Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Preposterousness of Celebrity

Okay, this post got a little out of hand...grab your coffee....

Is there a tipping point when fame becomes a hindrance to happiness?

At the TONY Awards after party I think I hindered the personal happiness of Cynthia Nixon, who played Miranda Hobbs on Sex and the City. I don't watch much TV, and never read celebrity magazines. Which is bad luck for those involved in shows I DO watch, because they become a focus of intense adoration. If I ever meet the creators of South Park...my mind becomes confused at the number of ways I could embarrass myself....

Miranda I loved especially- her dry wit, loyalty to her friends, her vulnerability and her courage. Me and Miranda had been through a lot. Seeing her sitting at a nearby table (and having finished wolfing down my assortment of food from the buffet) I dithered, enquired to Danny as to the least offensive way to approach her then launched over to her table. Of course I knew it wasn't 'Miranda' but some part of me wanted to connect to the person I already felt so connected to.

Above is a pic of Danny (the friend who got us into the Tonys) and I. Okay you can't tell we're at the Tony's but we are. We were z-list so went in the back door.

Ms. Nixon kindly set done her cutlery and waited for the diatribe, which I, crouching beside her chair, promptly provided: "I know it was a long time ago but I loved the show, Miranda was my favorite character, wanted to thank you blah de blah de blah.."

She crinkled her eyes at me and thanked me. I added a little blather. She picked up her fork. I duly got up from my crouching position, and as her friends at the table sighed....I suddenly realized I had NO IDEA who it was that I had just spoken to. As a reasonable judge of people's underlying feelings and thoughts, I would also say fairly accurately that while my approach was not hostile or aggressive, it was trying for her. SHE KNEW that I had no idea who she was. There was disappointment and disillusionment on one side, and a kind of gentle, tired resignation on the other.

If I'd have approached this with more wisdom, I'd have thought about what it was in her rendition of the character of Miranda that touched me so much. What aspect of the thought and effort Cynthia put into her work that carried over into the heart of one person watching. Really, it was irrelevant that Miranda was MY favorite character. From her perspective, if indeed I was thankful, I was thankful for her creating a character that helped me (and my friends) through some tough times, made us laugh and entertained us. It was her skill in her craft that allowed that to happen.

The point is, my immediate reaction was obviously a common one. How many fans really think about an actor's motivation or skill behind the weaving of character? The very nature of celebrity ignores these aspects, instead focusing on the person as worthy of attention purely because a lot of people recognize their face.

Fame in most senses is a one-sided relationship - where the fan has a relationship with a celebrity, based on his or her perception of how that person relates to his or her life. They have a history, but it is all one-sided.

Sure, the more savvy fans would restrict their emotional ties to the character, yet so much in our society promotes adoration of the protagonist. To whose benefit?

Walking away from the table, not only did I feel a trifle silly, I also felt a twang of empathy. Remembering the times I'd been approached by overly-friendly people who had no idea who I was. Usually in such cases I jump to the immediate conclusion that they are going to invite me to their church, or to join a pyramid shopping scheme. Now imagine being approached by 10, or even 50 of those people per day!

The next night, I was at another event where I happened upon a man who was a big part of my favorite film of this year, the documentary Air Guitar Nation. Bjorn Turoque (not his real name...duh) has made the art of air guitar his life's focus.

Air Guitar Nation chronicles the American regional try-outs for the world Air Guitar Championships, and the finals in Finland themselves. Without ruining the film for you, lets just say Bjorn puts in extraordinary effort - an almost maniacal focus and belief in himself as the best, despite what the judges may think. The below pic is of Bjorn Turoqe (right) with arch nemisis C-Diddy.

When I mentioned that I'd seen the film and it was my favorite of the year, he said, with some disappointment - "Yes, you were only one of the two people who saw it." (Incidentally, probably because of how he was portrayed in the film, I didn't have any overwhelming desire to make a complete gushing idiot of myself this time. It was, I think, a fairly normal conversation.)

It's unlikely you've seen the film; it had only limited release. So you'll have to trust me when I say that Bjorn desires fame. It is apparent in his words, and more so in his actions. There is a desperateness portrayed in the film - he seems to be seeking not only acceptance, but adoration. Which is not unusual. After all, isn't that what we're led to believe celebrity generates?

