#readinglog The Flow of Thought

The good things in life do not come only through the senses. Some of the most exhilarating experiences we undergo are generated inside the mind, triggered by information that challenges our ability to think […].

From ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience’ by Csikszentmilhalyi

Flow has been an enjoyable read, for it gives me a lot of insights to reflect on what it takes to be happy, or at least a way to be happy that resonates with me. My progress has been rather slow, as I’ve tried to copy the interesting bits, so as not to forget them as soon as I put the book down. This chapter The Flow of Thought made me want to note down something more.

  1. The body and the mind work in harmony. To truly enjoy a physical activity, the mind must be involved, sometimes it must be disciplined to control bodily processes. Conversely, to enjoy a mental activity, one also relies on being physically well.
  2. Reading, contemplating, or even daydreaming can bring about the flow state in one’s mind, because it creates order in our random pattern of thoughts.
  3. The mind is naturally a place of chaos. Without an external object to focus onto, the untrained mind cannot concentrate and will usually drift to something disturbing. That’s perhaps why waiting makes one feel anxious, why trying to sleep brings me back to recent grudges. The lack of external stimuli makes the mind unsettled.
  4. There are two ways to deal with the unsettled mind. One is to fill it up with external stimuli, the common way. That explains why watching TV is popular, why people always demand to be entertainedwhy we constantly want to focus our attention on the phone. We do so to avoid being bored, which may make our mind wander to some unpleasant thoughts. We fill the void with the noise to muffle the randomly disturbing thoughts.
  5. The other way is through training the mind to be able to control the mental processes. This way requires practice to turn the focus inside and not to rely on external stimuli. It is the harder , but more effective way because it resolves the chaos, as opposed to distracting from the problems.

I did not watch TV in my 2.5 years in New Zealand, and already watched very little of it when I lived in Saigon (only to check some TV ads because of my work). I did not feel like missing anything about TV shows, news, series with constant disruption of ads. You may say I’d missed out many things. But not watching TV helps me realise that ‘entertainment’ is not that necessary to my life. To the extent that, in a call with my friends a year ago, I could not mention what kind of ‘entertainment’ I like. Well, if walking up the hill to see the morning sunrise or strolling in the garden counts as ‘entertainment’. Another time I was asked, what type of ‘entertainment’ I could have on a long distance bus, I replied that I watched the scenery outside the window. The need to be ‘entertained’ becomes rather contrived for me. I would need to relax, to unwind, to enjoy. But to be ‘entertained’, perhaps not.

My mind is still far from being a disciplined, trained mind that could control consciousness. But eliminating the need for constant external stimuli might be a good first step. It is not to say to stop watching any media, but to enjoy a movie, a song, a book or a scene, without asking it to ‘entertain’ me. It is more about minimizing the noise that distracts the flow of thought, so the mind can concentrate on creating that flow.

Flowing in the wind
A field of tussock at Tautuku Estuary