My mother-in-law’s face has relaxed into a delighted, open grin as she canters gracefully past me atop her gentle horse. The memory itself is four years old, as we lost her to cancer over two years ago. The image, however, remains clearly etched in my mind, elicited as I watch my daughter confidently trotting her horse. My girl has inherited her grandmother’s love of horses, both shared and nurtured by my sister-in-law. Accompanying my daughter’s knitted brow as she concentrates on learning a new riding skill, is the occasional glimpse of the same open grin her grandmother once wore.
As I sit back and watch, I easily recognize this as a moment of flow, a moment of joy – when all is said and done, one of the only kinds of moments that really matter. It is a moment fostered by a combination of effort, challenge and skill while engaging in something she loves.
“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.” ― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
I see it in my little boy’s face as he runs uninhibited along a hiking trail; my husband as he is immersed in his music; and me, I feel the smile creep onto my face as I head out for an early morning ride on my bike.
I love the strenuous effort of climbing the hills and the thrill of speed as I coast down the winding farm roads. I love the peace and quiet, Mother Nature all around. I love the warm, humid mornings, the crisp, fresh-air days, and the cold, glove-worthy ones. It is my happy place; my time to play and challenge myself.
My time out on my bike is a sacred, renewing time for me. After less than an hour I return home happy, filled up, ready to dive into the day. My family easily senses the calm this time brings. I protect this time for myself, for them, for the joy. It is a little slice of heaven.
Some of us know full well what brings us delight. Others are searching – either feeling we have left it behind in childhood along with the carefree days or, perhaps, have never identified it.
If you are lucky enough to know what your passions are, take the time to make them happen and savor them. We simply need to set up the conditions to nurture more of these moments of flow amidst our busy lives.
If you are unsure what brings you into this state of flow, I invite you to notice the moments when you are smiling effortlessly. When is it that you have lost track of time and are lost in the pure enjoyment of something? If it is not immediately clear, keep observing, keep challenging yourself, keep stepping out of your comfort zone. Flow will eventually show up. You will know it when you feel it.
May you find and nurture your little slice of heaven. May you make and protect the time. May you inspire and nourish your flow.
And if you see me out on the road, I’ll most likely be the one with the childlike grin on my face, pedaling with abandon.