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slowing down to the speed of life

March 13, 2010

“Be Here Now”

Ram Dass

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”

Albert Einstein

I have just finished reading a book recommended to me by Lance Giroux of Allied Ronin (www.alliedronin.com). It is called Slowing Down to the Speed of Life – How to create a more peaceful, simpler life from the inside out by Richard Carlson & Joseph Bailey. Lance had suggested I read it during one of the Samurai Game workshops we ran together last year.

In the closing chapter the authors pose the following question:  What do these activities have in common?

  • Making love
  • Reading a thoughtful letter, or an exciting or emotional book
  • Rock climbing
  • Watching a moving film

The answer is that they are all activities in which it is possible to lose ourselves, to become so totally engrossed in the activity that we forget about everything else that is going on in our lives. In my mind it is the same concept of being in the ‘flow’ that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discusses in his book of the same name.

Depending on how you spend your day you could create another list of flow activities:

  • Writing a report in your area of interest and expertise
  • Editing together a video or audio track
  • Coordinating a response to an emergency
  • Developing a spreadsheet to manage complex data

Athletes and sportspeople will often speak of being “in the zone” – they are aware of everything on the court or field but don’t hear the crowd until the end of the game. You can be so engrossed in the book or the movie that you don’t hear people entering the room and speaking to you, so focused on your lover that you do not notice the passing of time. There is something about being in this state of flow, of being present that feeds us. Something that makes us want to return regularly to the activity to try to recapture the feeling.

Csikszentmihalyi says that we are at our most productive while we are in flow and that in our workplace we should avoid interruptions as it can take a while to get it back. Carlson and Bailey illustrate the same point by asking what the reader imagines the effect of the question “Have you seen my briefcase?” would be when asked by a lover in the middle of a particularly passionate period of lovemaking?

The flow is lost and we would struggle to get it back. We lose touch with the present and feel cut off from the joy we were feeling. In response to this feeling of loss of flow we buy shoes and harnesses so we can rock climb every weekend, we join the fire brigade or we hunt for the latest best-selling trilogy to keep us engrossed. We focus on the activities that we believe cause us to experience the feeling of flow.

In Slowing down the to Speed of Life a different view is offered – that the nature of the activity itself has very little to do with our experience of joy and of flow. Just think about the implications of that for a minute.

If the experience or activity is the cause of our feeling of flow then interruptions would have no impact. We could read the book one line at a time and still be engrossed by the story, or watch a film in thirty-second bites and still be moved to tears.

It is not the activity. Rather it is the attention that we bring to the activity.

The assertion is that for the activities listed in the original question “the more present we are, the more positive our feelings, the more joy and satisfaction we will experience and receive.

Where it really hit home for me was that the implication is that it doesn’t really matter what activity you are doing. If you can bring your attention to it, if you are able to ‘be here now’ you will be able to experience the same joy, the same nourishment that you get from your rock face, film, lover or book.

When applied to ‘boring’ routine tasks at work – joy; the difficult and argumentative customer – joy; the washing of a very dirty pot at the end of a very long day – joy!

From there it is apparently only a small step to Nirvana  – literally. All of the meditative practices that I have come across, and many of the religions, are directed towards being present in each moment, to finding God (in whatever form they might take for you) in each leaf, in the clouds in the sky or in the eyes of your beloved.

So it seems my friend Lance is right when he says that the biggest tip he can give you for getting the most out of a workshop (and life itself I suspect) is “to be here now.”

Nothing more is needed … but nothing less is required.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 16, 2010 7:21 am

    If you are interested in more information on ‘flow’ there is a great blog by Bruna Martinuzzi that I just came across: http://www.increaseyoureq.com/blog/?p=234

    In it there are some nice connections with the practice of Aikido and with George Leonard’s classic book “Mastery”

    Bruna also links to a TED talk by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi – you can find that here:

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