Our neighbour to the one side of us has a beautiful and immaculate yard. He has many flower gardens, trees, and an enormous and impressive vegetable garden. He is retired and spends morning to night from the spring thaw to the first snow flakes mowing the lawn, raking, watering, and generally puttering around.
People that come over to our house look at his yard and watch him work with a sort of amazed confusion at the singular dedication to his gardens.
Before we’ve dismissed him as “retired, so of course he has the time to do all of those things”.
“What else does he have to do, right?”
One evening I was sitting out on our back deck. He was out putting down some mulch in his vegetable garden and I started to watch him as he worked. I started to really observe, to step outside of myself and notice what he was really doing.
I soon became aware that I was watching someone in what the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to as the state as “flow”. Flow is defined as:
“The mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.” Source
Csikszentmihalyi has linked this state to positive emotions, joy, and satisfaction in the person experiencing it. It is linked to a purer, deeper form of creativity, in which the person is operating outside of thoughts and emotions and are just “being”.
To see someone so completely in their element was so jarring. It was clear that this was a meditative experience for him. I realized that I’m not sure if I have anything that I love that much to let it entirely consume my being in this way. Sure, I have my moments of getting lost in a project. But definitely not on a daily basis and not enough to dedicate every free moment to it.
I questioned to myself- what would I do if there were no time, monetary, or societal restraints? What would I do if I had the freedom to spend my days as per my choosing? I wish that I could say that I had a some sort of life shattering epiphany when I asked myself these questions and that I immediately quit my job, moved to southern France, and decided to dedicate my life to artisanal cheesemaking or beekeeping or something or other (wouldn’t that make a fantastic memoir? – eat,pray,love v.2.0). As of now I’m not pretending that I have any answers. What I do know is that I want to spend more time on the things that bring me closer to this flow state today. I hope to achieve more small bite-sized moments of joy throughout my day.
It is easy to say that if we were retired, won the lottery, quit our jobs (etc. etc. etc. and so on, and so forth) that we might only then have the time to spend our days pursuing our passions. On more than one occasion I’ll admit that I’ve wistfully sighed “I can’t wait until I’m retired and then I’ll write, sew, learn watercolours, travel the world, bake bread, get in shape, meditate (etc. etc. etc. and so on, and so forth)”. It’s like procrastination on the grandest scale (and I like to procrastinate so I would know)- procrastinating about experiencing joy.
What is attainable is bringing in small moments of flow into our day-to-day lives. Spend less time-consuming junk (crappy TV, trashy magazines, processed foods) and bring more fulfilling things into your day. Truly experience the mundane. Take 1 minute at work to close your eyes and breathe. Walk barefoot through grass. Learn something new.
Don’t procrastinate about feeling joy.