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Thread: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

  1. #1

    Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    Does anyone know anything about this guy? It seems like he spent most of his career doing research about something he calls "flow". Not exactly Zen, but there are some ideas that sound very familiar!

    Gassho,
    Pontus

    From Wikipedia:
    "In his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csíkszentmihályi outlines his theory that people are most happy when they are in a state of flow— a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter (Csikszentmihalyi,1990). The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove. The flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing. This is a feeling everyone has at times, characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored.

    In an interview with Wired magazine, Csíkszentmihályi described flow as "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."

    To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results.

    The flow state also implies a kind of focused attention, and indeed, it has been noted that mindfulness, meditation, yoga, the Alexander Technique, and martial arts seem to improve a person's capacity for flow. Among other benefits, all of these activities train and improve attention.

    In short, flow could be described as a state where attention, motivation, and the situation meet, resulting in a kind of productive harmony or feedback."

  2. #2
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    Pontus,

    I studied him in college along with a fellow named Howard Gardner. I also took a class in grad school with Edward Deci where Csíkszentmihályi's theories were discussed and Deci writes extensively about intrinsic motivation.

    Now, I can't remember a lot of specifics (another lifetime as a prospective academic), but suffice it to say I can understand where you would make the connection. I am quite certain reading his works and those of the other two fellows I mentioned ultimately led me here.

    So, I will say thank you to all three.

    Gassho,
    Dosho

  3. #3
    Senior Member Marek's Avatar
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    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    Hi Pontus,

    I've read his book long time ago and I agree with you about similarities but on the other hand it was strange for me that He actually didn't make any reference to Zen.I don't remember did He even mention about any kind of meditation.

    I mean He didn't have to do such references but similarities seems to be obvious.

  4. #4
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    It's a brilliant book. I read it about 20 years ago. It's not about meditation, but rather the absorption we have when we are doing something so intensely that nothing can distract. It points out that the "flow" state is something that can be cultivated.

  5. #5

    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    Thanks for the replies guys!

    I do wonder if he thinks he really invented the wheel or if he just doesn't want to be open with the fact that he's getting cred for something that was already well known a couple of thousand years ago! :wink:

    It would be interesting to read his book, just to get a completely different perspective on 'being in the flow'!

    Gassho,
    Pontus

  6. #6

    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    If I recall correctly, his work was discussed in "the Art of Happiness at Work"

  7. #7

    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results.
    This is where I disagree. There is a thousand ways to place a flower.

    Or strum a chord.

    Gassho

    W

  8. #8

    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    When athletes are in the zone or in the flow, I think there are actual chemical changes in the brain such as the release of endorphins which produce heightened. Sensory awareness. This state of action can seem close to perfection in the context of the sport. From a zen perspective it would be like seeing reality and acting correctly.

    Who is that masked man? Or woman?

  9. #9
    Senior Member Amelia's Avatar
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    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    Quote Originally Posted by Rich
    When athletes are in the zone or in the flow, I think there are actual chemical changes in the brain such as the release of endorphins which produce heightened. Sensory awareness...
    This is interesting because I get an heightened sense of awareness from watching videos that are intended to induce ASMR, which I experience. Some have wondered if the tingling of the head that one experiences with ASMR is endorphin release.

  10. #10

    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    Let me expand on my post from this morning. Whether apathy arises or not, we sit with. Part of our practice is doing things we don't want to do, and thus hopefully finding enjoyment in doing them. Why do those monks scrub the floor everyday, day in and day out? So, we are not really looking for a state of flow, a challenge, or less of a challenge. We do what we do, when we do what we do, or when we have to or should.

    So, placing a flower, is neither a challenge, nor less of a challenge, it's perfectly what it is. Continue.



    Gassho

    W

  11. #11

    Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    Yes, Will, I agree.
    And I don't agree that you need a goal. In my experience, the activity is enough, no goal needed.

    Gassho,
    Pontus

  12. #12
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    Quote Originally Posted by Omoi Otoshi
    Thanks for the replies guys!

    I do wonder if he thinks he really invented the wheel or if he just doesn't want to be open with the fact that he's getting cred for something that was already well known a couple of thousand years ago! :wink:
    I think his was the first scientific examination of this phenomenon. He doesn't claim to invent anything; this isn't a self-help book but a scientific book (though written for laypeople).

  13. #13

    Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    But if it's a scientific investigation of something that has been well explored in Zen and other traditions, then you'd expect some investigation of and references to these traditions!

    But I'm tempted to read this book just to get a researcher and psychologist's view on this state/sensation of flow and its relationship to happiness!

    Thank,
    Pontus

  14. #14
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    Quote Originally Posted by Omoi Otoshi
    But if it's a scientific investigation of something that has been well explored in Zen and other traditions, then you'd expect some investigation of and references to these traditions!

    But I'm tempted to read this book just to get a researcher and psychologist's view on this state/sensation of flow and its relationship to happiness!

    Thank,
    Pontus
    Unfortunately, I don't have the book any more to be able to look at at and tell you what's in it. Coincidentally, my son showed me a list of books he was interested in a few months ago, and that was one of them, so I sent it to him.

    Has the concept of flow - when doing things, not when sitting - been explored in Zen? There is certainly a tradition of "mindfulness" in other Buddhist schools, which comes close to what he writes about, but I recall him coming at it from the other way, the involuntary flow state that arises when we do something that interests us.

    Also, this is an old book - relatively. It's at least 20 years old, and it was groundbreaking at the time. These were the "pre-neuroscience" days, pre-MRI and fMRI. His book seems to have been published in 1990, as best I can tell, but it was based on research done long before that, according to the Wikipedia article.

