Flow State: Becoming a Channel for Inspiration.
In one way or another, every one of us has experienced that wonderful feeling of effortless activity.
Some people call it inspiration, some the flow state, and others still, refer to it as form of samadhi. All of these names are just clever descriptions of the exact same thing. Each one of them is touching on the feeling of being fully engaged and absorbed in what you are doing.
Maybe you felt it while you were splitting firewood or cleaning the house. Maybe it came while you were writing in your journal or cooking dinner for a bunch of friends. This state is available through every conceivable activity, but it requires a certain state of mind (or no-mind) in order to enter it.
All kinds of people have speculated about how and why we wind up entering these states, but very few have ever managed to unlock its secrets.
I personally believe the reason we can’t fully understand how to get there is because it is an ever-shifting surface that only allows brief moments of exploration. It’s like the bottom of a riverbed. There might be certain seasons that allow you get to know its basic shape, but as soon as the weather changes, so does the landscape.
This article isn’t intended to unlock the secrets of entering a flow state or to give tips on how to manipulate the terrain; this article is about describing what it actually feels like to be in one.
The reason I want to share this is because of the reaction I believe it will provoke. My belief is that by sharing my personal experience with inspiration, and by diving deep into the feelings that arose there, it will, in turn, stir up some sort of recognition of your own.
I see it like uncorking a bottle of some lovely and familiar fragrance. I’m pretty certain you will recognize it once it fills your nostrils, but you might not be able to remember its source. Well, in this case, you are the source!
The experience I want to share with you came from two separate activities that merged into one. The first was getting completely lost in play with my daughter, and the second was writing a song that was inspired by that intoxicating dose of playfulness. The fuel for the song definitely came from our interaction, but the actual state of absorption didn’t occur until I began writing.
I can’t really explain how this transition happened or why it took place when it did, and I honestly don’t care to. All I know is that the creative spirit possessed me and flowed through my body like an electrical current, and after it was gone, I had a fully formed song that deeply resonated with my experience.
This kind of creative burst doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it can feel very similar to reports of a religious experience.
It ruffles the feathers of complacency, and releases waves of hidden energy that push you beyond your normal limits. It enhances the senses, and at the same time, limits distractions, so that you can focus on the task at hand. It unlocks feelings of gratitude, and releases waves of appreciation that leave you feeling humbled and deeply cleansed.
The initial entry into these inspired states is often quite unremarkable though. In fact, it can be so subtle that you hardly even recognize the fact that you’re crossing a threshold. You sort of just start sinking into the activity, like a boat with a tiny leak, until you suddenly find yourself completely submerged. It’s often not until after you have been engaged for several hours that you notice the sensation of absorption.
This was certainly the case with my personal experience. I hardly even noticed the transition from play into songwriting. Due to that fact that the game we were playing involved singing random songs about all the things that were in front of us, I already had a guitar in hand and was warmed up from the silliness.
After a good hour of singing about the birds that made nests in the trees, and the ladybugs that crawled along the porch railing, I suddenly found myself fiddling around with a melody that I hadn’t played in months. Each note in the progression seemed to reflect my mood perfectly, and effortlessly captured the emotions that flittered about the scene.
Within a few minutes of messing around with it and reconnecting with the feeling, a verse randomly popped into my head. It was simple and unremarkable, but completely relevant to the events of the day. It went like this,
“Empty sky, a quiet mind. Clouds of thought dissolve in rhymes. Empty sky, a quiet mind.”
From this one innocuous line, I found myself diving headfirst into the process of writing a new song.
I was on fire with it. The more I played, the more ideas bubbled to the surface. The more I sang, the more connected I became with the lyrics. My head felt clear, and my voice felt strong. My fingers moved like liquid, and my breath came out like a whisper. Even my vocabulary seemed larger and more readily available.
The whole process was unbelievably effortless and deeply healing. It seemed to be reaching into some hidden chamber of my heart and releasing this long-forgotten song from the shackles of negligence. I wasn’t creating it, I was setting it free.
Before I knew it, the sun was starting to sink behind the trees and the color of the sky was beginning to soften. Several hours had passed since I began toying with that melody, but in that lapse of time something wonderful had taken place.
I had managed to tap into the deep reservoir of creative energy that sits at the base of all human experience, and was permitted to sprinkle a few of the nourishing drops upon the surface of my music.
What I walked away with was something of great personal worth, and it required almost nothing to attain it. I didn’t have to sweat or bleed of deprive myself in any way to bring it about, it was given to me as a gift. The only reason I can imagine for having received it in such a way is because of the state of emptiness I was dwelling in at the time. There was no me, and no thoughts to block the flow.
My personal identity was lost to the spirit of play, and thanks to this clarity, I became a channel for inspiration.
David Matters is a musician, writer, and host of the Creative Awakening Now podcast (a show dedicated to exploring the deeper elements of creativity, inspiration, and practice). His journey has traversed many unusual landscapes including hitchhiking around the country, touring in a bluegrass band, studying creative writing at Naropa University, and fathering the cutest little girl you have ever seen. His aim in life is to live beautifully and to encourage others to unleash their highest potential. You can check out his work at Creative Awakening Now.