What I learned about the concept of flow

The clock struck 11 am. It was a cool morning, where the clouds were dancing to the tunes of thunder and the trees were enjoying a bath. And I, was numbed by the whole view. Alas, it was the best time to pick up a pen or rather open a word doc. 

That is the last thing I remember.

The clock had traveled past 3 pm. I suddenly realized I was hungry and thirsty. However, a sort of calming happiness dwelled upon me. Somewhat like you feel after a successful attempt at meditation. And I simply loved it.

But, I was confused.

What just happened? Was it normal? Where was I?

I got an answer to this puzzle when I read about the concept called ‘flow’.

I never thought of going deeper unless I read the book flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Being an Indian I was accustomed to the idea of nirvana or salvation but isn’t that what the highly abled hermits achieve? Maintaining your consciousness to a level where it remains in harmony with the surroundings, such that you don’t feel negative emotions due to external factors?

Well, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory taught me, that you could try to reach there without giving up on a comfortable life. Neither become a hermit nor a slave of the distracting world, but lie somewhere in between, having a perfect balance.

Mihaly defines flow as-

“ a state of joy, creativity, and total involvement, in which problems seem to disappear and there is an exhilarating feeling of transcendence”

The state of flow, when you are focussed beyond anything
The state of flow, when you are focussed beyond anything

It is where you lose yourself in whatever task you do and feel one with the universe. 

Well, that much is understandable, but what amazed me was the idea that this experience of flow defines the level of happiness in our life. It is much more than having flow at work!

To explain further, let me tell you the 10 lessons that I found revealing:

Consciousness is like a chameleon

Here, Mihaly debunked something that I truly believed in- the gut or the inner instinct isn’t necessarily your soul, it can be an output of social and biological needs. Your task remains to differentiate between whatever you actually feel/want and what sociological/biological factors influence. 

If you let your consciousness run amok, you might be led astray. 

So, you need to get hold of your consciousness, by paying attention. To focus on what matters and not what your body or society calls for. That is when you listen to the ego and not ID (biological factors) and superego (sociological factors).

Attention is the key

Once you are in control of your consciousness you know where to divert your energy and attention. 

While we use our tiny brain to process dinosaurs of data every single moment, it is impossible to process and retain much of it. However, what we do retain that data where we focused and held our attention to. Thereby letting meaningless distractions go to the bin. Hence, we need to learn to differentiate between what comes in and what goes in the bin, that alone can determine how peaceful our life is. 

If the bin comes in, victory goes out

Remember the time when you were worried about your promotion and burned the dish you usually prepare in a breeze? That is a fine example of how negative feelings-worries, fear, distract you and disable you to achieve the task at hand. That is when the psychic entropy(inner disorder) sets in and you are left crumbled with the weight of your emotions since you gave those negative thoughts maximum attention.

Complexity leads to growth

You must have been familiar with the fact that challenges lead to the growth of an individual. No, it’s not a plain motivational idea but has scientific reasons behind it. Our mind is designed in a way that it needs a constant dose of challenges, problems, hurdles. When you overcome those hurdles, it releases happy hormones like dopamine and you feel blessed. Often you must have seen people you often call ‘boring’; because they play safe; are more often than not disgruntled with life. That is because they lack complexity and stink in a stagnant personality.

Achieving flow is not a cakewalk

Overcoming a challenge like breaking your record at the gym or finishing a complex book often gives you a feeling of being a winner. Whenever you focus on a challenge with full attention, your mind indulges in it so well that you experience a flow state of mind where you stay until you have accomplished the task. After which you feel fulfilled. But for that to happen you need a task that aligns to your goals and skills (such that no negative energy disrupts it) and give it your full attention.

You don’t need coffee, but a constant dose of flow

Recreating every day to align yourself to a challenge and accomplishing it with efforts and attention, makes your self-confidence soar. You crave dopamine and indulge more in challenges that make you feel happy upon overcoming them. A happy state of mind, a self that stays boosted with accomplishment leads to a harmonious life altogether.

Pleasure and enjoyment have different souls

That might be the first time you read that. But it’s true. To attain pleasure your biological and sociological needs must be met. For example: while watching tv or eating a favorite food. But for enjoyment to happen, you need to go a step further and ‘invest yourself’ in the activity. For example: playing a game or taking part in fruitful discussions. In these activities, you invest your skills, often overcoming a challenge or finding something new to add to your psyche. You might lose your sense of self and thereby experience flow while enjoying but not while experiencing pleasure. 

