The Power of Flow:
Practical Ways to Transform Your Life With Meaningful Coincidence
by Charlene Belitz and Meg Lundstrom
(c) All rights reserved
For thousands of years, before Descartes, Newton, and the beginnings
of modern science, people believed that all of nature was a single organism
and that everything was connected. Responsiveness to signs from the Universe
was a normal part of daily life, for everything from passing clouds to
passing events was perceived to speak in ways that mattered.
Struggling to define the essence of this underlying
connectedness, people used words such as God, Atma, essential life force,
universal mind. But these words fell far short of reality because, by their
nature, words limit and contain—and the nature of this unified connectedness
can’t be boxed in or tied down. “The name that can be named is not the
eternal name,” said the Tao Te Ching.
In current times, quantum physicists encounter similar
difficulties in struggling to define the basic nature of matter. They have
found that the boundaries that isolate one thing from another exist only at
the most obvious and superficial level; at deeper levels, all things-atoms,
molecules, plants, animals, people—participate in a sensitive, dynamic web
This interrelatedness is something for which we have an
intuitive sense. Even if we have no formal beliefs about a higher power, the
concept of being connected to a dynamic force beyond ourselves shows up in
an ordinary, everyday phrase: “in the flow.” “Go with the flow,” we might
say, or, “I’m really in the flow today.”
When we try to define flow, it is also tough to nail. One
approach is to study a readily observable aspect of it, which is what
psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did in defining flow as “optimal
experience, a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute
absorption in an activity.” In that state, which most often occurs during
intense physical activity, we feel strong, alert, and at the peak of our
abilities. This is connectedness—to an activity, to a moment.
Often when people speak of flow, however, they are alluding to
it in a larger sense. They are speaking of a connectedness to larger
patterns of events and meaning. And here a new definition is required:
Flow is the natural, effortless unfolding of our life in a
way that moves us toward wholeness and harmony.
Flow is natural because we personally do nothing to cause
it to exist. Whether or not we give it our conscious attention, it just
is. Sometimes we may hardly know it’s there: when obscured by our fear
or anger it can run underground like a river. But when we move into greater
awareness and trust, it emerges in all its strength and power.
Flow is effortless because when we learn to swim with it,
its currents move us easily, smoothly and gently through life. Our stress,
struggle, and uncertainty drop away, and our joy, peace, satisfaction,
happiness, and effectiveness increase.
Flow is an unfolding because it furthers our
potentiality—it brings us into life as it is meant to be lived. We often
have an “aha” feeling of familiarity, of rightness, when we’re “in the
flow.” And, flow does not only involve our personal unfolding but the
unfolding of a larger pattern in which we play a part.
Flow has a tremendous power to transform our lives. Like water,
it is dynamic and still, strong and receptive, persevering and yielding. We
can’t push or force flow any more than we can a river; gently and surely, it
has its wa.
Flow speaks to being part of something bigger than ourselves. It
runs counter to the sense of being out there alone, of ending where our skin
ends. Not only does quantum theory substantiate this interconnectedness, so
do the findings of the major spiritual traditions. Western religions point
to flow in stressing the need to be in harmony with a larger pattern of
meaning and purpose, which they call God, Jehovah, Allah. By surrendering
ourselves to this larger pattern, they teach, we come into joy and peace and
our needs are taken care of. “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want,”
says the Twenty-third Psalm. Eastern religions perceive the Universe as a
flowing web of consciousness in which everything is connected; by aligning
ourselves with underlying patterns, they say, we come into harmony with our
environment. “Let your nature blend with the Way and wander in it free from
care,” Zen tells us.
Flow runs through everyone’s life, and proof of that
interconnectedness is all around us. A good example is the time that Ann Medlock and John Graham of New York City first walked down the main street
of Langley, Washington, population 845. They had been searching hard for a
year across the country for a new place to live, and they came to Langley
for a closer look after John spoke to a group there. At first, Ann wasn’t
impressed—too many tall dark trees, too cold a wind. But then they happened
upon a high-quality letterpress print shop, exactly what Ann needed to do
graphics for the feisty nonprofit organization they ran. At the tobacco
shop, they spotted John’s favorite pipe mixture, which he had only been able
to find in one store in all of New York City. They saw a notice for church
services for the same small denomination they attended back home. Finally
they came to a dry goods store with a sign in the window that said, “Levi’s
For Sale.” There, on top of the pile, were three pairs in John’s size—a
challenge to find because of his 6’5”, 180-pound frame.
By then, they were howling with laughter. “We give up! All
right!” they said to each other. Soon afterward, they found the land they
wanted to buy. To complete the picture, when they returned to New York, they
learned that one of Ann’s closest friends had been in Langley the same
weekend and had also decided to move there.
Some people would not have taken these coincidences seriously.
But to Ann and John, they were no accident: each meant something to them,
and together they amounted to the Universe giving them a loud, clear message
that Langley was where they belonged. Months later, they were living
there—and have been flourishing in the eleven years since, as has the
Giraffe Project, their nonprofit organization that recognizes people who
“stick their neck out” for the common good.
