Using Mindful Awareness to Step Into the Flow State

Using Mindful Awareness to Step Into the Flow State
Life is constantly in motion. Quite literally we are moving at roughly 1,000 mph as we spin through the universe. When we zoom in even closer we see that our individual lives are always in flux, moving from task to task, thought to thought, emotion to emotion. The range of what we experience each day is expansive. Upon zooming in further we see, on an even subtler level, that even our cells are in constant transformation. Broadly speaking, our cells reproduce entirely every 7 to 10 years.

With the constant movement of the world inside of and around us accessing a sense of inner peace can feel quite far away. There is an idea that inner peace is found solely through outer stillness, namely when we are seated in meditation or maybe in a restorative or yin asana practice. In truth, no matter how we look at things, there is always motion happening within us and all around us. When we can reimagine what access to inner peace looks like we start to find it through a balance between movement and perceived stillness.

I believe that the concept of stillness is relative to what we open our eyes and our minds to seeing. Truly, the only time anything is ever still is when life ceases to exist. For all life to sustain there must be movement and that movement can take form in a multitude of ways.

It’s not always a turbulent storm or fast and disruptive, sometimes movement is as soft as the breeze moving through the leaves on a tree or the blades of grass in a meadow. It’s a state of freedom from disturbance where there can be a flow, a dance that creates ease and peace. Movement allows us to explore the inner workings of our bodies, minds, and hearts. Letting go of the idea that we must remain completely still or unmoving to find peace gives us the chance to discover peace every day, no matter where we are or what we are doing.

Using Movement to Access Stillness

There’s a concept called the flow state popularized by positive psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura. The flow state is accessing a feeling where you become fully immersed in whatever you are doing, giving your full attention to the task or endeavor at hand. This flow state is not usually accessed in passive states or deep relaxation; it requires some level of activity. Your mind becomes fully engaged and aligned to what you are doing, something you’re passionate about. As your awareness is so deeply present the usual mind chatter, anxieties, even aches and pains, begin to dissolve and all that seems to exist is what is right in front of you.

“The best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

In thinking about the flow state as active participation, how can we use mindfulness practices to access this flow?

Meditation Helps Us Reach Our Effortless Flow

We can’t possibly be in that flow state all of the time, it takes work and effort to arrive there. Even though once you do there is a certain level of ease, to stretch ourselves to the limits, as Csikszentmihalyi says, all of the time would be detrimental. We need moments of passivity, relaxation, and rest. Those moments are just as vital as the efforts we put forward. The dance between movement and stillness is essential in accessing and maintaining a sense of inner peace.

To create the focused awareness or sustained attention we need in the flow state there has to be an intentional relationship with our minds. Humans have more than 6,000 thoughts per day, if we don’t have some kind of awareness as to where these thoughts come from or where they’re going we’ll be pulled in every direction possible and be left confused and exhausted. Harnessing the power of the mind is a practice in presence, much like the flow state is.

Quiet time with ourselves supports smaller moments of alignment that will ultimately lead to those larger euphoric moments in the flow state. When we learn to access focused awareness on a moment-to-moment basis we then take that into our everyday lives and it saturates all that we do.

Meditation, in seated stillness, might appear as though there is no movement. With the lack of external fluctuations, there’s an opportunity to connect inward to the fluctuations of the mind. The practices that cultivate mindful awareness allow us to notice how and when the mind gets distracted and pulls us away from the present moment. As we notice where the mind goes and gently guide it back we strengthen our ability to bring ourselves into a state of presence more easily.

Benefits of Entering The Flow

Elevates your ability to regulate emotions. When accessing the flow state there is growth and understanding towards emotional complexity. Understanding the vast range of human emotions we have can support regulating emotions in any situation.

Helps to attain focus and a sense of clarity. In the flow state, our mind has the chance to settle into a focused space where distracting thoughts, fears, and anxieties melt away. The meditation practices we engage with support our ability to find relative stillness in the mind and settle into the space of clarity.

Increases happiness and fulfillment. The flow state being an active state where we engage with something that brings us purpose gives us a lasting sense of fulfillment that extends beyond momentary joy. There is a level of achievement after putting in some amount of effort that lets us feel a boost of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Boosts creativity and motivation. If the mind is distracted with day-to-day tasks and chores it is hard to remain creative and inspired. This flow state is where we can tap into the well of creativity within us, the more we dip into that well the easier it is to find inspiration.

Increases the capacity to face challenges or obstacles. In the flow, our thoughts dissipate. The fears, judgments, and limitations we usually put on ourselves that cloud the mind are no longer around. With a clear mind, we are capable of achieving whatever we set out to.

The flow state is a combination of movement and stillness. It gives us a connection to what true alignment feels like. All of the tools that we equip ourselves with in meditation practices give us the chance to reach the flow state. Without awareness of the mind, we can not be present with any activity or task at hand. Flow state is a moving meditation, and access to inner peace through dancing with movement and stillness.

Develop deep awareness and embrace your potential in Access the Flow State, a five-part collection with Devi Brown, available now in the Chopra App.