Photo: Climbing with flow on the Rigid Designator, Vail, Colorado
It sucks getting old. I hear that phrase all the time. Does it really suck? The alternative to aging is— death. We choose to live or die. If you are going to live, then make it count. Create a work of art with your life by living in the moment, not in the past or for the future. Embrace your uniqueness and celebrate the complexity of your being. Life flows when what we think, feel and wish for are in harmony.
Flow is that feeling of effortless action. Athletes call it being in the zone. I have experienced flow climbing a vertical wall of rock, skiing an untracked powder slope and flying my paraglider up with the clouds high above the earth. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Finding Flow, writes, “Flow tends to occur when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable.” A lifelong process of learning, achieving flow in everyday life is finding freedom. It doesn’t suck to get old.
Our daily life is focused in three major categories: productive activities like work, maintenance activities such as eating, and leisure activities, what we do with our free time. How we choose what we do and how we approach these activities will determine if our life is a grey blur or a work of art.
Flow and Happiness
Our main life focus is aimed at experiencing happiness. We don’t crave wealth, health or fame per se. We want these things because we hope they will make us happy. Material well-being does not equate to happiness. Research shows that once beyond the threshold of poverty, additional wealth does not improve the chances of being happy.
Our quality of life does not depend solely on being happy. We need goals and meaning in our life to use our mind to the fullest. When we are motivated with goals and meaning, it is easier to find flow. When you like what you are doing and motivated to do it, focusing the mind becomes effortless even as difficulties become greater.
Newton’s first law of motion, sometimes referred to as the law of inertia, states: An object at rest stays at rest an object in motion stays in motion. Achieving flow acts as a catalyst for developing new challenges and learning new skills. In this situation, a person is constantly growing while enjoying life no matter what your age— a life in motion. The opposite is feeling bored and apathetic filling our mind with prepackage entertainment or descending into lethargy and the comfort of drugs and alcohol— a life at rest. Let’s look at how we can achieve flow in the three activities of live.
Flow at work
Work generally takes up a third of our time. It gives us some of the most satisfying moments, yet most of us prefer to avoid it. When you are challenged with a situation requiring skill and creativity, you need to concentrate on the task. If you do this well, it flows.
Every spring and summer I help my brother-in- law gather firewood for the winter. He uses poplar which grows in abundance on his land and when peeled burns hot and clean with little ash or creosote. He burns about six cords a winter. In the spring, when poplar leaves are the size of a mouse ear, we select a grove of poplar we can cut and lay down like pickup sticks. Next we peel the bark. I can peel two trees an hour. My brother-in-law, who is eighty years old, can do twice that. It is hard work. Then we cut the tree into two foot lengths. In the fall, after the logs have dried, we haul them to the wood shed, split the big ones and stack. Six cords is a lot of wood. If I stay focused in the moment, I discover creativity. I learn. I find flow even in the most manual labor.
It is not the work itself that determines how much it contributes to your life. It is how you work and how you experience the challenge of work.
The Flow of Everyday Life
A third of our time is spent doing things that are required to live. In primitive societies a lot of this time is spent talking and passing on knowledge. In our society it is spent driving, shopping, housework, raising kids. If you are like me, there are a lot of things in this category I don’t like to do. There is a lot of self-created stress. Being able to create order among the various demands in our lives goes a long way toward preventing stress. Find the serenity to accept that certain things are out of your control, the courage to change the things you can control and the wisdom to know the difference. This is the Serenity Prayer used by us recovered alcoholics. It works. The key to finding flow is finding enthusiasm for everything you do. Even what you are forced to do.
Flow in Leisure
Having leisure time only improves your quality of life if you know how to use it effectively. Without hobbies, active interests and interaction with others, many people lose concentration and motivation. At an extreme, this leads to depression and/or addiction.
If you agree we feel best in flow, then leisure time requires clear goals; demands that require our attention and skill. We can find flow in active sports, art forms, hobbies or socializing. Passive activity like watching television does not produce a flow experience.
Active leisure does not come easy. It requires effort and commitment. The learning curve can be steep. Every sport, hobby, art form or relationship requires time to acquire skill. The reward is riches and happiness money can’t buy. It is not difficult to imagine how grey our world would be without the effort of our ancestors to explore beauty and knowledge in their free time.
Being in the Flow
Our lives leave a mark on the universe. Like the pebble dropped in still water, our lives ripple across generations. Each decision we make impacts the economy, the environment and our social community. The feeling that one belongs to something greater than oneself is common to all the religions in human history. We are connected. Living in harmony with ourselves, humanity and the earth is key to living an excellent life. Living with flow.
Photo: Flying with flow over the Western Minnesota