Updated: Jul 7
Lessons From a Waterfall
This picture looks so peaceful, the feeling is one of peace, but it's certainly not peaceful! Sat on the boulder 'noticing' as my form of meditation, I noticed just how loud the water was! I mean it’s really loud, thunderous even, yet walking up there it wasn't what I had 'noticed'. I was busy looking at the trees, listening to the birds, watching the movement of the water and bathing in the rich, lush green-ness all around me. My other senses had drowned out the sound of the water, it was there subconsciously, just background noise. When I stopped and realised how loud it was, it amazed me that I hadn't mentally registered it before.
It is a metaphor for life really. We can be so distracted by other things that something important could be shouting for our attention and we wouldn't really be aware.
Stop for one second and listen, listen to all the noise in your head,noises around you and within you, noise, noise, noise, it's no wonder we get overwhelmed and can’t think clearly.
The mind is busy and noisy, yet the body and soul whisper in comparison. To hear the whispers of the body and soul we may need to learn how to quieten the noise in the mind, to tame the torrent of thoughts, reducing the volume, removing the boulders so to speak, so that it becomes a steady quiet flow.
I believe this is why meditation in whatever form is so important, so we can sit with it all, notice the noise. I used to find (still do sometimes) that I had a number of expectations when it came to meditation; if I can't settle or if I’m focused but get no revolutionary insights then I get frustrated! We try to control and plan so much, even if consciously we don't think we do, we have been conditioned to have certain expectations. What if we could bring an acceptance of whatever happens or arises with a quality of love, compassion and a sense of curiosity for wherever we are right now.
“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go, they merely determine where you start.”– Nido Qubien
The irony of it is that control is an illusion, nothing is really in our control. We are very small parts of a far greater whole; Nature. If you're fortunate enough to spend time in nature, wild untamed areas of nature especially, you get a sense of that greater whole and the illusion that we're in control drops away.
Nothing stays the same, change is constant and it requires a lot of energy to feel like we're staying on top of things in the pursuit of happiness and success.
It can feel especially overwhelming when we are unexpectedly made aware that things are not in our control and that the rug can be pulled from beneath our feet at any time (Covid)
Is this the best use of our energy? Trying to hold onto something that's not really there? If we’re lucky it means we experience a constant amount of low level stress but for some it’s a constant state of high level stress - which all takes its toll on our mental, emotional and physical health. Bouncing back and forth, seeking or regretting, focussing on the future or the past,‘what-if’s’ or ‘if-only’s’ mean we miss the now, life happens in the present, that’s where we find the ‘flow state’.
Flow state is an optimal state of human consciousness and describes the moment of total absorption, when you become so focused on the task at hand that everything else falls away. The term 'flow' originated from the findings of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970’s.
It’s not necessarily challenges or difficulties that prevent us from experiencing a state of flow, happiness or success, I believe it’s the weight of multitasking. Trying to stay on top of so many things at once leads to a state of overwhelm, scattered attention and energy. Flow state can only be experienced when all our attention and energy is on one thing and actually even more likely if that one thing is slightly out of our comfort zone or slightly exceeds our skill set.
Csikszentmihalyi’s and the other scientists' research uncovered ten characteristics for flow state. Four of which are listed below are said to precede a flow state:
Being slightly out of your comfort zone. A challenge that slightly exceeds your skills set or experience. Enough to stretch you without breaking you!
Clear, immediately achievable goals.
Immediate feedback - closing the gap between cause and effect so it’s possible to adapt and change course as you go.
I think many of us feel trapped by the overload of responsibilities or commitments that we have to multi task.It takes courage and discomfort to say no or to let something go that we feel we should do. We might be able to get rid of one or two but most of us can't drop everything and live a life free from responsibilities and commitments. What we can do however is let go of the expectations and attachments we have to them. Get rid of ‘shoulds’, they only lead to resentment and drop the expectations that usually lead to disappointment or shame. Drop the labels that narrow our expression and inhibit our true nature and drop the worries that are often unnecessary, serving only to distract us from reality. These are like big boulders obstructing the flow of the river, multi tasking is like filling the river with lots of boulders, the more boulders there are, the more noise there is.
What are your big boulders blocking and restricting your life’s flow? What is preventing you from experiencing a ‘flow state’?
Herb Benson's research at Harvard led to the understanding of four stages of flow:
Struggle. It’s important to remember that flow starts with this unpleasant state.
Release. To get into the flow state we have to stop conscious thinking and tap into subconscious processing. This may require going for a walk, taking a shower, people or cloud watching for example.
Flow State. Stress leaves your system and is replaced by feel-good neurochemicals.
Recovery. At the end of the flow state recovery is critical. It would not be healthy to remain in a constant flow state. A crash always follows a high.
To be able to access flow states we have to learn to struggle and recover better. These are the challenging states that can increase our stress levels and block our ability to experience Flow.
There is no limit to the activities in which we can experience a flow state. For me recently I have experienced it walking in the Welsh mountains and wild swimming in the rivers, waterfalls and sea. When we use our breath with mindful attention to get better at the initial struggle, we are rewarded by flow. To be able to return to that state the next time I go for a walk or swim, I make sure I allow time for recovery; warmth, rest, stretching, refueling and rehydrating.
The inspiration for researching flow states for this month's Blog and class theme came to me whilst sitting on a boulder. Taking it all in; the sights, sounds, smells and textures, I was able to quieten the mind and access a flow state. The struggle was to be patient and to let the internal noise settle. The insights I received from that moment mirror the four stages of flow described above.
Mostly we are conditioned to seek knowledge outside of us, but in truth there is a wise sense of knowing instinctively within all of us. If we take the time to listen, let go of the ego, love and trust what arises, let it flow and see where it takes you.
"Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It is a way of entering into the quiet which is already there - buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day." C Wilson Meloncelli
What does this mean for our practice this month?
It means slowing down and only doing one thing at a time - with your mind fully focused on the task at hand!
On our mats we are cultivating more of a slow-flow practice. This allows us to be a witness to the noise inside, an opportunity to let go of judgements and expectations. There is no right or wrong only what feels good, but what's also just a little out of your comfort zone!
Focusing on the water element which is associated with clearing, cleansing and healing as we learn to go with the flow.
There will be additional Daily Dose meditation practices invoking the qualities of Lakshmi and journaling prompts to see what boulders are blocking your path, so that you can remove them or find a way to flow around them.