What is Flow?

Flowing Waterto issue or move in a stream, CIRCULATE: to move with a continual change of place among the constituent particles.

There is also a psychological state of Flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines Flow as the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, characterized by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

After a year of learning about the Alexander Technique, which is a method of proper use of the body, I believe the concept of “flow” is also applicable to the body. “Proper” posture is not a position to be held statically, but a flow of alert poise from moment to moment.

Can these concepts be joined in a gestalt theme covering body, mind and spirit? I believe so.

Let’s start with the use of the body. The Alexander Technique examines body use from a natural point of view, that is, taking the animal state of poise each of us inherits and learning to apply it consciously. When actor and F. M. Alexander lost his voice repeatedly after long soliloquies, he learned from painstaking self-examination that his neck was contracting into a “startle” position, like a frightened animal, during the stress of acting performances.

Further experience demonstrated that simply relaxing the neck into its natural position wasn’t enough. He had to remain in the pilot’s seat, what he later called “primary control”, the “the central co-ordinating agency built into our very essence and fundament.” (from David Gorman) Mr. Gorman continues by describing how primary control originates evolutionarily from the dawn of organized species. From the slug on up, primary control directed them as it still directs us.

The part of the brain which controls this body awareness is primitive, buried deeply in the middle of the brain. Normal consciousness, with its analytical process, cannot touch it. One cannot “think” themselves into this central state of awareness. The subjective experience of this state feels like “letting into a flow”. A flow of what? That’s where is becomes more complicated. A flowing body with no where to go gets bored quickly!

I have found that as I gained balance and poise in my body, I was able to be more present mentally as well. My mind followed my body’s lead, and relaxed into the moment. My whole being now has a better chance of evolving from this gained awareness.

After reading much of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s wonderful book, Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience, I believe the three parts of body/mind/spirit are really just different angles of the same structure. Just as a box cannot be a box with a side or two missing, we cannot be reduced to one part without losing the entire meaning of “a life”.

Mihaly defines flow as a state of concentrated but contented occupation, with clearly defined goals, reasonable challenges, and evidence of achievement. He interviewed thousands of people about what they feel when they are experiencing optimal enjoyment and absorption in an activity. No matter what someone is doing, from sex to sports to chess; if they are focused and directed, they are fulfilled. Having a goal is not the reason for their contentment, it is the process. Personal descriptions of this state include: transcendence, unselfconsciousness, alertness, confidence, enjoyment, satisfaction and fulfillment.

Seen from this view, the subjective feeling of our lives gains meaning and quality. People who have meaning in their lives are fulfilled. It has nothing to do with money or fame or power. Happy people are happy because they are fulfilled. Period. And those people are more loving, peaceful, forgiving and generous, all of which are symptoms of a rich spirit.

So, we started with the importance of poise and flow in the body, then explored flow for the mind, which, in turn, creates flow for the spirit. Three balanced sides completes the equation.

It may seem like a cop out to define a healthy spirit in terms of a healthy body awareness and life direction. As a person becomes grounded and connected to the world around, her ability to reach out and heal others becomes a natural inclination. As deep fulfillment grows, the more universal Self begins to supercede the personal self. If the goals are shallow and selfish, then he cannot tap into that goodness so easily.

Once again, the idea of spirituality can be defined by observable and knowable concepts. A spiritual person is one who has found balance and poise in their body, mind, goals, talents and desires. As each part comes to life, the whole being is enhanced, and their spirit grows accordingly. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Happiness is not a goal, it is the path.” Perhaps that could be rephrased as, “Happiness is not in the goal, it is in the flow”.

May your body, mind and life flow toward fulfillment and a glowing spirit.

6 thoughts on “What is Flow?

  1. Bill- I believe I listed that link on my links page, along with several other Alexander sites, including a few good blogs. Have you seen those?

    Thanks for stopping by.

  2. You’ve certainly given me a lot to think about, as usual. The flow concept is fairly new to me, and thinking back on my day, I see why my mood was uplifted by the act of examining my retirement investments, researching, making a decision, calling the companies, downloading the forms, xeroxing the statements, and mailing the whole deal to its destination. I think I had that flow going on, with the clear goal, absorption during the task and the sense of completion and accomplishment at the end. Thanks for the enlightenment!


  3. Betty, I’m glad you identified it. Most people don’t even register how satisfying that kind of work can be.

    I saw a quote today which could apply here.

    “Peace- It is not to be free of noise, work and the chaos of daily life. It is to be in the midst of all those and maintain a still heart.”

    Hugs, David

Comments are closed.