“Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Imagine yourself having the experience described above. Are you happy? Has this happened in your life? It has probably not happened enough. What if you could learn to cultivate this experience so it begins to happen more and more often? What if happiness is a skill you have not been taught? Would you want to learn now? According to Mihaly, “it is a circuitous path that begins with achieving control over the content of our consciousness.”
Can you control the content of your consciousness? Most of us can’t. Lucky for us people have been studying this concept for millennia; and they have been taking notes. What? You are not inclined to read sacred texts on philosophy and spirituality? Fine fine fine. Today, we have the option of studying more modern, scientific approaches as well. One such source is the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Mihaly has spent the past 50 years studying happiness and building a, now widely acclaimed, theory about how it correlates with states of FLOW. His 1990 book Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience details the years of research that went into his theory. It turns out that FLOW is not at all unlike the states mystics have been reporting for thousands of years. What is different is the approach. But first, what is FLOW?
“Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” – wikipedia
You have experienced Flow. Some call it being ‘in the zone’ or ‘in a groove”. Whatever we call it, something magical happens when we become fully immersed in an activity. What you may not have realized is that this experience is one that you can cultivate.
“Happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. ” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (FLOW p.2 1990)
What Mihaly realized is that these states are accessible to anyone deeply immersed in a task. Perhaps the easiest place to see this is when we look at those who have mastered their craft. Musicians, athletes, scientists, chefs, entrepreneurs, the undertaking does not matter. When we immerse ourselves in an activity entirely something profound happens. In one sense, when we go deeply enough into a task we actually cease to exist in our own awareness. We disappear and only the activity remains. For those of you who are familiar with mysticism this might sound familiar. When experts experience FLOW it is not at all unlike mystical union where the goal is to overcoming the duality of self and object.
Speaking of a composer lost in the experience of creating new music Mihaly recounts, “that this is so intense an experience that it feels almost as if he didn’t exist. And that sounds like a kind of a romantic exaggeration. But actually, our nervous system is incapable of processing more than about 110 bits of information per second. And in order to hear me and understand what I’m saying, you need to process about 60 bits per second. That’s why you can’t hear more than two people. You can’t understand more than two people talking to you. Well, when you are really involved in this completely engaging process of creating something new, as this man is, he doesn’t have enough attention left over to monitor how his body feels, or his problems at home. He can’t feel even that he’s hungry or tired. His body disappears, his identity disappears from his consciousness, because he doesn’t have enough attention, like none of us do, to really do well something that requires a lot of concentration, and at the same time to feel that he exists. So existence is temporarily suspended. And he says that his hand seems to be moving by itself.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Ted Talk 2008)
The key to achieving FLOW lies in immersing yourself entirely in a task. You become absorbed in something other than, perhaps bigger than yourself. Starting to sound a bit more like spiritual practice? The American meditation teacher Shinzen Young describes Mihaly’s flow as “the pleasure derived from being in a state of samadhi as you do ordinary things.” In a sense, FLOW happens when you take an every day task and transform it into something overwhelming and uplifting. While it is true that FLOW can happen during any task, there are specific tasks and specific ways to approach activities that make it far more likely to happen. There are two approaches to cultivating FLOW, one is more spiritual, the other is more of a game.
Now that you have an idea what FLOW is you may be wondering How to create FLOW (read on)
This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.
If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.
On Monday Integral New York (disclosure: I am an organizer) hosted Alexander Belser for a presentation and discussion titled “Taking Mushrooms Before Dying: Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy”. Belser and his research team at New York University are part of a small group of scientists who, in recent years, have gotten government approval to conduct studies on the potential health effects of psilocybin, the active compound in “magic mushrooms”. Currently, psychedelic mushrooms are a schedule 1 drug. This makes them the most illegal of all drugs. Schedule 1 is defined as a category of drugs not considered legitimate for medical use with a high potential for abuse (addiction).
Belser was quick to point out that there is no scientific evidence for either of these claims about psilocybin. In years past, when research was allowed, and now in recent years, as it has begun again, scientists are actually gathering data to the contrary. Far from being damaging, psychedelic use is again and again shown to have a wide range of positive effects on those who partake. Belser’s study looks at anxiety levels in those with cancer or a history of cancer. Most of these people live in constant fear of a disease that could claim their lives in a very short period of time. Anything that could help alleviate their suffering is worth exploring. Lucky for us, psilocybin appears to be a potent treatment.
