Meditation and flow, some would argue two sides of the same coin.
Whether that is true or not is up for grabs but what I’ve personally experienced is that by being meditatively aware of yourself and your surroundings you prime yourself to become more in tune with the flow state.
The magical thing is that this can also work in reverse, that is when attaining the “flow-state” you naturally become more meditative and mindful. Moreover, thoughts and redundant thinking patterns lose their influence over you and what remains is you experiencing life directly and consciously.
Now if you’re not fully aware of the meaning of the psychological term “flow”, here is a brief definition from Wikipedia that will do for now:
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.
With that being said, lets now proceed with the actual goodies of how to make this state of mind into a nice little habit or even a skill that you can use to enter at will.
1. When you enter the flow, pay extra attention
This one is obvious, but you paying attention or being fully focused and conscious of how it feels to enter the flow state is a great exercise to induce it through your own will in the future.
What does this mean practically?
This can mean just about anything, but if we were to mention something concrete, it could mean that whenever you make someone burst out laughing by your wittiness, simply pay extra attention to the processess leading up to that moment. What makes you flow?
Another example is when doing something difficult, like sports or an artform. Whenever you hit that lovely note, strum that awesome rhythmic pattern on the guitar, throw your dirty socks right into a basket or perhaps land the perfect boxing combination, whatever it is, pay attention.
This is not only good for building awareness of what makes you proficient but also great for meditation purposes
2. Pick up a meditation practice
Personally this one is a given. Even though you may struggle in the initial phase of the meditation journey, a journey that always leads to the present moment, meditation is still one of the best ways to go about flowing with life. Initially if you haven’t meditated before you may feel less in tune with the flow state and being “in the zone”.
Why is this?
Simple. Whenever you start directing your attention to the world of thoughts and the processes that govern them, you are confronted by the “dark corners of your psyche”. These dark corners are filled to the brim with your ideas about life, your experiences, dreams, hopes, fears and what have you. Meditation brings awareness to this part of your mental world, that was previously not consciously noticed.
That being said, whenever you move deeper into your own self and beyond this initial “attack” of your own mind, you will most likely start living more in tune with the natural flow of the universe.
This is why beginning a meditation practice, whether it’s 10 min or more can be such a powerful tool when it comes to entering the flow state.
3. Create a mental cue
Try creating a mental cue for yourself which you can use every time you wish to consciously enter into the flow state. A mental cue is a reminder to your conscious self which helps set your focus on something specific. Similar to a technique used in lucid dreaming, the mental cue is a good way to induce higher states of awareness.
In practical terms, try doing something special and specific before you want to enter the flow state. It could be anything from repeating a certain phrase or affirmation to taking a few deep breaths. Anything works, but consistency is key. Choose one specific thing and stick to it.
Gradually this will become an efficient mental cue for your brain, an act which can get you into the flow state on command. The brain is highly adaptable and the efficiency of this neat technique may surprise you.
In more scientific terms, a large part of our behaviour and performance is based on the connections of neurons in the brain. A mental cue uses this natural fact to your benefit.
4. Allow more creative and spontaneous expressions
This is important, as creativity and spontaneity are two phenomena closely linked with flow, even if it may be indirectly.
Being creative and spontaneous most often brings you into a:
- More focused, concentrated state of mind.
- You become and feel merged with the present moment and the awareness of your actions feels supremely natural.
- Another key thing is that you lose track of that “monkey mind” that’s always chatting away in your head.
- You feel in control yet completely subject to it.
- Time becomes irrelevant and seizes to exist in the normal way.
- Plus you enjoy it, a lot.
These above “effects” that are induced by creativity and spontaneity are all correlated with the formal definition of the “flow state”, as was most notably laid out by the Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.
5. Break deep-rooted patterns
Sometimes the best way to enter flow is to consciously break automatic patterns of behavior that everyday life has conditioned you into. Note that there is a big difference between hard work (however repetitive it may be) in the form of a discipline and the everyday unconscious automatic patterns of behavior.
I sincerely believe that one of the main culprits that comes in the way of you feeling in tune with life are deep-rooted “no good” patterns.
What can you do?
Do some soul-searching and try to discover that which is keeping you from reaching your potential.
Recognize those deep-rooted patterns that hold you back and proceed by taking the necessary steps towards freedom, some of the tips listed in this article may prove beneficial in this regard.
6. Master an art/skill
Speaking of discipline, to gradually gain mastery in a specific skill is another effective way of entering the flow state. The more you practice the better you get. You simply become more aware and able in performing that same set of actions which you have done a thousand times prior.
Whether it is dance, painting, musical expressions, sports or craftsmanship isn’t all that important.
However what is important is that you set your mind and body on a specific goal, preferably something that you’re passionate about. Something you can constantly grow, improve and learn from. Something which gives you and perhaps the people around you a sense of joy.
Find that and work at it, with due diligence and in due time you’ll know what the flow state can do for you and how you can enter it through your discipline of choice.
If you want to focus on the “energized focus” aspect of flow then one recommendation is to go for a precision based skill, like say archery or the art of balancing on wire. If you wish to go for the aspect where you lose the sense of “space and time”, try a dance based art/skill like ballet or qigong.
7. Become fascinated with direct experience
Direct experience is a term that I’ve used quite a lot in my writings. Its not really a popular or widely known term, but I feel that its a great term to describe something so intimate and immediate such as flow and meditative awareness.
One of the essential points of direct experience as I put it in my book “The Door of Direct Experience” is:
Direct experience is simply you being yourself in the immediacy of the present moment. That is, you being yourself without any filtration made by the psychological aspect of your mind.
When you live directly, you and the moment are inseparable. Your life becomes a perpetual state of flow. Now imagine that, you flowing effortlessly through life while the rest of humanity struggles and stumbles around. Heck some would argue that to perpetually flow is equivalent to that which is known as “spiritual enlightenment”, however that is a topic for a different day.
As you’ve witnessed, through meditative awareness and other good habits you can prime yourself to live a life that is much more fulfilling. The feeling of being in the zone or in the state of flow doesn’t need to be reserved for brief moments that you have and lose. Though initially it can be so.
Through paying attention, meditating regularly, using smart mind-hacks, being more creative and spontaneous, mastering an skill or art, breaking deep-rooted no good habits, or just by being more contemplative you can really start living consciously and and more “flowingly” if you will.
If you have anything to say about this amazing topic, feel free to do so in the comment box below as I would love to hear your thoughts about meditation and flow.
Daniel Seeker is a wandering dervish and lifelong student of the past, present and future. He realized deep relaxations of the psyche when meditating in his hermit cave on the island of Gotland. His writings are mostly a reflection of that realizaton. Daniel currently studies history and philosophy at Uppsala Universitet, as he is currently writing his B.A. thesis in history which explores how Buddhist and Hindu texts were first properly translated and introduced to the western world in the late 18th and 19th century.