The basic concept of flow has lasted for millennia, probably as long as we humans have. Throughout time people all over the world have linked excellence with flow. From the ancient samurai to modern athletes, flow has been widely experienced, and yet largely unknown, since the beginning.
While the basic concept of flow has existed pretty much forever, the actual term “Flow” was coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian social scientist.
Csikszentmihalyi defined flow as a mental state of operation. When in flow, person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
[“Flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning… Buzz terms for this or similar mental states include: to be in the moment, present, in the zone, on a roll, wired in, in the groove, on fire, in tune, centered, or singularly focused.”]
Finding flow is all about striking the perfect balance between the level of difficulty of the action being done, and your skill level. Above is a diagram made by Csikszentmihalyi that pretty much hits the nail on the head.
As you look at the diagram, you see something very interesting but yet startlingly familiar. When the task at hand is very easy and your skill level is low, apathy results. Apathy is the lack of feeling or emotion. You’re just there, doing the task. That’s it.
When the challenge is low and your skill level is high, you are relaxed, maybe even verging on bored. You know that you are perfectly capable of completing the task.
In the opposite corner, we see the converse. When the challenge is very difficult and you do not possess much skill, you will be anxious, fearing that you cannot complete the task.
Now Flow occurs when the task at hand is very challenging and your skill level is very high. Let me point something out. Challenge and Skill are relative terms!
Suppose you just started spinning poi. You might find flow while just turning hip reels. At that point in your experience with poi. The simple challenge of keeping your wallplanes straight and parallel while turning is difficult enough for you that it matches your skill level and leads to flow.
Later however, you may have to do harder and more complex moves, (like split-time opposite antispin wallplane flowers), to initiate a flow experience.
You shouldn’t expect to find flow every time you spin. Maybe not even every month. It all depends. That said, knowing what flow is and when it occurs can help you find it. When you find flow, regardless of how long you worked at it, it will all be worth it.
You may wonder what flow feels like. Aside from the “in the zone”, “on a roll”, or “centered” descriptions, there are a few factors of flow that will help you. Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing an experience of flow.
1. an intense and focused concentration on the present moment
2. a merging of action and awareness
3. a loss of reflective self-consciousness
4. a sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
5. a distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
6. experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience
Those aspects can appear independently of each other, but only in combination they constitute a so-called flow experience.
As you can see, flow is not some strange meditative practice, but a familiar mental state. Perhaps you have already experienced it?
Now that we have discussed flow, we can move on to the flow arts. The flow arts are a group of performance arts that facilitate flow. While it is possible to reach the flow state in nearly every activity, there are some that make attaining it much easier.
[“Flow Arts” has become an overarching term for the emerging movement-based artforms that integrate dance and creative exploration of movement with skill-based prop manipulation. The Flow Arts draw from a multitude of ancient and modern movement disciplines from taichi and Maori poi spinning, to martial arts and juggling, to circus arts, hula hooping and modern firedancing…
The Flow Arts are at once a sport and a leisure activity, a new way to dance, explore and interact with the physical world, a movement meditation practice, a fun and creative outlet, and a serious technical pursuit of mastery.]
–Fund the Flow Arts