The NYU study is ongoing. Their 2010 paper was the first time a paper like this has come out in a prestigious psychiatric journal in 40 years. Behavioral Biologist Roland Griffiths from John Hopkins University was quoted saying that this “demonstrates that such research can be conducted safely and that doses have palliative effects.” It is worth noting that this population is not generally regarded as responding well to psychological therapies. In stark contrast to the minimal results from months of therapy, participants in psychedelic research regularly report not only large state shifts during the experience, but overall quality of life improvements that carry on for months or more. Besler reported that it is not uncommon for participants to cite this one psychedelic experience as one of the most important events in their lives.
Other evidence for the positive effects of psychedelics is piling up across the country. MDMA is an effective treatment for severe P.T.S.D. LSD has been shown to greatly reduce symptoms in people with cluster headaches. Psychedelics have been recently examined as treatment for alcoholism and other addictions. There is a growing history outside the US of using the african root iboga to treat both heroin and alcohol addiction. Researchers in London are using M.R.I. to scan peoples brains to see what regions are effected. It is documented that in people who suffer from severe depression regions such as the anterior cingulate cortex are overactive and psilocybin may work to shut it down. My own speculation is that rather than a specific effect within the brain researchers would be better served studying its potential adaptogenic (non-specific) potential within the entire human body/mind system.
Officially, the NYU study is a Phase II randomized double blind placebo-controlled crossover study investigating the effect of psilocybin on end-of-life anxiety in patients with advanced cancer. They give people mushrooms and see what impact this has on their life. At the meetup we got to watch a 10 minute clip of one of the participants describing her experiences with the study. She is an intelligent, well spoken retired medical health professional. Her experiences were profound and transformative. To say that taking psychedelics reduced the anxiety surrounding her cancer would be an understatement of the largest degree. Her entire life was impacted by this one dose of psilocybin and she had not one negative side effect to mention. You should see the way her eyes shine when she describes months later spontaneously dancing in the kitchen with her husband in the morning. Her experience re-ignited something in her that is ineffable, but easy to feel when you see her speak.
Those of us with personal experience using psychedelics likely find this science reassuring but largely unnecessary. Other than the occasional anecdote about “the guy who thinks he’s a glass of orange juice and is afraid you are going to tip him over because of a bad trip” we have witnessed ourselves and others accessing expanded states of consciousness leading to feelings of love, connection, empathy, joy and probably had a few good laughs along the way. Psychedelic experiences, such as my own that I wrote about on ayahuasca in Brazil can certainly be terrifying, sad and difficult to endure. But in my experience when the set and setting are correct, when the approach to these powerful substances is sacred and not casual, the benefits far outway the costs and the most harrowing experiences lead to the greatest and most long lasting positive insights and transformations.
Before we left I asked Belser if he personally was hopeful for a rescheduling of psilocybin to make it less illegal or even legal. He said that he is hopeful and offered marijuana as a model for how mushroom legality could evolve over the coming years. Legally there are no significant efforts underway to change the legality of mushrooms, but scientific evidence is hard to argue against in a court of law and currently all of the available evidence disagrees with the letter of the law. This I find hopeful indeed.
Do you know the difference between Sex as Therapy, Sex as Yoga and Sex as Spirituality?
Do you want to?
Love David Deida’s descriptions in these videos.
This man is AMAZING!
1st – What is Sex as Therapy?
2nd – A BEAUTIFUL metaphor explaining all 3
Today I am on day 7 of The Master Cleanse. I have done the Master Cleanse once a year for the past 8 or 9 years. It gets easier every year. Honestly, the first times you do it the first three days can be a little difficult. If you have any addictions to caffeine or sugar or anything else you may experience headaches and other withdrawal symptoms. Once you get past the first days you start to fly. By the end I always feel amazing and each time I do it I have insights into my relationship with food. I will get to that but first, what is the Master Cleanse? The Master Cleanse revolves around what I like to call “Cajun Lemonade”. You drink this drink for a minimum of 10 days (some people go as long as 40).
For 10 days you ingest only 3 things:
Salt Water Flush
How to make Cajun Lemonade
Organic Lemon Juice – 1/2 lemon (2 Table Spoons)
Organic Maple Syrup – 2 Table Spoons (Must be Grade B)
Organic Cayenne Pepper – 1/10 teaspoon or more
Water – 8-10oz (warm to hot)
Put the above ingredients in a glass and drink. That’s it. That’s your entire source of calories for the next 10 days!
Laxative Tea – Drink this before bed. Smooth Move by Traditional Medicinals is one option. When you wake up you will have to use the toilet.
