Monday, November 30, 2015

Finding Flow

Now that the art quilts have been submitted for My Corner of the World - Canada and I have embarked on a cleanup of the aftermath (Why do I just throw stuff on the floor near the end instead of putting it back in its place? I know it's not good for me but I can't stop doing it.), I want to try to describe how the last few weeks have felt.

I had every intention of completing this work with weeks to spare. I had the time, I had the ideas, I had the materials. But life got in the way and there were other things that needed my full attention. When I could get back to work in earnest there wasn't much time left before the deadline. Under ordinary circumstances I could have just skipped the opportunity. But for complicated reasons that that wasn't an option this time. It was important that I submit something for this show. It isn't important that I be juried in but I always want to do my best.

Last year, if I had been faced with those pressures, I would have had a miserable time. I would have done the work but there would have been a lot of agony and angst and indecision and terrible thoughts streaming through my brain day and night. That is not what happened over the last month or so.

I enjoyed every minute of the process. I enjoyed the tedious work of stitching hundreds of long straight lines, I loved the construction process, I savored the opportunities to change my mind. What was most striking to me was that I could look at something on the design wall, see something little that could be changed and instead of obsessing over it and letting it stop me in my tracks I reacted with a shrug and the thought "that's the way it is." On my second piece I came to a point where it was clear that some of my earliest decisions about the design were all wrong. In the past I would have held onto those decisions for far too long, perhaps forever. This time, though, I saw what needed to be done, got out my rotary cutter or scissors and made the cuts that were needed. I didn't second guess then or later.

As I write this it sounds like I didn't care about the outcome but that couldn't be farther from the truth. But this time around I let that care assert itself as acceptance rather than control. I think the work is stronger as a result.

I have spent a lot of time over the years thinking about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's theory of flow. As described by Wikipedia flow is:

 "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." 
To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high.
I have experienced flow at times in my life so know the feeling and know that it something that I want to experience again. I felt it when I was doing bead weaving in a serious way but have never felt it while engaged in the creative endeavor of art quilts - until this last month

Czikszentmihalyi posits that there are nine pre-requisites for flow to occur: challenge-skill balance, merging of action and awareness, clarity of goals, immediate and unambiguous feedback, concentration on the task at hand, paradox of control, transformation of time, loss of self-consciousness, and autoelic experience.

I have recognized for some time that I have an autoelic personality. From Wikipedia again:

The autotelic personality is one in which a person performs acts because they are intrinsically rewarding, rather than to achieve external goals.  
Csikszentmihalyi describes the autotelic personality as a trait possessed by individuals who can learn to enjoy situations that most other people would find miserable. Research has shown that aspects associated with the autotelic personality include curiosity, persistence, and humility.

The big question for me is Why? What precipitated the change which allowed me to find flow while working on art quilts and, dare I ask, will it last? I have some ideas about might have made a difference. First, I have to consider that my experience with cancer and a major surgery has changed my outlook. I am not generally aware that it has but once in a while I find myself making a decision and realize that I have factored mortality into the equation. And I have accepted that I won't always be in control.

Another recent change is my commitment to yoga. I started attending classes about ten months ago and now fit four or five into my week. It has made an extraordinary difference in my sleep patterns. But I think it is also having an effect on how I view life generally. I am able to enter situations with the understanding that "it will be what it is", however imperfect that seems to me at the time. Interestingly, I talk that talk with my own students but it was yoga that brought it home to me in a real way.

I'll probably never know what caused the change so I'm probably better off letting the question go and getting on with life, with my fingers crossed that flow returns.

Confession - In looking at the photos which I took for my entry there is one very strange thing going on at the edge of one piece. It might be an artifact of the light or photo set up but I will take a look and fix that if it needs fixing.

1 comment:

  1. OK, my dear, you're on to something here that I never knew had a name! I have always called it 'suspended animation' when it happens- like I am not the one making it, it's just coming through me. When I finish I actually cannot remember doing it! What happens is your CREATIVE MIND is taking over the judgmental mind and it's going a little crazy with joy at being released! And since you like quotes, Louis Pasteur had the reason for this when he said, "Chance Favors the Prepared Mind". You had done the work, you knew what you wanted to achieve and had a map in your head about how to get there- you were well prepared to do that quilt! Now the trick is to achieve that state of mind at will, not just by happenstance. And you will! Looks like we jumped the gun on the First of the Year! Yeaaaaa!