AN ENCOUNTER WITH FLOW


I sent a good friend a copy of my Room Twelve. He thanked me for it and said, ‘I already dipped in – and it is as WONDERFUL as all the others…’ He asked, ‘How do you do it?’ while suggesting that it was a silly, unworthy and unanswerable question…

HOW DO I DO IT? prompts the question I frequently ask myself WHY DO I DO IT? What’s the point of all this writing?

My friend’s question brought me up short which makes it one of those questions which are so good that they ought not to be transformed into what is likely to be a lesser answer – just left dangling by a golden thread from some invisible place-holder high in the sky; but answer I am driven to make on this occasion for my own sake. Coincidentally (no such thing), at the same time as this my son wrote and quoted from Rollo May’s The Courage to Create:-

It is absurd to think of artists simply as ‘painting nature’, as though they were only anachronistic photographers of trees and lakes and mountains. For them, nature is a medium, a language by which they reveal their world. What genuine painters do is to reveal the underlying psychological and spiritual conditions of their relationship to their world; thus in the works of a great painter we have a reflection of the emotional and spiritual condition of human beings in that period of history.

Rollo May, says my son, goes on to précis the life and work of Picasso and relate it to the times and events of the period in which his work was created. He makes links and connections to illustrate how his work reflects events. He says that genuine painters ‘…have the power to reveal the underlying meaning of any period precisely because the essence of art is the powerful and alive encounter between artist and his or her world…’

Likewise, genuine musicalisers and wordsmithers – they engage encounters with things. It’s all about an open ENCOUNTER, expressed in various ways, with the world just as one discovers it, takes the covers off to become free of all preconceptions and hangups. In musical composition the notes themselves are the thing, not the theory; in poeticising the experience is all, never mind the conventional formal structures of poetry; in painting & construction, paint & material substances are all you need to focus on, not whether you think you can draw or not.

When he read the following on ENCOUNTER in Rollo May, my son thought of the American painter Joan Mitchell,:-

The first thing we notice in a creative act is that it is an encounter. Artists encounter the landscape they propose to paint – they look at it, observe it from this angle and that. They are, as we say, absorbed in it. Or, in the case of abstract painters, the encounter may be with an idea, an inner vision, that in turn may be led off by the brilliant colors on the palette or the inviting rough whiteness of the canvas. The paint, the canvas, and the other materials then become a secondary part of this encounter; they are the language of it, the media, as we rightly put it…

I take it that the whole of existence is an encounter. Rightly conceived, that’s all life is, or what it should naturally be without all the words & actions that we generate. A pure encounter with stars & newts, mountains & nasturtium flowers, street sounds & internal rumblings, the flaky bark of silver birches & pimples on the nose. But people think they’ve got to keep rabbiting on about it, dissecting, categorising, cutting it up into a multitude of prize-winning -isms; the urge to do this misses the point of the simple ENCOUNTER which delivers up what Gurdjieff calls ‘pure impressions’. Getting hung up on analysis creates a block to just doing, distorts things into normative shapes, contorting a product into what people think they ought to be doing according to some inherited formula they choose to perpetuate. Or they operate out of personal agendas, the craven desire to make fame & fortune; they cease encountering things as they are; other things intervene.

Making a personal plan to create something out of an encounter is, of course, OK and, for the existentially driven, more or less inevitable. But, to preserve the energy of a pure encounter, one must choose always to come back to a Beginner’s Mind approach to its original manifestation.

Encounter comes (or should come) without preconceptions, in Beginner’s Mind. Otherwise it’s not ‘encounter’ but a ‘filtering’. Filtering through the gauze of belief and presupposition. How does one get into Beginner’s Mind? How does one set acquired beliefs to one side?

And so I come back to the question WHY DO I KEEP ON DOING ALL THIS WRITING?

What’s the point of it? It’s not as it was with Professor Joad who says he wrote many books and lectured to stave off boredom – I really have no idea what boredom might be.

Nor is it something feeble like ‘happiness’ – I don’t know quite what that is either. On the other hand there is a being wrapped up or immersed in something so absorbing that it takes you over or takes you out of yourself into a world beyond somewhere, a ‘transport of delight’, a being ‘surprised by joy…’ (Wordsworth & CSLewis)

Perhaps I get a joyful satisfaction from the mere idea of grinding things down into words, steam-rollering ideas into book-length word-pancakes. So many things still to come to terms with, so much still to sort out. So many musical notes still to string together; paint dribbles to organise. ‘Happiness’ is such a puny word to describe all this.

