In The Invisible Writing, the second volume of his autobiography, journalist and novelist Arthur Koestler describes being "dissolved in the universal pool." This experience came under dramatic circumstances.
at Koestler's experience with feeling dissolved in something greater than his own life came in 1937. He was a journalist, arrested at a friend's home by Franco's troops and held as a political prisoner during the Spanish Civil War.
"I was standing at the recessed window of cell No. 40," he writes. With a piece of iron-spring extracted from the wire mattress, he was scratching mathematical formulae on the wall and recalling a proof that "had always filled me with a deep satisfaction that was aesthetic rather than intellectual. Now, as I recalled the method and scratched the symbols on the wall, . . . I suddenly understood the reason for this enchantment: the scribbled symbols on the wall represented one of the rare cases where a meaningful and comprehensive statement about the infinite is arrived at by precise and finite means. . . . The significance of this swept over me like a wave. . . . I must have stood there for some minutes, entranced, with a wordless awareness that 'this is perfect — perfect'; until I noticed some slight mental discomfort nagging at the back of my mind. . . . Then I remembered the nature of that irrelevant annoyance: I was, of course, in prison and might be shot. But this was immediately answered by a feeling whose verbal translation would be: 'So what? is that all? have you got nothing more serious to worry about?' — an answer so spontaneous, fresh and amused as if the intruding annoyance had been the loss of a collar-stud. Then I was floating on my back in a river of peace, under bridges of silence. It came from nowhere and flowed nowhere. Then there was no river and no I. The I had ceased to exist."
For me, being dissolved this way in Life's greater flow is what brings Isak Dinesen's sense of "infinite freedom," where "destinies are made round you" (including your own), while all the time what contains you is so all-encompassing that "it is none of your concern.”
pp. 428-430 in The Invisible Writing by Arthur Koestler
(NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1954, 1969)
Have you encountered any ideas about flow, freedom, or Being that you would like to add to this conversation?
1B. Flow and Freedom
In the previous post, Isak Dinesen wrote of the "enrichment and pleasure" she felt in dreams where "all things are brought together" for a dreamer "who has got nothing to do" with creating it. A quite different sort of freedom is described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
In the early 1990s, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi published a book called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. In his first chapter, he says, "'Flow' is the way people describe their state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered, and they want to pursue whatever they are doing for its own sake." Perhaps there is some connection here with what Dinesen feels in her dreams and the African night. But as he goes on, Csikszentmihalyi identifies other aspects of creative flow that are different, as well.
In his chapter called "The Conditions of Flow," he lists common characteristics mentioned when people talk about flow: "A sense that one's skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound action system that provides clear clues as to how well one is performing. Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems."
Many of those features are absent from important aspects of flow that I have experienced, especially when surrounded by birds, water, and trees outside. When I feel "in the flow" in nature--for example, drifting in a rowboat in the wide world of wind and water--I feel that hopes and plans drop away. Rather than concentrating on anything (like finishing a project), my attention is open and diffuse. Problems become irrelevant, not from intense concentration, but rather from absorption by a world much larger than mere human concerns.
In its connection with concentration and goal-directed skills, perhaps creative flow is different from the freedom of Dinesen's dreams and from another kind described by journalist and novelist Arthur Koestler, presented below as an addendum to this post.
pp. 6 and 71 in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (NY: HarperPerennial, 1991)
p. 88 in Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
(NY: Vintage Books, Random House, 1972)
What do you think: Does Csikszentmihalyi's flow have anything to do with Dinesen's idea about freedom in this month's post 1A?
Any connection to your own experiences of flow?
As a reader, I like essays and novels that are informed by ideas. Annie Dillard. Michael Ondaatje. I am hoping here to join others who feel the same. I look forward to thoughtful conversations!