“You’re late” my then 10 year old announced indignantly when I arrived in the empty car park, “and now I’m late for riding”. (Ironically we would have this conversation in reverse many times in the years ahead when I was the one who was late after waiting for her or her sister, but if you are a parent I’m sure that’s no surprise!)
I had spent the afternoon working on a textiles project. I’d decided I would construct a 3D bowl from fabric scraps and after tossing about the HOW in my head (I love this part of the process as much as the making) I had designed a template, pulled out some fabric scraps and started stitching them to the base and forming the shape. It had been tricky to begin with but now I was making good progress and I hummed while I worked.
I looked at my watch. It was 2.00. Great I thought, another hour before school pick up, and kept stitching away.
When I next looked at my watch it was quarter past. Wow! I thought, I’m flying along. Then I looked again. Quarter past THREE.
And I flew out the door.
While I was working I had been totally absorbed in what I was doing, the challenge and the effort required perfectly balanced so that I was in the state Csikszentmihalyi calls FLOW , or what we might in every day speak call ‘in the zone’. Time felt like it was standing still and the work flowed through my fingers.
It’s almost 20 years since that afternoon but I can still remember how delicious it felt being in that state. Finding the sweet spot of challenge and effort, whether it is when stitching, painting, improvising when you are playing an instrument, or some other creative or physical activity, it is indeed a sweet moment.
For a long time it didn’t occur to me that we might be able to seek out these experiences. That we could set up the conditions to make them more likely. That a good match between the challenge of a task and my skills would make it more likely I could get into a flow state. But now I’m on the lookout. I am mindful of reducing interruptions, making a cup of tea and slowing down my mind to just focus on what I am doing. Of seeking out projects with enough challenge to require all of my attention…………
And now that I’ve (finally!) got the keys to my studio (the builder took longer to coordinate the finish off than to build and deliver the building) I’ve got a whole lot of ideas bubbling away.
And I’ve recently discovered I’ve still got the base template for that fabric bowl I made so I might even try another one of those and see what magic happens this time.
Have you ever achieved a state of Flow? What were you doing? And what could you do to experience it again?