The Power of Flow
Many years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, I decided I wanted to learn how to knit. I lived in Brooklyn at the time, and with a heavy and unwieldy belly, there wasn’t much else to do in the cold months leading up to my due date of late December. I figured I could make a baby blanket as the nesting instinct kicked in.
I visited my local yarn store, bought materials, and proceeded to watch a lot of YouTube videos. Knitting, it turns out, is pretty straightforward once you master the two stitches, knitting and purling. Every pattern and stitch design is a combination of these two, which are essentially reverse images of each other. Once I got the hang of the knit and purl, I took on an easy scarf project, then a baby blanket.
Then something magical happened: In those weeks of pregnancy, watching the snow fall outside the window, drinking tea, and knitting the evening away, I entered into what I would later learn as a state of flow. Flow is described as a state of mind in which a person becomes fully immersed in an activity, leading to a kind of bliss in which time and stress melt away. I would, in fact, look up and realize I had been knitting for hours and hours. In short order, I was making sweaters, hats, gloves, and socks. My newfound knitting skills came in handy during nights when my baby would be up, completely impervious to the difference between night and day.
Finding flow is similar to what happens to our brains when we’re in deep meditation. It helps to alleviate the anxieties we feel as we navigate life’s daily challenges.
The term “flow” was coined by the positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which he outlined in his 1990 book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. He describes flow as "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."
Flow happens in different ways for different people. It can be while playing sports, playing a musical instrument, gardening, getting lost in a book, or any of a number of ways in which you become fully immersed in whatever you’re doing and you lose awareness of time’s passage. Finding flow is similar to what happens to our brains when we’re in deep meditation. It helps to alleviate the anxieties we feel as we navigate life’s daily challenges. It can be part of a daily mindfulness practice where you consciously carve out the time to engage in it. And the beauty of flow is that it can be achieved by anyone. All you have to do is find an activity that speaks to your soul, whether that be dancing, drawing, walking, or simply staring into space. It really is as simple as that.
These days, flow for me happens when I’m hiking and I get lost in the beauty of nature. And oftentimes I get lost … literally. I wander off-trail and have to find my way back. But I don’t mind when this happens at all. Sometimes one has to be lost in order to find oneself in a state of bliss.