Gurdjieff started by asking the question – what is the point of our being here? How is it that I’m sitting here scribbling long after dark in early spring 2019? At the fagend of millions of years of human development that’s thrown me up high & dry with all this unsortable and unexpected stuff.

Why do I keep going when soon, as is pretty obvious, the millions of years I’m heir to will suddenly come to a stop? Then millions of years without encountering anything.

Why? Because it just seems to me that it’s what this short life’s about – an ENCOUNTER with all the things that just require expression, a putting into some kind of order – musical notes, patterns of seeing, patterns of words & phrases.

How? Allowing one thing to lead to another in an endless flow; binary oppositions require resolution; never the same thing two moments running; no day the same as the last; no page repeating the same old thing; cross references & reminders; constant novelty; the sounds that pass in the night; chaffinches in the morning.

Professor Joad seemed to associate his sense of flow with what for me is the simplistic notion of ‘being happy’, attributing his ‘happiness’ to having seen through what he calls ‘the catches of life’ which destroy one’s perspective. They are for him:-

The distraction he calls LOVE. He had a string of mistresses questing for the desirability of a Venus, the virtues of a Madonna, the intelligence of an Athena and the practical ability of a first rate housewife. A doomed quest based on his own projected ideals!
Ideals that get in the way of progress – there is nothing better on the other side of the fence or even beyond the horizon; you just have to keep going with what you have in front of you.
Beauty – the quest for it – something we imagine comes from a different realm of being. The moon on a summer’s night does not ride the clouds with any message for us. It’s all invention, projection of feelings on to a universal scale.
The Pursuit of Pleasure (& fun) – no good pursuing such a will o’the wisp – great satisfaction must creep up on you, you must be surprised by that which can’t be sought, a song that comes from nowhere…

The ‘catches of life’ get in the way of pristine encounter and obstruct the passage of flow.

In his personal anthology Pieces of Mind, Joad asserts that there is a general ‘need for belief’. But it could be argued that any kind of ‘belief’ obstructs flow. It’s another ‘catch of life’. When you imagine you believe one thing it prevents you from entertaining other beliefs; the whole circuit of a belief system is, in any case, a complex structure of flimsiness that gets in the way of Being. What is belief but something plastered on to Being when you’re at a loss?

ENCOUNTER AND FLOW

Many things can be reframed as varieties of FLOW:-

• Natural flow – ordinary consciousness or Big C Consciousness (singular focus)
• Concentrated flow – deliberately setting things up (eg the night before…)
• Variety of flow focus – art (viewing/doing), music (listening/making), words (manipulating/reading)
• Flowing into choices of flow activities
• Flow Themes – bees in the bonnet
• Flow of mind/body system
• Flow of time
• Flow of ideas once you are possessed of them.
• Humanity is flow – disrupted by anti-human beliefs, vested interests, money agendas, capitalism
• Generational flow
• Group flow

What gets in the way of flow?

Exterior things (A Influences)

people on their mobiles
raucousness
other people’s requirements
noise from outside
bomber-planes destroying the peace of a country garden
general interruptions
political & religious mantras

Internal things

Excessive self-consciousness
Excessive self-centredness
Rigid beliefs
Ambition
Dogma
Stress
Anxiety
Physical distress

Flow is disrupted either by fragmentation of attention or by excessive rigidity of attention. Simply noticing how this happens, both extremes, taking account of them, can help to return one to the original flow state. Flexibility of attention leads to easy restructuring of experience so that one develops one’s own purposes. It requires something like this:

It’s not necessary to have any kind of ‘belief’ in this system – it just happens. It’s not my belief that makes it work – it just does work when you choose to follow the circuit.

Bertrand Russell: ‘Gradually I learned to be indifferent to myself and my deficiencies – I came to centre my attention increasingly upon external objects, the state of the world, various branches of knowledge, individuals for whom I felt affection…’ Just the way it was for him.

In his masterwork Flow, though in my view he erroneously subtitles it The Psychology of Happiness, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi quotes Bertrand Russell as an example of an ‘autotelic personality’. The word ‘autotelic’ comes from the Ancient Greek literally meaning ‘self-purposive’. Csikszentmihalyi defines it thus:-

An autotelic person needs few material possessions and little entertainment, comfort, power, or fame because so much of what he or she does is already rewarding. Because such persons experience flow in work, in family life, when interacting with people, when eating, even when alone with nothing to do, they depend less on external rewards that keep others motivated to go on with a life of routines. They are more autonomous and independent because they cannot be as easily manipulated with threats or rewards from the outside. At the same time, they are more involved with everything around them because they are fully immersed in the current of life.

