Day 1 on ‘Flow & Its Perspectives’ of ‘Flow’ Chapter
From ‘Remembering’ Series
[Listen to the guided audio with alignment at the end]
The Flow of Life
“Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river.”Lao Tzu
What are your thoughts on “flow like a great river”?
I see it as various stages of water in life: how we were born as the raindrops from the clouds to flow in a river, going from one valley, passing rocks as hurdles, at times stopping by the calm lake, at times flushing through the waterfalls, nourishing living beings, eventually returning to the ocean which will be vaporised by the heat, forming clouds and becoming the raindrops again.
What is Flow?
We heard of this term “Go with the flow” often, meaning be relaxed and accept a situation, rather than trying to alter or control it. Some said being in the flow is said to be in ‘the zone’. It is subjective to own perception, yet there are 3 perspectives I would love to shed some light on.
First, according to the idioms, this expression is said to be used by the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, in his writings “The Meditations” where he penned a lot about the flow of happiness whereby in his opinion it was better to go with the flow than to try and change society.
Second, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced: Cheek-sent-me-hi) defined, flow is a human state of optimal functioning, a dynamic balance of challenge and skill. Csikszentmihalyi is a psychologist who named the psychological concept of ‘flow’ and focus on mental state for productivity.
The third perspective is from Lao Tzu 【老子】, an ancient Chinese philosopher and the father of Taoism described flow as a state of non-action, living in the Tao 【道】. Where the Tao 【道】 is undefinable, the all encompassing forces which cannot be perceived by our senses, yet we live with it. Just as how Stoicism described nature.
Stoicism Philosophy Perspective
“Dig deep within yourself, for there is a fountain of goodness ever ready to flow if you will keep digging.”Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic philosopher, maintains that if we think and act the right way our life will be an equable flow of happiness. Stoicism holds the key to have a happy life is to cultivate an excellent state of mind instead of linking to experience positive emotions. The ideal life is one that is in harmony with Nature, of which we are all part, and an attitude of calm indifference towards external events. Zeno, the man who founded Stoicism, argued that it is better understood as “a good flow of life” and as “living in alignment”.
About stoicism: Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. Being stoic is being calm and almost without any emotion. When you’re stoic, you don’t show what you’re feeling and you also accept whatever is happening. The noun stoic is a person who’s not very emotional.
Flow in Psychological Perspective
[Excerpt From: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. “Flow.”]
Flow: When all a person’s relevant skills are needed to cope with the challenges of a situation, that person’s attention is completely absorbed by the activity. There is no excess psychic energy left over to process any information but what the activity offers. All the attention is concentrated on the relevant stimuli. It can be during sports activities, arts, or housework activities.
The universal ingredient is to find out what you are best at doing – better than the other things that you can do – and relentlessly pursue opportunities to do it.Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
To enter flow states, Csikszentmihalyi suggests with few conditions as per his finding: the clarity of goals and immediate feedback on the progress; with complete concentration; when actions and awareness are merged; and such activities are intrinsically rewarding . Flow situations are described as below:
“A dancer describes how it feels when a performance is going well: “Your concentration is very complete. Your mind isn’t wandering, you are not thinking of something else; you are totally involved in what you are doing…. Your energy is flowing very smoothly. You feel relaxed, comfortable, and energetic.”
A rock climber explains how it feels when he is scaling a mountain: “You are so involved in what you are doing [that] you aren’t thinking of yourself as separate from the immediate activity…. You don’t see yourself as separate from what you are doing.”
A mother who enjoys the time spent with her small daughter: “Her reading is the one thing that she’s really into, and we read together. She reads to me, and I read to her, and that’s a time when I sort of lose touch with the rest of the world, I’m totally absorbed in what I’m doing.”
Taoism Philosophy Perspective
Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.Lao Tzu 【老子】
Taoist philosophy is Wu Wei, that can be translated as “non-action” , “effortless action” or the paradoxical “Action of non-action”. Wu Wei is described as the state of flow, also as being in the “the zone” by athletes. Taoism compares life with a river where we are in the river, we can either swim against the current or we can hold on to a branch or we can let go and go along with stream. Because most of our lives, we swim against the current and we don’t even realize it.
Water is the softest and most yielding substance. Yet nothing is better than water, for overcoming the hard and rigid, because nothing can compete with it.
下莫柔弱于水，而攻坚强者莫之能胜，以其无以易之。Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 78 【老子道德经第七十八章】
The highest form of goodness is like water. Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them. It stays in places loathed by all men.
上善若水，水善利万物而不争。【Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 8 [老子道德经第八章】
Flow in Life
In short, Stoicism flow of happiness is said that happiness is not something we feel but it is when we are aligned with nature, where we train the mind and accept what happens.
In the flow states of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, it is an experience of a state where one is so absorbed in the activity until not being aware of oneself, also known as a state of optimal experience to enhance life.
In Taoism philosophy, it is more like living life flowing in the river by offering no resistance, focusing on the present moment, the task on hand and letting it go.
So.. flow is the middle path between rigidity and spontaneity where flow teaches us to get what we want, also ‘trust the river’ of life events by detaching from outcome.
Worthy to Note:
“If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.”Marcus Aurelius
The quality of life does not depend on what we do and how others think of us or on what we do. Rather, it is how we feel about ourselves and about how we perceived at what happens to us. It all starts from within.
“We are always getting to live, but never living.”Ralph Waldo Emerson
How do you flow in life?
Enjoy the flow ~