Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of May 4, 2015

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Living in Flow


Have you ever had hours or whole days when your life just flowed? When you were fully in contact with the details of your life and when there were no inner obstacles. When you moved easily and smoothly from one thing to the next. If you needed to think, then your thoughts were clear and concise. But mostly your mind was quiet, or at the least the inner chatter receded into the background as you went about your business. Your emotions were appropriate, relevant, and supportive to the situation, helping you fully engage in what you were doing. Your senses were alive, taking in everything relevant, and more, in vivid detail. Your body moved fluidly, efficiently, and effectively. You were fully in contact, at home in your own skin, in your own life. Your effortless attention focused on what you were doing. Inwardly you were united. Your usual self-centered concerns had vanished. Each of your activities took on value in its own right, so that you appreciated what you were doing for itself. Time stopped, while you lived within the timeless.

Flow, the state of being completely immersed in an activity, has been extensively studied by psychologists, with more research ongoing. And for good reasons, most notably the timeless serenity and happiness, as well as the heightened focus and performance that come in flow, which is sometimes called being in the zone. The research shows that the key elements for entering the flow state include being in front of a challenge that is well matched with our skills, so that we concentrate on what we are doing to such an extent that we have no spare mental cycles available to distract us.

This view of flow is outwardly oriented, dependent on an external challenge to enable flow. However, we may characterize one of the sub-goals of the spiritual path as the aim to live in flow all the time. Yet we cannot always be engaged in a challenging external task. Life requires the mundane, such as the regular care and feeding of our body, our home, and our possessions. We know how to do these necessary chores and duties, so they present little challenge to our relevant skills. This is a recipe for boredom, and apparently not for flow. So the question we pose is: can we live in flow? Is it even possible to live in flow? And if so, how might we move toward that?

Various spiritual traditions view the ideal state as flow. The Taoist teaching of wu wei, or non-doing, encourages this natural, effortless, fully-engaged approach to living. We learn to flow like water, continually adapting to the moment, and flowing through it. Buddhist and Hindu teachings speak of one-pointedness and of non-dual living. They teach us to flow.

At the center of this endeavor, lies an unspoken question. In the state of flow, what is it that flows? We may glibly answer that we flow. But that answer does not inform. If we flow, who are we? Our body, our mind, our emotions? What is it that flows? We understand this question by recognizing that we are our will, that what flows in flow is our will. For will to flow, it must flow through us. Thus, there is no room for ego in flow, for ego dams up the flow of will, blocking the higher will from flowing through us. There is no room for fragmentation in flow, because the conflicting fragments of our psyche hinder our will; instead we need to be unified.

There are many elements and practices that can help us live in flow, not just experience it briefly in front of appropriate external challenges. We raise our own inner challenge, that of living in flow. In the coming weeks, we will explore the elements of living in flow. For this week, notice the moments of flow that do grace your life.

    1. Surrender to the Present
    2. Body Flow
    3. Sensory Flow
    4. Fluid Mind
    5. Fluid Heart
    6. Fluid Presence


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