Q. 426 Flow

Q: In response to my question “Can one ever KNOW that reality is non-dual?”, Ramesam wrote: “Yes, when you are in ‘zone’, (the flow of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi).”

I’m a big fan of flow, know it quite well, teach it in fact to my students. I’d like to know what your take is on flow, specifically: Do you agree with Ramesam, that being in flow is knowing that reality is non-dual?

– Is being in flow a desirable ‘state’ according to Advaita Vedanta? In other words, if, as often happens, I spend most of the day in flow, is this a ‘good thing’ for my Advaitin development?

The reason I ask is because I’ve wondered a bunch about the difference between pure awareness and flow. Flow is very goal oriented; pure awareness is not. Also, when in flow, you are deeply aware of that which you need to be aware of to keep flowing (holding a conversation, skiing a narrow downhill trail, etc.), but you are typically NOT aware of your awareness. In fact, if you become aware of your awareness, you’ll probably lose the flow, get tripped up in the conversation, fall down on the trail, etc. It’s as if you were completely lost in the activity.

So, is flow a less desirable state than pure awareness? Or some other state that Advaita recommends?

A: I came across Csíkszentmihályi when I was writing ‘How to Meet Yourself’ and of course the feeling of ‘flow’ is recognizable. And it is a great feeling, obviously invaluable for sports and other activities. It represents single-mindedness, concentration etc – the control of the mind and senses – dama, shama etc. And it is in this sense that it has some relevance for Advaita – mental preparation to make one ‘ready’ for taking on board self-knowledge.

But that is as far as it goes. It has nothing to do with actually knowing that reality is non-dual. In fact, I would suggest that the vast majority of people who know about ‘flow’ have no interest (and have probably never heard of) non-duality. They are interested in its value in furthering their materialistic ends (by this, I don’t mean obtaining objects but improving their sporting achievements or whatever). If one also has spiritual ‘ambitions’, then pursuing flow could even be counter-productive. It is said that mokSha has to become your sole, overriding aim in life to the exclusion of everything else if you are to succeed in this life.

So your assessment is correct, except that you do not really become ‘aware of awareness’. The non-directed stillness of the mind in deep meditation is the nearest you come to such a thing. nirvikalpa samAdhi has nothing as its object whereas, as you say, flow is invariably goal-oriented.

Finally, Ramesam said that it was possible to know that reality is non-dual when you are in the zone, not that being ‘in flow’ is knowing it.

2 thoughts on “Q. 426 Flow

  1. Hello Questioner,

    Your supplementary Question # 426 above based on my reply to your Question # 328 appears now after a few days short of the time to celebrating the 5th Anniversary!

    Whatever the reason could be for this delay, we have to applaud the honesty and integrity of Dennis in observing his “Dharma” of responding to the original Questioner without any reference to me because such a reference could have endangered Dennis’s own opinion by what I might have said or not said. Dennis respected the Questioner’s wish fully in giving his response and as a result I am seeing the Supplementary and the answer only now.

    Admittedly, it is impossible for me to recapitulate completely the thought process that went on in my mind when I formulated my reply. But the fact that there could be no direct clear answer to the Question # 328 comes out loud and clear from the way I structured the reply – in terms of several combinations of polar pairs of examples each containing affirmation and negation. The intended idea is not to say that any particular example answers the question adequately but to possibly indicate the broad area where a general “feel” of the things can be obtained.

    I am happy to know that the Questioner himself/herself says s/he is quite knowledgeable of the concept involved in ” the flow of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.” Being obviously in an academic environment s/he could have helped to clarify a few things about “flow.”

    After about a month in the same year (in Dec 2012), I happened to write while responding to Q. 332 as follows:

    “The Chicago Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks of “flow” when a person is not conscious of himself/herself and acts in total dissolution of his personality within a situation. Such an action, whether in sports or art, turns out to be highly creative and shines as the best of their creed. On the other hand actions done by a person highly ‘conscious of himself and keeps a ‘me and my ego’ at center stage will be effortful and are usually beset with problems.”

    First, I request the Questioner if s/he would go with the above statement or likes it to be changed.

    If it stands okay, then, the relevance to Non-duality is obvious. It is the (assumed) presence of the individuating “ego” of the person that brings out the “I – you (he/she/it) difference and duality. Clearly then, in the absence of such divvying entity, there is no one even to say what “IS” — an inexpressible nameless Oneness.

    Further, as the Questioner must have noticed, my response in 2012 did not stop with what is referred to by him/her here in the supplementary. The negating ‘other half’ of the pair said, ” No, if you keep your ID as a separate individual.”

    I am not proceeding to react to the other questions that also have been raised here like : ” Is being in flow a desirable ‘state’ according to Advaita Vedanta? ”

    However, I shall close reproducing a few lines from what Sage Vasishta said as an example for Non-dual living:

    “We cannot also say that all jIvanmukta-s will be either ascetics or deep meditators. They can be householders or businessmen. There are no restraining conditions stipulating their behavior.” — verses 53-62, sarga 102, second part, Ch: 6, Yogavasishta.


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