If Bjorn really had fame, would he really want it still? Would the outpouring of goodwill and curiosity increase his level of happiness? Almost definitely it would leave him wanting more, as the adoration would be hollow. That is, his fans would adore him, but not know him as - and this is my assumption - he wants them to. This is DESPITE him being in a documentary; the portrayal is still just that, a cut and pasted character that propels the storyline.

And if it is art we're adoring, really, would his fans appreciate the intricacies of the air guitar moves he pulls out? Is that a really silly question? Or am I giving higher credence to Cynthia Nixon's almost 30 year career purely based on my own paradigms?

Does the desire for external approval correspond directly with the amount of art and skill required to perform the role? In other words, if you're really passionate about something for reasons other than gaining fame, does external approval matter? If the skill requires concentration and sweat, passion and internal rewards, what affect does it have when other people compliment your work? And, if the practice, whatever it is, is fairly easy, requires little thought or effort or talent...do we then need more or less approval in order to feel happy in ourselves?

Could Flow be a critical factor in the personal well-being of celebrities?

Did Tolstoy crave fame? Michaelangelo? Do U2 or...Bic Runga or the Killers or (insert great living jazz legend) create music so that people will know who they are?

What about Britney and those like her whose songs are not their own, who mould their careers around what will bring in the most public attention... Was the catalyst for her 'fall' the realization that the adoration she craved was empty? Was it because her 'art' couldn't hold her up on its own? Then again, plenty of talented actors/musicians etc fall into drugs and alcohol and depression. Perhaps the aggressiveness of fame, the momentary elation that always needs to be surpassed next time to gain a greater high, overwhelms the internal processes and parameters.

Celebrity is pleasure versus gratification at its most grand and terrific. And in this case, the pull of pleasure is so intense and so powerful...even many thoughtful, talented and committed people fall to its endless cycle of distorted emotion.

Given all of this, in my opinion (which may change!) the best sort of fame must be that which is devoid of personality, yet still recognizes the efforts that go into the art. It must be based on a sense of flow, the intense effort and concentration tied directly to personal, internal rewards. Recognition is not in itself a bad thing, I think. Nor are compliments where given truly.

And for fans, it is best to do no more than appreciate what is on offer, and not to try and work out the person beneath. That person is none of our business - it is their art which they have shared freely, nothing else. And the art should be enough.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Putting feelings into words produces therapeutic effects in the brain

The below is taken from a UCLA press release (21 June) describing recent discoveries in the links between naming emotions, mindfulness and positive feeling. You can read the entire article here, although it is so fascinating I've pasted almost all of it!

Why does putting our feelings into words — talking with a therapist or friend, writing in a journal — help us to feel better? A new brain imaging study by UCLA psychologists reveals why verbalizing our feelings makes our sadness, anger and pain less intense.

Another study, with the same participants and three of the same members of the research team, combines modern neuroscience with ancient Buddhist teachings to provide the first neural evidence for why “mindfulness” — the ability to live in the present moment, without distraction — seems to produce a variety of health benefits.

When people see a photograph of an angry or fearful face, they have increased activity in a region of the brain called the amygdala, which
serves as an alarm to activate a cascade of biological systems to protect the body in times of danger.

But does seeing an angry face and simply calling it an angry face change our brain response? The answer is yes, according to Matthew
D. Lieberman, UCLA associate professor of psychology and a founder of social cognitive neuroscience.

“When you attach the word ‘angry,’ you see a decreased response in the amygdala,” said Lieberman. The study showed that
while the amygdala was less active when an individual labeled the feeling, another region of the brain was more active: the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. This region is located behind the forehead and eyes and has been associated with thinking in words about emotional experiences. It has also been implicated in inhibiting behavior and processing emotions, but exactly what it contributes has not been known.

“What we’re suggesting is when you start thinking in words about your emotions —labeling emotions — that might be part of what the right ventrolateral region is responsible for,” Lieberman said.

Many people are not likely to realize why putting their feelings into words is helpful.

