Source: Understanding Flow

For thousands of years, before Descartes, Newton, and the beginnings of modern science, people believed that all of nature was a single organism and that everything was connected. Responsiveness to signs from the Universe was a normal part of daily life, for everything from passing clouds to passing events was perceived to speak in ways that mattered.

Struggling to define the essence of this underlying connectedness, people used words such as God, Atma, essential life force, universal mind. But these words fell far short of reality because, by their nature, words limit and contain—and the nature of this unified connectedness can’t be boxed in or tied down. “The name that can be named is not the eternal name,” said the Tao Te Ching.

In current times, quantum physicists encounter similar difficulties in struggling to define the basic nature of matter. They have found that the boundaries that isolate one thing from another exist only at the most obvious and superficial level; at deeper levels, all things-atoms, molecules, plants, animals, people—participate in a sensitive, dynamic web of information.

This interrelatedness is something for which we have an intuitive sense. Even if we have no formal beliefs about a higher power, the concept of being connected to a dynamic force beyond ourselves shows up in an ordinary, everyday phrase: “in the flow.” “Go with the flow,” we might say, or, “I’m really in the flow today.”

When we try to define flow, it is also tough to nail. One approach is to study a readily observable aspect of it, which is what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did in defining flow as “optimal experience, a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity.” In that state, which most often occurs during intense physical activity, we feel strong, alert, and at the peak of our abilities. This is connectedness—to an activity, to a moment.

Often when people speak of flow, however, they are alluding to it in a larger sense. They are speaking of a connectedness to larger patterns of events and meaning.

Flow is the natural, effortless unfolding of our life in a way that moves us toward wholeness and harmony.

Flow is natural because we personally do nothing to cause it to exist. Whether or not we give it our conscious attention, it just is. Sometimes we may hardly know it’s there: when obscured by our fear or anger it can run underground like a river. But when we move into greater awareness and trust, it emerges in all its strength and power.

Flow is effortless because when we learn to swim with it, its currents move us easily, smoothly and gently through life. Our stress, struggle, and uncertainty drop away, and our joy, peace, satisfaction, happiness, and effectiveness increase.

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