The lights in the room go down. I’m up on stage. I can’t see many faces or eyes in the audience, but I can feel the crowd, completely. I speak from the heart, and lose my sense of time, of space and of me. Magic happens.
I sit down at the computer to write. I wade through the icky first few moments and eventually, the work draws me in. A couple hours later, I pick up my head, notice the time, and feel completely uplifted by the journey that writing has taken me on.
For me, writing and speaking are the vessels that carry me to that special state called flow, the state when we lose track of time, when we fall into a gorgeous forgetting of ourselves and become completely merged with what we’re doing.
For you, it’s probably some other activities. Maybe running or gardening or counseling or crunching numbers. We’ve all been given a few vessels that take us into that special state called flow.
What I want to talk about today – with great compassion – is why we so often end up not doing the things that bring us into that wonderful state of flow, even though flow brings us so much joy, and so much respite from our day-to-day malaises.
There are the usual reasons: Fear of being bad at the activity. Past wounds from that teacher or supposed mentor who made us feel like we just weren’t cut out to do the thing. Lack of time. Thinking we’re too old or too young, or, or, or…
Yes, all that. But there is a deeper reason we resist and then often simply don’t do the things that bring us into flow.
It’s because flow threatens ego.
The ego is a part of us that sees ourselves as a distinct, separate self. It’s invested in you seeing yourself as a self – you know, the kind with a name, a height, a weight, a resumé or LinkedIn profile, a relationship history, and so on. It generally feels quite threatened (because indeed an alone, separate self is not very safe), and therefore spends most of its energy trying to defend itself or avoid dangers one way or another. It never sees you the other way – a stitch in a wondrous fabric, a ray in a sun, a drop in an ocean. It knows the bounded you, not the connected one.
The ego does not like it when we go into flow state because flow state is about the disappearing of the boundaries of self.
The boundary that disappears for you when you are in flow might be one between you and other human beings.
The boundary that disappears might be the boundary between you and nature, as you hike on a trail or swim in the ocean.
The boundary that disappears might be the boundary between you and your material, as you sand the wood, or move the needle through the yarn, or place the bead on the wire.
The boundary that disappears might be the boundary between you and Inspiration, as something else writes the essay for you, or the right thing to say in the meeting simply comes out of your mouth.
Flow undermines the illusion of the separate self.
Ego doesn’t only feel threatened by failure or emotional exposure. It also feels threatened by anything that helps us transcend our egoic self.
Recently I heard someone say something intriguing: “I’m afraid that if I start meditating more, I’ll somehow lose my edge.”
It’s an interesting phrase, “losing your edge.” Sometimes, those words are used to connote losing a competitive edge. Sometimes, it has to do more with losing a kind of mental sharpness, or hunger for achievement.
I can’t help but think about it differently. When I heard, “If I meditate more, I might lose my edge,” the edge I thought of was the edge of the self.
As much as we individually long to lose our edges, and as much as our world needs us to do so in order that we collaborate to survive, another part of us fears that loss.
So today’s note is, first and foremost, a loving reminder to you that there are things in your life that bring you into flow. Because we forget. Those activities are gifts to you from life and from the divine. They deserve your time, and they will repay you manifold if you give it to them.
Today’s note is also a reminder that you will likely avoid doing those things that bring you into flow, and the reason is that your ego does not want to lose the battle of how you view yourself – small or large, bounded or connected.
And today’s note is an encouragement to find a way to go into flow anyway, to dip into its well, and let it remind you of the vastness that is here, already in you, and ever waiting to connect to you.
photo credit: Annie Spratt