Surrender to the Flow | Varyer
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Surrender to the Flow

A tribute to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of my greatest inspirations and heroes, has died.

Mihaly is responsible for the psychological concept of flow, that feeling where we’re in an intensely focused state that puts us in our most productive—and creative—state. I’ve always kind of looked at Mihaly’s work as the kindred spirit to the Ram Dass’ “Be Here Now” world, all really focusing on ways to remain present, find our balance and boundaries, and seek fulfillment and happiness over almost all else.

Earlier last year, a friend of mine asked me to share my perspective around the idea of “building your thing.” It’s a heady concept with no one throughline (and not something you do on your own), but the process of getting your head into a place where building can actually happen is where Mihaly (and Ram) really helped frame things up for me.

Building something is both an obvious, and insanely nuanced idea. It requires vision, patience, empathy, self-awareness, and an egoless mentality. It brings and requires an abundance of mistakes, plenty of self-doubt, the dusting off of forgotten skills, and a need to remind yourself that no one actually cares about what’s already happened, and instead the only way to make it work is to force yourself to bend your perspective (aka...ego?) to … really bend. But in doing this, the tradeoff is that there is a simple, purposeful focus: what feels possible? Possibility—along with variety—is what “work” has always been about, and being creative is about finding those possibilities that make the work worth doing.

✨ A joyful life is an individual creation - Mihaly ✨ A joyful life is an individual creation - Mihaly

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi seemed like a pretty cool guy who—not without character flaws and unfortunate patriarchal sociopolitical views expressed later in life—has always inspired me to seek possibilities alongside people I love and value. As someone that can live firmly in the clouds from time to time, it requires constant effort to consider our collective experience and funnel that energy into unique zones, trying to find a balance between what “I love doing the most” and where “I bring the most value.” This is, in essence, what Mihaly defined as flow. But going further than that, he encouraged us to be self-aware about tackling things we are actually capable of tackling. Avoiding shit that is boring or too complex. It requires us to use our own dissatisfactions of not doing more things we love as the definition of what it means to fuel our own ambition. To shift our heads a little and find that flow state, we are also most able to evolve and learn and actually work towards the convergence of what is and what is possible. Wants become needs, and turn into what’s next, etc.

It took me a long time to realize this, and to (try to) be at peace with the fact that if my goal is to seek what feels possible and worthwhile, it then also means that things are always going to be a little uncomfortable. And really, for me to be fulfilled and happy, it seems to require that I exist in that state, stretching myself (and my brain/heart/soul) to the maximum and remaining in the present. Needing less and feeling better. Definitely can be chaotic and impossible to fully control, but it’s also where the good shit tends to happen.

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,

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Thank you Mihaly for putting context to such a simple, yet ineffable feeling.

I am so appreciative of what you offered and challenged us with. Since we started Varyer, I really wanted to find a way to get him on our site. So here we are, under the worst possible circumstances. But as another icon and dreamer David Berman (RIP) has always reminded us: the meaning of the world lies outside the world. Words to live by, no doubt, but at this point in our collective existence—there’s nothing more important than letting others in on it. ❤️