Understanding Flow

The Power of Flow:
Practical Ways to Transform Your Life With Meaningful Coincidence

by Charlene Belitz and Meg Lundstrom

Chapter 1

(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 of information.

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 psychology.

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.

We 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.

Sometimes perfect 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 price.

 ·Events and actions mesh together in a coherent pattern of deep harmony and underlying order. 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 telephone.

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 moment.

 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 itself.

Read Chapter 2: Understanding Synchronicity
Read Chapter 4: The Nine Attributes

Order The Power of Flow




Order the Book:

FROM BOOK: Introduction ~ Understanding Flow ~ Understanding Synchronicity  ~ Nine personal attributes

Share your story! ~ Some good stories

Quiz: How much synchronicity is in your life? ~ Looking for a flow partner?

Reviews ~ The authors ~ Other books and web sites ~ Wise sayings

ARTICLE: What is synchronicity?

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