Are you on the pathway to “Flow”?

Are You on the Pathway to “Flow”?

By Peter Finkle

I wrote a poem called “Pathway to Flow” for two young friends I have played tennis with.  Brothers Taiga and Kuga are 12 years old and 10 years old.  After a year in Ashland, they and their parents recently went home to Japan.  They impressed me by…wait a minute…let’s get into the question of the title first, and then I’ll tell you why the boys impressed me enough to write this poem for them.  (The poem is in italics.)

PATHWAY TO FLOW

Some young people listen very carefully,

but not very many.

Some young people who listen carefully

really learn,

but not very many.

Some young people who learn

really put it in to practice,

but not very many.

My poem is a mirror for me as well as for my young friends.  I hope it can also be a mirror for you.  First, are you listening carefully to your teacher, your friend, your spouse or your child today…not just occasionally, but moment by moment all day?  Listening carefully, being present, makes learning possible. 

After that, what is learning without practice?  Most likely just head-learning, a bunch of rote concepts.  Are you willing to put in the practice that creates whole-body-muscle-memory learning, the practice that creates heart-and-head-combined learning?  At that point, you separate yourself from the pack. 

However, many of us would rather take the easier path of doing what everyone else in our crowd is doing, or doing what we’ve always done.  Or you could be the person who “already knows,” with an arrogance that keeps you stuck.  These approaches help you avoid the fear that comes with challenging yourself, and you can end up in a safe but not very satisfying prison of your own making. 

Some young people who put it in to practice

are willing to keep making mistakes

until they get it right,

but not very many.

This is key.  Yes, mistakes are inevitable.  Mistakes are part of learning.  In fact, mistakes are crucial to true learning.  For example, one of baseball’s greatest hitters Ted Williams said: “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.”  That excellent .300 batting average equals 70% “mistakes.” 

In tennis, the best players are happy if they hit slightly more winning shots than bad misses during a match.  But the best learn from every mistake, from every out, from every miss. 

This is a hard lesson, whether you are a youngster or an adult.  It takes patience.  It takes either tough determination or love for what you are learning — and preferably both.

Some young people go beyond getting it right,

go all the way beyond technique

to a relaxed state of flow (or being “in the Zone”),

but not very many.

To learn excellent technique is a huge accomplishment, not to be taken lightly.  Depending on the skill, it can take months or years of learning, mistakes and practice to develop excellent technique.  Excellent skills is what many businesses look for in their employees.  It is the goal for many of us in our lives.  Is this enough for you?

For technique is only the starting point to something called flow, which is also called being “in the zone.”  Having technique “down” allows you to relax into each moment of life as it unfolds.   Amazon’s summary of the book Flow says: “Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s famous investigations of ‘optimal experience’ have revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.” 

Some young people

have an open mind for listening,

enjoy the process of learning,

climb the mountain of mistakes

and walk the patient pathway of practice,

to feel the simple joy

of presence and flow,

but this is very rare.

You don’t have to be a famous athlete to enter the relaxed concentration of flow.  But you probably have to be willing to climb the mountain of mistakes and walk the pathway of practice.  Whatever challenge you enjoy in your daily life can be a pathway to flow.  It could be quilting or music, rock climbing or cooking, writing poetry or working on cars, story telling or providing healthcare with empathy.

Excellent, unthinking technique helps open the door.  Gratitude for what you have already, this moment, helps open the door.  Letting go of the past (even the 1-minute-ago past) is essential in order to walk through the door.  That is why flow is so rare.  How many of us are willing to let go of our worries, our opinions, and most difficult of all — our judgments of ourselves? 

The good news: if you are willing, the door is always there, and the pathway is always there. 

The better news: it is completely up to you.  You choose if you want to walk into flow, if you want to live in the deep enjoyment and satisfaction of flow.

I wish for you

this Pathway

and

this Simple Joy

in your Life.

Let’s now circle back to the boys I wrote the poem for.  For young boys, they listen well.  Let’s say I give a suggestion as we play tennis this week.  They have impressed me over and over by not only hearing what I said, but also by putting my suggestion into practice to win more points against me the very next week.  They are constantly learning and improving.

So I see them enjoying the process of learning, climbing the mountain of mistakes and walking the patient pathway of practice. 

Now I hope that they, as young men, can learn to grow into the rare and simple joy of living much of each day fully in the present moment.  I hope they learn how to enter the state of flow, both in tennis and in life.  And I wish the same for you.

= = = = =

Here is the full poem without commentary.

PATHWAY TO FLOW

Some young people listen very carefully,

but not very many.

Some young people who listen carefully

really learn,

but not very many.

Some young people who learn

really put it in to practice,

but not very many.

Some young people who put it in to practice

are willing to keep making mistakes

until they get it right,

but not very many.

Some young people go beyond getting it right,

go all the way beyond technique

to a relaxed state of flow (or being “in the Zone”),

but not very many.

Some young people

have an open mind for listening,

enjoy the process of learning,

climb the mountain of mistakes

and walk the pathway of practice,

to feel the simple joy

of presence and flow,

but this is very rare.

I wish for you

this Pathway

and

this Simple Joy

in your Life.

BIO: As one contribution to building community, Peter is walking every street in Ashland and writing an article with photos about every street.  Visit www.WalkAshland.com to see and read about local people, history, yard art, architecture, gardens and more.

The above article appeared in the Ashland Tidings on Sat. May 25, 2019

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