Flow is marked by two types of occurrences: synchronicity and
fortuitous events. As the experience of flow increases in our lives, so do
these occurrences. Synchronicity was coined by Carl Jung, who, after
watching its effect on his patients, defined it as “meaningful coincidence
that cannot be explained by cause and effect.” He believed synchronicity to
be the “acausal connecting principle” that demonstrates the dynamic
interrelationship between our consciousness and the outer world. As he
defined it, synchronicity often takes the form of the coming together of an
inner and outer event in a way that has an emotional or psychological impact
on us and that gives us a sense of being part of a larger whole. His
definition includes not only coincidental happenings but also dreams that
foretell an event and inexplicable knowledge we have of eventsoccurring at
the same time but elsewhere.
By its very nature, we cannot directly cause synchronicity to
happen—and yet it responds to our needs. It boggles the mind because it
seems as though the Universe swings into place to give us what we need. For
Ann and John, seeing so much that was familiar and comfortable in a totally
unknown town gave them the certainty that they were, in fact, home. And they
had done nothing directly to cause it. They didn’t query the Chamber of
Commerce beforehand to locate the retail shops they needed, or plan to be in
Langley the same time as Ann’s friend. But when those things happened, they
took them to heart and followed the direction they indicated.
Fortuitous events happen when things come together in
ways that work out amazingly well, and they can be explained by cause and
effect. For instance, the fact that Ann and John found land they wanted to
build on in Langley can be easily explained: they went to a realtor, toured
properties, and found one they liked. But what was fortuitous was
that the site had the trees and mountain view they wanted, that it was
within their price range, and that they found it the first day they looked.
Soon after, there was a sharp increase in housing prices, which would have
put the land out of Ann and John’s modest price range.
We each have our personal route to flow. Ann’s and John’s
journeys began with hardships. Ann, a bubbly and energetic writer, plunged
into a depression when her first husband ran away with her best friend as
she was undergoing an emergency cesarean. John, a gangly, intense foreign
service officer and mountaineer, had experienced vivid nightmares and
post-traumatic stress disorder after the Vietnam War and had also suffered a
painful breakup of his previous marriage.
In despair, Ann began meditating. John became involved in
spiritual and personal growth organizations. As each examined who they were
and what they wanted, they stopped living by other people’s expectations and
began living by their own. They looked at when and how they were stopped by
fear, anger, and pain, and they took steps to remove those blockages. They
opened themselves to new possibilities and ways of thinking. They learned to
listen to their intuition and to follow what it said. Their days became
studded with synchronicities that brought them valuable contacts, work,
housing, and their life mission. Flow had become their everyday reality.
Flow has been part of your reality as well. Think of a time when life seemed
rich and shimmering with possibility and you felt wordlessly connected to
something greater and vaster than you could imagine. Perhaps it was when you
first held your newborn baby in your arms, or when you were watching a
spectacular sunset on a beach, or when you heard music so beautiful it
brought tears to your eyes, or when you gazed into a loved one’s eyes. At
those times, all the pettiness and worries of life dropped away, and
something deep inside you was touched. When flow becomes your way of life,
those moments pervade your days. You feel excited and full of wonder, yet
peaceful and calm. You feel creative, productive, safe, comfortable, and
complete. Each moment seems perfect in and of itself.
We experience the power of flow when:
·Things fall into place, obstacles melt away, and whatever is
necessary—money, times, work, people, opportunities—appears as needed.
Flow eases the way. It’s like the intricate workings of a fine Swiss
clock—all the gears and parts mesh smoothly to move things forward. This
doesn’t mean we sit back and take things easy when we’re in flow: we are
doing all our necessary daily activities and routines, such as making phone
calls and running errands. But things happen naturally and easily, and
before long, we can’t remember living any other way.
Glen Logan, after
thirty-five years as an alcoholic, was celebrating his 90th sober day when
his daughter-in-law asked him to drive her to a local university so she
could register for a course. He impulsively enrolled in a beginning course
on computer science, but was dropped from it because he was too advanced. As
he was leaving the professor’s office, he noticed a course catalog with
“Ethics in Counseling” circled. He enrolled in it. His instructor was so
impressed with him that he suggested Glenn apply to graduate school.
That’s when every door
seemed to open. The assessment test Glenn needed to take was being given the
next day; all the college transcripts he needed arrived in a week; all his
references sent in their letters the same day they were asked; and the
faculty board convened just as he met all the requirements. The result? He
was accepted seventeen days after he applied. Now, at sixty, he’s an
addictions counselor and in the midst of a Ph.D. program in clinical
This kind of meshing
together of events can happen in ways both profound and mundane, depending
on our tasks and needs at each point in life. Sometimes, in fact, flow is
most validating when it is the small things in life that mesh together. When
we have to get somewhere quickly, it is concrete proof that we’ve tapped
into the power of flow when we hit all the green lights and find a parking
spot in the most crowded part of town.
find ourselves in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.
