Going With The Flow
Flow state, that mysterious mental zone where time and the
outside world seem to disappear, is one of the keys to peak
performance. Frankly, your ability to harness the limits of
your intelligence, creativity, education, or talents will
be largely determined by your capacity to remain in flow while
Those who cannot suffer "stage fright," "writer's block" "flop
sweat" and numerous other labels for the same phenomenon—inability
to access the deepest wells of confidence and performance
in the actual arena.
The key to unlocking this particular inner vault is to look
at flow itself, separate from any specific usage or application.
We all experience the "flow" phenomenon. The last moments
before we fall asleep or the first after awakening (also known
as the "hypnogogic state") have this quality. Ever gotten
on the freeway, lost yourself in thought, and only snapped
out of it when your exit appeared? Flow. Gone running, dancing,
or walking and found time dissolving, so that an hour felt
like mere minutes? Flow. One exceptionally powerful "flow
moment" would be the last few seconds leading up to orgasm,
when it feels like the barriers between you and your lover
are melting away.
All of these moments share something in common: they all deal
with the dissolution of the subject-object relationship. The
painter melts into the canvas. The writer disappears into
the book, the reader into the magazine, the lover into the
beloved, the martial artist into the flow of throw and punch.
As the song goes, the dancer enters "the danger zone, where
the dancer becomes the dance." We stop being aware of "ourselves"
and begin to sense a connection between all the disparate
parts of the activity, as if we are simultaneously stepping
back for a wider view, and sinking inwards to a place of almost
It is a path to genius. One might take the position that the
ability to hold flow under stress is the single greatest key
of all high-performing human beings in any arena of life.
What is talent, separate from the focus required to manifest
There are many disciplines that address flow: meditation,
yoga, Tai Chi, prayer, etc. And there are tools that work
terrifically well for familiarizing you with this state: sixty
beat per minute Largo rhythm string music (Vivaldi is great!),
hot baths, incense, massage, etc. Distance running or rhythmic
walking, dance, gardening or cooking (for some people), playing
music, painting, and numerous other activities touch this
space. Just look for the moments when time vanishes.
One core technique, used worldwide in thousands of disciplines,
is breath control. This is key because breathing is the only
physiological process both voluntary and autonomic, and is
thus a key to the unconscious mind. Learning to breathe slowly
and deeply even under stress will de-inhibit the flow response,
allowing you to access your deeper wisdom and creativity even
when a project is due by noon, or the baby is screaming in
the next room.
To take advantage of this fact,
1) Learn to breathe deep in your belly. Lay on your back,
and put a book on your tummy. As you inhale, it should rise.
Exhale, it should fall. Your chest should move as little as
2) Five times a day, at every hour divisible by three (9,
12, 3, 6, 9) concentrate on your breathing for sixty seconds.
Learn to do this while driving, sitting in meetings, standing
in elevators, or walking down the street.
3) Place (or catch) yourself under moderate stress, and practice
this breathing. For instance, in the middle of an exercise
class, while public speaking, in the middle of an argument,
while caught in bad traffic, while experiencing an anxiety
attack. Learn to breathe calmly and deeply in such situations,
and you re-pattern your nervous system's threat response,
enabling you to calm yourself to enter flow.
There are certainly other methods, but this one, modification
of breathing, has worked for thousands of year and countless
generations of seekers. It will work for you, as well.
NY Times Bestseller Steven Barnes has published over
three million words of fiction. A trained hypnotherapist,
he created the Lifewriting high-performance system for
writers and readers. Learn more at: www.lifewriting.biz
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