Ever felt completely absorbed by what you were doing?
I am sure we all have had such an experience of being “in the flow”. What a great place to be.
In fact, a man named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has made a career out of studying and researching this phenomenon.
You can learn more about his work, how he defines this state, and how you can achieve it – by watching this video:
And if you want even more information, consider reading his book on the subject, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience:
What distinguished this “flow state” from being in a “meditation state”(?), you might be thinking.
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, meditation is one of many activities we can undergo to achieve the flow state. By focusing one one single process or activity, under certain conditions, we can create a state of flow.
“These examples suggest what one needs to learn to control attention. In principle any skill or discipline one can master on one’s own will serve: meditation and prayer if one is so inclined; exercise, aerobics, martial arts for those who prefer concentrating on physical skills. Any specialization or expertise that one finds enjoyable and where one can improve one’s knowledge over time. The important thing, however, is the attitude toward these disciplines. If one prays in order to be holy, or exercises to develop strong pectoral muscles, or learns to be knowledgeable, then a great deal of the benefit is lost. The important thing is to enjoy the activity for its own sake, and to know that what matters is not the result, but the control one is acquiring over one’s attention.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow: The Psychology Of Engagement With Everyday Life
We’ll get to how in just a moment…
But first, let us compare Mihaly’s definition of flow, with Aleister Crowley’s definition of meditation:
“It is the restraining of the mind to a single act, state, or thought.”
– Aleister Crowley
Sounds similar, doesn’t it?
Let me point out that this is just one of many definitions of meditation, but also the one I tend to agree with the most.
I have not read enough about Mihaly’s theory to compare these with any certainty, but at first glance it seems to me that flow and meditation might be defined as the same thing – depending on definitions.
No matter the details, I propose that we test Mihaly’s method for creating flow, and compare for ourselves.
How to Create a State of Flow
A flow state cannot be forced. Instead, flow comes naturally when certain conditions are met. The primary conditions are:
- A challenge or task that is not too easy. Otherwise, apathy or boredom will prevent the flow state.
- A challenge or task that is not too difficult. Otherwise, anxiety, worry or stress will prevent the flow state.
- A clear goal. Flow is achieved when working towards something you care about.
- A focus on the process, not the goal. This may seem contrary to #3, yet is an essential part of flow. An athlete might have a goal of winning the gold medal. But the flow state is only achieved when the athlete focuses on playing the game, right now, in the moment – rather than thinking about winning the medal. Yet without the goal and the desire behind the goal, flow will not be achieved. Both the goal and the focus on the process are necessary.
- A lack of interruptions. The flow state is easily broken. For flow to be achieved and sustained, you need to be able to focus on the task at hand without interruption.
When these conditions are aligned, flow is a natural consequence.
Of course, meditation will also increase your natural ability to achieve flow. Meditation lets you deliberately practice going into states of concentration, as well as filtering out distractions. A consistent meditation practice, as well as the deliberate cultivation of these five flow factors, will help you achieve flow much more consistently.
What do you think? Is meditation simply one of many ways to “get in the flow”, or is flow a product of meditation?
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