Mental salvation

It’s good to look the other way sometimes, stop trying so hard to make things work, getting bogged down in the everyday and focus on something completely different, lose myself in the moment. For me, this can happen with some completely random abstract art, for instance, but usually it’s writing and cinema. Frustratingly, there’s not been a whole lot of space for either this week, although I was reminded of the joy of Bugsy Malone (Parker, 1976), just the thought of which never fails to make me smile.

I love being lost in a really good film, especially in the cinema. It’s like visiting another world for a couple of hours. Although I suppose this is just immersive distraction. With writing, if all’s well, I get into that mental space known as Flow. So engrossed, time and space have little bearing on my consciousness.

Flow theory was developed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1975. The Wikipedia page makes for very interesting reading and a good starting point for really delving into the concept, if you are so inclined.

According to the theory, these six apects characterise a state of flow:

  • Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  • Merging of action and awareness
  • A loss of reflective self-consciousness [you forget you exist!]
  • A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  • A distortion of one’s subjective experience of time
  • Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

Their studies found that Flow is only achieved if the task is being done for itself, for its own intrinsic value, not as a means to an end (I find flow writing this, or some sketch I have in my head, but not in writing a cover letter for a job application.) I find that knowledge quite…I don”t know…encouraging. The things that you do don’t always need a wider purpose; just doing what you find fascinating has its own value.

Forget mindfulness, cultivating being an autotelic person is where it’s at. Do things you enjoy. Lose yourself in the moment, whatever the moment is. There’s always something to be fascinated by if you look closely enough. An autotelic person can watch paint dry and not be bored.

But if you’re not this way inclined naturally, I can’t see how you would become like this just through training yourself in some mental technique. That sounds like far too much effort! The key message is choose to spend your time doing things that engage you rather than passively distract. But also, don’t worry about it so much! Just do it (thanks for stealing that one, Nike). And do it not for some far-off, hypothetical result, conscious of your place in history (what does it mean?? What can I contribute to humanity?? I must do something Important!), but for its own sake.

So when I’m feeling a bit demotivated and despondent like lazy egg Gudetama in the image, I will try and remember this. The meaning lies in the means not the end.

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