It was such a beautiful word, but then… pulled and stretched apart, beyond recognition. Maybe the first step to restoring “flow” to its former glory is to wash away the semantic ambiguities, and provide a clear distinction of what flow refers to. And then, we can evaluate, if not objectively, at least a little more carefully and with nuance, whether some thing is characterized by “flow”.
Not one, but two…
“Flow’ is a word pointing at two related but distinct concepts.
1. The Flow-State
Mihalyi Cziksentmihalyi (a grandfather of positive psychology) coined the term flow to describe a psychological experience which he called “flow-state”. The term flow came from the interviewees of Mihalyi’s research: they spoke of a feeling of being carried by a current or a force. Mihalyi found that this “flow” state of mind came about during moments of complete mental engagement with a task. Due to this complete engagement, the mind is unable to process itself, and conception of self drops out of awareness. Mihalyi believed that the flow-state is imperative for a fulfilling life, and characterized the moments when we feel “most human”.
In this case, flow is not a movement. Flow is a state of mind, a moment in time that emerges from being in a place where challenge intersects capacity in the right proportions.
2. Flow as Movement Skill
Just as important as the psychology of flow is the movement quality of flow. This refers to movement executed in a particularly efficient way; often, it is pleasing to watch because the underlying efficiency communicates a high level of intention and quality.
Defining graceful or fluid movement will always be contentious, but if we look, we can discern… or so I thought. Now, I’m not so sure…
What Mihalyi did for the state of mind of flow, Ido Portal has done for the practice of flow in movement, by developing original and effective deconstruction-based tools/models for developing flow within movement, i.e., the “closed system flow” and “Isolate -> Integrate -> Improvise“.
There is a link between the movement-skill and the flow state: those who pay so much attention to detail as to produce a fluid movement will also be fully engaged in their task. Which came first, the engagement or the attention to detail… we’ll never know, maybe neither.
Developing Flow-States and Movement-Skills
Flow is a state of mind you can experience and it is a movement quality you can cultivate. The flow-state is found, the movement-flow is created.
Both the flow-state as well as the movement-skill can be achieved through Ido’s models of isolate/integrate/improvise and closed system flow. By mastering elements, learning to sequence them, and ultimately improvising with them, you give yourself a singular opportunity to enter the flow-state specifically through the process of producing something beautiful, something that from outside appears to flow.