The fifth and final installment in this series is about Flow. In positive psychology Flow is defined as"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." I agree that this is one component of Flow which I have experienced while doing many of the things that I enjoy, but I feel like this is a very limited definition. This definition implies that in order to flow with life things have to be happy and enjoyable and if they're not then flow isn't a possibility. I myself have had the opportunity to experience Flow when life was rough, when the waters were choppy and the waves were getting in my nose, so I'm here to propose a new definition for Flow.
F L O W
~The state of operation in which a person is fully immersed in a feeling of body awareness, energized focus, full involvement and an openness to the process of Life~
What I am proposing through this new definition is that Flow is not a state that we "fall into" when things are easy and enjoyable, but rather a state that we experience as we simply live life. Although I do have a very positive perspective on life, I do not take a rose colored glasses approach by only choosing to look at the sweet and pretty aspects. I have been in and out of the trenches of life and my experiences have given me many opportunities to practice surfing the metaphorical waves that are a part of being human. Some of my experiences have rocked me to my core and others have made me feel like I was flying high; if I had not learned how to flow with what life was bringing my way I could have very well ended up smashed into the rocks when the waves started to grow. The biggest gift I have received through all of my practices and my experiences is the ability to Flow with life. When I Flow I am able to feel all of my feelings deeply, I can respond from a clear and grounded space, and I can learn from the lessons I am being given in this crazy Earth School of Life. Here are my biggest lessons learned; I hope they help you learn to Flow.
1. There's more resistance in the shallows
Have you ever played in the big waves at the beach and noticed how when you stay above the water and try to "hold your ground" you tend to get pummeled? Sometimes you lose your footing, and even your swimsuit bottoms, while trying to keep your balance as the waves crash into your body. I received this lesson a few years ago from the waves in Carpinteria California. As I was playing in the waves I realized that when I stood in the water, even with my legs strong and wide, the waves would come at me hard and I would stumble; I would have to readjust my swimsuit and blow water out of my nose. After doing this a few times I recognized that I needed a different approach. When the next wave came I dove into it headfirst. The moment I did this I had no idea what would happen and to my pleasant surprise I found myself gliding through the water under the wave. I arrived to the surface a little out of breath and with some salt water in my eyes, but my swimsuit was still on and I felt absolutely liberated. As I continued to do this over and over again I realized that life is the same way. When we "stand our ground" and stay at the surface resisting the metaphorical waves in our life, we tend to feel like we're getting knocked around; sometimes it feels like we're drowning. What if we took a different approach? What if we dove headfirst into the discomfort, into the pain, into the unknown? I have found that when I dive into the waves of my life and I go deep into my emotions and truly feel everything that is there for me to feel something magic happens. The knocked around feeling is replaced with a feeling of surrender. I can acknowledge the pain, I can feel it cut through my heart like a hot knife, and I can come out to the surface with stinging eyes feeling liberated having given myself permission to feel instead of requiring the raw and hurting parts of me to stand my ground. Every time I have done this I have learned powerful life changing lessons. Allow yourself to go deep, dive headfirst into the unknown and allow yourself to see, hear, and feel everything that is there for you to receive.
Do you resist uncomfortable situations? Do you allow yourself the freedom to feel your emotions? Where can you see yourself needing to dive deep?
2. Float when you can
Apparently the ocean loves to share her teachings with me because I received this second lesson from the waves in Cocoa Beach Florida. After diving through the waves I reached a point beyond the waves where the water was calm enough to float on my back. When we're floating on our backs we are taking a break from treading water or diving, but we are still fully aware. We feel the water working in tandem with our breath to keep us afloat, we can feel the air on our skin and taste the saltwater on our lips. We are relaxed yet alert, present and fluid, adaptable yet steady. When life hands you the opportunity to float, take it. Enjoy the steadiness of your routine and the ease in your world with a conscious awareness of each sensation. Allow yourself to bask in everything good about the present moment; feel your body's sensations, feel your joy and the earth on your bare feet, smell the flowers, taste a ripe strawberry or your lover's lips. Whatever you do don't go on autopilot. Sometimes it's easy to get absorbed into our routine when life is running smooth, we lose our practices and we think we're flowing until all of a sudden WHOOSH a giant wave crashes over your head and takes you under. Stay present, give every aspect of your life the same amount of attention and reverence. By doing this you will feel the first ripple as it arrives and you'll be better prepared to start treading and diving again if needed.
Do you give the mundane aspects of your life the same energy that you do the rougher parts? Do you have a gratitude practice? How do you support yourself when things are going well so you can handle when things change?
3. Remember that the only constant is change
I don't have another ocean analogy for you, but I do have a very important reminder to share. Life isn't linear and the experiences we're called to navigate don't necessarily have a rhythm. Sometimes we're diving and treading for what feels like forever and when we finally get the chance to float we barely catch our breath before we're at it again AND sometimes we're floating longer than we're diving. Stay with it; fill your lungs with breath, feel the strength in your belly and just keep swimming. Calmer waters will come; they always do.
Are you fluid and responsive with life's changes? Can you appreciate all of your experiences without necessarily having to enjoy them?
The waters of life are not a placid still lake, they are the ocean churning with energy that creates movement and waves. The same energy working to make waves in the ocean creates movement inside of us that helps propell us into bigger and better versions of ourselves. Allow yourself to be fully present in your life as it unfolds and you will find flow; it may not always feel easy or pleasant, but the rewards you receive are limitless. Do you feel like you're flowing in life? Where can you practice to find more flow? Please share your experiences with me; the path is easier when we navigate it together.