It’s obviously a question of upbringing & education but Csikszentmihalyi recommends ways of becoming ‘autotelic’ by mastering the following process which I have made into a system because that, for me, is a very good way of transforming what appears densely hidden in prose into a joined up flow of otherwise discrete items – learning to extract systemic thinking from mishmash helps to make you ‘autotelic’, should you choose to wish it on yourself! This is my contribution to the idea of getting into flow: a system flows round & round; it can be set up against what HGWells called ‘the thumb & finger method of thought’ counting first, second, third and so on which suggests an unflowing serial order rather than unified process. (Salvaging Civilisation p 178)

This would also be a way of transforming apparently hopeless situations into a state of flow. People in Concentration Camps devised all kinds of survival strategies using this kind of process (or system). Difficult to think of being in a more hopeless situation than that!

So many different bits of human activity can be reinterpreted as ‘flow’; simply redefining what you already do in terms of flow can be consciously used to create an autotelic self.

Any physical act can be seen as a potential flow state when the following system is attached to it:-

One’s skills can be made adequate to any challenge, goal-directed, rule-bound, with feedback & focus so there’s no attention left over to give room to think about what’s irrelevant or worry about problems, all sense of time passing goes. Even alienating professional ‘work’, or any similarly repetitive sequences, like doing the washing up, or mending fences, can be converted to a state of flow by following this system. There’s a letting go of self in realising one’s connection with externals – Zen centring applies.

Gurdjieff’s External Considering, looking outside yourself as opposed to internal rummaging also applies. Listening to complex classical music and playing it, specially improvising, will do the trick. Food preparation and sensitive eating gets you into a flow state. Regularly remembering and ordering the past, its minute detail is good for the same purpose.

Constantly playing with ideas. Going on Adventures of Ideas, living with the idea of having a portable self-contained world within the mind. Varela talks about the internal system being a ‘portable laboratory’. Constant experiments, an internal symbolic system, always being a learner – useful to ask the question: What have I learned today? Modelling on excellence becomes the machinery for imposing harmony on chaos: excellence in great music & novels, architecture, art, poetry, drama, dance, philosophy:-

Professor Joad complained that ‘on a rough estimate over half of what passes for philosophy is unreadable. In popularising what he regarded as the essence of philosophy in one of the Teach Yourself series he defines it as ‘a record of the soul’s adventures in the cosmos… [those who] find enjoyment in the pursuit of mental & spiritual adventure… are philosophers’. This is a view that sank into extreme disrepute in the 20th Century – the dead professional philosopher down our village would have poured scorn on it – but it clearly fits the flow model.

Joad supports the idea that reading philosophy is an active process; I convert the smooth prose where he advocates a way of coming to terms with a philosophical text into a system thus:-

Looked at like that, anything you read becomes a way of getting you into flow. This system can quite easily be converted into a flow way of looking at any relationship, friend, family, group.

Being alone when you don’t have to bother to think about other people is a good way of practising being in a flow state. Csikszentmihalyi writes: ‘a person who rarely [never] gets bored, who does not constantly need a favourable external environment to enjoy the moment has passed the test for having achieved a creative life…’

But ‘flow’ will not happen when you can’t see the way forward. The Tory plan for creating chaos (https://colinblundell.com/2013/06/10/rule-by-chaos/2005) was a way to befuddle the populace and render them incapable of coming to terms with the underhand things they were planning to do, like reversing all the benefits that come out of the Welfare State. People are reduced to survival level which gives them no sense of communal purpose and no time to protest. The first step towards flow in the body/mind system is the clear definition of purpose.

This is all about making meaning for oneself and for those with whom one is associated, bringing order to the chaotic contents of the mind – as inside so outside. With the clear expression of intentionality, and a growing harmony in consciousness, all life becomes flow. One no longer wastes energy on doubt, regret, guilt, fear.

It’s quite difficult for anybody who contemplates the future of civilisation to avoid identifying with the current Brexit farce and therefore being distracted by what serves as a potent symbol for chaos in the mind. The frequent statement ‘the public just want us to get on with it’ is no answer – it skilfully avoids a proper intellectual confrontation with the issues; there is no purpose in what’s going on; there was no initial clarity about the purpose of voting either to leave the EU or remain there. Those hell-bent on quitting because of their belief in establishing the endless rule of the oligarchs persist in linguistic prestidigitation to fool an already confused public.

How does one cultivate purpose and resolve?

