Mindfulness and Flow: Being "In the Zone"
You are running. You hear nothing but the labor of your own breath and the pounding of your feet against the pavement. You are tired and thirsty, but you barely notice. Time ceases to exist; this moment stretches on infinitely. Your attention is focused solely on the task at hand: the awareness and execution of each stride. You are in the zone... you are experiencing the state of flow.
"Flow, in life, obeys the Laws of Physics:
the lower the resistance – to what happens in the here and now – the higher the flow." - Roberto Benzo
In the 1960’s a man named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (mee-hy cheek-sent-mə-hy-ee) set out to answer the question, “What is it like to live fully, to be completely involved in the moment?” In his quest for answers, he began to study painters. He found that when a painting was going well, the artist was entirely absorbed in the creative process – disregarding hunger, fatigue, and discomfort. This state – complete absorption in what one is doing in the present moment – he called flow.
Csikszentmihalyi observed a similar state of complete engagement and intrinsic motivation while conducting interviews with rock climbers, chess players, dancers, and others who cited enjoyment as the main reason for pursuing an activity.
Importantly for most of us, Csikszentmihalyi found that the experience of flow can also occur during a wide variety of “mundane” activities, such as gardening, and can even occur in everyday work settings. Even better - he found that flow is a universal experience, blind to culture and economic status. This means that anybody can experience flow.
FINDING FLOW IN DAILY LIFE In the Japanese Zen tradition, the detailed attention to mundane activities is highly promoted as a very important part of the Zen practice. It is said that engaging in the activity we are doing in the present moment honors life, while not engaging kills life. Very ordinary activities, like cooking, are highly regarded in a Zen monastery. By cultivating attention while performing routine activities, they create the conditions for flow to happen, are able to savor simple tasks, and ensure that they will be ready for more demanding, stressful environments.
IN THE MOMENT: THE LINK BETWEEN FLOW & MINDFULNESS Mindfulness, the awareness that arises from paying attention to the present moment without resistance, is a fertile environment for flow to appear. However, being mindful does not guarantee flow, but rather creates the optimal conditions for flow to happen.
Mindfulness and flow both live “in the here and the now” and involve engaging the present moment with willingness. While flow happens during pleasant experiences, mindfulness can happen all of the time.
MINDFUL PRACTICE You can kick-off with the practice of mindfulness meditation (click here for 15 tips on meditation). You can practice mindful movement (click here for an introduction and here for a few mindful exercises). There is no “right” way to practice mindfulness... what is important is that you do it, and discover what works well for you.
We wish you well.