Running, baking professionally, and writing have become very similar for me in a few ways. Namely, the fact that I don’t always WANT to do them until I start doing them.
There’s the “work”/required aspect to them now- the feeling that all three of these things that I unequivocally love to do are now in some way required to be done on a regular basis raises a low-key kind of cold dread, and I have lately found myself trying to put them off or do something else first.
No, it’s not the best discipline to be sure. Discipline is a muscle. It needs to be exercised and flexed in order to stay strong, so when I’ve gone on runs or sat down to write lately, I haven’t been “in the mood.” There’s been an attitude of “Ok, I said I was going to do this. I want to do this. I need to do this and will feel bad if I don’t, so just do it.”
That’s how it starts… and then something clicks.
The sound of my fingers clacking on the keyboard, the cold air in my face, or the buzz of a busy kitchen and people asking me questions somehow reroutes my thoughts. It stills them. Focuses them. It’s no longer a question of “mood”- just a fact of being.
When you slip into flow state, (a.k.a. “The Zone”), the past and future vanish. There is only the Present, and the Work- and it’s different for everyone.
In Taoism, there is a concept called “wei wu-wei”– “doing not-doing,” “doing nothing,” or “effortless action.” It is an ideal state in which a person loses themselves entirely in what they are doing. There is little to no conscious action, as the person performs a task as easily as breathing. It’s a space in which there is no difference between the actor and the action- no difference between the dancer and the act of dancing.
That’s as much of a description of “flow state” as I can imagine. In the West we think of flow state as being a state of natural talent and productivity, where the conscious mind doesn’t interfere and we feel engaged and utilized at our highest possible level.
In a previous post, I described this in the kitchen as feeling like you are in the eye of the storm and somehow controlling its direction- chaos and activity flitting around you, and you staying calm and serene in the center. Easier said than done, of course- it’s a mindset that one has to build and adapt to with experience.
Amidst the chaos of the outside world, however, I have found myself chasing those moments of zoned-out bliss wherever I can find them- anything at all to turn down the volume in my brain and operate automatically for a while. Those of us in the industry often find those moments through music and doing something mindless, like chopping vegetables or doing dishes. Sometimes it’s through “eye of the storm” moments like I described- the kitchen is a madhouse, and we feel ourselves doing rather than thinking, going with the flow and everything coming out right.
In Chris Guillebeau’s book “Born For This”, Guillebeau advocates that a person’s ideal job- the job they are “born to do”- falls at the center of a “Joy-Money-Flow” Venn Diagram. This means that one’s perfect job is one that:
A. Makes a person happy to do and that they enjoy (Joy)
B. Makes enough money that the person can live comfortably and avoid unneccesary stressors (Money)
C. Is something they are proficient enough in that they can lose themselves in the work (Flow)
Without enough of one of these things, the job becomes frustrating:
Joy and Flow, but not enough Money = “Starving Artist.”
Money and Flow, but no Joy= Unfulfilled Life
Joy and Money, but no Flow= A constant struggle through the day.
Ideally, everyone should have a job then that doesn’t just make them happy to do, but one they can lose themselves in doing and experience wei wu-wei.
But what about outside of the kitchen? When do you feel not just “peaceful” or “happy,” but serene?
For me, it’s music and motion. That seems to be the most common feature when I ask people what brings them to that space. Everyone says “music” first, then usually something that goes with it-
“Music by myself at home at night, with no obligations to anyone.”
“Music, cooking for friends, or tweaking anew menu or dish.”
“Lighting the Shabbos candles” (this one is interesting, as lighting the candles is meant to separate the “holy” time for the mundane.)
When I’m listening to music and taking long walks through the paths in Mt. Tabor Park, or I’m sacked out on the porch watching the sunset light the mountain ablaze, that’s when I find it easier to say “Nothing else matters. This is all I need to do right now.” My best meditation sessions can’t compare.
Part of self-development is knowing yourself- that includes what turns you on, turns you off, and turns you “down.” All of it is worth knowing, and all of it is worth chasing as much as humanly possible. You will work, feel, and live better than you had ever dreamed.