I have been painting for hours. It has poured from me in a flow of color, with very little thought or consideration of time. I realize I am parched and haven’t eaten anything since breakfast. I have been so completely in it that the rest of my existence has been put on pause. This beautiful painting has just flowed through me.
There are many names for this place. Yogis might term it “union” or “grace” - the flow of the divine through us. Athletes describe the state of being “in the zone”. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmalyi coined the term “flow state”, described as a peak state of consciousness, where effectiveness and productivity explodes and a state of ecstasy, or alternate reality, is perceived. Ordinarily, the human brain cuts out all extra information from the huge onslaught of sensory input available to us in every moment. In the flow state, however, a shift happens within the brain that effectively causes all of our available attention to be focused on the task, causing our needs, our external awareness and even our identity to disappear from our consciousness.
In terms of brain activity, the “flow” points to a deeply relaxed and connected state of existence that opens us up to divine creativity. Psychologist Maximilan Gotzler says that in contrast to our everyday beta-wave brain state, the flow state is found somewhere between alpha (awake but relaxed) and theta (dreaming or visualizing) waves, often shot through by spikes of longer, slower gamma waves - usually associated with deep meditation or revelatory states.
The tool I most draw on and recommend for tuning in is simply to follow our greatest excitement. Passion has the power to propel us into a higher vibration, almost as if we are a radio, tuned up to a particular frequency that makes people and messages pop out at us, opening up a world of synchronicity and sparkle. Our work pours in a channel through us, divinely inspired, magical, effortless. Spawned from something much bigger than us, and carrying a magnetism for abundance. It is through the artful mixture of clear intentions to direct the focus, and a sense of abandon to divine inspiration, that we make enough space for creativity to exist.
Creativity triggers flow and flow triggers creativity. So what blocks our flow?
Flow depends on a combination of alertness, receptivity and inspiration - listening to what is there and responding from a place of connection and openness. When we get bored or distracted, we slip out of the flow and into effort and indecision. When we are overwhelmed, the same thing happens. Striving towards an idea or forcing a situation against resistance shifts us from ease into stress.
When I started this painting, I began from the present moment. I painted what I felt and what I saw - myself, sitting on the floor, in a state of connection - and from there I let myself expand. Sometimes, all we need is to unkink the hose of our creativity to let the juices run. The truth is, the flow of creativity from the human spirit is unlimited, and the work is in finding tools that tap us into that well. The trick is to find the end of the thread of creation… and when you find it, unravel it all the way to the root.
-- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi