Flow. What is it? An insurance spokesperson? The name of a music artist with a machine? The name of the waitress at Mel’s Diner who told us to kiss her grits?
No, those are “Flo’s.” What we are talking about here is FLOW: a steady, continuous stream of consistency. Let’s take that definition and break down the word “continuous” further, which gives us “forming an unbroken whole, without interruption.” So we can say that FLOW is a steady, uninterrupted unbroken stream of consistency. What exists as a steady, uninterrupted unbroken stream of consistency? What is this Flow?
Could it be the body? The cells of the human body are constantly replacing themselves. At a cellular level the body I am in right now is completely different than it was last month, even my skin has changed. I look at pictures of me as a baby, as a boy, as a teenager, as a twenty-something, there’s no trace of those bodies anywhere. Sure, I see those previous versions of RJ in pictures and I say, “that’s me,” but who is the me that I see? Who is the me that identifies with those different bodies, even as those bodies have completely changed? As the body changes often, it’s clear that the body cannot be seen to be a steady, uninterrupted unbroken stream of consistency.
Could Flow be thoughts? An hour ago I was thinking about dinner, and now I’m thinking about you and how you’ll understand and grasp this piece. In fact throughout the day my thoughts have ranged from traffic to groceries, from bills to chores, from clothes to meditation. They’ve taken me through several identifiable emotions, which by the way all originate in my head. Where’s my head anyway? The head in those pictures of “me” barely resemble the one sitting on the top of my neck right now, but that’s just a thought too, right? And what about the contents of those thoughts? Surely what and how I think about things has changed over the years, yes? I was once afraid of the dark, but that thought no longer arises. So because we can see that thoughts change, thoughts cannot be seen to be a steady, uninterrupted unbroken stream of consistency.
Could Flow be emotions? Well, this evening I watched the news. I became angry at inequality and politics, saddened at the story of Jimmy Kimmel’s baby, and joyfully moved at the rescue of kids from a flood. I experienced these emotions from the comfort of my living room chair just by watching pixellations on a digital screen. (By the way, when I hear someone say “s/he made me mad” I roll my eyes – no one can create an emotion and give it to you – it is your own thought about a thing that creates your emotion. No one creates an emotion and then hands it to you for you to place in your head, own, and act upon; but I digress…) So we can conclude that because emotions change like thoughts, emotions cannot be seen to be a steady, uninterrupted unbroken stream of consistency.
Could Flow be experiences? No doubt you’re already convinced that experiences are not an uninterrupted continuum. Maybe you’ve changed jobs, relationships or homes. Maybe what was once a great relationship has become something else. Maybe you are no longer the fastest runner in your town. Perhaps a shoulder or a knee no longer moves as efficiently as it once did. We can try to hold onto experiences but that would be like trying to grab a fistful of water only to find that the tighter you squeezed the faster your hand would empty. Experiences obviously change and we can see this vividly, so experiences are not a steady, uninterrupted unbroken stream of consistency. So where does this leave us in our inquiry of the meaning of Flow?
Thoughts, emotions, sensations, experiences, physical-ness – these types of phenomena come and they go. They arise, they sustain, they resolve, and they remain unaffected by our opinions of what they should look like, how long they should last, and what they shall leave in their wake. Try as we may to hold onto them, to indulge them, to avoid them, to engage them, to replace them, to manage them, they will still do whatever they will do irrespective of our preference. By their very nature of temporary display, they cannot be seen to be a steady, uninterrupted, unbroken stream of consistency.
What I’m offering here is what I see as Flow – a steady, uninterrupted, unbroken stream of consistency – cannot be described, but only experienced. I’d like to suggest that because Flow is always already present, you can experience Flow for yourself, and right now. For a couple of seconds step out of your thoughts and take a few deep, purposeful, thought-free breaths. Stop thinking, just for a moment. Give yourself permission to release all your thoughts and see what remains. Experience the openness that is unaffected by the rise and fall of opinion. Enter into the spaciousness that allows emotional clenching to self-release. See what’s there, behind your story-of-the-moment – just notice…
Through your own direct experience you can know that in whatever thought, emotion or state you experience, there is a steady, uninterrupted unbroken stream of consistency; a clear, alert, spacious, cognizant, always already present awareness – Flow. Know that this always already present awareness can be noticed whether you are thinking or not; that regardless of what takes place, the steady, uninterrupted, unbroken stream-of-awareness-flow is exactly the “what and where” you are – awareness just flows, unbrokenly so.
So the next time you find yourself lost in worry, fear, passion, anger, joy, sadness, anxiety or any other roller coaster of phenomena, remember that each is but a fleeting temporary appearance in this physical density of dimension, time and space; take a moment and detach yourself from all your descriptions, from your all-caught-up-ness, and rest as awareness; rest as abundance; rest as peace; rest as clarity; rest as Flow.
Parrot-loving student of existential phenomenology and its psychological implications upon the human experience.