Flow State and Intuition

Flow State and Intuition

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

My young children and I were snowed in.

It was rare that my husband was out of town, but he had gone on a ski trip with friends.

I took this opportunity to start on a large painting to give him as a gift for Father’s Day.

The canvas was huge and, with him gone, I could set it up right in the middle of the living room.

His grandfather played a huge role in his life, and he passed his love of flying down to my husband.

So, I thought he would enjoy an image of him in front of the plane that they enjoyed flying in together.

What I had no way of knowing when I started the painting was that his grandfather would suddenly become very ill.

Sick enough that my husband came home from his trip early - turning around and flying to be with his grandfather the same day.

Now the painting took on new meaning and emotion.

It was helpful that my worry had somewhere to go - through my hands and onto the canvas.

I would paint for hours on end and late into the evening, losing track of time completely.

Every part of the airplane was finished, except for the all-important tail numbers.

This is the “legal name” of an aircraft.

I had known it.

And I forgot it.


At the moment, this was the least of anyone’s problems.

But it bothered me that I couldn’t remember something that was such an important detail.

It was late, I had been doing nothing but working furiously on this painting for hours, forgetting to eat because I was so focused.

Frustrated, I said to myself (more like yelled to myself), “Well, I will just have to finish without them!”

At that moment the phone rang and it was my husband.

When I picked up the phone, he didn’t even say “hello.”

He said “Grandpa keeps repeating ‘697MR’. That we have to find 697MR. He hasn’t been able to talk all day but now he's very adamant that I find his plane."

From another state, his grandpa filled in the missing information that would mean so much to his grandson.

And it did, months later when I gave it to him and told the story.

Immediately I knew there was a connection between this unexpected communication and my mindset.

Did hours of focusing on one task, this feeling of time passing faster than usual, set the stage for this somehow?

Recently, I have been reading about the concept of “flow state,” - the experience of being completely absorbed in an activity.

It seemed to describe what I was experiencing while painting, what most of us encounter when losing ourselves in something we enjoy.

Was this the key that unexpectedly unlocked a channel of communication that day?

Does flow state increase intuition?

I wanted to learn more so in this newsletter, I will describe what I learned about flow state:

  • What flow state is
  • Why it’s beneficial, and how it affects our idea of consciousness
  • Why being in flow state can be hard
  • How we can get better at accessing it

Motivation Behind Finding the Flow

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term “flow state” in the early 1990s.

Imprisoned during WWII, pain and trauma are things he was familiar with.

And it prompted him to find the antidote - happiness.

Through his research, Csikszentmihalyi found that people often reported being happy when they had time to “get lost” in a task they enjoyed.

Contentment in life, he concluded, isn’t something you’re fortunate enough to fall into under the right circumstances.

Happiness is fluid and possible for everyone through effort.

And this part is impactful coming from a former WWII prisoner - it is possible to find contentment (in varying degrees) in any situation through this flow state.

​Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi compiled his findings into a book: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

What is Flow?

I bet we are all familiar with this feeling: we’re focused on something we enjoy and realize hours have passed quickly.

And we are soaring a bit higher after the experience.

Contentment?

Autonomy and freedom?

Accomplishment?

Joy?

Being "in the zone" feels a lot like happiness.

Here Csikszentmihalyi describes the eight characteristics of flow:

  • Complete concentration on the task
  • Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback
  • Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down)
  • The experience is intrinsically rewarding
  • Effortlessness and ease
  • There is a balance between challenge and skills
  • Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
  • There is a feeling of control over the task

So flow happens while we’re doing something.

And we have to find it enjoyable.

And it needs to be challenging, but not so hard that it feels stressful.

​And we can’t have distractions.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”

​— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

But what happens to us during this time in the flow?

What I found added some “oompf” behind my original question, if flow influences intuition.

Research published in 2004​ linked the feeling of being in flow with a down-shift in the prefrontal cortex area of the brain.

This area deals with self-control, planning, memory, and judgment.

Powering down the prefrontal cortex does a few things:

  • ​Distorts our sense of time
  • Quiets our self-scrutiny
  • Makes us less aware of the “self”

  • Allows other parts of the brain to work together without this “manager” interfering
  • Increases curiosity, which comes with extra hits of dopamine

But what I found even more interesting is what being in flow does to our brainwaves.

Our minds generate electrical power so emit waves.

And when we are conscious and going about our normal business of the day, our brains radiate beta waves.

Flow state slows our roll.

In flow, the waves our minds generate can shift from beta down into alpha (relaxation mode) and even further down into theta waves.

Those are the waves we emit when we are almost asleep or coming out of deep sleep.

Doctors at ​Neurohealth​ connect theta waves to the subconscious mind, heightened creativity, intuition, and feelings of “oneness” and “knowing.”

It didn’t surprise me that these are the same brain waves that singing bowls, meditation, chanting, hypnosis, yoga, and pranayama can induce.

​Theta waves are tied to “spiritual” feelings and a sense of connectedness.

How is Flow State Beneficial

Csikszentmihalyi claims that during the flow state, we are in control of our consciousness.

