The last line of "The Eddy" (post 1A) is: "The sudden connection catches me like the circling stream and dissolves me in Life's great flow."
What kind of flow is this, and does it have anything to do with Dinesen's idea about freedom in this month's post 1B?
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." This seems similar to the sense of flow I experienced spinning gently in the eddy—harmoniously ordered, wanting to pursue what I was doing—but there are other aspects to Csikszentmihalyi's 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 were absent from my experience with birds, water, and otters in the eddy, especially concentration and goal-directed skills. In fact, drifting in the dinghy I felt "out of hopes and plans." Rather than concentrating on anything (like sanding that deck!), my attention was open and diffuse. It felt more like what Arthur Koestler describes in his autobiography The Invisible Writing as being "dissolved in the universal pool."
Koestler's experience with feeling dissolved in something greater came under dramatic circumstances. In 1937, he was a journalist, arrested 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."
To me, being dissolved this way in Life's greater flow brings Isak Dinesen's sense of "infinite freedom," where "destinies are made round you" (including your own), yet what contains you is so all-encompassing that "it is none of your concern.”
pp. 6 and 71 in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (NY: HarperPerennial, 1991)
pp. 428-430 in The Invisible Writing by Arthur Koestler
(NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1954, 1969)
p. 88 in Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
(NY: Vintage Books, Random House, 1972)
Have you encountered any ideas about flow, freedom, or Being that you would like to add to this conversation?
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!