But sometimes we don’t enjoy an activity that we otherwise do. That is because enjoyment occurs at the perfect intersection of one’s skills and the challenge at hand.

A challenge must lie between anxiety and boredom (copyright of the author)

If the challenge is too hard, you feel anxious and don’t enjoy it, while if the challenge is too light, you feel bored. So aligning the level of your abilities is necessary.

Leisure is a ghost of happiness

We all could agree on one thing, Friday being the most impatient working day. That is because we are waiting for our beloved ‘weekend’ where we are free to experience pleasure through leisure. Ironically, Mihaly’s study found that when people are involved in pleasure activities, they actually ‘feel’ bored, often sad (Okay, that might not be the 100% true, but a significant portion of the data pointed towards this fact).

On the other hand, when people are working, they feel happy now and then. They are always involved in completing a task, overcoming challenges and thus experiencing growth. But while taking pleasure; for instance in watching tv; we behave as passive receivers and hence don’t play an active role in our life. Most of the time happiness stems from circumstances under our control, where we are the main player!

More often, we waste our precious time while being involved in passive leisure. The author recommends using this time to perform your favorite activity. You might want to give your plants a visit, or pick that canvas up again! That is when your mind sends happy signals again.

Shed your human garment and enter the universe

We might assume that we are one amongst the many on this planet. We have to fend for ourselves and blah blah. It is this constant concentration on our self, the “consciousness of the self” that makes it impossible for us to excel. We forget that we are connected to the universe.

It is with the loss of this ‘sense of self’ during flow activities that make us accomplish the task so perfectly.

Our self is somewhat suspended, we merely become an agent in this huge setting, where we contribute to a task/work/skill/activity while merging ourselves with the cosmos. It is the feeling we often refer to as transcendence.

Be as light as air  

The word autotelic comes from the Greek word auto (Self) and telos (goal). It means that whenever we do a task for the reward inherent in doing it and not for an outward benefit, we achieve a greater result. For instance, whenever you are conscious that you should win the game, playing becomes anxiety-ridden and you often lose. That is because you focus more on the goal, more on your image, and less on the task. Remember our previous discussion on attention?

It also matters how you pick small bites in everyday life, give it your full attention and make the best of the circumstances. That is somewhat living with the world, and away from your conscious self. That is working for a greater good, for the joy in doing it, and not for some external output. This might mean, having a hearty talk with an individual while you stand in a long queue.

In short, finding hidden meaningful goals that make everyday life worth living. This is when you achieve an autotelic personality. You become someone who doesn’t need external factors to drive your consciousness because you are the sole driver.  

This all might seem hard to understand, but it’s not. 

So what is the crux? 

How to achieve a flow state of mind (copyright of the author)

Just keep your mind and heart in the right place, invest your skills in everyday challenges, learn to nourish an undistracted mind by limiting your attention to important tasks, immerse yourself in whatever task you choose, have a rendezvous with the worldly muse, come out victorious and bear the effects of happy hormones and a life of harmony.

If you think this book is worthy of your attention, you can find it on Amazon

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Sailing through a land of Hope: Movie review (A boy called sailboat)

Sometimes when a movie has ended, you are left with an indelible peace inside. A kind of emotion that leaves you numbed and you are smiling from your heart.

Well, A boy called Sailboat is one such kind.

The movie opens with a picturesque landscape where for miles all you see is sand and sky. As you come closer you realize it’s actually a sad picture. The vegetation has gone dry because of the drought-ridden land. People have abandoned the area, the shops in the nearest city have their shutters down.

Suddenly you find a weary house leaning on the support of a wooden pole, trying to stay upright. Inside, a family of 3 lives in the fear of the house crumbling down, with creaky floors scaring them every now and then.

Everything seems a bit sad and slow. 

But there’s a small boy (Julián Atocani Sánchez) with rosy cheeks and an endearing smile who narrates the entire story. He is obsessed with sailboats. 

Ironically, his home is almost 1000 miles away from the sea. But he doesn’t care about it, he is just an innocent dreamer who is always talking about his Abuela (grandmother). 

Wandering through the drought-ridden land, he stumbles across a guitar/ukulele dumped in a corner.

He is reminded of his Abuela who had taught him-

“You find the most important things when you are not looking”.

So he knew this guitar is somewhat special.