Salt Water Flush – I skip this step as long as I am pooping every day. It’s takes a little experimenting to find the right balance of water and salt so that it just goes straight through you and when you get it wrong it tastes terrible and wreaks havoc.
How Much Cajun Lemonade Do I Drink?
Drink the Cajun Lemonade every time you get hungry. For most people this means 6-12 glasses a day. Some times I have less. I have never had more. If you are feeling weak or light headed you are not drinking enough. You should ingest NOTHING other than the above three things and water.
How Do I End the Cleanse?
Your stomach will need to re-adjust to digesting normal food. It is best to end the cleanse slowly. On day 11 you should drink fresh squeezed organic orange juice. I used to do this for the entire 11th day into the morning of the 12th day and then on the evening of the 12th day I would make some vegetable soup. My stomach is very strong. I now know I can go quicker. I drink orange juice in the morning on the 11th and have a little vegetable soup by that night. BE CAREFUL. It hurts when you go back to food too quickly. I make a very simple vegetable soup with a garlic broth and a few, well cooked, chopped vegetables. No meat or pasta! After that I recommend staying on a raw fruit and vegetable diet for as long as you can. Pay close attention to how your palette adjusts. At first your sense of taste will be very amplified, simple things will taste great. As soon as you eat rich or sugary food you begin to drown out your ability to appreciate the subtler tastes.
Can I Exercise During the Master Cleanse?
I recommend considering a cleanse to be a time of rest and rejuvenation. Take it easy. The best exercises are ones that stretch you, massage your internal organs, encourage deep cleansing breaths, promote mindfulness and don’t break down your muscles too much. I love light yoga for this. If you know tai chi or ballet I’m all for that too.
Why Do The Master Cleanse?
You will lose a good amount of weight on the Master Cleanse. Some of it will come back as soon as you start eating. This depends on whether or not you go back to your old diet or use this as an opportunity to eat a cleaner, smaller and simpler diet made up of whole foods. Ultimately, weight loss is not my main motivation for the cleanse.
I do the cleanse as an exploration of my relationship to food. When on the cleanse I know that all of my dietary needs are being met. I do not NEED to eat anything else. But I want to! Cravings come up and must be looked at. Are you aware of why you eat most of the time? For most Americans there are a varied list of reasons. Sometimes we eat when we are bored. We eat when we are stressed. We eat when we are lonely or sad or happy and want to celebrate. We eat because the people around us are eating or because a meal is just how we spend time with certain people. We eat to avoid certain thoughts or feelings and to create other thoughts and feelings. Often times we eat simply out of habit because it is breakfast time or lunch time without even considering what or if we need food at all.
For me, above all else, doing a cleanse such as this is an opportunity to observe myself; my cravings, my thoughts, my actions, my habits and my fears. I can choose to go out to dinner with friends and hang out without eating solid food. I learn a lot doing so. More often, I say no to plans, stay home and rest. A cleanse is an opportunity for rest and rejuvenation. Consider the bodies three biggest users of resources: 1- our brain, 2- our digestion, and 3- our immune system, likely in that order. When we drink a light, liquid diet we free our body from having to digest solid food. This makes resources available for our body to mount an immune response and address problems that it has not been able to clear up. Have you noticed that sickness often follows a period of over eating? Ever need a nap after a big meal? Living life with a full digestive system, as many of us do most of the time, is exhausting. Your energy is diverted to digesting any time you have food in you. Removing the burden of digestion all together can really feel like a huge boost to your health, energy and vitality. I always come off of a cleanse feeling refreshed and renewed. I help this process along by getting as much rest as I can during the cleanse. The Master Cleanse is a great time to get back in touch with your meditation or light yoga practice.
Be on the lookout for an amplified sense of smell, extra-ordinarily clean sinuses, ease of meditation, increased mental acuity and a good excuse to skip social engagements t. You can read the book below and search online to discover the many benefits of lemons, cayenne pepper and maple syrup. What few mention is the profound experience of not eating for 10 days. That alone is worth the effort. Aren’t you curious?
10 BENEFITS OF THE MASTER CLEANSE
- Free up resources for your immune system
- Clear thinking
- Detoxify your body
- Amazing clear sinuses
- Amplified sense of smell
- Lose weight
- Shrink your stomach (and your appetite when you go off it – until you over eat and stretch if back out)
- Reset your palate – You will enjoy the subtler tastes again / for the first time 🙂
- It is a meditation on your subconscious eating habits
- Break all your eating patterns / Choose better ones
For more information get The Book: The Master Cleanser by Stanly Burroughs. You can buy it for $5 on Amazon. It is very short and very informative.
