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On flow & peak experiences
what does it mean to lose one's self in creativity?
This is my final exploration into the elements and creativity.
I started with fire because fire is what I know best. I’m concluding with water because the flow is, quite honestly, not where I often find myself. I like to make things happen (or pretend I can).
All the more reason to explore . . .
“I've gone seventy-nine hours without sleep, creating. When that flow is going, it's almost like a high. You don't want it to stop. You don't want to go to sleep for fear of missing something.” —Dr. Dre
I like to think I am about discernment and steadiness over peak experiences and “losing one’s self to find one’s self.” I like to think I’m in control. The truth is that none of us are, but letting go of that thought is not easy.
How do we release into the flow of life? How to release into the flow of writing or art? Should you? I mean, sleep is good, too, Dre.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the phrase “flow state” (and wrote the book Flow) suggests that the best way to get there is to, as you might hear in a yoga class, find your edge. Flow, it seems, is best achieved when you go a little beyond what’s comfortable.
Comfort is coveted. Silence and ideal situations and residencies are always nice, yes, but it seems that flow is a phenomenon that will completely overpower what was previously considered a constraint. When flow arrives, like Dr. Dre, an artist gets lost in the act. We get high.
I recently heard an interview with Jane Hirshfield in which she says (and I paraphrase) that writing poetry is an action. “Poet,” is not an identity we can carry because we are only poets while writing poetry.
I listened to this again because Hirshfield speaks a truth easily forgotten and rarely spoken about. People tell you to wear your labels proudly. The more, the better. Don’t be ashamed to call yourself a writer. It’s who you are. Own it.
But it’s not. You can’t own it.
“Writer” is not an identity to lean into. We are only writers when we are writing. We are only creators when in the act. Writing is what we do, not who we are. The same goes for being a consultant, an actor or a teacher. You are only these things in action.
Sure, we can live a writer’s lifestyle, whatever that means, but Hirshfield’s message is important. The very act of writing a poem, a blog post, an essay, or fiction is the means and the end. The rest is all posturing and pretense.
More specifically, flow isn’t about peak experiences but simply feeding the activity we love and doing so in ways that stretch and indulge curiosity.
When we think about it like this, perhaps the “flow state” is just a matter of action—whether we feel like it or not.
Less about letting go, flow is simply an invitation to stop pretending we have to be or show up or do things a certain way.
It’s simply an invitation to do what we love and see what happens.
Creativity prompt: Create something that pushes your edge. Write an extra sentence, write when you don’t want to, write something you’ll throw away. Write in a different genre. Take your pick. I can’t guarantee flow, but I can guarantee that while you’re writing . . . my friend, you’ll be a writer.
I will have been part of two literary conferences by next week, and I plan to explore that when we reconvene. I’ll also post a link to an interview about WAU that I did before my PR training (LOL).
PS - I updated this meditation. The sound was wonky. It’s for folks who might be struggling with the heaviness going on as well as those who just need a pause.
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