WHAT IS FLOW Anyway?

September 11, 2010

Articles, Musings

…All this musing, speculating, workshop-ing and dreaming, and I have never quite stopped to write about what I mean by ‘flow’! Intersting, isn’t it?

‘Flow’ – in the way I use and intend this idea – is a quality of experience, which can be compared to the fluidity of water, moving with, along, through, above, under, around the landscape encountered along the way.

This fluidity bears a sense of ‘breathing freely’, adjusting to the terrain, vegetation and elements it comes across, without losing its essential nature, finding ways to work with and utilize the qualities of  these elements, to keep flowing, to filter, leap, run, trickle, wind up, wind down, climb, fall, different  speeds, different directions.

In this sense it is associated with resilience and creativity.

This can also be understood as opposed to stagnation, to ‘being stuck’, ‘clogged up’,                    ‘blocked’, ‘dry’, ‘frozen’, ‘rigid’, ‘resisting’ etc.

I picked up and followed the theme of ‘flow’ through different experiences and under different guises and names, which later seemed to all merge in one  big stream (and more keep coming!), but always in its association with the nature of vital energy, in ourselves and all manifestations of life.

I experienced it in contemporary dance, where I was drawn particularly to Martha  Graham’s embodiment of live emotions, without the enforced ‘tidiness’ of the more classical approaches, and still full of life’s raw grace.

I found it in Yoga‘s concept of a life force (Kundalini) present in our own body and feeding all of our being, physically and emotionally but also connected to ‘outer’, ‘universal’ life force feeding life as a whole.

I was spell bound and by Jung‘s ideas on a collective stream, a matrix of archetypes, of symbols shared by all humanity, we all dip into in our dreams and lives, of influences connecting events which can be wide apart in space, with no apparent relation to each other, but carrying, presenting the same meaning or theme, tying in with each other in sychronicity. From Jung also comes the idea that we flow when we are in line with the preferences and style of our natural type. Where this is blocked and thwarted by ‘falsifying type’ (see Katherine Benziger, 1995), i.e. going against our natural stream, illness and disturbance occur.

This and other experiences brought me to the I-Ching (The Book of Changes), to The Secret of the Golden Flower and my first flirtings with the Taoist views of a cyclical, self-healing,  fluid and energetic nature of being when left to trust itself, fallen into oblivion for years of my life and returned recently to tie all of my favourite themes together.

Along the way  – and very significantly – I also encountered Wilhelm Reich and his revolutionary (at the time and still now, socially, in many ways) view of a vital energy flow that is intrinsic to and inseparable from our body-mind system and whose functioning – where it flows freely and where it clogs up or is thwarted – is shaped up by our individual history and its interplay with the rules and beliefs of the wider social context around us. This makes us who we are, our style of being in the world, and is the source of both our distress and our creativity and fulfillment, depending on the degree to which this has or not been allowed to thrive and follow its natural course.

These paths, these different strands, have intertwined, in existing integrations or in new versions of these same themes, developing in further directions, independently, together, dipping into newer and older wisdoms. Yet, of all the ‘voices’ that speak of ‘flow’, one seems to have nestled in my memory early on, in my late teenage and university years, as it returns each time with the same power and intuitive simplicity, the voice of Heracleitos, or what was believed to be his, from the mist of ancient Greek philosophy: “All things flow, nothing stands”….

…Everything is A PROCESS  (Mindell’s Process Work, Embodied Relational Therapy, Tao, and more).

Strange how echoes of our life themes, what we seek and what is close to our soul, have often been there all along, from the start, seemingly disconnected, unnoticed.

In his book ‘Flow’ (1990),  which I only recently discovered,  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  writes of how our experience of flow is maximized when we are involved in skills and activities that respond to our unique inclinations, preferences, aptitudes (much like what Jung said), sustained by a supportive environment and positive feedback. One of the ‘natural’ and most common enemy of this process, is worrying about what others think about us, criticism, which we often have made our own inner (and outer!) oppressor.
The aim of much personal development and therapeutic work – and in fact of so many healing practice  – and in my personal journey, seems to be concerned with acquiring and expanding into this  fluidity, with making that resilient and creative approach to life available, with finding our own unique brand of ‘flowing’.

