Find Your Flow, Find Your Purpose
I remember the first time I experienced being in a state of flow- all I wanted to do was replicate that feeling again and again. I felt so good, it felt so good, and in that moment everything else disappeared.
What is flow?
Flow is an altered state of mind in which the prefrontal cortex actually shuts down. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for our ability to engage in critical thought and keep time. It also houses our inner critic and our sense of being a separate self. In flow we are able to expand and dissolve our egos enough to feel the way life is really connected. All things rely on one another, inter-being (a term lovingly used by Buddhist meditation leader Thich Nhat Hahn) is a reality. From this vantage point, everything is harmonious and effortless.
Much like in a state of deep meditation, when we enter a state of flow we are also able to experience timelessness. We are fully present and fully immersed in the pure and deep moment of Now. This is partly because chemically focused neurotransmitters fire out in the brain and electrically we enter an almost gamma frequency. So time perception slows down, and we can dodge (metaphoric) bullets like Keanu Reeves’ character Neo in the movie The Matrix.
Many people chase after a state of flow, trying dangerous activities and substances that offer a temporary feeling of presence and joy. The feeling is rightly desirable; we receive satisfaction in the moment and become happier, more connected people. However, the path that guides you to that state will determine its quality, duration and impact in a significant way. Healthy ways to experience flow can be through meditation, swimming, gardening, writing, dancing, good conversation, painting, singing, building, or hiking.
Anyone can achieve a sustainable and rich state of flow when approached in a mindful, conscious and joyful way. I know writers, artists, athletes and business people who are so passionate about their purpose that they can regularly drop in to this altered state of mind when engaged with their work. Flow happens when you are so in the moment and so focused that the mind simply follows.
Flow in purpose:
So, how do we cultivate more flow in our lives? Steven Kotler, director of research at the ‘Flow Genome Project’, recommends stacking motivators and exploring curiosities. Find out what drives and inspires you, so you can give birth to a passion and from there convert that passion into a purpose. Your purpose is something that serves the greater good, that changes the “I” experience of flow into “We”. It gives meaning and sense to a cause that makes us better collectively. At Google they call this ‘Massive Transformative Purpose’ (Google’s MTP is to gather all the world’s information).
Finding your flow (purpose, curiosity, values):
Have you ever wondered about your purpose? In the yoga tradition, this is called finding your Dharma. Your Dharma, your purpose, is your unique contribution to the world. Something that enlivens you, but also serves the others. If you’re not sure what your purpose is, begin by considering your Passion.
In order to reconnect to or discover new passions, notice what makes you curious about life. What sparks your curiosity? What tickles your intellect and fills up your heart? What makes you want to learn more and do better? What inspires you to keep going on rough days? Once you identify your curiosity, think of how you can align these passions towards something bigger. How can your passion involve community and help transform the world? This is where you will find your purpose.
It is important to align your inner motivations and values in order to succeed. Reflect on your values regularly and recognize if you have conflicting values as you work towards a goal. Keep going and you’ll find that what started as your passion suddenly grows and has the potential to massively transform the world. Your flow becomes a positive force, a ripple of good and beauty and truth that uplifts and inspires others to greatness.