“I paddled fast to my left, angling toward the next wave, stroked and stood and felt the board accelerate and pumped once and into my bottom turn, and then the world vanished. There was no self, no other. For an instant, I didn’t know where I ended and the wave began. This was an instant beyond the redemption I had hoped to find.”
Excerpt from West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief by Steven Kotler (1).
Kotler goes on to describe surfing as “a game of such [transitory] instants”. Transitory in that those moments are both “staggeringly impactful and simultaneously vanishing”. The Glide, In-the-Green-Room; familiar terms which attempt to capture our experience, but “truthfully refers to the feeling of being utterly, finally, fleetingly, awake”.
The Concept of Flow
Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi (2) looked at the creative process artist during the 1960s. They found that when work on a piece was going well the artist persisted without distraction, ignoring tiredness, hunger, and discomfort. Further research by Csikszentmihalyi (3) went on to examine the subjective phenomenology of intrinsically-rewarding activities in groups such as rock climbers, dancers, and chess players. They found remarkable concordance across work and play settings. The general conditions of flow included:
- Being engaged in an activity that ‘stretches’ one’s existing skill-set at an appropriate level commensurate with capability
- Clear proximal goals and instantaneous feedback regarding progress made
Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi reported that being “in flow”, and under such conditions, our experience “seamlessly unfolds from moment to moment” (4). They described the subjective/experiential state one enters as having the characteristics listed below. It’s worth noting the undeniable corollary to Mindfulness.
- Intense focus and concentration in the PRESENT moment
- The moment, awareness, and the action (i.e. doing) become one, with a loss of self-reflection (i.e. ‘external observer-like awareness’ of oneself as a social actor)
- A sense that one can respond to, perhaps even anticipate, imminent events
- Temporal distortion (e.g. ‘time slows down in the barrel’, or perhaps speeds up)
- The activity and experience of same is intrinsically rewarding to the extent, perhaps, that the end goal simply becomes an excuse for the process – Sounds familiar?
The latter recalls the Pezman–Leary (5) interview referenced in our previous post Drop-in Turn-on Tune-out: Commitment, Death, and Anxiety. Leary, in response to the author’s statement that surfers are discovering that “surfing is pretty much a head game in a fluid medium”, offered his understanding of the surfing experience:
“…a merging of your own body neuromusculature, or brain body, with the power/energy/rhythm of nature. That’s what’s so jewel-like precise about mind/body/sea energy interfacing together. One thing I like about surfing is that it is all out. You can’t be half-hearted, or you can’t be thinking about something else. You’ve got to give up all the land, social, cultural, moral, political whatevers … you’ve got to be totally there.”
Far out dude; perhaps, yet there’s no denying the underlying grain of truth. Pezman went further, making a keen observation, when he said:
“It’s also interesting to note that surfing is non-productive…non-depletive, almost a nonentity. Your wake disappears from the ride, the wave dissipates on the beach. The surfer leaves at the end of the day, and there’s no trace. And yet you get hooked on doing this thing.”
Well, you can say that again!
Cool, I’d like to know more about Flow States and Mindfulness
Boris Bornemann, Dipl.-Psych./Master Sc., PhD Student at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Department of Social Neuroscience, Leipzig, Germany, will explore Flow and Flow States in Surfing at the Surfer’s Academy on Saturday 13th September 2014.
Dr. Tony Bates, Clinical Psychologist and Founder of Headstrong will discuss Resilience, Living Mindfully, and Mental Health at the Surfer’s Academy.
All attendees must REGISTER Online. Under sixteen (16) year-olds go free. Ticket Cost: €25.00/person.
1. Kotler S. West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief. Bloomsbury, New York, USA. 2007
2. Getzels JW, Csikszentmihalyi M. The Creative Vision: A Longitudinal Study of Problem Finding in Art. John Wiley & Sons, New York, USA. 1976
3. Csikszentmihalyi M. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, USA. 2000
4. Nakamura J, Csikszentmihalyi M. The Concept of Flow. Snyder CR & Lopez SJ, Handbook of Positive Psychology, pp89-105. Oxford University Press, New York, USA. 2001
5. Pezman S. Dr. Timothy Leary, The Evolutionary Surfer. SURFER Magazine. Jan 1978, Volume 20 Number 8
Note: Featured Image on front page that accompanies this post is ‘Tales from the Tube’ (1971) by Rick Griffin.