What is flow?
Flow is total submersion in an activity where one’s entire concentration is focused on the current action. At this moment one perceives time and space differently. Things might be over in a flash or last for ages. Regardless of that one feels an energized contentment, simple but true happiness. Often one might notice that everything falls into place naturally. This feeling can be described as the loss of self which can lead to complete connectedness to the world.
The word “flow” itself is relatively young. It was characterized in modern western psychology by the Hungarian Mihály Csíkszentmihály. The concept behind though is thousands of years old. Theravada Buddhists, for example, describe a state called access concentration which can lead to further deeper states called the “jhanas”. Nowadays it is all over the place and I believe that understanding as well as mindfully living this can aid humanity to a better future.
If you asked me what happiness is a big part of my answer would revolve around this concept, because in the moments in which I encounter flow I feel the happiest. One feels no pain, forgets the past, has no worries about the future and the only thing that matters is the present moment. It is a truly exhilarating feeling.
Where can you encounter flow?
A simple answer to that question is: everywhere at any time. I often encounter flow doing some kind of sport or movement. When I am dancing I am sometimes able to completely connect with the music and move my bodily freely in synch with the rhythm. In some Yoga sessions, I enjoy every movement or breath. Lately, I have discovered Surfing and think it is absolutely amazing, as the sea is a place where I so often encounter flow, as you have to go along with the ocean’s flow. Playing the piano or listening to music is another activity where I can totally submerge myself. Even when coding or working I sometimes feel like everything is falling into place.
I think that this feeling of flow is not only limited to one single person but can also apply to whole groups of people which can be even more amazing. The first example of that would be partner dancing (for me that is Lindy Hop). There are some dances where every move you initiate is understood by your partner, while you are also able to pick up all the ideas your partner has. Like this, both partners are in perfect synchronization.
Another one would be an inspiring conversation with friends. Every sentence has its purpose and the conversation steadily progresses leading all participants to have fruitful ideas that they contribute to the conservation. It is a well-balanced mix of talking and listening, every person gets his or her turn to speak at the right time. Because of this, all participants feel a certain inspiration and contentment.
The paradox of flow
I feel like the more you crave flow, the less you will have it. To be honest, as flow is such a thrilling experience it has a very addictive component to it. There is a reason why many humans are driven to do so-called extreme activities like for example climbing a mountain without ropes or surfing the planet’s biggest waves. You often hear those people talking about the unique experiences and feelings they had during their greatest achievements.
Don’t get me wrong here I admire those people for the greatness they achieve, but I also believe there is a more sustainable way to achieve flow accessible to anybody even without having to put oneself into extreme situations. Just performing one of your favorite everyday activities can be very satisfying. I personally have found that through daily meditation and mindfulness practice I happen to encounter flow much more frequently. I believe that dedication to one’s passion in a way which is not too tensed up is the best and sustainable way to happiness.