We all know what it feels like to be “in the zone,” that feeling of total absorption in a task where we allow our spirit to guide us as time flies by.
As a writer and artist, I especially experience this feeling when I write poetry.
The Baha’i teachings describe this flow of creative energy as “the light of the Sun of Truth:”
All Art is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When this light shines through the mind of a musician, it manifests itself in beautiful harmonies. Again, shining through the mind of a poet, it is seen in fine poetry and poetic prose. When the light of the Sun of Truth inspires the mind of a painter, he produces marvellous pictures. These gifts are fulfilling their highest purpose when showing forth the praise of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, as quoted by Lady Blomfield in The Chosen Highway, p. 167.
When I get inspired, words immediately flow through my mind in rhyme, and I have to rush to get a pen so I don’t miss recording a single word. What can last for hours only feels like a few minutes as each phrase encapsulates a myriad of reflections, experiences, and emotions. Amazingly, words can reflect what the heart has stored. In this state, I can’t stop writing until I relieve my mind and my heart finds peace.
I feel indescribable gratitude for being granted the gift of poetry. It has healed and soothed me in more ways than I can count – and it has taught me to go with the flow.
I once read an anonymous quote that described the feeling: “If you are quiet enough, you will hear the flow of the universe. You will feel its rhythm. Go with this flow. Happiness lies ahead. Meditation is key.”
Positive psychologists have determined that this sense of flow creates one of the key components of happiness and total well-being.
Flow, described as “a state of optimal experience” by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, helps us answer the pressing question “What do you need in order to live a happier life?” He began studying people, such as dancers and artists, who engaged in activities they loved. He discovered that each experience involved flow, often referred to as total engagement or “being in the zone.”
Positive psychologists have found that flow benefits our personal growth, achievement, physical health, happiness, and self-esteem. In her book Positive Psychology, psychologist Bridget Grenville Cleave explained that in order to experience flow, you need to feel completely absorbed by and at one with what you’re doing. Your goals become clear and fear of failure dissipates as you lose track of time, because what you’re doing intrinsically rewards you.
Unfortunately, though, we live in a society that emphasizes choosing a career because of its extrinsic rather than intrinsic rewards. According to Gallup, only 34% of workers in the U.S. feel fully engaged in their tasks, and feel enthusiastic and committed to what they do.
I don’t believe that we’re all designed to work as robots, only pursuing what the media tells us to pursue as we feel forced to monotonously complete a task in a state of dread, boredom, and/or apathy, constantly counting down to the moment when it is socially acceptable to make our exit. As long as we continue to leave our time to experience joy for the future, we will never be able to experience it in the present. How is that living? How is that freedom?
The Baha’i writings ask us to endeavor to earn our livelihoods with that true inner calling we each experience:
O My Servant! The best of men are they that earn a livelihood by their calling and spend upon themselves and upon their kindred for the love of God, the Lord of all worlds. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 51.
I believe that flow, or engagement, represents an essentially spiritual feeling that only our true calling can give us. The Baha’i teachings say we each have a spiritual purpose, and we all can offer our special talents to the world that feel natural and enjoyable. I believe that we are all designed to contribute to the betterment of the world, and the sooner we allow ourselves to pursue what truly engages us and enriches the lives of others, the more productive we will be and the happier our lives—and those of the people around us—will become.
We don’t all experience flow from doing the same thing, but we all experience it from doing something. So, have you gone with the flow?