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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 07/23/21 – Getting Into a Flow State

Julie found this cool YouTube channel about a guy who bought a ghost town on top of a very large, abandoned silver mine. It is called Ghost Town Living and it about Cerro Gordo established in 1865, the most prosperous silver mine in California's history. He is rebuilding the town, which sits on top of a mountain range immediately west of Death Valley. It is fun watching him explore abandoned and partially collapsed mines filled with old dynamite and other dangerous things all around. He goes places I would not have even dreamed of in my young and dumb stage. Last week he was talking about why he explores those mines. He noted it is one of the few times in life he can get into a flow state. If I tried to do what he does, I would experience night terrors. Yet for him, this is where he is in his element. Every one of us is an individual motivated by different things. Mines filled with old dynamite that may collapse on you are not on my list, but it is entertaining to watch.

In reading about flow states and how people get into them, this makes sense. When someone is free climbing a cliff face, sky diving or exploring an abandoned mine, they are using every sense and all of their processing skills to stay on top of what is going on. They are one with what they are doing. Musicians and athletes report performing at their best when they are in a flow state. The closest I have come to this in a work setting is when facilitating groups, teaching or sometimes when I am writing. Every once and awhile, everything is running in the same direction, and it is almost like I am operating with extra senses. It is rare, but these are very special moments. It is hard to describe other than being in a flow state.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was the person who first described this process as a flow state. He also noted that some people have what he called an autotelic personality. He describes them as in a motivational state, driven by curiosity and internal purpose. They are not as concerned about material possessions. In his book, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life; he described such people in this way:

“An autotelic person needs few material possessions and little entertainment, comfort, power, or fame because so much of what he or she does is already rewarding. Because such persons experience flow in work, in family life, when interacting with people, when eating, even when alone with nothing to do, they depend less on external rewards that keep others motivated to go on with a life of routines. They are more autonomous and independent because they cannot be as easily manipulated with threats or rewards from the outside. At the same time, they are more involved with everything around them because they are fully immersed in the current of life.”

I have known people who I would describe as autotelic. They are generally people I look up to. I don’t think I am naturally like this myself, but I do suspect that the recovery process has helped me become more like this and less focused on the pursuit of hedonism. As an aside, It is ironic that there is a thing called the hedonistic paradox. Essentially, if you want to be happy, don’t pursue it. Find purpose and pursue that thing, whatever it is. I was thinking about this fact over the week following an interview I did with Phil Valentine. He talked about only finding fulfillment when he found purpose and how this relates to his own recovery and sharing it with others. This resonates with me.

I related also to his interview when he talked about the role of nature in his own personal growth.

He through hiked the Appalachian trail. I would not consider myself a hiker, I generally saunter around in the woods slowly and take everything in. I can often achieve a flow state in nature. This last Sunday, right around when I took the pictures above, I was sitting on a rock on top of a mountain ridge in the middle large glade. I experienced a light rain pass over me as the early morning sun broke through the clouds. A gentle breeze started to break the humidity and Common yellow throats, Wood Thrush and Indigo Buntings started to come out and look for breakfast. I ate a few handfuls of wild blueberries as the mist blew off the ridge and up through the Lehigh River Gorge. Life faded and I was fully present.

One of my own insights over the long plague siege was how much I needed time trying to get into the flow and making sure I give myself opportunities to experience it regularly. To make time to feed the part of myself that needs such experience to rebalance, recharge and feel vital. This practice has helped get me through some rough times. I am grateful for the opportunity every once and awhile to be in a place where everything just is and I am part of that place in that moment and all that inhabits it. These are very special moments in my life. I am grateful for recovery, without which such moments would not be possible. Grateful for my health and the ability to get out into nature and experience it. Do you experience flow states? What do you do to get into a flow state? Are you doing enough of that thing that get you there? If not, what is getting in the way?

What are you grateful for today?

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