Mindfulness and Flow

I have spent the last three days in my studio and I am often so amazed at how quickly the time goes. Yesterday my cell phone went off and I jumped out of my skin. I lose track of time. The time is spent feeling perplexed, frustrated, exhilarated, challenged, but yet at the end of the day I feel satisfied, fulfilled and with a sense of well-being.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines this as being in the state of “Flow”, the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

Wendy Ann Greenhalgh wrote a wonderful book. “Mindfulness and the Art of Drawing.” Mindfulness, to quote Greenhalgh is, “being part of the present moment with awareness and the ability to let go of judgments. Mindfulness lets us see that which is outside of us while at the same time learning about ourselves as we respond to what is being created.” What is the relationship between mindfulness and flow? Are they mutually exclusive opposites, or different sides of the same coin, or somewhere in-between?

In flow I am immersed in the focus of the work. In a state of mindfulness I am also aware of what and how I am responding to challenges and successes of that focus. I work in a paradox, immersed in energized focus and enjoyment and mindful of the internal dialogue of check-in asking, “Is this good enough?” or noticing my lack of confidence that the next brushstroke will not work. When I am mindful I notice my reaction to these thoughts, the emotions that arise. I notice that in the space after the comparing thought or doubting there is the opportunity for choice, the choice to breathe, feel the pencil or paint brush in my hand, to connect with my heart and move forward

I try to stay in that intersection of flow and mindfulness that includes intense curiosity which is what I am encountering with the splash of a brushstroke. My challenge is to stay inquisitive, and recognize and learn to ultimately let go.  I then can end my day feeling satisfied, fulfilled with a sense of well-being.

I leave with a quote from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,  “Of all the virtues we can learn no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.” You have to be mindful to do that.

What is your take on mindfulness / flow ?