I have asked the following question of hundreds of clients over the years:
“Have you ever given a presentation or speech to a group of people and you started out anxious and stressed, self-conscious and hypervigilant about your ability to perform? You are filled with self-doubt and anxiety.
Then suddenly, for no conscious reason, you switch into a flow state and all of the anxiety disappears and you’re not thinking about how you are doing, how people might criticise you or what you are going to say next?”
Without exception, every single one of them says yes!
So what’s happening in that moment when we switch into a flow state, into the zone?
Self-consciousness is a by-product of what I call Acquired Self-Esteem. It is the Self-Esteem we get from approval and success. It is only skin deep. It is not based on the joy and love and power of who we really are, it is not self-generated.
It is derived, dependent on and acquired from the outside.
It’s all about the ego, the desperate mind looking for the next advantage, the next way to make herself feel better, the next way to puff himself up and feel superior and most importantly to avoid failure, inferiority and pain.
When we start our presentation we are not moving from the joy, energy and vitality of our true being, our essence. We are locked into the ego, anxious, paranoid and doubtful.
The ego knows only one thing, how to control and manipulate and drive outcomes, to avoid pain and create more pleasure, which means that the ego is simply a ‘doer.’
To always be ‘doing’ is exhausting and desperate. Our lives are filled with it. You wake up in the morning and you get dressed in order to do something.
You go to work, where again you are doing things in order to achieve some goal, make something happen, fulfil an obligation, derive fulfilment, make money have a profitable business, on and on it goes. The underlying assumption is that “if I don’t drive and strive and push to get things done nothing will happen.”
It’s one of my favourite things, the binary error, the absurd idea that it’s either the one extreme or the other, pushing and driving on the one hand or passivity and inaction on the other.
It’s a nonsense idea.
That flow state that you experience when the ego drops away is ‘doing without a doer.’ Doing happens spontaneously and it doesn’t require the ego in order to function!
In fact quite the opposite is the case. The ego is a hindrance to experiencing the joy of that flow state where there is no ego.
There is a great TED talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – try pronouncing that – a Hungarian psychologist.
He has worked at helping people to identify and increase a sense of flow in their lives.
I just love his reference to the origins of the word ecstasy, which comes from the Greek, meaning to step aside.
My interpretation of this is that when the ego steps aside, the ecstasy of Spirit is revealed. (Not Mihaly’s interpretation.)
In the example I talk about at the beginning of this blog, I describe how this happens by accident to most of us. It is possible to do this by design, through working at letting go of the need to obtain a particular outcome and letting go of the need to drive and push, to let go of the desperate search for meaning.
Largely speaking, Mihaly focuses on flow through activity. This is great, but I am equally interested in enabling flow as a way of being.
So he describes a flow state as one in which nothing else seems to matter.
When we are fully immersed in an activity, time, food, ego and self are ignored – I would say they dissolve.
He describes the composer who is in ecstasy as he composes, but what about when he is washing up the dishes?
There is this beautiful Zen question: Are you washing up the dishes to wash the dishes or to make them clean?
The latter option is goal driven, living to get the next thing done, the former is flowing with the vibration of Spirit, just living for its own sake.
Mihaly’s model does not refer to any connection with Spirit, which I believe all flow states emerge from. Spirit is always here, it is always with us, which means that any form of doing and indeed not doing, irrespective of how inspired we are by it can contain the flow energy.
Now that is the way to really live!
It is Self-Esteem, where the sense of ‘self’ disappears.
If you would like to meet face to face or via Skype to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog, please drop me at mail at firstname.lastname@example.org