Flow Rider

Resounding Moment #3

I’m driving down the highway on the way to work trying to recall the reading I’m teaching in a half hour.

I remember it is about “finding flow,” a positive psychology term. The definition of flow, according to Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, is where the mind, will, and body harmonize to create these effortless moments that stand out as the most profound of our lives. When we have clear goals, gain feedback, and our life skills match a challenge, we feel great and successful. In these flow moments, self-consciousness abates, strength seemingly increases, time flies by, and life finds meaning or purpose.

What this Psychology professor is describing, to me at least, are those moments that stick with us, these resounding moments, and, ironically, this is what I envisioned this thread of my blog to represent. I think that these moments don’t have to be the best moments in life that we feel utter joy in; I think you can “find flow” in the most difficult and trying experiences given that your “skills” can match the “challenge” whatever it may be. As hard as things get sometimes, I still get an experience as Csikzentmihalyi describes. When something stressful happens, we seem to rise to the challenge, holding the pieces together, and our coping skills attempt to outweigh the stress. We’re stronger, confident, time flies, and we make attempts to find the silver-lining of the situation.
I teach the lesson, and it resonates with my students, surprisingly even at 8 am. They talk, really talk about it, and throughout all of my classes, they unanimously decide that it is the everyday moments that we find flow in that mean the most. And I have to agree.
I find flow on a daily basis—a good book, a brilliant idea put down on paper, a class lecture that goes exceptionally well, watching my toddler son achieve something he hasn’t done before, a lazy evening on the sofa watching one of my favorite shows with my husband—these are my moments of flow. Sure, some of these don’t take a lot of skill to do, but they still fit the definition of what positive psychology tells us constitutes happiness or transcendence to a plane of bliss. One of my daily moments of flow, which I oddly look forward to, is my commute to work. It sounds weird, but it is literally these spells of time, in the car on the highway, that are my only times of complete and utter freedom, without work, child rearing, grading, and life’s other activities. I have nothing to worry about but the open road and my imagination soars. 

I write. I write in my head, even calling it that, and those who aren’t extremely creative or imaginative may not understand. I play out a movie of my creation in my head, a scene, and I replay it rendering it every day until I feel it is perfect. Then, when a moment of free time surfaces, sans car, it hits the paper or the monitor. I get it out. The spark of an idea turns into a fine-tuned inferno as it becomes permanent. It comes into being erupting in better form than it had in the dozen or so mental drafts created. It is alive, no longer a glimmer of hopeful imaginative genius. I read it over, the dialogue out loud to see if it speaks to real life, and surprisingly I’m content with it. Of course, all writing can be improved, but the idea is born and recorded. I find my moment of bliss, my skills override the challenge, time flies by, and I have found flow. I am happy. 

Not everyone can understand this, that something so simple as a car ride or writing down an idea in my chicken-scratch handwriting can yield such contentment. I think only a writer can. I think only a writer knows the pain of an idea that is stuck in his/her head, trying to break out to hatch into the world, to know this passion that borders obsession (and perhaps at times insanity) must come to fruition before it dies or withers into nothingness. In the car, I get to record these ideas and transfer them into my long term memory, to nourish them and raise them as if they were my children. In the car, harmony overtakes me, and I become one with the world; I become a Flow Rider.

Even if not writers, all people have their equivalent of this though, an everyday moment that makes them happy. So, I ask, how do you find flow?

Csikzentmihalyi, Mihaly. "Finding Flow." Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 12th ed. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. Boston: Peasron, 2013. 240-5. Print.