Coming into flow involves knowing ourselves deeply, which gives us growing
certainty about what we need for our happiness and where we fit in the
world. As we move in the direction of balance and wholeness, our choices are
constantly affirmed by synchronicities and fortuitous events. If we start
doubting, something may happen to bring us renewed confidence that we’re
where we should be—a phone call, a lucky break, a fresh opportunity, money
out of nowhere.
Laura Putney of Mount
Pleasant, Utah, wanted to stay home with her two sons while they were young,
but at several points it appeared that she might have to go back to work to
make ends meet. Each time something intervened, including an unexpected
inheritance from a distant relative. “It reinforced our commitment to the
way we live our lives,” she says.
·Perfect timing smoothes the way in long-term and everyday logistics.
With the power of flow, one thing leads into another without wasted time or
effort. This can mean reaching a friend by phone minutes before she’s
walking out the door for a week, or turning on the radio just in time to
hear news that’s important at our job that day, or arriving at the corner
just as the bus does. Or it may mean that when we’re delayed by traffic and
arrive fifteen minutes late at a restaurant, the friend we’re meeting
arrives just then too. It can mean that we apply to a company for work and
learn that an opening has just occurred because someone with precisely our
qualifications has just quit. Or that we meet our future spouse at the only
time in years that we are simultaneously available for a new relationship.
timing is due to what look like problems. Eric Sondermann, who has a public
relations consulting business in Denver, planned to lay off one of his
employees before the start of the workday, but he was delayed and reached
the office too late to discuss it with her. At a 9 A.M. meeting with a
client, he was handed a totally unexpected project that she was well
qualified to do. It would have been unfortunate for both of them if he had
let her go a half-hour earlier.
·Life unfolds as a dynamic process.
We begin to experience, in a practical way, the fluctuating, constantly
changing nature of existence. We understand that everything has a timing and
a pacing of its own. Instead of struggling to get what we need, we relax
into a situation. We follow our intuition and watch for feedback from life.
We learn when to push and when to pull; when to speak and when to be silent;
when to advance and when to retreat. We do our best in whatever we do, and
we trust that what happens is supposed to happen. Then, free of impatience,
guilt, and anxiety, we watch with pleasure as events unfold that are better
than what we had conceived. One flowmaster, a lawyer, says that when he is
working toward a goal in his life he always asks himself, “Am I pushing or
am I not?” If he’s pushing, he stops. While negotiating for a car, he could
have purchased one at a reasonable price, but when the situation started
seeming full of effort and stress, he stopped the proceedings. Two weeks
later, he made a single phone call and purchased the same car at a better
·Events and actions mesh together in a coherent pattern of deep harmony and
Life seems purposeful and integrated rather than chaotic and
meaningless. Our actions and decisions arise from and merge into a larger
pattern that affects others we come into contact with, and we in turn are
affected by them. We realize that everything we do matters. In this larger
scheme of things, the work we do—whether it’s building homes, waiting
tables, or raising children—gains added significance: it’s our unique
contribution. Understanding the mutuality of life, seeing how much we have
been enriched by others, we have full hearts and we want to give back.
We find ourselves
becoming flow messengers—vehicles for other people’s synchronicities. When
Ann Medlock and John Graham returned to New York from their trip to Langley,
they immediately called an architect known for his innovative designs to ask
him to design their house. Although he is usually unattainable, he and his
partner were sitting in their office discussing the need to test their
concepts on houses in different climates at the time he picked up the
We experience this
underlying order in another way as we see how actions we take in the
physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual areas of our life can create
parallel events in the outer world. After cleaning out the basement, we find
we are ready for a new relationship. Upon forgiving our father for his
emotional distance, we hear our own child confiding a secret to us. We see
the threads that tie seemingly unrelated events together.
·Outside events link up with our inner thoughts and feelings, giving us a
sense of participation with the Universe.
With flow, it’s not, as the Anne Murray song goes, “You and me against
the world,” it’s you and me and the world, or, even better, you and
me are the world. We experience the interplay between us and the
Universe, and the lines of separation between ourselves and others
disappear. We feel connected at a deep level to everyone and everything. We
see everyone—including ourselves—as being in the process of learning and
growing and we don’t judge or discount them. Struggle disappears; in its
place is cooperation and ease. We are open to whatever the Universe brings.
We are ready to do our part. In this state of receptivity, everything seems
to support us in a way that enriches our life and helps us see our process
and purpose more clearly. The names of places, numbers on houses, a series
of phone calls begin to lace together in meaningful patterns. Slowly, the
mundane threads of life become a tapestry of ongoing discovery, deeply
absorbing and richly textured. The magic is in the moment—in this very
Flow, in short, fills our days with meaning, purpose, and ease. And best of
all, it has a very accessible entry point—synchronicity, which we can
clearly see operating in our lives once we understand how it presents
Chapter 2: Understanding Synchronicity
Read Chapter 4: The Nine
Order The Power of Flow