Sunday, January 6, 2008


Human happiness has been described throughout history by shamans, philosophers, artists, poets and psychologists. One man, whose name I cannot begin to pronounce, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has expressed it as Flow, the joy of complete engagement. Runners sometimes refer to it as “the runner’s high”, and the scientifically-bent will tell you all about the endorphins, anandamines, etc. The beauty of Mr. C’s work is that he describes how we can tap into Flow within our regular life and its activities. I came across his work in reading Playing in the Zone: Exploring the Spiritual Dimensions of Sport by Andrew Cooper (another Oaklander).

In my experience, I have found Flow out in nature hiking or running on trails. As described by Mr. C himself, which perfectly describes running in the mountains, the key elements of Flow are:
· The experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing.
· We must be able to concentrate on what we are doing.
· The concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and immediate feedback.
· We act with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life.
· Enjoyable experiences allow us to exercise a sense of control over our actions.
· Concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over.
· The sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours.
When you ask someone why they run 100 miles through vast terrain and the dark night, battling a wide range of emotions and setbacks, you will get a colorful panoply of explanations and reasons. Some of them are funny, some just incomprehensible. Yet if you’ve experienced Flow in your life, you’ll have a sense of what it is to be full of the long-distance runners' joy. Even if blisters bark at you, your stomach growls, and your legs ache, it's joyful. What you find when running immense distances is a satisfying sense of yourself, who you are, and what you can accomplish. You experience your small triumphs and a human body's limits -- and an immeasurable joy that in the big, vast world you are a tiny miracle in motion.

For more on Flow you can read Mr. C's small book Finding Flow or The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Additionally, Endurance Planet has a short, informative mp3 audio on Flow.

There's even an online, Flash-based computer game based on the Flow concepts. I've tried it but I just can't seem to get my heart-rate up when playing. Your Flow may vary.

1 comment:

Carey said...

Great post on Flow and relating it to the sport of ultra-running. Rest that ankle up for HURT; mine was all bruised this morning so I wisely took the day off even though we had temps in the 70's. Love the blog; I'll be adding it to my favorites.
Good luck at HURT,