DIRTBAG BOOKCLUB: reviewing THE FLOW by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

We know it because we live it. It’s that zen feeling on the River, required by all solid boaters to survive the challenges of the upper classes of rapids. Its that state of consciousness where we are at our best: fully engaged, strong and alert, possessed of effortless control, with all cares of past and future wiped clear and the NOW omnipresent. It is the essence of deep enjoyment, and the hook on the line that makes us irrevocably dirtbag paddlers for life. It is THE FLOW.

This book isn’t a self-help manual (YAAWWN…) but rather an introduction to the research of flow, states of optimal experience. The goal is to inform the reader and provide the tools by which we can control, rather than leave to chance, the factors that lead to flow by setting up appropriate challenges – “tasks that are neither too difficult nor too simple for our abilities” – and thereby improve the quality of our experiences , and thus our LIVES. The pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of the Flow State… Something every paddler knows on an intrinsic, instinctual level. This book can help heighten that awareness and bring it to the forefront. 
Published 25 years ago, it’s our favorite type of book here at DBP: the kind of best seller found in the paperback section of your local resale shop for a buck. Sometimes campy, sometimes lucid, always provocative, FLOW will get you thinking about your next great IT moment, and get you hungry to put down the book, pick up the paddle, and experience your peak on The River. 

“…One of the most interesting examples of how the phenomenon of flow appeared to thinkers of earlier times is the concept of YU referred to about 2300 years ago in the writings of the Taoist scholar Chuang Tzu. YU is a synonym for the right way of following the path, or TAO: it has been translated into English as “wandering”; as “walking without touching the ground”; or as “swimming,” “flying,” and “flowing.” Chuang Tzu believed that to YU was the proper way to live – without concern for external rewards, spontaneously, with total commitment – in short, as a total auto relic experience…” (Editor’s note: most definitely DIRTBAG!!) 
“…The phenomenology of enjoyment has eight major components. When people reflect on how it feels when their experience is most positive, they mention at least one, and often all, of the following. First, the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing. Second, we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing. Third and fourth, the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback. Fifth, one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life. Sixth, enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions. Seventh, concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over. Finally, the sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours. The combination of all these elements causes a sense of deep enjoyment that is so rewarding people feel that expending a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it…”   
“…Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times – although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind I stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we MAKE happen… 
     Such experiences are not necessarily pleasant at the time they occur. The swimmer’s muscles might have ached during his most memorable race, his lungs might have felt like exploding, and he might have been dizzy with fatigue – yet these could have been the best moments of his life. Getting control of life is never easy, and sometimes it can be definitely painful. But in the long run optimal experiences add up to a sense of mastery – or perhaps better, a sense of participation in determining the content of life – that comes as close to what is usually meant by happiness as anything else we can conceivably imagine…”

Of course, we’d rather be paddling than swimming, but you get the idea. We’re all in between WALLACES… Anyhow, check out the book, and gain control of your FLOW. Cheers! 

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