A state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand. A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove.
This Wikipedia definition of Csíkszentmihályi’s flow will do. I recommend his book on it to anyone interested in “the meaning of life” non-fiction lineage (Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Alan Watts’ This is It). There’s a lot more science to this gem though. If I’m not mistaken, over the course of these pages he implies that for all our advancement as a species, there’s an untapped potential in our own experience of the mind. Who could disagree! All you have to do is get on the highway at rush hour — at any hour — to know that our failures to experience optimal states of mind don’t just create problems for ourselves, they create problems for everyone around us. And not just other people, but for other organisms of any kind. Will a society of flowing individuals always bring about good things, for all? What if one’s man’s flow is another mans … ?
Something, by the way, that bothers me about flow theory, even though I’m sure Csíkszentmihályi covers this with some indisputable neuroscience, is the way it seems to draw a line between us and our chitinous, scaled, fury, haired and feathery friends (once again, like we always go and do). I mean, come on! Have you ever seen wild animals in their natural habitat? They’re in the groove. Even their supposed anxiety about who’s going to eat them (a theory of mind we project onto them anyway, no?) has a groove of its own. They are in the zone. Now, what if their entire niche gets thrown out of whack? Around these parts, I just don’t see that dividing line between us and them, on the level of space and behavior I might add. So this is a real question. And you know what — if there’s ever a time when they seem distracted, a little self-conscious and doing something not necessarily for either their own or anyone’s good (the opposite of flow perhaps), it’s when they’ve crossed a line, and when they’re acting like us.
Just this morning, a raccoon was spotted pacing back and forth in front of the door to a coffee shop, as if waiting for the line to get smaller or something. He didn’t seem to know whether he was coming or going. In the same hour, a hawk of confused motivation it seemed, perched itself on one of the gables of the art supply store across the street from there. He couldn’t stop looking down into the window, obsessing over a reproduction of Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring. And I swear I saw a fisher cat frustratingly yanking at a garden hose in the neighbor’s yard yesterday. It’s like they just don’t see how they can mind their own business anymore, and have completely given in to our “higher states” of conciouseness themselves. That hose, all twisted and dirty as is the usual, was putting up quite a fight I might add.
Lost and confused souls are they? Or harbingers? I shudder to think about the beavers, minks and coyotes of this lost, flowless zone.