Good luck. Luck me know how it goes. Reach out if you would like some support.
Today’s blog post can be found over at Beams and Struts:
Perhaps you have heard about the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment? Young children were offered a marshmallow. If they could resist eating the marshmallow for 15 minutes they were promised (and given) a second marshmallow. The researchers were testing the children’s ability to delay gratification. They then looked to see how this correlated with future success. Follow-up studies found that the children who were able to delay gratification longer were described “10 years later by their parents as adolescents who were significantly more competent.” After 12 years the ability to delay gratification also correlated with higher SAT scores. “ A 2011 study of the same participants indicates that the characteristic remains with the person for life.” Differences in the groups showed up in brain scans. (wikipedia)
Skeptics have since pointed out a number of flaws in this experiment including the then ignored importance of the child’s most recent experience with these or any adults. If said experience inspired trust the child was more likely to wait. If they were led to believe that adults may not show up with the second marshmallow the child would not wait. The study was measuring not only the ability to delay gratification, but the child’s momentary state of mind as determined by numerous factors. There is a complex mix of nature and nurture at work.
I have heard this study cited when people are trying to argue for inherent traits or personality types and against the possibility that we can transform who we are when we are young. “See, those who couldn’t delay gratification with a marshmallow can’t stay home and study for their SAT’s!” The study does imply that most people do not undergo massive shifts. Most children remain in the same environment with the same parents and similar activities. What happens when they are adults and can choose to seek change? While few adults do consciously seek growth and transformation it is my experience that those who do seek growth can grow beyond the patterns and inertia that they were handed as a child. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I had not overcome many of my own patterns and I would not continue working as a life coach if I were not seeing these types of shifts in others on a regular basis.
A 2000 study published by the American Psychological Association looks at over 100 previous papers and studies and suggests that self control is a muscle. Like all muscles, it appears to fatigue during a period of extended use. The authors, Mark Muraven and Roy F. Baumeister state that “exerting self-control may consume self-control strength, reducing the amount of strength available for subsequent self-control efforts. Coping with stress, regulating negative affect, and resisting temptations require self-control…..when a situation demands two consecutive acts of self-control, performance on the second act is frequently impaired.”
This makes the situation a bit more complex, but also gives us a more nuanced understanding. Children in the experiment may indeed have more or less baseline self control, they may also have just experienced a more or less nurturing or stressful situation. Being stressed appears to be taxing on the same system that regulates self control. Children’s who’s home is less relaxing or more taxing may have shown up in a depleted state. Many of them likely live in that state regularly. And what happens over time? If the muscle analogy has some truth to it then our self control muscles should not only tire with use, they should be susceptible to be strain from over use and growth from proper use balanced with rest and recuperation. The rest piece is crucial to me. Those who live in a stressful environment may never get the opportunity to recuperate.
A 2006 study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology set out to see how participants responded to exercising their “self-regulation muscles”. They set out to see if using our self control in one activity (here actually joining a gym and going regularly) would correlate with an increased ability to control other activities that require will power. Their conclusions? “participants also reported significant decreases in perceived stress, emotional distress, smoking, alcohol and caffeine consumption, and an increase in healthy eating, emotional control, maintenance of household chores, attendance to commitments, monitoring of spending and an improvement in study habits.” They went on to say that their 2 month program “produced significant improvements in a wide range of regulatory behaviors. Their conclusion is that exerting self control in one area develops an increased reservoir of self-regulation which all activities can tap into.
Thinking about self control in this manner should help us to be more compassionate both with ourselves and with others. When you give in and eat a piece of cake you know you shouldn’t or skip a workout you feel you need how much do you consider the many strains on your will power that you have already endured that day? The same is true when we judge others. How often do you know the full story of others lives? Can you possibly know every stress and anxiety someone else is already dealing with when you see them act in a way that you deem as less than ideal? Anyone who has ever lifted weights knows that it would be ridiculous to judge yourself as weak on the last rep of the last set of an exercise. Push your muscles hard enough, they fail and you can barely lift your arm. We don’t judge ourselves weak because we recognize all of the work that has come before this last lift. How about when it comes to your will power? Can you recognize that at times your reserves are full and at others they are depleted? Can you grant others this same consideration? I ask two things of you:
- Please, be gentle with yourself when you need rest.
- Recognize that massive change is possible when you are ready.