Flow is possible every moment

How to untangle the dam

Andrew R. French
7 min readApr 10, 2018


I learned everything I needed to know about flow when I kayaked down a river for the first time.

In the river, I understood flow for the first time completely.

I did not control the river, but I danced with the water.

Flow is possible every moment; it is our natural state.

I was very interested in the idea of “Flow” 20 years ago.

I thought “Oh, this is what I am searching for, this is what describes the state that I prefer.” I was fascinated by it. Flow was obviously the secular name for the Tao.

At that time, I entered into Flow infrequently, mostly when I went deeply into meditation. I thought it was a rarefied state. I meditated endlessly to find Flow, and occasionally there it was right in front of me, or more accurately I became Flow.

There were times when I felt my mind expand beyond my own comprehension, and I thought I was becoming enlightened, as my own consciousness dissipated in the face of the endless universe.

In those times I entered into Flow for a moment. It was good to understand that Flow existed, and that the “normal” consciousness we carry around with us is actually pretty ridiculous. “Normal” consciousness takes itself very seriously. It is rigid with boundaries and sharp edges.

Then many year passed and life kept me busy enough that I wasn’t thinking about Flow as much as I was thinking about making a living and finding my path. I got into a daily grind and I worked my way toward some kind of self-sufficiency.

The times that I would enter into Flow were rare. Sex, drugs, and rock n roll were easy ways to enter flow, while hard labor, biking, hiking, skiing, and canoeing were healthy ways to enter flow.

“Flow” was an occasional experience. I thought that was normal.

Then, I entered into a period in my life where I tipped hard the other way, away from Flow and into endless blockage. There was very little Flow to be had in my life for about ten years. I hadn’t developed the skills to access Flow at that time.

A while ago I was reading about Flow once again.

“Oh yes, I remember this concept,” I thought.

I had been contemplating the Japanese phrase “mizu no kotoro”, which means “the heart/mind of water” “ or “mind like water”. The phrase is often used to illustrate the stillness of a mind dedicated to Zen, but I think it has a deeper meaning.

Water can exist in many forms: gas, solid, and liquid. Water, then, can be land, air, and sea. Water can be calm and water can be ferocious. Water can drown and water can save a life.

Water is an incredible thing. It is sacred beyond our limited comprehension.

Our heart/minds should be like water in order to Flow.

When we begin to think of ourselves as some title: a cook, a gardener, a mechanic, a hairdresser; we lose the fluidity of water.

We are not only the one thing that we are being at the moment, we are also the ten thousand other things that we will be and have been.

In Flow we may fit into a mold for a time, but then we become something else. A title or label may be helpful for others, but not for those in Flow.

In order to be fully alive, we can become like water.

Now — water flows constantly, no matter what state it is in.

Flow is our normal state, and everything else is an aberration, which I believe begins in early childhood development. Many, if not most, of the lessons we learn are about obedience to authority and damming up the flow to please others.

There is no animal or plant or element that is not in flow. Humans are experts at damming up our own flow.

The main unique quality of man is our large brain and our ability to think abstractly.

We have invented time and currency, which is time embodied in precious metals.

The concept of time as a fixed entity is the number one destroyer of Flow.

This is why when we do something we love time disappears and Flow begins.

Mindfulness and Flow are not different. Creativity and Flow are not different. Contentment and Flow are not different. Love and Flow are not different.

I’m not 100% sure that any analysis of Flow will be fruitful, as we all basically know what Flow is. It is when we Flow. It is the Current of Life.

Now, after a period of time contemplating the idea of “mizu no kokoru” and the idea of Flow, I have decided to enter into Flow at all times.

This is impossible, correct?

That is what we are taught.

It is not discipline that hinders flow.

All rivers are contained within two banks.

Discipline allows flow to happen.

So what hinders flow?

A dam. Every lesson that we have learned about being in this world from people who are not in the Flow are the sticks and stones that stop up the Flow.

So is it impossible to be in the Flow at all times?

Reaching for an impossible goal is no big deal.

Our bodies are mostly made of water.

The only real job we have is to dismantle the dam and let it all flow again.

We can’t create a Flow state.

We have to bypass the rules and regulations put into place within our minds in order to access our natural state.

Our natural state is the flow state, which is the mindful state, which is the creative state, what Buddhists would call the Buddha state and Christians would call a blessed state.

But it isn’t some other state, it is our natural state.

What is impressive is how much social engineering, i.e the sticks and stones for the dam, is needed in order to turn us into a placid, man-made lake.

So what we need to do now is take away each individual stick and stone and let a little more water trickle through, so that we can flow like a river once again as we should.

Are there effective strategies to get into the flow state?

As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, considered one of the experts on the Flow state, talks about in this Ted Talk , the human nervous system can only process about 110 bits per second of information. In order to listen to his talk and understand him takes about 60 bps away from that total — that is why it is difficult to understand two different conversations at once.

Now, as modern humans our natural state of complete flow in the present is set aside so that we can focus on and interact with society, technology, laws, and standards of our age in endless ways that all have to do with time and currency.

The only members of our society that are lucky enough (or so we think) to live within a Flow state are those involved in a creative field or those involved in sports, business, or health.

The problem is that we could all benefit tremendously from being in the Flow state constantly, or as much as possible- this is the state of being where our cares drop away, and stress is the number one health issue for a modern first world human.

By increasing our Flow state and reducing our Stress state we can find balance in life. Flow is the opposite of the Fight & Flight response, and thus it reduces cortisol production, the stress hormone.

Flow is the act of stepping outside of ourselves to become ourselves and to focus 100% on something that is not our own mind. In that state we realize that the self that we are so worried about is generally fine without all that worry. “Mindfulness” is actually not listening to the endless distraction of our thoughts.

Our thoughts and our worries destroy is. When we flow, there are no thoughts and worries.

Beyond the worry we find contentment. We realize there is nothing out there that will satisfy that hunger inside of our soul except entering the flow. And that hunger is basically a hunger to be fully alive.

And to be fully alive, we must step aside and let the universe take over.

It takes dedication to slowly break apart that dam. How do we do that?

Specifically, there are three steps.

We bring our awareness to the present. Where was it before? In the past and future.

We focus on doing one thing as best we can. Not many things — just one thing.

We show up every day to do the one thing. Every day we show up and do one thing as best we can with our awareness in the present.

Over time we realize that this is the same pattern for mastering anything and everything. And over time we realize that the only way to be in our natural state is to have mastery over our actions.

And by mastery I do not mean control.

We do not have any control over anything.

I learned everything I needed to know about flow when I kayaked down a river for the first time.

In the river, I understood flow for the first time completely.

I did not control the river, but I danced with the water.

That is what I mean by mastery: dancing with the water.



Andrew R. French

Writer at the Intersection of Ecosystem and Culture