I’m addicted to flow.
I’ve been chasing it since I was a wee gal, sitting in my Nanna’s tiny lounge room, watching her knitting needles clatter away. Not only was it mesmerizing to see her at work, but I also recognised her slightly altered state and wanted to have a turn. She was clicking away, completely immersed in the task at hand, but also far away. Her output matched her skills and before her grew a project she’d hatched with someone in mind (proof that she’d cared enough to spend the time making something from pretty much nothing.)
I could see her tuning out of parts of herself as she tuned right in to her creative side, with a healthy dose of muscle memory coming into play. Action and awareness melded into something that looked really satisfying and intoxicating. She did this seemingly effortlessly. It felt like an inaudible, comforting hum. I wanted in.
This kind of flow was not exclusive to my knitting Nanna, I instinctively knew. I assumed (with my usual optimism) that it was there for the taking, for anyone, if you were willing to trust yourself. It seemed to me all you needed was time, a (rough) plan/materials and the motivation to get going. Challenge (enthusiastically) accepted.
My own first experiences of this kind of flow were when I was pretty tiny. Painting. Messy pottery on a toy wheel in our backyard. Scissors and glue-ing. Colouring in. Zoning out in a hands-on way. It seems an easy, natural state for kids.
Later, as a teenager, I started writing (poems and journals and stories), and while it didn’t give me quite the same feeling of being awesomely in my body and out of my body simultaneously, I could feel there was something flowy waiting in the wings. I knew that sooner or later I would be able to just let the words tip out of me in their own way, without really thinking too much – and so I kept writing (for the rest of my life, so far) and tip they (now, daily) really do. It just took a bit of practice to bridge the flow/try gap.
The body issue didn’t escape me, either. Creativity was something all kinds of bodies could be part of. It was very democratic and accessible. It didn’t matter who you were, how you looked, how old you were, what you wore. If you tried and trusted, the parts of your body could work together like an amazing machine, cranking out whatever thing you wanted to make, in your own unique-to-you (often surprising) way. Each action had a reaction and I loved how logical and non-crazy that made my (sometimes) chaotic life feel.
To me this showed how powerful humans could be, if we only would take the chance, stick at it and trust ourselves.
It also proved that you could leave your mark on the world by making things and I wanted to leave bits of myself behind all over the place, as often as possible. (I’m still ambitiously/embarrassingly prolific like that. Soz.)
There’s something about this powerful creative flow force thingy that is a little bit like a drug. Right? Because it is. Yep.
For one, when we are doing something we love we’re riffing on dopamine – the feel-good hormone that you will not find on your wrong-side-of-the-tracks street corner, but have lurking within you for the taking. (It’s naturally released when we are enjoying something.)
In addition to this, the meditative state many creative experiences offer can ‘quiet the brain’, lower our heart rates, reduce blood pressure and reduce production of the stress hormone cortisol. Apparently flow gives us a heady cocktail of the natural good feels: norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin all come out to play. This all sounds excellent to me. Playtime for everyone!
Getting ourselves into this flow-ful state keeps creativity readily primed once the project is long-packed away. Science tells us that we stay primed for creativity well into the next day and so it follows that if we keep on flowing, inspiration will keep on growing. (*Runs to TM that phrase*)
The kinds of projects we take on – and achieve this flow from – are valuable for for all kinds of flowing reasons, but also because we are taking a punt on ourselves.
Practising self-belief and beginning something that sees much work/time/effort ahead fosters resilience, persistence and optimism. Making things for others – or with others – promotes connection, a sense of belonging and community. This all helps us hit the jackpot in the improved wellbeing and personal/creative growth stakes.
Wellbeing-wise, craft in general, but flow in particular apparently has the magical power of monopolizing our nervous system and shutting out the rest of the worries-of-the-world.
Flow researcher and all ’round genius Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains;
‘We can only process a certain amount of information at a time. That’s why you can’t listen and understand two people who are talking to you at once. So when someone starts creating, his existence outside that activity becomes “temporarily suspended.”
The feel-good, meditative powers of creating and creative flow – and their ability to help us suspend or switch off – have proven to help those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder to find moments of peace, to improve brain function in the elderly (thus keeping dementia at bay for longer) and to provide temporary relief to those suffering from chronic pain and other debilitating illnesses.
Meditative powers, healing powers… Let’s not forget the excellent equation of raw materials + skills + motivation + time = something we created that would otherwise not exist (often for someone else!) There’s a next-level kind of power and satisfaction in that. Let’s make all of the things!!
I’m obviously extremely pro-flow, and let’s face it, even the word flow is magical. It’s a bit like ‘flower’, right? Just add an ‘er’ and you’re good to go!
Flower – From late 14c. in English as “blossoming time,” also, figuratively, “prime of life, height of one’s glory or prosperity, state of anything that may be likened to the flowering state of a plant.” As “ he best, the most excellent; the best of its class or kind; embodiment of an ideal.”
May your creative flow mean ‘blossoming time’ for you. Know that not only can it take you somewhere special within yourself and connect you to others, it leaves a trail of crafty breadcrumbs behind you long after you are gone… proof that you were here and you cared enough to make things.
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