Though little, he thought of teaching the guitar to himself. His new ‘acquisition’ became an obsession when his Abuela told him to write a song on the guitar for her. And he knew he had to. 

He learned the basics of music through a compact disk which he borrowed from his school friend Mandy. The voice in the CD taught him to play the strings and produce a tune that matches the state of his heart. 

And there was no looking back. He had to write a song to his beloved Abuela that turned out to be ‘for everyone’. Thinking about it night and day, he often felt a keen sense of quiet inside, when he realizes

“Sometimes when you think about someone… Everything else goes to quiet”

And soon he had a song composed through the streets of quietness. 

Little by little, whosoever heard the little boy play was filled with the warmth of hope. His father with a cold look on his face was obsessed with being a cowboy raising horses. While his fate only offered him the task of looking after his soon-to-fall house by the stick. Even the boy’s mother had a passion. She cooked spicy meatballs but her plump physique lacked the confidence to go out in the public. 

All had their lives struck in a quagmire, where reality sat with heavy asses upon their hopes and dreams. But somehow the little boy with a song that wasn’t played out loud for us to hear, had struck the dead chords in people’s hearts.

His father became a dreamer again. While his mother had the courage to have her meat-balls shared with the audience of her son’s song.  

Whosoever heard the song melted with tears of hope and that of joy.

While the little boy oblivious of the fame was always thinking about his Abuela. Even while he had his dream boat placed in a workshop called Oasis in the middle of nowhere. So all he did was to look at it in peace and dream of having it one day.

All this while, his Abuela was asleep in a coma and he wasn’t able to sing his song for her. 

But, his fan followers were growing. Soon his school got an ear for his song. Everyone who heard the song experienced a transformation. So much so that even the sky had its tears down on the drought-ridden land.

But what about the grandmother? Well, when the little sailboat sang her the song, she was waiting eagerly for, she finally died in peace. And sailboat left the guitar by her bedside as he had completed her wish.

As the universe came together as an accomplice, his song helped his family came out of poverty so much so that his father had his car repaired, his house got a new and reliable stick as a support, and he? HE got his dream sailboat on a wagon right outside his house.

The movie ended a full circle when hopes got established where there were none and dreams got fulfilled. All life needed was a bit of melody, that though doesn’t come out loud but lies somewhere within our innocent hearts that fills us with warmth and hope of a world where our dreams keep us alive. 

Did you see the movie? How did you find it?

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Book review: Eat pray love

Often times when you completed a book and totally fell for it, and it had been written way back, you ask yourself, “ Where were you all these years? How were you surviving without it? Did you even exist before?

Oh! with teary eyed and a gulp in my throat, I tried to make peace with the fact that the book is sadly over, not OVER, but READ. Its like my mind telling me-: “Go back to work Sonika” but you still feel you are reading, still there, in Italy or India or Bali.

Whenever a movie is based on a book, people prefer the short journey of 1.5 or maximum 2.5 hours (as in Bollywood). They don’t prefer reading. Well, Eat Pray Love came to me when in my desperate times of imaginary travel, I wanted to see Rome. That’s when google brought me to this movie. I watched it, once and then again when the longing struck me. 

One day while I was listening to a Ted talk, I realized I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the book Eat Pray Love, which was adapted into the movie. She completely captured me through her words, such that I was heartbroken when she had done talking. I realized I had to read the book, no matter I already visited Rome along with Italy, twice (not India of course, because I live already live here).
It would be a lie if I told you Liz wasn’t Elizabeth Gilbert or that the tale was merely fiction. Liz was the same Elizabeth when I was listening to her. She had a grit, cheer, satirical, happy, sad, introspecting, skin piercing use of words, that I realized went into the book through her character.
The tale is one of a journey inwards. There are times when you cry and laugh simultaneously and don’t know why or if its a sad laugh or a happy tear. Its more like bathing under hot shower or rather lying in a hot tube of water and introspecting. Talking to yourself, talking to god, making sense of your life and goals, all the while surrounded by warmth.

