Have you ever gone for a run and fixed your gaze at the horizon ahead of you, not even thinking about the movement of your body? Have you lost track of the hours as day turned into night while engrossed in painting, writing or building something? Have you ever efforted to cook a challenging and precise recipe that you’d never tried before, poring over every last detail? Even if it wasn’t one these particular examples, you can probably point to something you’ve done in your life and say, “wow, I was really in the zone there.” It’s a good feeling, and it’s one we can achieve more often than we think.
Science has a word for the oftentimes out-of-body phenomenon we feel when losing ourselves in an activity: Flow. Essentially, flow is us at our mental best. The physical demands of activities that may be difficult or require extra concentration actually free our minds up to perform at peak consciousness. The reason for this is while we’re in the flow, we’re growing – either learning a new skill or challenging ourselves with the next level of a skill we already have.
Because we’re human beings, we don’t default to being in a state of flow very often. Flow requires a complete lack of self-awareness and a devotion to the task in progress with no time wasted judging or second guessing one’s own performance as it’s taking place. People who have achieved flow in the arts or athletics often have trouble recalling what they were even doing or saying, as if they were nothing more than energy compelled to move around exactly the right way.
If we could bottle up flow, we certainly would. Studies have shown that the flow glow can last up to three days after the experience itself, with a creative and productive natural high that keeps performance up. If you’ve been paying attention, this idea of quieting the mind’s judgment centers and living fully present in a moment should sound a lot like meditation. And, truly, we can set our brains up for more frequent flow-like experiences with regular mindfulness training.
Meditation is most effective when practiced simply as it is, not with a goal in mind. The harder you try to find the “point” of meditation (like telling yourself “I am going to feel less anxious at the end of this”), the less likely you’ll be to give yourself over to the process. Approaching meditation as you would a more physical task will allow you to get into the flow of breathing, recognizing and appreciating.
Regular, guided meditation is a good place to start, but as anyone in the flow zone can attest, activities themselves often become meditative experiences. Challenge yourself to get completely immersed in even the simplest tasks like folding laundry or brushing your teeth, things you’ve been doing on auto-pilot for years. Focus on the details of what you’re doing as if it’s completely new and exciting, not allowing your mind to idle and latch onto negative thoughts.
You don’t have to be a world-class athlete or artist to enter the flow. Use meditation to practice grounding yourself firmly in the moment, no matter what the moment brings.