Archive for January 14th, 2010

We have all had the experience: moments of being 100% “on” and at the top of our game. Athletes certainly attest to these as the exhilarating moments when all the hard work and experience comes together to produce a very skilful and largely intuitive performance. This applies whatever the nature of the performance: sports, acting, dancing, singing, public speaking, drawing, writing, painting, sculpting, cooking, etc.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the books, Flow, and The Evolving Self, addresses this experience directly. “Flow” is synonymous with the peak experience, or the point of optimal performance. Arriving at that moment requires routine disciplined preparation over time held together by an unrelenting and resilient personal passion. After much dedicated practice, these special luminous moments arrive and we find oursleves running on auto-pilot and simply sailing through our diverse performances with uncommon mastery. Mind, body, and spirit all act in unison to produce a perfectly seamless, authentic and coherent presence.

I had such an experience today in facilitating a leadership development workshop on innovation. I was fully present, and engaging the group felt effortless. The words needed to frame the discussions and infuse the time with both playful energy and practical value arose as needed and required no struggle or reaching at all. We were in a dance together, and all the moving parts assumed their proper positions.

These moments of clarity and focus are epiphanies. They are the occasional taste that committed professionalism affords us of the enlightenment experience. These moments cannot be deliberately timed or manufactured. Instead, we have control only of preparation and persistent intention to reach the point of a more fully exercised sixth sense. Whatever our craft, these bursts of convergence and synchrony are the gifts of developed intuition.

The enemies of “flow” are negative self talk, doubt, lost confidence, self-reproach and self-deprecation. They contaminate the well of the soul and send these experiences into full retreat. The positive psychology movement invites us to engage with our work as small children approach their activities before the age of worry sets in, when the sense of being “just a kid”, too small to be of consequence, too young or inexperienced to feel self-assured becomes dominant.

We do well to study our experiences of “flow” when they arise to fine-tune our appreciation of them: looking at the matrix from which they arise, and the contents of consciousness just prior to their eruption on the scene when our actions feel as if they are guided by our better angels.

A major professor of mine, Dr. Nehemiah Zedek, started his medical career as a surgeon before switching his specialty to psychiatry, and then later, psychoanalysis. He related a story of being in combat serving as a medic that prompted his decision to instead apply himself to becoming an analyst.

A young soldier had been badly injured. Shrapnel had severed an artery. It was night-time in a desert in the Middle East. He rushed to the soldiers side and immediately realized there was little time to save his life. He had to stop the bleeding but to do so he needed light. The only light available, however, was that from a hovering helicopter directly overhead. The eerie illumination it provided actually didn’t help much as it was moving all about, and cast a glow that interfered with contrasts and made the entire scene even more surreal.

There was nothing to do but feel his way to the wound and inside of it. He knew he had one shot to stop the bleeding or the young soldier would die. In a moment of sudden inner calm and crystal clarity, time stopped and he felt with one hand, actually closed his eyes altogether, and with the other hand, took a grand leap of faith in his own gut-instincts, and hit the precise spot necessary to stop the hemorrhaging on the first try. From that mystical moment on, he vowed to leave surgery and dedicate his life to the study of mind in general, that made such a thing possible, and schizophrenia in particular.

I do wonder if we are sacrificing our peak experiences in being spread thin, in multi-tasking and looking for shortcut techniques, and not investing in the cultivation of deep expertise and the transcendent and intuitive Self. The enlightenment experience awaits us just around the corner.

  • Will we be present for it?
  • Will we recognize it when we see it?
  • Will we have prepared in that focused way that earns us the right and conditioning needed to abandon ourselves to it?

Peak experience is an eternity in a moment and reveals our sacred heritage.

Strange as it may seem, life becomes serene and enjoyable precisely when selfish pleasure and personal success are no longer the guiding goals. when the self loses itself in a transcendent purpose – be it to write great poetry, craft a beautiful piece of furniture, understand the movement of galaxies, or help children be happier – it becomes largely invulnerable to the fears ans setbacks of ordinary existence. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, The Evolving Self, 1993

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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