MAY 2001
The Flow of Re-creation


















Playfulness and spirituality are not often associated, yet why not? Recreation and play invites imaginings of amusing activities. They speak of laughter, delight and fun. I immediately envision children being silly, rapt in enjoying the moment. Just try to coax a child away from their games and play time. Not a chance!

Yet, watching children at play also reveals the essence of spirit. Their creativity expresses that vital, animating force within all living beings. It displays an energy and engagement with the flow of life. And isn’t this the definition of spirit -- the root of spirituality?

Children at play are natural teachers of spirituality. They are free of the limits of a thinking mind and open to vast imagination. As William Blake writes, it is through our imagination that we experience the divine. Watching my grandnieces play for hours with a colored ribbon is an awe-inspiring occasion. Their whole beings are captivated by the unlimited possibilities of each moment--holistic re-creation at its best.

How often have you wished for a return to the carefree, playful days of childhood? Sometimes a reconnection to that state can come through a spiritual practice. There are times when yoga, prayer or meditation loosens self-consciousness, alters time, and suspends all worries and concerns. In those moments, the joyfulness of spirit at play reveals its secrets. Yet this is also possible through work, sports, artistry and recreation. Full absorption, one pointed concentration, deep involvement and joy can be experienced when we least expect it. These ingredients of a spirit filled life are mixed within each day’s potential.

Years ago when studying child development I learned of the "flow" in a child’s play. The research described had similar elements to my sense of spirituality. Then in 1990, the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi compiled his studies about flow into a popular book, clarifying the connection between play and spirit. Through observing artists he noted their almost hypnotic trance state as they tried to bring their visions into form. They forgot hunger, time and fatigue for as long as a painting remained incomplete and when it stopped changing and growing, their attention ceased as well. These artists were carried by a current, within which everything moved harmoniously, without effort.

This discovery defied traditional psychological theories of motivation. It proved how time and effort could be committed to an activity just for the sake of doing it, apart from rewards or results. Csikszentmihalyi also saw that his scientific findings were similar to references in spiritual literature, as in the Hindu Bhagavada Gita, and Taoist writings. In Taoism there is a term which speaks to how a wise person lives. This word, yu, translates into "walking without touching the ground," "flowing" or "floating".

Csikszentmihalyi described these elements of a flow experience:

• Conscious purpose.
• Desire to do one’s best in the face of challenge.
• Action and awareness merged into one-pointed concentration.
• Focus on the present.
• Loss of self-consciousness.
• Suspension of a sense of time.
• Involvement in an activity just for its own sake.

Whether playful, spiritual or work related, being in the flow encourages continual discovery. The enjoyment built into moments of discovery stretches one to explore and be challenged. But it’s very different from producing or expecting results. Within the experience of flow is an inner harmony more substantial and rewarding than accomplishing any specific goal.

With this awareness of possibility, re-creation takes on new meaning. Being in the flow invites curiosity and interest in everyday life. It helps us relish the creative and spiritual spark just in driving our cars or listening to a piece of music. Flow allows the unfolding of your being through a conversation, meditation, reading, art or the outdoors.

A friend recently told me of a school in the Midwest that has a "Flow Room". It is filled with a variety of objects to invite the creative impulse to come out to play. The room is open for children to use at any time and adults are present to support whatever draws their interest. Hearing this reminded me of the "recreation room" in the basement of my childhood home. Though it was always a glorious mess it was an inviting, joyful haven! Perhaps we all need to ensure that there is still the dedicated space, somewhere in our lives, to play and flow.