    I have to admit, I am often in a flow state when I write. I don't seek it out, but it just happens naturally. I've never attempted to cultivate it, and I'm not sure it's necessarily useful to do so. Perhaps what is important is to simply let it happen and let things go on their own from there.

  15. #15

    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    I haven't read any of his work, so I really shouldn't comment!

    But it seems to me that that he is describing an experience of complete suchness or even light samadhi, in which there is merging of awareness and activity, the mind is completely undistracted by discursive thoughts, ego/self-consciousness is falling away, you are free of negativity and anxiety, there is complete control, you act with full confidence, adapt without thinking, carry out tasks without effort, the body and mind functioning naturally, as one etc. That is not all of Zen, that would be to diminish Zen buddhism, but different schools of religion, philosophy and meditation have explored these aspects of flow pretty extensively, but in different terms, wouldn't you agree?

    Or maybe I'm just reading far too much into this concept of flow! :roll:
    That happens easily! :lol:

    Gassho,
    Pontus

  16. #16

    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    I don't know a great deal of his writings, but I do recall reading something of his about creativity and the unfettered flow that is required to be truly creative. It certainly relates to zen discussions of not-trying-but-doing. Whatever I read contained a lot of interviews with folks from a variety of creative fields and nearly all of them stated some variation of one cannot intentionally be creative, but one practices skills until they are 2nd nature and thereby transcends the need to intentionally call upon those skills. They become imbedded in our lives. Then, when the conditions are right, we simply create--without effort, without intent, without meta-awareness that we are now creating. In sports it's sometimes called "the zone." In jazz, it's being "on." I'm sure there are other informal names in other fields, too.

    As it relates to zen, my take is that immersion in daily life is "the zone," the place where we non-intentionally utilize the practice of shikantaza to create the "now."

    I may be mis-remembering. I'll see if I can find his book in all of my mess.

    Thanks for bringing him up, Pontus.

    Eika

  17. #17

    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    "In his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csíkszentmihályi outlines his theory that people are most happy when they are in a state of flow— a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter (Csikszentmihalyi,1990). The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove.
    I would just drop this in, my view.

    I believe that the "in the Zone" absorption is but "a single tool on the mutli-faceted Zen toolbelt", not 'the only one. In other words, people sometime think that "the key point of Zen" is to attain the ability to be such "totally absorbed in the groove" way all the time, in all activites, non-stop, whatever it is. I believe ... not so. Rather. 'tis one way of being that we can learn to access. Good for martial artists, calligraphers, Oryoki eating, dancers, pianists and the like (when martial arting, calligraphing, Oryokiing, dancing and playing and the like) ... but just one way of being. Not the only way, or the only aspect of this practice.

    Frankly, to be that way all the time, in every situation, would be to become something of a robot or machine, deprived of the richness of many other ways of experiencing life.

    It is one of those mental states that we can put back on the toolbelt when not called for, and at other times in life. Heck, sometimes we Oryoki with full absorption and unity ... sometimes we just grab a sandwich, switch on the Ipod and read the sports paper while thinking about getting the car an oil change.

    Gassho, J

  18. #18

    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    Amazing coincidence. I had read (some of) this book just last month. A friend of mine who is involved in ZMM (leads shakuhachi retreats there in the summer) recommended it, and so I thought it'd be worth a read. I bought it on Kindle and ended up stopping about 1/3 the way through. It wasn't that it was 'bad', just felt that it wasn't worth my time. It's kind of one of those books that are interesting to read, but I know as I'm reading it that I'll take little away from it. My critical mind creeps in and dissects every phrase. That being said, please do not be hindered by my opinion if you want to give it a look. Just wasn't for me...I have a bookshelf of books I've gathered over the years waiting to be read. Interesting topic however.

    Gassho,

    Dokan

  19. #19

    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I believe that the "in the Zone" absorption is but "a single tool on the mutli-faceted Zen toolbelt", not 'the only one. In other words, people sometime think that "the key point of Zen" is to attain the ability to be such "totally absorbed in the groove" way all the time, in all activites, non-stop, whatever it is. I believe ... not so. Rather. 'tis one way of being that we can learn to access. Good for martial artists, calligraphers, Oryoki eating, dancers, pianists and the like (when martial arting, calligraphing, Oryokiing, dancing and playing and the like) ... but just one way of being. Not the only way, or the only aspect of this practice.
    Quote Originally Posted by Omoi otoshi
    That is not all of Zen, that would be to diminish Zen buddhism
    Thank you Jundo, I very much agree!
    It's like expecting to live all of your life in samadhi, wishing it was so. I have heard of a Roshi who said that if he could only live one day of his life without leaving samadhi, then he would be happy. That's dukkha, in my opinion. But very human, very touching. Even though you may manage to increase the amount of time you're in the zone and feel untouchable by dukkha, eventually you will drop out of it and feel miserable with your crappy life, longing to be back in the zone, just like a heroin addict coming off a high. No, I believe more in no gain - no pain, just accepting the wonder of what is, as it is. Still, I think those moments of one-pointedness are an important part of life, if seen for what they are, just one state of mind among others, wonderful but impermanent, natural but not the goal of practice or life, nothing to be fetished as the truth and taken refuge in.

    Gassho,
    Pontus

  20. #20
    Senior Member Hoyu's Avatar
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    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    Jundo wrote:
    sometimes we Oryoki with full absorption and unity ... sometimes we just grab a sandwich, switch on the Ipod and read the sports paper while thinking about getting the car an oil change.

    _/_

  21. #21

    Re: Csíkszentmihályi - Flow

    late to the party as usual. this "flow" sounds rather static to these ears.

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