Finding the Flow


By Katharine Weber

Most artists I know, whether they are novelists, musicians, or painters, talk about "flow" as a way of characterizing the sense of being in a state of total focus and relaxation and engagement with the artistic process. We do our best work when we are in the flow, when we lose track of time and the rest of the world recedes from consciousness while we tap our deepest resources of creativity and heart-mind connection to produce our art. We have all experienced these moments from time to time. But few of us give ourselves permission to find the flow on a regular and consistent basis in order to pursue our artistic passions.

When you think about it, "flow" is really just the right word for this deeply engaged state of being. It's a word that has various related definitions, from "to move or run smoothly with unbroken continuity," "to pour forth," "to circulate, as the blood in the body," "to proceed steadily and easily," "to exhibit a smooth or graceful continuity," to "to hang loosely and gracefully," "to abound or teem," or "a continuous output or outpouring."

So what can we do to allow ourselves to experience this abundance, this graceful outpouring of our own joyful creativity? Many people who come to STAR hope to find this missing piece as part of a life lived more intentionally and consciously. They have long harbored an intention concerning a novel or memoir they want to write, or they want to paint, or they want to learn to play the piano, or take voice lessons, or learn a new language. Sometimes it is a new path, and sometimes it is a desire to return to one of these artistic pursuits that was abandoned (or taken away) long ago.

But there is always a reasonable explanation, an obstacle in the path. Who has the time? Who has the money? Work is so demanding. There is no good time or place to do this at home, anyway. The family needs come first. And so the novel or memoir remains unwritten, the painting supplies remain untouched, the music or language lessons remain untaken. The artistic Essence is neglected.

Finding the flow requires sacrifice. A very specific sacrifice. If there is something like writing or painting that you mean to be doing, if there is an artistic pursuit you really want to be engaged in and have as part of your life, but somehow it still isn't in your life at all, and you are serious about having it in your life, then the time has come for you to give something up. If you are going to get to this state of artistic engagement and flow you want, you will have to make a very specific sacrifice.

Yes, you may need to schedule child care or find the money for classes or supplies by cutting back on other expenses, and you may need to make the time by eliminating some of the hours you spend surfing the web or watching television or doing whatever you do with your time each day, even though you know that zoning out (zoning out is the opposite of finding the flow) while channel-surfing isn't nearly as satisfying as your dream of writing that novel or learning watercolor technique. You know what you need to do to reorganize your time and possibly your living space. Some of those things are probably necessary if you are going to take this step at long last.

These things are necessary but are not sufficient. There is another sacrifice you will have to make. It's a big one. And not everyone, despite genuine intentions, is really prepared to give this up.

Are you ready to give up not writing (or not painting, or not singing and dancing, whatever your artistic dream might be)? What does spending so much time not writing do for you? Can you give it up? Has not writing become such an ingrained habit that it defines you in some way? What would it be like to not not write? I'm quite serious. Can you really give it up? Can you allow yourself to not not paint? If you have spent years of your life not writing, or not painting—not pursuing your artistic heart's desire—can you envisage your life without this, without the not writing or not painting or not whatever it is?

If you can give that up, if you can make this incredibly challenging sacrifice, then you will be able, at last, to engage fully with your artistic spirit and express your Essence. Making this sacrifice, making the commitment to yourself that the time has come to give up not doing it, in order to begin to do it—this is your gift, in both senses of the word. It is your essential artistic nature that you will at last allow to flourish and grow, and it is literally a gift, a present (another word with two marvelous meanings!) that only you, and nobody else, can give to yourself. You can take this first and most crucial step towards finding the flow.