Flow note the fourth #20

This is the fourth installment in a series of posts on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow. You might also want to take a look at the previous posts (first, second & third).

At both levels, the individual and the collective, what prevents flow from occurring is either the fragmentation of attentional processes (as in anomie and attentional disorders), or their excessive rigidity (as in alienation and self-centeredness). At the individual level anomie corresponds to anxiety, while alienation corresponds to boredom. (Csikszentmihalyi 2002: 86.)

I won’t talk about the collective level here – I’m not politically-minded enough – but confess I have fallen victim to both anxiety and boredom. Very – too – often I find myself paralysed by anxiety, my thoughts flying here, there and everywhere, not allowing me to concentrate on otherwise enjoyable activities. The mere existence of future projects or current unfinished assignments can trap me into a never-ending cycle of worry. Anxiety may also trigger unhealthy degrees of navel-gazing, although this is more likely to happen as a result of boredom, a failure to occupy my time in meaningful ways. Whatever the cause, navel-gazing can be equally distracting and destructive to flow.

What to do? How can I conquer anxiety and boredom? I don’t have any answers, but I suspect one key might be to take things a day at a time (something I was reminded of while reading, of all things, a rather nice Russell Brand interview in The Sunday Times). Being more mindful of the here and now. I struggle with an over-active mind and find it hard to let thoughts slip away when doing yoga; my one teenage experience with meditation (on a school visit to a Buddhist centre) was decidedly a negative one. I’ve never been able to count down from ten without thinking and I hate the exercise where you’re supposed to start over every time your thoughts wonder. “Ten…ten…ten…nine…no, wait I just cheated…ten…” In one word: frustrating.

But perhaps that’s precisely what I should do: meditate. Allow the mind to sit still even if it doesn’t want to do so. Any experiences? Suggested reading?

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