Entering the flow state. [A personal story about how it feels to be in
In one way or another, every one of us has experienced that wonderful feeling of effortless activity. Some people call it inspiration, some, the flow state and others still, refer to it as being “in the zone.” All of these names are just clever descriptions of the exact same thing. Each one of them is touching on the feeling of being fully engaged and absorbed in what you are doing.
Maybe you felt it while you were splitting firewood or cleaning the house. Maybe it came while you were writing in your journal or cooking dinner for a bunch of friends. This state is available to almost all types of activity but it requires a certain state of mind (or no-mind) in order to enter it.
All kinds of people have speculated about how and why we wind up entering the flow state but very few have ever managed to unlock its secrets. I personally believe the reason we can’t fully understand how to get there is because it is an ever-shifting surface that only allows brief moments of exploration. It’s like the bottom of a riverbed. There might certain seasons that allow you get to know it’s basic structure but as soon as the weather changes, so does the landscape.
This post isn’t intended to unlock the secrets of entering a flow state or to give tips on how to manipulate the terrain, this post is about describing what it actually feels like to be in one. The reason I want to share this is because of the reaction I believe it will provoke. My belief is that by sharing my personal experience with inspiration and by diving deep into the feelings that arose there it will, in turn, stir up some sort of recognition of your own. I see it like uncorking a bottle of some lovely and familiar fragrance. I’m pretty sure that will know you have smelled it before but you might not be able to remember it’s source...Well in this case, you are the source!
This particular experience of entering into a flow state was connected to two different acts that blended together. The first act was getting completely lost in play with my daughter and the second was writing a song that was inspired by that intoxicating dose of playfulness. The fuel for the song seemed to have been acquired through the thoughtless and carefree space that I had entered into while immersing myself in the play but I can’t really say how it actually worked. All I know is that the creative spirit possessed me and flowed through my body like an electrical current and after it was gone, I had a fully formed song that deeply resonated with my experience.
This kind of creative burst doesn’t happen often but when it does, it’s almost like a religious experience for me. It ruffles the feathers of complacency and releases waves of hidden energy that push me beyond my normal limits. It enhances my senses and at the same time limits distractions so that I can focus on the task before me. It even unlocks feelings of gratitude and appreciation that I often overlook when preoccupied with the surface level of reality.
The initial entry into these inspired states is often quite unremarkable. It’s so subtle at first that I hardly even recognize the fact that I’m crossing a threshold. I sort of just start sinking into the activity I are presently engaged in and before I know it, I’m lost in it. It’s usually not until after I’ve been immersed for several hours that I actually notice the details of what’s going on.
In the case of this particular experience, I hardly even noticed the transition from play into song writing. Due to that fact that the game we were playing involved singing random songs about all the things that were in front of us, I already had a guitar in hand and was warmed up from the silliness. After a good hour of singing about the birds that made nests in the trees and the lady bugs that crawled along the porch railing, I suddenly found my self fiddling around with a melody that I hadn’t played in many months. Each note in the progression seemed to reflect my mood perfectly and were effortlessly capturing the emotions that flittered about the scene.
Within a few minutes of playing around with it and reconnecting with its feeling, a verse randomly popped into my head. It was simple and unremarkable but completely relevant to the events of the day. It went like this, “Empty sky, a quiet mind. Clouds of thought dissolve in rhymes. Empty sky, a quiet mind.” From this one simple line I immediately found myself immersed in the process of writing a new song. I was on fire with it. The more I played, the more ideas floated to the surface. The more I sang the more connected I became with the energy. My mind became clear and my voice became strong. My fingers became liquid and my breath came out steady. Even my vocabulary seemed larger and more readily available. The whole process was unbelievably effortless and deeply healing. It seemed to be reaching into some hidden chamber of my heart and releasing this long forgotten song from the shackles of negligence. I wasn’t creating it, I was setting it free.
Before I knew it, the sun was starting to sink behind the trees and the color of the sky was beginning to soften. Several hours had passed since I began toying with that melody but in that lapse of time something wonderful had taken place. I had managed to tap into the deep reservoir of creative energy that sits at the base of all human experience and was permitted to sprinkle a few of the nourishing drops upon the surface of my music. What I walked away with was something of great personal worth and it required almost nothing to attain it. I didn’t have to sweat or bleed of deprive myself in any way to bring it about, it was given to me as a gift. The only reason I can imagine for having received it in such a way is the state of mind I was dwelling in at the time. There was no me and no mind present. My personal identity was lost to the spirit of play and because of this emptiness, I was open to the flow of inspiration.