I was speaking to a counselor, recently, about that "flow" humans fall into when they are engaged in something enjoyable and mildly challenging (see the works of Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi for formal info). We all recognize it, I think...that state of forgetting oneself and all the cares of our worlds in the immediate task at hand, whatever it is. When I paint, garden or give my complete attention to something, I literally "become" the feeling, motion and whatever is present, whatever I am concentrating on. It's a narrowing of focus that does away with any sensation of separateness, of distinction between subject and object. Some call this "peak experience"--especially when the challenge is great and adrenaline is high.
But what about the mundane, the ordinary, the unpleasant-but-necessary "parts" of life? For some of us, this is ninety-nine percent of it. We look forward to those peak experiences, whatever they may be for us, or to habitual "escapes" like TV, internet, gaming, and so forth, where we are passively entertained and/or seriously addicted to something--anything--that keeps us unconscious. This isn't an active participation in the full range of being; it's a kind of avoidance. These common pastimes aren't inherently bad in any way. Using them as a narcotic isn't morally wrong, either. But it is akin to keeping a freedom-loving creature in a tiny box, blinded, deafened and unprepared for inevitable reality.
The "inevitable" is frightening for some. I understand this. It was for me, once, because I associated it with pain. Fortunately, I love life more than my own fear. Just that simple thing, allowed to grow, became something intensely beautiful.
People say that the difficulty lies in maintaining a state of being that is as fresh, open and "unstuck" as it is in those times when we are more in tune, in that flow, unselfconsciously participating and engaged. How many times can we drive the same freeway, clean the same bathroom, look at the same people without switching over to "autopilot"? Once we are familiar with a task, routine or sense of self, it gets old. It's just how it is. Right?
No. The difficulty lies in letting go of the lines and templates we project over life, the ideas about what we are doing, the stories around the tasks that allow us to believe that we are in control of what we are. Those get old, because we use them to prop up--or indeed, create--a sense of self. It's shallow, thinner than watered-down gruel and completely ineffective as a "container" for the real size of our lives, which needs no maintenance at all.
Learning the groove, developing ritual or routine is not a problem. It's what allows us to evolve and expand, the same way that learning to ride a bike opens the door to a different reality, where we can feel the wind created by our own effort and cooperation with natural forces (as a natural force), without having to constantly wonder if we're balancing correctly. Familiarity is good. But are you really "familiar" with yourself? Are we ever?
Not entirely, and that is good news. Embrace that fact, and I embrace my own potential. Deny it, and I deny the full scope of meaning available to me. Meaning has everything to do with the quality of total health and thus, life.
Focusing intently on a task erases the mental "overlay" of ideas and language around myself. So does attending deeply to this physical/mental/emotional reference point, at rest, in action, in debate. Something completely slippery and mysterious does this attending, is present at every opening and closing. This "space" is anything but familiar, because I cannot conceptualize it. When I come to rest in it (even going ninety miles an hour), I find that all the elements of self-and-world are contained in this reference point, and therefore it has no place, time, or boundary. Oh, and it is writing this, right now, and reading this, right now. It is the only stable, changeless thing in a constant state of change.
Have you ever walked a familiar path so many times that you believe you could navigate it blindfolded and with one leg tied behind your back? Me, too. I am familiar with a few of these--nature walks, mostly, thoroughly loved and traveled, seen in every possible light...except one. The light I speak of is like a pause in conceptualization, in mapping, that reveals the incredible nature of the experience Maria+World=This, reduced to a brilliant One that is also Zero. It feels somewhat like being an alien on a new planet that is absolutely suited to this particular lifeform, and therefore Home, but a home never "owned". It's an open Self that is absolutely mine, not in any partitioned way. And it is full of divinely brilliant things, gateways into more Self, stretching endlessly out there and contained absolutely right here.
This feels somewhat different than forgetting oneself in service to a pleasurable task, because the main quality of feeling is more intense than neutral, happy or contented. It is more a blissful gratitude with a strong sense of childlike awe in the mix...almost painful, in a way, when it is fully allowed. I'm convinced that is what we actually are, but that we dial this joy down for many reasons. It is an available option that requires some willingness to risk feeling vulnerable, just like jumping off a fifty-foot bridge into deep water. And once the jump is made, what becomes familiar is the lack of structure, the feeling of falling, the consciousness brought to the fact that "I" am no longer in control. Something we cannot hang on to is leaping, with a light that is dark as long as we use our pale, virtual version to define the contours of our heights and depths.
This powerful dimension of Self is behind the most common, ordinary things (which, from this perspective, are so unique as to be anything but common). A tedious and clumsy way of expressing this is to say that you are never the same person from moment to moment, and your world is never the same world, but you mentally structure being so that an illusion of continuity is present. Things feel solid, you remember your name, you know where you live. It is just as true that you are numinous, completely open and have no name or address. Nothing dies or is born in the world, and everything you encounter already exists within you as a source of constant amazement. You never get used to anything, and nothing is stuck anywhere. But such a "view" is not validated much, because our languages, sciences and educational systems still can't see to the bottom. This will always be true for systems that insist there is a "bottom" to this ocean. How can there be, when those very depths create shallows on the other end of whatever arbitrary scale we use?
It is not "practical" to be (at this point) quite as immersed in gorgeous reality as some of us could be, simply because it is not socially acceptable, generally speaking. In some places, it frightens authority figures to the point that they will lock a body up. Perhaps it will always be thus...perhaps it always has been. I look around and see more and more intrepid explorers, though, setting out on adventures to the sky and the center of the Earth, with no agenda except to live and love thoroughly. In this way, we flower fully...over and over, still, hearts exposed.