You must stop looking at the world through your head. You must look through your heart, instead. That way you will know god”

Her words penetrate into you like a good wine. You smell something really strong that stirs you up. And then you take a slow indulging sip, savour the taste. After a while you realize YOU ARE LOVE, everything is love and you are in a dizzying affair with yourself and your life and everything or everyone that surrounds you.
It isn’t a tale of travel to 3 different places, its a tale of finding yourself afterwards. Its filled with humour that makes you ‘literally’ laugh through your liver. Its romantic as much as the cobbled streets of Italy with its feverishly handsome young men. But its also like spiritual cleansing, the one that leaves you all brand new as if you were cloned into a fresh new human being. It is also lingering, you want to wander more, you don’t want to stop. Its like talking to a person for the first time and building a connection so strong that time passes by and you never knew what all beans you have already spilled. It is also like your best friend and confidante. Sharing your feelings, reflecting a little bit of you.

I was not rescued by a prince, I was the administrator of my own rescue”

Most of all, the tale is empowering. It makes you fall in love with yourself. It makes you realize that you can cry alone, fight with your mind, feel lonely, devastated but only you have the power to stand up again. Its how you feel when you successfully waded your way through a merciless traffic (Indian of course!) when you dreaded driving in the first place.

You feel pride, you feel YOU and you sit and smile.

Would love to have you back!

Would love to have you back

Review (movie): Mary Kom

In spite of being a girl I wasn’t really interested in the movie, may be a hangover of patriarchal mindsets around me. I heard people saying what kind of ‘silly’, ‘useless’ movies are being produced these days. These people where the male chauvinists who find it silly when a female oriented movie appears on screen. They are only interested in seeing her in steamy scenes, item numbers or their most favorite an ‘obedient family bahu’. She isn’t supposed to have her dreams or aspire to serve the nation in any sense.

A fine example of my conviction is a dearth of crowd I saw while watching the movie “Mary Kom” in spite of running for mere 5 days from now. However the situation was extremely opposite when I saw a series of housefuls when a similar genre movie was released much before this movie. The difference is not because of directors, producers, banners or star cast, the difference lies in the orient. The former movie talks of a female while the latter is based upon a male.

It really hurts to digest the thought that a female sportsperson isn’t famous enough even after gathering gold medals around the world, that too in a sport like boxing which is known to be a male domain. However a male sportsperson is a star celeb. This poignant issue comes to light even in the movie. While travelling in a bus with her husband, Mary is talking to a father-daughter duo. They talk of Mary kom but haven’t seen her. It may be in statistics but people at large are oblivious of her presence.

The story line for me is an epic. It reinstated the fact how being a female is a boon and a bane at the same time. Boon because she has the power to give birth which a male can never have. But a bane otherwise. A movie based on a sportsmen’s extreme endeavor as a road to his success is an inspiration. But a movie based on a sportswoman’s struggle to fight her family, then society, then coach, then marital life, motherhood And perseverance is certainly a soul inflaming inspiration.

Mary kom played by Priyanka Chopra in the movie was a sheer mark of excellence. She truly had the power to stir people from their comfort zones. This happened to me for the first time that while watching a movie I felt restless. My body was as if in tune with her. I was in a to and fro motion while sitting. I felt the blows on her face and her success and tears. Such was the magic.

The movie is very well laid in contemporary times when career oriented females are on rise. However while eavesdropping many a times I realized the stagnant mindsets of our Indian society which deems it as an evil. It is so because she has started living her dreams and is no more engrossed in the tastes of buds. People are looking for housewives now, as an independent women would be assertive and would put herself before her family, causing havoc. Well, the scenario is quite opposite in the movie and real life of Mary Kom. She followed her heart’s desire when it was necessary to do so, while initiating her first struggle from her home. She married when it was the right time. She gave birth to twins even after giving a pause to her career which was on its peak. She became a good daughter, wife and mother. What about her dream? It was lost in this new born world.

But it was the support of her husband which brought her back in the ring. This again is uncommon. People don’t feel a women is strategic enough to handle everything and demean her from reaching heights. They forget that a little support will pave the way for her successful career and family life. This support was a gift to Mary Kom and is a desire for women struck in four walls. If not society at least he who takes seven vows to protect and keep her happy, can employ his support keeping those in mind. This is the threshold where a women stands. If her husband lends her a hand she can turn a stone into a rose. If not she herself is merely a stone.

This movie is a two-fold inspiration for females to dream, and live and die fulfilling their dream; and males to lend them a hand who left herself at her maternal home and undergoes a re-birth only to serve him well. Only then can a nation produce a Mary Kom, a Kalpana Chawla, a Sanya Mirza and so on to serve the nation and assert the power of womanhood.

Some lines from Maya Angelou’s poem came to my mind while watching the movie:

“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise”

Would love to have you back!

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