Seeking the flow state

I had a 50 minute conversation with the Uber driver this morning, and it got way more interesting when I asked him when he played golf if he had ever experienced the flow state.

Life comes at us fast. And if we’re not careful, we lose touch with our energy and our power to co-create our reality. I have been in that space since mid February, and wrestling with how to break free. Right at this moment I had the opportunity to spend 3 days at an immersive retreat on Hilton Head, South Carolina, in conversation with Gary Hubbell and an incredible group of people from all over the USA.

When the retreat ended yesterday, I had all this energy that still had yet to find a way to express itself, thoughts that I could not put into words. This edginess that I could not describe. I was still, I think, holding on to the past, in all its richness (positive and negative). I went and ran/walked on the beach, and then I came back and ran into new friends, Ken, Marla, Lisa and Megan, and they invited me to drink a paper cup of wine. As I enjoyed the lovely Cabernet and basked in the richness of continuing conversation with friends, the discussion went to how certain works of art transcend history and time. A few of us shared how we felt when we had seen luminal pieces of artwork, like the Mona Lisa or La Pieta. We talked about how incredible it is that certain gifts given us by artists literally transcend hundreds of years, wars, and eras without the technology to preserve them and then, in our present day speak to us as powerfully (maybe even more so) as if they had just been created.

La Pieta and the Mona Lisa, from a special trip with my mom in 2018

I woke up this morning, and strolled on the beach with a warm, cup of coffee and my thoughts. As I walked on the sand one last time this morning, I was overcome with beauty. I saw the sunrise. I heard the waves. I breathed the humid air. I felt the warmth of the South Carolina March morning. And, as I sometimes do when I am alone and overcome by wonder, I sang a brief hymn we sang at every church service “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise God all creatures here below. Praise God above ye heavenly host, Creator, Christ and Holy Ghost.” It was a prayer offered into the morning air. (Side note: The last time I remember singing this prayer was on the Colorado Trail last summer.) And then my very next phrase that came from my heart was this meditation: “When I am in flow, I am in harmony with the universe.” I repeated this several times, and then I recorded it into my journal.

This is the essence of what I took from Conversation:

“When I am in flow, I am in harmony with the universe.” Life is all about how we manage, respect, nourish and manage our life energy. The path to joy is in seeking the flow state.

George Mumford, sports psychologist and meditation teacher, talks all about flow state — the Zone — in his book, The Mindful Athlete, and in his meditation series on the 10% Happier app. I had forgotten about it until I walked in the beach this morning. The flow state is about being truly present in the moment. It lets the basketball player sink the shot at the buzzer with the din of the arena faded in the background. I allows the writer pen her story that calls out to the world. It enables a sculptor create something that literally transcends time. It is that state of focusing entirely on the present moment, present mile, or present breath of a 508-mile bike race in the desert pedal-stroke-by-pedal-stroke, when you’re not even 1/4 of the way into the race. To me, the essence of seeking flow is seeking inner peace.

I was asked yesterday what “being an athlete” means to me. I answered at the time by stating that it is an expression of gratitude for this gift of living I have been given. This body, this breath, this life. What I didn’t acknowledge yesterday, but realized today, is that in physical pursuits, like training to get into or competing in the Zone, that it is truly about being a vehicle for me to get into the flow state, and on a deeper level, in those moments, in harmony with the universe.

And for me, seeking the flow state will help me, I think, be able to foster love and sustainable growth both with Team PHenomenal Hope and in my work at National Jewish Health, and uncouple the effort and outcomes from emotion. Emotions are powerful, but they also often pull us away from the flow state. If a basketball player is all wrapped up in their emotions, they will likely not sink that buzzer shot. The golfer will not sink that put. The intensivist may not get the airway on the first pass. Getting too wrapped up in emotions (rather than acknowledging their presence) takes us out of flow.

Leadership work is internal work. Let the work continue. The flow state is not something we experience all the time. However, it remains a goal in training, in daily work, in sport, art and in life. And now, after 3 days at Conversation, my intention is to put this back into my daily practice.

We co-create our shared experience through conversation.

What shall we create today?

Artist: Ken Hubbell, co-created at Conversation 22

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Patricia George

Patricia George

Physician, athlete, and lover of the outdoors. Seeking to understand how we manifest our best selves. Inspired by hope. Opinions are my own.