Flow States Are Pretty Cool

Flow is a psychological state defined by an intense presence in the moment and a merging of action and awareness. A gymnast performing a well-practiced routine, or a musician reciting a piece may experience a sense of flow.

Reading about these states, I was struck by how little was written about it why this is desireable. Why do people pursue flow? Some do it for some purpose, such as performance or artistic creation, but I think most who do would agree that there is something intrinsically pleasurable about the experience regardless of its function.

Now, I'm definitely no expert. This is talking completely out of my ass. But I do have a little bit of experience which has made me think about this a lot, learning to spin poi. I'm linking to a video of someone far better than I to demonstrate. I can't overstate the positive impact on my psyche from regularly going into a flow state. It is now my primary form of meditation after years of struggling to sit still for long periods and form a good meditative practice. I just wish I'd started sooner!

Normally we experience presence smeared out over time. Some part of you lives within the past, and some part of you in the future. Such a smearing is absolutely necessary for everyday life and complex thought. A lot of the grunt work of consciousness is about internal simulation of the world around you. The accuracy of that simulation requires an understanding of the past and predictions into the future. But it is work, and a flow state is an act of leisure from this work. It is, in contrast, forming your attention into a sharp point on your immediate moment. It is this sharpening of attention that creates the effect of an intense feeling of presence.

It is interesting to me that many methods of achieving flow rely on applying a very specific kind of load on your mind. Performing complex tasks entirely from muscle memory are a sure-fire way to achieve a flow state, for example juggling, dancing, or other rhythmic or instinctual movement.

If we're thinking about the mind as this duality been the subconscious and conscious, I think it's useful to think of both of these as processes running in parallel and working with fixed resources. Your conscious mind and subconscious mind live in different parts of your brain and have exclusive access to certain regions. Your brain has a certain metabolic rate, a certain amount of energy that it can transform into thought. So, it would seem to follow that if you place a load on your subconscious, there will be less energy left over for your conscious mind.

So, if you already experience flow states regularly, then I hope you have found them as rewarding as I have. And if you haven't, I hope this convinces you that they're worth pursuing. I think with enough practice, anything can evoke a flow state. The easiest route is engaging your muscle memory and subconscious mind in a demanding task. Enjoy the present 🎁