18 thoughts on “AN ENCOUNTER WITH FLOW

  1. AND you have a wife who prepares meals for you and simply calls to you to come and eat them when ready…. Just saying. (I’m sorry it’s spring and I’m feeling a little mischievous). A touch of the skipping pixie …

    It occurs to me that your writings always represent not an end product of many years of making connections, but a reflection of where you are at the moment in that process. Since the process never ends, in that there is always something more to know, to reflect upon and to attempt to make sense of, the writing goes on and the distillation and cohesion becomes visible in your writings.

    That you have chosen the path you have, is of very great benefit to the rest of us mere mortals, or those of us who don’t have a wife. I use the word “wife” of course to represent some external way of supporting the choice of sometimes (or maybe often)of absenting oneself from the every-day mundanities in order to be able to indulge your passion for making sense of this and that. Although a seemingly superficial statement, it is not. It is a vital part of having the time to sit and cogitate – (although cogitating can be done at any time, place or body position) – or to reach for a book from the well stocked shelves etc etc…

    An Encounter with the likes of Mr Dilts & Mr G, and very many others either in the flesh or through reading and seeking to understand their works, has undoubtedly shaped your being – as has the WAY you encounter nature, music, film, art, food, etc. etc. etc. not simply that the encounter takes place.

    I think the question comes from HOW on earth do you have the time to produce such a body of work – in so many different ways? – (one) answer – it isn’t work. Work suggests that an end product is to be produced, your writing is never that, it is a suggestion, a question, an invitation for us to engage – to ENCOUNTER an alternative set of possibility. It is a reflection of a way of being that has been honed and refined over the years so that now you have it taped. (perhaps) That way of being itself, reflects a state of “unselfconscious self-assurance, trust in self and environment.” Rather it is a state of pleasure – and as such – the pleasure and reward centres in the brain seek more of the same and so you do more.

    When there is no doubt, there is the possibility of open exploration of anything and everything – “Anything is possible”.

    Your voracious curiosity is the key, as much as your deliberate intention to not knowing the answer to anything very much, except when you look out of your window and notice that it’s raining! (Sometimes notice that is, depending upon your level of absorption).

    And a letting go, or absence of what I’ve come to call “the should” in all it’s forms. The conviction that whatever it is that calls as a distraction, can be ignored, because at some point both time and opportunity will occur, when whatever it is, can be done.

    “An autotelic person needs few material possessions and little entertainment, comfort, power, or fame because so much of what he or she does is already rewarding. Because such persons experience flow in work, in family life, when interacting with people, when eating, even when alone with nothing to do, they depend less on external rewards that keep others motivated to go on with a life of routines. They are more autonomous and independent because they cannot be as easily manipulated with threats or rewards from the outside. At the same time, they are more involved with everything around them because they are fully immersed in the current of life.”

    Except when one is called for tea!

    I believe you to be just as “in flow” when you are for example – in the garden, cutting the lawn, pruning the shrubs, lighting the bonfire and then … an intense encounter with the moment… always bringing its own reward.

    As always you provoke a great deal of thought for the rest of us – well for me anyway, since I can’t speak for anyone else… Thank you.

    Much Love

    Pat x

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The Courage to Create, wow that brings back memories, I did enjoy the flow of things in the 70s. Brilliant Pat, as usual, it’s really not work but an encounter with something, or someone, like Colin who as we know creates an accessibility with this and that and everything, how does he do it? There is some reciprocal dynamic in these encounters. Rilke asked his students to sit in front of a tree for up to six hours before attempting to write a poem, the idea here is the expansion of Being, what transpires between two seemingly diverse objects?

    Speaking of wives, mine gets up every morning and kicks me out of the bedroom so she can meditate, and after proceeds to the living room for her yoga, now I can’t do anything with that, not that marriage is a competition.

    How does an encounter with something create a flow? I’ve always felt this strange idea floating around that there is a formula, an equation of sorts that is like a composition of musical notes, and as we write, paint, and play around with stuff, we are encountering this something that begins and ends and begins… This all depends on the speed of our centres and which of them is in working order, it feels as if Time has slowed down but it has actually speed ed up. That probably didn’t make sense, but this stuff is like trying to catch the wind and maybe that’s why you have to be a bit nuts to be creative, I mean nuts in a good way!

    Flow is possibly the medicine needed to form relationships that don’t blow away just because the wind picked up. When things bog down and become like a sticky tar, some damage is being done to us and this is what the power possessors desire.

    I spend a lot of time with my grandson Leo who has Down Syndrome and he will probably never be able to understand what we are writing about, but he flows like Buddha so what do I know?

