks about a way one can witness the dynamic between flow and mind by observing the dynamic between the “natural self” (a side of us who is always in the flow) and “the intellect” (who thinks and has intellectual priorities). Article mainly talks about how to have a more positive relationship between these two aspects of one’s self.
Wiki article on Flow – this goes into the subject of flow as defined by the general scientific community. One can see the similarities to what I talked about here, such as when it mentions how emotions are positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. Though I may use the words “mind” and “feelings”, I feel as though I am also talking about a similar experience of alignment.
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