Monday, October 13, 2008

The "Flow State"

[Post inspired by a thread on AikiWeb.]

The other day, I was sitting at a red light. With a bit of time on my hands, my mind drifted. I caught myself and thought about the need to remain focused upon what I was doing.

Without warning, there was the sudden blare of police sirens. Immediately, I checked around me and found the flashing lights speeding toward the light from behind me. Immediately, I saw that he needed to turn right. In a moment, I determined that there was nothing that I could do sitting in the left lane. I watched the car in the right lane decide it was safe to turn right at the light and then move out of the way, allowing the patrol car to pass.

In maybe one minute, I went from daydreaming to awareness about my daydreaming, and then to absolute hyper-alertness---the "flow state." Once the immediacy of the event had ended, I returned to thinking about what had just happened.

Daydreaming and conscious thought themselves are not substantially different---which is to say that unless thinking is specifically what you are supposed to be doing, you are still lost in thought. However, those states are radically different than this "flow state."

For me, this waking up happens in the presence of severe and intense situations requiring immediate response---which may, by the way, include the response not to respond, such as a police officer not using a drawn weapon. The state can be induced, but there is an issue: If there is even the slightest thought that the situation is artificial---such as, "This is just a test; they're not really going to try to kill me"---it is sufficient to block entry into the flow state.

I do not get out much, but I would say that I only recall one or two teachers who really pushed their students into this level of intensity in an Aikido dojo. By this I do not mean that there is a sense that a brawl is ready to break out without notice; rather, I mean to say that in each encounter between nage and uke, there is palatable intensity, mushin and zanshin throughout.

The question remains then: If the students are suddenly kicked into the flow state, will the principles and techniques they practice outside of that state be available to them?

I do not know the answer to this question.

This is something that we can test, but is this a question that a typical Aikido student wants to face? Does the typical anyone really want to know how he would handle under extreme stress? Aikido has the expression, "Masakatsu agatsu - True victory is victory over oneself." Are you ready to face your self?

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