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  • Writer's pictureHannah Marsh

Redefining Flow

"Flow" often comes up in relation to creativity. We might recognize it as a state of mind when we get out of our own way: when our usual judgements, doubts, and self-consciousness go quiet, and we open to a stream of words, images, or impulses that arise. In a creative flow state, we may surprise ourselves, doing or saying things we never could have planned. It might feel like we're tapping into something larger than ourselves - larger than the limited "I" we usually inhabit. Whether we're accessing a muse, or a divine will, or a collective unconscious, or a deep inner wisdom is up for debate. Whatever it is, flow can feel like a gift. It's understandable that we might chase after it.

Most of the time - certainly for myself - a continuous flow state isn't present. Creative work takes effort and persistence. Like meditation practice, it's a matter of coming back, day after day, through delights and disappointments. At least, that's how I've conceived of it. I've discounted "flow" as elusive and unreliable. But lately, I've been reconsidering this idea.

I invite you to notice what happens when you create. As you write or draw or engage in conversation, what do you observe? Perhaps an idea arises. Then a judgement of that idea. Then you set that judgement aside, and express the idea anyways. Perhaps another idea follows. What happens when you give space for expression, even for a few moments?

It seems to me that these are moments of flow. Interrupted a moment later, perhaps, by a doubt or a judgement. But instead of thinking of flow as an immersive, continuous state - like sailing on a vast ocean - we could think of flow as a single moment, a single wave. We ride the wave, and then what? In each moment, we might choose. Do we open to the next wave? Or do we stop and entertain a second-guessing thought?

Chances are we'll move between these states - the flow of open receptivity and the ebb of doubt or reassessment. We might notice that each state has a felt sense. For me, moments of flow can feel like listening wide and deep; I'm more in my body than in my head; there's a sense of trust. When doubt comes in, my attention narrows; good edits can come from this narrow focus, but if I stay here for long, I start to feel tangled or tripped up in my thoughts; I feel stuck, uncertain.

Identifying these states can be helpful in navigating them. We might come to recognize the sirens of self-doubt before paralysis kicks in, and choose to gently steer ourselves in another direction. We might recognize when it's helpful to pause and reassess, and when it's helpful to move on, not worrying about how good the work is. We may also come to see how our magical, elusive muse may not be so elusive, after all. When we see how often we draw from this deeper creative well, we might come to trust it.

When I think of the creative capacity we all have - and how we might learn to access it with trust and freedom - Annie Dillard's words come to mind: ''One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time...Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water."

In our next Mindfulness & Creativity session, we'll invite an open receptivity to our meditation practices, gently releasing judgement and control, and allowing experience to unfold (or flow!) on its own time. We'll try our hand at a creative practice, attending to our inner state. What frees us to express ourselves? What gets in the way? What might we learn about supporting creativity in our lives?

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!



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