flow

The Magnificence of Work

In my discussion of flow last week I mentioned that there were things that restricted flow and things that enhanced flow. I can only talk about my own experience over the years but I have seen specific elements that have helped me as well as hindered me.

Flow is never the goal. Flow is facilitating the path of least resistance or put another way the path of most allowing. Beginning your day of work is the first trigger in stepping into flow. All artists, especially as they become more proficient and adept at expressing themselves, begin to tap into the creative pool as their focus sharpens and outside distractions subside. The distractions are still present but when your attention shifts to the work process and the ‘moment’, the connection to flow kicks in unconsciously.

If we look at this experience we can see that if we remain locked into worries, day to day concerns and even performance anxiety it automatically keeps that energy at bay. Our focus expands the thing we are magnifying for good or for bad. One routine I came upon was I typically took some time to ‘empty’ myself once I went to the studio. I knew in general what I would be working on that day but I have seen that if there was something that I was worried or concerned about and it was stuck in my mind I tended to not have one of my better days. So I consciously took some time to just set aside the obstruction and just go ‘empty’. I didn’t even want to focus on what I ‘thought’ I would be doing that day I just wanted to get empty.

Once I felt a sense of weightlessness, if we can describe it that way, I began work. My tools would trigger the confidence mechanism and as I got into the ‘process’ of making something then good things would start to kick in. My focus on executing my idea was then accentuated by new discovery through the process as well as thoughts and feelings that were sparked as the day went along. Before I knew it I was back into the flow. But what was key for me was just setting aside those distractions and points of focus that diminished my capacity to express and materialize my ideas. One thing I know is that it worked for me and I naturally structured a daily practice that supported my personality with all of its complexities.

It is key that we get honest about ourselves, not in a judgmental way, but in a supportive way to enhance our strengths and accept our weaknesses as all part of the great adventure. I reached a point where flow was never a problem but my ability to keep up with it was and not a bad problem to have. There does come a point in a career where there is an ease and confidence that I will label as mastery .It’s the moment when you finally ‘know’ how to ride the bike. It happens in a moment. You tried and tried and you just kept falling but this one day you got it. It is the same with your work.That moment might be a day, a month or even a year. It then becomes a life skill. Automatic. All the ingredients are now there.It is now just a question of what am I going to do next as one thing leads to another and another. It is a marriage between idea, expression and this energy  we all have within and without us that ultimately kisses us with approval and new life. Next week I will continue some thoughts on the subject and introduce some new ideas on the work environment itself.

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Stepping Into YOUR Flow

Every pursuit, whether it is art or any other career, has these special sweet spot moments that have come to be known as Flow. Some endeavors are more prone to this than others for certain reasons but they all have access to it. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written extensively on the subject in his book Finding Flow as well as others looking at the scientific data surrounding this phenomenon.

In the 1970’s and 80’s there was very little information or conversation about this but as technology began to clarify the workings of the brain and new discoveries were made on the plasticity  and recoverability from either defects or injury flow emerged as an important component of these studies. The point I want to make is that all studies come from focused inquiries of actual experience. Actual experience is where this article will be focused. There has always been an awareness of the experience of ‘being in the zone’. But the why and how of it remained foggy at best.

I began to recognize flow first through athletics at a young age. Basketball was my sport and there were days where I had ‘feel’ that I didn’t have on other days.The ball felt like part of my hand. There appeared on these days a knowing of what was going to happen next, a heightened sense of distance and momentum where you knew most of your shots were going in and you couldn’t miss. I always found this happened to me when I had the least expectation about my performance meaning I was either sick or injured or something that lowered my expectations. Maybe it was that I took the pressure off myself and allowed for a greater thing to emerge. The time and practice was already put in which is critical to allow for this state but on these days I had  a relaxed, almost I don’t care state of mind.

Once I began my career, almost out of high school as a self employed artist, I began to experience a similar phenomenon on what I will call my good days. I had times where all of a sudden it was the end of the day and it just flew by. I developed an unconscious routine  that over time seemed  to allow for these days on a more regular basis. Looking back I recognize certain practices that kept raising the level of engagement and ultimately the outcome of my focus. How this manifested for me was looking at a finished work and having the distinct feeling that I didn’t do it and that it just flowed through me somehow. I had transitioned from the thinking mind to the feeling soul if we can call it that. In other words I was high from the experience and had no consciousness of how it had happened.

It is very difficult to expound on this in an article or book as this is experientally based and is as personal as the work you do and how you will be positioning yourself to allow for these times. However there are common elements  that restrict flow and things that facilitate flow. New technology can actually image these states in the brain and we can train ourselves to maximize our ability and mindset. Meditation, yoga, exercise, stillness and my favorite ‘doodling’, a sort of visual daydreaming, typically initiates stepping into flow. I resist the idea of finding flow as I believe it exists around us every moment and we step into it when conditions are aligned for us. As we become more ‘automatic’ or unconscious in our ability to express ourselves, I have found that picking up a paint brush or pencil or whatever your tools are potentially open up and trigger this flow energy and before we know it there it is guiding us along the process that we are focused on.

In the end flow is a result of a conglomerate of things that we have chosen and committed to far before we ever feel it. It takes practice, routine and  a deepening understanding of the work you are engaged in. Sometimes we get a glimpse of it when we discover a new interest or pursuit. Something sparks. It drives us to do it again and again in an attempt to duplicate the experience. I want to be clear however. Flow is not required to pursue and work at any endeavor of excellence whether painting, writing, dancing, theater or even medicine for that matter. However working at something, committing to something and the drive to pursue it is always a requirement to experience flow. Ultimately flow is a gift the creative force gives us to drive us forward and for each of us to be able to say, ‘it feels like it just came through me and I was happy to be a part of it’. Next week I will explore in more detail what detracts and what fosters this experience so stay tuned.