And, controlling our consciousness = happiness.

​The more often we can access flow states, the more contentment we will feel in life.

“Control of consciousness determines the quality of life.”

​— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Some of the benefits of flow state include:

  • Feelings of sheer joy
  • Being able to live in the now
  • Increased confidence
  • Pulling away from destructive mental patterns
  • Heightened creativity
  • Greater productivity
  • Sense of liberation

So getting into the flow has the potential to make us happier humans.

But I was still curious about my original question - could being in the zone enhance our sense of connectedness or intuition somehow?

Unfortunately, I could find little written on the subject.

But here are ways I brainstormed that the flow state could help us tap into intuition:

  • Allows mind chatter to quiet, a component in nearly every spiritual practice
  • Stop us from trying to “force things”
  • Our minds enter an almost “submitted” state
  • Attention is energy, so highly focused attention could = more energy
  • Enables us to emit theta waves

“The self expands through acts of self forgetfulness.”

​— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Under the right conditions, getting into the flow state happens on its own - there is nothing we have to do.

And, it has the potential to bring us happiness and more.

​So considering how easy it can be, plus all of those benefits, why aren’t we all living it up in some constant state of flow?

Why Flow State Can Be Hard

We aren’t all walking around in some blissful "zone" where creativity spews freely.

But why?

One reason is that flow state isn’t something our society is set up for.

This is true in the messages we are often exposed to:

  • Benefit: Our products are delivered immediately
  • Feature: Explain the benefit of your products
  • Icon: Change the icons in the settings

We have distraction woven into every moment through the phones that are attached to us, vibrating and pinging relentlessly.

​Opportunities for entertainment saturate our lives, making our brains crave constant, external stimulation.

“You know when you're out of the zone because you are thinking and making decisions.”

​— David Leffel, painter

As someone who has lived in “analog times,” I can say that getting into the flow used to come more naturally for me than it does now.

It would just happen.

Now, it feels less easy.

I have to make preparations, like putting my phone on “Do Not Disturb” and trying to control myself from flipping on Netflix.

While it may be good for our brains to encounter sustained, distraction-free focus, my mind puts up a good fight to resist it.

Plus, the flow state is also a concept that, for many of us, hasn’t even been on our radar.

I have been familiar with flow for a few years, but only encountered it in terms of how to become “ultra-productive” and “get more done in less time.”

It wasn't until now that I realized the point of Csikszentmihalyi’s flow state was as a tool to find happiness.

Now I see that flow state can help us control our experience.

​So how can we invite more of this into our lives?

How Can I Get Into Flow State?

To get yourself into the flow state, the first thing to do is choose something to focus on.

This is anything you can completely lose yourself in.

Experiences you can use to find flow:

  • meditation
  • art
  • writing
  • cooking
  • walking or exercise
  • music-listening or making
  • great conversation
  • reading aloud
  • solving a problem

The ideas are infinite.

If you're short on ideas in this department, one great place to look for suggestions is your natal chart.

When reading a natal chart to find ideas for ways a person could "lose themselves," I would try the 5th House.

The 5th House is where self-expression, play, and having fun for fun’s sake is welcome.

​When looking at your 5th House from this perspective, some questions to ask yourself are:

  • What sign does my 5th House cusp (boundary line) land in? Imagine this sign as a person. What kinds of activities would this person think are enjoyable? If this sign were to find tasks to get them “in the flow,” what might they be? Check-in with yourself and see if any of those ideas feel exciting or interesting to you.
  • Is there a planet in my 5th House? If so, what is that planet and what are its motivations? What type of activities would that planet see as gratifying?
  • If I have a planet in the 5th, is it in aspect with any other planets? When planets are in aspect, they want to “be in each other’s business.” What are the desires of the planet in aspect? What are the activities of its house?

Use your chart to create a big list of ideas and then choose one that “speaks to you”’ the most.

​Once you have ideas for WHAT to do while in the flow state, how do you get there?

Basic guidelines for getting into the flow state include:

  • Remove all distractions
  • Choose something challenging, but not so hard that it feels stressful or frustrating
  • Select something you enjoy merely for the sake of doing it
  • Pick the right time of day when you aren’t too tired or frazzled

It is that simple.

How will you know you achieved flow state?

​Well, you probably won’t until it’s over.

  • Did you lose yourself in what you were doing?
  • Was your sense of time altered? Did it seem to pass more quickly than usual?
  • Did it seem like what you were doing flowed out of you easily with little resistance or hesitation?
  • Afterward, was your mood enhanced with feelings of joy, contentment, excitement, or accomplishment?

In this newsletter, I only dipped my toe into the larger question of how the flow state can influence intuition.

But what I now understand is this:

Flow state=Happiness, and maybe =Connection

And flow state is a tool to help us control our consciousness, probably in a way that no one truly understands yet.

​Much love,

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Hi, I'm Peggy

I went from lost and desperate to feeling more joy and a sense of purpose. And all it took was a little ancient wisdom! Now my mission is to accompany you on your self-discovery path so you can unlock more happiness and self-love as well!

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