    Great stuff Colin and Pat

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “Flow is possibly the medicine needed to form relationships that don’t blow away just because the wind picked up.” Now there’s a fabulous statement! I think that’s right… and applies to relationships of multifarious kinds, but is especially valuable in our close human relationships.

    Leo is of course a delight, the advantage to Leo of his syndrome is that he isn’t very much concerned by anything other than that which is right in front of him, right now. A lesson to us all. He’s lucky to have your shared presence alongside.

    Speaking of husbands – which we weren’t, mine exits the bedroom at silly o’clock each morning so as to either inhabit the living room to do some Pilates or to go for a run before breakfast, depending on mood and energy levels – my prize is to have the bed to myself for some meditation of my own.

    Rilke knew a thing or two didn’t he – of late I’ve been practicing Tai Chi – apart from class-time, I wait for an empty house or garden to do it – The initial focus is threefold, breath, mind and body and aiming to align and calm all three – it takes time and practice and can’t be rushed. The intention being to bring back our attention to our relationship with ourselves and the relationship between those three aspects of ourselves. Once having stilled or calmed these various centres, one can then move whilst maintaining the state – a kind of stillness in action and moving meditation.

    I think that internal stillness is also something of what happens in flow; (one aspect of it perhaps) the external for the time being, excluded. That said I also recognise that the likes of Stuart Copeland would argue with some vehemence that a state of flow also occurs amidst great excitement! And dancers of course would also recognise a deep inner calm from inside the movement. In fact one can sense the power of that flow in action when in the same room.

    Still/moving; calm/excitement or time sped up/slowed down; both attempting to catch the wind – but a both and way of thinking, is a way of looking at it, as well as either or. Anything is possible. Except trying to define the indefinable.

    As you say – what do we know… but its fun cogitating. I’m all for participating in the “reciprocal dynamic” in these encounters. I call it the ricochet effect.

    Lovely to hear from you Patrick

    Pat

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Pat.

      It might all begin with stillness and even when I’m playing the drums and things seem very exciting, there is a stillness inside. This is something that happened after many years of practice, a place inside opens up and no matter how crazy or loud the music gets this area remains quiet, focused, vivid and alive. Maybe that’s how he does it? Always good to hear from you!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pat’s witnessed me dancing!!!

    Yeats: ‘How can you tell the dancer from the dance?’
    Eliot: ‘…at the still point of the turning world…’
    Gurdjieff: Disidentification from whatever’s going on…

    Ouspensky: Things seem separate but actually there are all connected.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I ask myself the question “Why do I do it?” all the time, Colin. Why do I read all the books that I read? Why do I write all the online book reviews that I write? Why do I post all the Facebook and blog entries that I post? Only a very few of my friends and acquaintances care in the least about anything that I read, write, or post. So what difference does any of it make? The best answer I can come up with is that “I must”, regardless of how many or how few care . I have absolutely no idea why – I simply must. Your notion that it’s all about encountering the world, just as one discovers it, sheds a little light on this feeling of “I must.” So thanks for yet another brilliant reflection! And, with an appreciative nod to Patrick, I too say “Onward!”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Tom (& Pat & Patrick)

      ‘Because I must!’

      I think that’s it. I wonder how many people in the world have this same feeling ‘Why do I do it?’ – and after a bit of pondering come up with pretty much the same answer.

      What if we could all get together sometime?

      My reading obsession has hit a strange place at the moment after a year of immersion in Murdoch, Robbe-Grillet and Brautigan. I’m just picking up things off the ‘to be read’ shelf randomly. But of course connections keep jumping out!

      Currently I’m re-reading Jacques Barzun’s ‘The House of Intellect’ – that bears on the idea ‘Because I must!’ quite strongly.

      ‘…millions have literacy and hundreds of thousands have ‘education’ [BUT] it becomes harder & harder to find a few tens of thousands who are willing, let alone eager, to attend to intellectual matters…’

      Attendance in this way, according to Barzun, requires storing up intelligent thinking, making it into a disciplined habit with complex symbols of meaning & chains of reasoning & spurs to emotion, the ability to keep connecting disparate items to form into a body of knowledge, ‘the right particle of which can be brought quickly to bear on the matter in hand…’ Then there’s concentration, self-awareness, keeping a record of one’s thinking and developing rules for oneself and SYSTEMS. It’s Pat’s ‘ricochet effect’…

      But the House of Intellect is steadily being demolished…

      Ah well…

      Colin

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What an appealing idea to arrange for a group get-together sometime, Colin! For an hour or two at least, we might perhaps put a few bricks back in place on that demolished House of Intellect!!

        Liked by 1 person

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