Flow is a modern term for the ancient goal of many meditative practices. It represents a different state of consciousness where one is so absorbed in what is happening spontaneously in the moment that time slows down, your senses and focus are heightened, and thinking often stops altogether. These mindful moments can come whenever one is completely engaged in the present moment. The father of modern psychological research into flow, Doctor Csikszentmihalyi, uses a metaphor of skiing to describe this special state. He writes, "Imagine you are skiing down a slope, and your full attention is focused on the movements of your body, the position of the skis, the air whistling in your face, and the snow-shrouded trees running by. There is no room in your awareness for conflicts or contradictions; you know that a distracting thought might get you buried face down in the snow. The run is so perfect you want it to last forever."
Take a minute now and think about activities that have allowed you to naturally enter this special flow state. It could be singing, dancing, making art, a good conversation, or any other activity that allows you to get into The Zone. Notice that in these moments of flow many things about the way your mind works are different. Your experience of time is different, your perceptual abilities often seem heightened, and you perceive a harmony in the way each action unfolds naturally in perfect attunement to the demands of the moment. Most athletes actually report a type of mental silence during this type of experience and sense a deeper intelligence flowing through them. This leads to an effortless quality to their actions which seem to happen naturally without forethought or contemplation - almost as if they are arising directly out of the moment Itself. This experience of The Zone is a powerful illustration of the meditative paradox of mental stillness leading to skillful action.
Bring to mind an experience of Flow from your own life. What do you remember most about this experience? How was your awareness during this experience different from your normal state? How was your perception of time different? And perhaps most importantly, take a few minutes and reflect on how can you add more of these experiences into your life!
The goal of mindfulness meditation is a specific and unique state of mindful awareness. In this state, ALL of your experiences, inside and out, are perceived with full awareness as a moment to moment flow of one spontaneous event in awareness after another. This heightened state of mindful awareness of Presence has many benefits, and is discussed extensively in our Online Mindfulness Course.
Much like an athlete in The Zone, the quality of action that arises out of this mindful state of deep alignment with the present moment also has a sense of effortlessness to it, with each part of the self working together in harmony and unison to respond to the demands of the current situation. The intense presence and concentration characteristic of a flow experience makes it a good metaphor for the mindful state itself.
As you can see, mindfulness is much more than an exercise done on a cushion for a few minutes and then set aside for the rest of your day. If the insights and discoveries we make on the meditation cushion don't affect the way we live our lives, they would have no real lasting value. Ultimately, the qualities of presence, harmony, and connection that we develop in our meditation practice infuse and elevate our entire day so that our lives transform from a struggle into something more like a beautiful and effortless Flow.
We welcome you to continue your exploration of the world of mindfulness by taking our Online Mindfulness Course which presents the concepts and techniques introduced in these short introductory lectures in much greater detail. And we wish you wisdom and insight for your own meditative journey