JUST THINK OF THIS POST I AM WRITING NOW…  

 The wish to write a short piece about my idea of ‘flow’, appeared over a month ago. Resistance to writing started immediately, in the form of persistent critical thoughts, i.e. ‘you have nothing interesting enough to write about’, ‘it’s all been said before, it’s not new’, ‘it’s too complicated’, ‘your style of writing/English/knowledge isn’t good enough’, and on and on.

This was hindering flow. Writing in these conditions felt physically painful. So, instead of engaging in battle, arguing with the criticism, trying to ‘not think’ this way, I ‘recognised’ familiar historical voices, recognised their role, started writing anyway, at times and in places when the resistance felt lower, when it was easier, on trains, when I felt particularly inspired, when words came through spontaneously.

I considered I was flowing along a particularly rocky stream bed, got through any gaps I found, took my time. ‘Stuff’ got in the way, ‘things to do’, ‘interruptions’, even accidents (my computer broke down), cleverly devised and executed procrastination techniques, distractions, the lot.  I kept writing, two lines, a paragraph, few words, inserting an interesting picture. Small, manageable, minimum-scare steps, until I got here. Then I gave it a last push – because sometimes things just need a push! I have a sense of satisfaction.

I know in myself that next time it will be easier, and the next easier still and that this way I can feel the excitement, instead, right in the place where that fear is, if I breathe through it and stay with it, as this is the energy behind that fear, the energy at which those critical voices pointed their finger, and that was meant to be suppressed, for whatever original reason.

Where the fear and the blockage lie, THERE  is also the energy that can free them, bound up by original judgments, attempts to prevent or preserve something once vital, then become rigid, an archeological sediment, turned into obstruction.

LATELY, THE WIND HAS MADE AN APPEARANCE…

Where the Water had seemed bring the call of ‘flow’, to show it reflected in its nature, something has changed. I have found myself using words resonating of ‘air’, ‘breath’, ‘flying’, ‘gliding’. Humming bird came along, perched on a Native American flute I discovered in July. I started seeking to be in the breeze, in the wind,  feeling nourished by this, being fascinated by birds, chasing a sense of lightness, remembering my ‘high dreams’, the ability to move to panoramic views and find the nectar, remembering vividly in my body my capability for this, the part of my nature I thought lost, or that I had to ‘find’, ‘work at’.

Sometimes we discover we already ARE where and who we want to be, have what we seek.

 

…and sometimes ‘flow’ is just there, were we weren’t looking.

“We are, all of us, unique,

each a unique pattern of creativity,

and if it is not fulfilled

it is lost for all times”  

(Martha Graham, 1894-1991)


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About Filomena

Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Workshop & Community Rhythm Facilitator @ Core-Beat Drumming & Dancing At The Heart of Communities & Full Circle Therapeutic Pathways.

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2 Responses to “WHAT IS FLOW Anyway?”

  1. julia f Says:

    Hi Filo,
    I am so glad that you have done this. Tried to define “flow”. Because I think that might be a stumbling block in the workshops. To be honest, I didnt know what you meant by flow. It is not a known method – you innovator!!
    Now that I understand- well I have read your words…I think its brilliant. It joins up many ideas and methods and techniques that are dear to my heart, and are actually ways in which I do actually live, but had not defined or worked that out. Reading “flow” makes me feel validated, not such a weirdo in how I go about life, what I throw together. Because you do that too, and you have the insight and the language and the bravery to say , yes this is what flow is. Its like that quote from marianne williamson, that Nelson Mandela also spoke “when I shine my light, it gives permission for you to shine yours, ” well something like that, I am sure you know the one. Or it is like a dream I had when I went to Qigong, carrying a lamp, and everyone else was carrying a lamp too, and we all switched on our lamps!!
    thanks, i’ll read that again, julia

    Reply

    • Filo Says:

      Thank you very much for your full hearted, enthusiastic comment, Julia!
      I LOVE your dream of the lamp, you sharing this too validates what I do here, that what matters is not
      whether it has all been said or done before, in all those other words and forms. What matters is that we
      bring forth our own brand of what we experience as life enhancing and healing, in our own voice, and it
      will resonate with somebody, somewhere and contribute to our collective journeys in its own way. Let’s all
      switch on our lamps! Thanks for switching on yours.
      Love
      Filo

      Reply

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