It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon. My youngest son, who is ten, and who loves nothing more than a whole day in his pajamas, has settled himself beside me at the dining room table. We each have a pair of scissors, and between us, a stack of magazines. I am making a collage, an activity I haven’t engaged in since I was about ten. My son has a couple of little projects on the go, projects that evolve as the afternoon unfolds. As he works away, I page through the magazines one by one, looking for words and images that represent in some way who I want to be and what I want to experience in the coming year. I cut out words like “energy” and “joy” and “calm.” I tear out phrases like, “Live deeply. Travel light.” I find calming images of the water, photos of exotic locations throughout Asia, and pictures that for one reason or another I find beautiful or inspiring. I am creating a vision board. And as I arrange the images and overlay the words, making adjustments until everything feels right, I am completely entranced, utterly unaware of time passing.
This is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalvi (whose name I will one day learn to pronounce) calls “flow.” It’s that experience of being swept away by an activity, of being so engrossed that we lose track of time. It’s a sensation I’m most likely to experience while engaging in some form of creative expression. And it’s why I’ve made a promise to myself this year to do something artistic at least once a week. What’s surprising is once I deliberately make an effort to do one small creative thing, I am inspired to do more. In the last week or so, I’ve made a collage, written a poem, worked on my novel, taken photographs and figured out how to make (very cool) photo mandalas. It is all done in the spirit of “exuberant imperfection,” done for the joy of it, for the sake of the creative experience, for the sensation of flow.
As I’m writing tonight, Will is working in the kitchen. I notice my guilt rising. “I should go and help out,” I think. But then I hear him singing softly as he works, and I realize that he, too, is in his own flow state, happily toasting and grinding spices, chopping garlic and ginger, creating an aromatic tomato chutney to accompany a curry dinner he’s making later this week. I leave him to his cooking, and return to my writing.
What activities induce a flow state in you?