The Flow State

By Mike Sullivan, Therapist

Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy ProgramThis is fascinating – and you will likely be able to relate to this.  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and colleagues in Italy pondered the mental state of artists while in the act of creating art.  Through phenomenological studies, Csíkszentmihályi, maintains that people can basically become absorbed into an activity and reach a particular mental state, flow.  Flow is basically a mindful mental state achieved when one is completely present in the task at hand.  The phenomenon has implications for all of us, allowing us to find an activity that engages an extreme presence, letting go of anxiety, depressed feelings, or other aspects plaguing our minds.

Wikipedia states: According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task[2] although flow is also described as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.

Flow can vary for each individual and it’s our personal responsibilities to find it for ourselves.  For some it may be something extreme like rock climbing or mountain biking.  These are activities that seem to require a flow state for survival.  They seem to thrust one into a flow state. For others, yoga, art, gardening, or other activities can provoke the same state of mind.  One achieves flow through that presence created when you completely commit to the activity.  I encourage you to evaluate your daily activities and ask yourself – Am I finding a way to engage the flow state?  If not, you may want to find an activity that allows you to.  There is likely not much empirical evidence to support this theory, however it speaks to many phenomenologically.

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