Flow is a concept developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of the University of Chicago, who has studied the phenomena his whole career…
Flow is a moment in time when you’re both challenged at the activity that you’re doing, and when you also have complete autonomy in the task you’re conducting. We engage in flow under your own volition, with a skill which we’ve had some amount of experience…
If you’re not flowing, it’s probably because you aren’t allowing yourself to be challenged, you’re completely overwhelmed, or someone else is holding you back. Csikszentmihalyi hypothesizes that these moments of flow occur because we’re simply activating too many neurological functions. Because of this we no longer have capacity to be aware of what functions we’re engaging in. So the ‘conscious of me’ part of the mind switches off, your awareness of yourself slips away, and you just do.
For a writer whose site is about “The Art of Being Minimalist,” and is guest posting on a blog called Zen Habits: it seems pretty absurd that he is writing about one of the core tenets of Zen without ever coming out and saying so. Unfortunately, from reading the post, I get the feeling he’s probably not even aware of it.
Yet for thousands of years in Zen, there has been a focus on a state of being referred to as Mushin:
Mushin (無心; Chinese wúxīn; English translation “no-mindedness”) is a mental state into which very highly-trained martial artists are said to enter during combat. They also practice this mental state during everyday activities. The term is shortened from mushin no shin (無心の心), a Zen expression meaning mind of no mind and is also referred to as the state of “no-mindness”. That is, a mind not fixed or occupied by thought or emotion and thus open to everything.
Mushin is achieved when a person’s mind is free from thoughts of anger, fear, or ego during combat or everyday life. There is an absence of discursive thought and judgment, so the person is totally free to act and react towards an opponent without hesitation and without disturbance from such thoughts. At this point, a person relies not on what they think should be the next move, but what is their trained natural reaction or what is felt intuitively. It is not a state of relaxed, near-sleepfulness, however. The mind could be said to be working at a very high speed, but with no intentions, plans or direction. An analogy is a clear mind compared to a still pond, which is able to clearly reflect the moon and trees. But just as waves in the pond will distort the picture of reality, so will the thoughts we hold onto disrupt the true perception of reality.
(*) As an aside, why is everything a “Way” or an “Art” nowadays? A good portion of the blame is to be laid at the feet of Zen and the Art Motorcycle Maintenance to be sure, but it’s everywhere today. Every self-styled expert blogger/marketer/wannabe-cyberguru seems to have a “Way” or “Art.” They’re attempting to reference Dō (道 Dō) (see also Chinese usage Tao) Dao, or “Way.” But as someone who has lived it, the constant uber-promotion of it comes across as cheap and fake.