"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ecstasy and Being 'In the Flow'

In the attached video lecture from TED.com, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi examines the state of ecstasy people experience when they are "in the flow." Ecstasy itself, he explains, in the original Greek meant to stand outside of one's self, and "then it became essentially an analogy for a mental state where you feel that you are not doing your everyday routines. "

"Ecstasy," therefore, Csikszentmihalyi observes, " is essentially stepping into an alternative reality."

Examining the inner lives of composers, poets, athletes and business leaders who have consciously experienced being "in the flow" he notes that all focus on peripheral things drops away because there is not enough capacity to take in these externalities while being so tightly focused on the ecstasy-producing activity. "Existence, itself," he notes, "is temporarily suspended."

A poet explained the ecstatic "state of flow" experience in the following terms to one of Csikszentmihalyi's research assistants:
"It's like opening a door that's floating in the middle of nowhere and all you have to do is go and turn the handle and open it and let yourself sink into it. You can't particularly force yourself through it You just have to float. If there's any gravitational pull, its from the outside world trying to keep you back from the door."
Combining the research into such peak experiences amongst athletes, artists, contemplatives, innovators and leaders of all stripes, Csikszentmihalyi sets out seven characteristics of how it feels to be "in the flow" in the following list:
  1. Completely involved in what we are doing - focused, concentrated.
  2. A sense of ecstasy - of being outside everyday reality.
  3. Great inner clarity - knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing.
  4. Knowing that the activity is doable - that our skills are adequate to the task.
  5. A sense of serenity - no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.
  6. Timelessness - thoroughly focused on the present, hours seem to pass by in minutes.
  7. Intrinsic motivation - whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.
With the aid of the following chart, Csikszentmihalyi explains that the state of "flow" typically occurs when difficult challenges are met using a highly developed skill set. The "flow state," he notes, is most often entered from a state of "arousal" - i.e., where very challenging tasks push the limit of one's skills - or, less frequently, from a very "controlled" state, where a highly developed skills set is being used to meet and overcome progressively more difficult challenges.

It is no mere coincidence that the characteristics of the "flow state" that Csikszentmihalyi describes are virtually identical with the peak experiences of mystics, for the mystic is ever-seeking that state of ecstatic union with the Wholeness, Godhead, or Ground of Being which results in a higher, dilated consciousness and an expansiveness of being - all characteristics of what Csikszentmihalyi would describe as being "in the flow."

"There are thousands of wines that can take over our minds," Rumi cautions. "Don't think all ecstasies are the same!"

1 comment:

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