Awareness Part 3, Flow:

I often find myself watching other people. 

One of the things I’ve noticed is people who have hobbies and outside interests seem happier than those who don’t.  I wondered why, so I decided to look into it. 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, an early pioneer in the study of happiness, provides a possible explanation in his 1990 book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. He writes:

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” 

He labeled such moments “Flow”. Here are some examples:

MJ enjoys pottery and sometimes enrolls in classes at the Minnetonka Arts Center. When in the pottery studio, she says four hours can pass like five minutes. This is “Flow”. 

In a different, but similar vein, I used to race motorcycles. It required skill, competence and   complete focus. Looking back, it’s the one thing I wish I had spent more time doing in my life. When the starting gate went down, the only thing on my mind was the task at hand. This is “Flow”. 

Why does awareness in “Flow” differ from normal day to day experience?

I think there are a couple reasons.  First, most of the time we’re thinking about things we have to do, places we have to go, things we’ve screwed up, etc. This creates stress.  In “Flow”, instead of thinking, we’re doing! That’s completely different! “Flow” releases pent-up stress. 

Secondly, when awareness is ego-centered, “Self” is pitted against things that happen in our life. It’s a rare day that everything goes our way. This also creates stress! I am “Exhibit A”! 

Once on a family vacation, I was stopped at a traffic light and when it turned green, the idiot in the car in front of me just sat there. I honked the horn to no effect. I honked again adding a stream of words not meant for young ears. Again nothing. Until our daughter pointed out from her car seat that there was no one in the car in front of us. I looked, and sure enough, I was honking and swearing at a parked car! 

Many things get on our nerves, they share a common denominator, namely “Self” pitted in opposition to circumstance. This is not “Flow”! 

No doubt you can think of “Flow” situations in your life. It’s one of the clearest examples of  awareness shifted away from “Self”. 

We usually don’t give awareness much attention. But, when this life-energy is out of balance, we experience dis-ease.  When “Self” is our primary context, stress builds; when that context is shifted to “Flow”, stress is released.  Maybe that’s why people engaged in hobbies seem happier. 

Key Principle: Discovering the role awareness plays in life

Key Question: Do you have hobbies or interests that shift awareness to “Flow”?

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2 Replies to “Awareness Part 3, Flow:”

  1. Tim— LOVE IT !!! Totally agree that FLOW is a huge key to happiness. “Doing” is so much more energizing then just watching….and “one does not learn from experience that they are not having ” are two of my favorite thoughts. And like MJ and pottery, I offer the experience of fly fishing where one can spend endless hours walking the stream casting that wonderful small fly out in the middle of nature with the water rushing between and around your legs and you have very little cognizance of time or distance of journey because you have released your “self” !!


    1. Amen! Too much Self and things get complicated! Love your imagery!

      A couple years ago I caught what looked to be about a 12 pound salmon on a fly rod in the New Brunswick wilderness. Sun was going down, the river was red, current so strong I could barely stand, all of a sudden, BOOM! I’ll never forget it! That salmon did all he could to “shake off the demon”. Landed the beautiful fish, unhooked him and snapped a picture with my iPhone, then released him unharmed! 😎

      Thanks for reading!




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