“If you ask people who are really sad why they are writing in a journal, they are not likely to say it’s because they think this is a way to make themselves feel better,” Lieberman said. “People don’t do this to intentionally overcome their negative feelings; it just seems to have that effect. Popular psychology says when you’re feeling down, just pick yourself up, but the world doesn’t work that way. If you know you’re
trying to pick yourself up, it usually doesn’t work — self-deception is
difficult. Because labeling your feelings doesn’t require you to want to feel better, it doesn’t have this problem.”

(Subjects in the study) ...viewed images of individuals making different emotional expressions. Below the picture of the face they
either saw two words, such as “angry” and “fearful,” and chose which emotion described the face, or they saw two names, such as “Harry” and “Sally,” and chose the gender-appropriate name that matched the face.

“When you attach the word ‘angry,’ you see a decreased response in the amygdala,” Lieberman said. “When you attach the name ‘Harry,’ you don’t see the reduction in the amygdala response."....

“When you put feelings into words, you’re activating this prefrontal
region and seeing a reduced response in the amygdala,” he said. “In the same way you hit the brake when you’re driving when you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses.”

As a result, an individual may feel less angry or less sad...

One benefit of therapy may be to strengthen this brain
region. Does therapy lead to physiological changes in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex? Lieberman, UCLA psychology professor Michelle Craske and their colleagues are studying this question.

Combining Buddhist Teachings and Modern Neuroscience
After the participants left the brain scanner, 27 of them filled out questionnaires about “mindfulness.”

“One way to practice mindfulness meditation and pay attention to present-moment experiences is to label your emotions by saying, for example, ‘I’m feeling angry right now’ or ‘I’m feeling a lot of stress right now’ or ‘this is joy’ or whatever the emotion is,” said (David) Creswell, lead author of the study.(...)

Creswell, who conducted the mindfulness research as an advanced graduate student of psychology at UCLA, said mindfulness
meditation is a “potent and powerful therapy that has been helping people for thousands of years.”

Previous studies have shown that mindfulness meditation is effective in reducing a variety of chronic pain conditions, skin disease, stress-related health conditions and a variety of other ailments, he said.

Creswell and his UCLA colleagues — Lieberman, Eisenberger and Way — found that during the labeling of emotions, the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex was activated, which seems to turn down activity in the amygdala. They then compared participants’ responses on the mindfulness questionnaire with the results of the labeling study.

“We found the more mindful you are, the more activation you have in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the less activation you have in the amygdala,” Creswell said. “We also saw activation in widespread centers of the prefrontal cortex for people who are
high in mindfulness. This suggests people who are more mindful bring all sorts of prefrontal resources to turn down the amygdala. These findings may help explain the beneficial health effects of mindfulness meditation, and suggest, for the first time, an underlying reason why mindfulness meditation programs improve mood and health.

“The right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex can turn down the emotional response you get when you feel angry,” he said. “This moves
us forward in beginning to understand the benefits of mindfulness meditation. For the first time, we’re now applying scientific principles to try to understand how mindfulness works.(...")

“This is such an exciting study because it brings together the Buddha’s teachings — more than 2,500 years ago, he talked about the benefits of labeling your experience — with modern neuroscience,” Creswell said. “Now, for the first time since those teachings, we have shown there is actually a neurological reason for doing mindfulness
meditation. Our findings are consistent with what mindfulness meditation teachers have taught for thousands of years.”

Friday, June 22, 2007

What are your Signature Strengths?

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about signature strengths; the concept of signature strengths is pretty obvious. What is interesting about the approach of positive psychology is that it suggests we focus primarily on the top ones (in order to live a more fulfilling, satisfactory life etc...you get the drift by now...if not, see the introductory post on positive psychology)

I've done two signature strengths tests, and the top results come out much the same. Also, they feel about right to me.

Mine are, in order....
  • Your Top Strength
    Curiosity and interest in the world

    You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery. In the below picture I am discovering that this is a sit-down rather than a lie-down hammock

Your Second Strength
Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness
Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind.

Your Third Strength
Love of learning

You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.

Your Fourth Strength
Capacity to love and be loved

You value close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. The people to whom you feel most close are the same people who feel most close to you.

Your Fifth Strength
Social intelligence

You are aware of the motives and feelings of other people. You know what to do to fit in to different social situations, and you know what to do to put others at ease.

You can take an online test to determine your signature strengths here. (The VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire.) Takes about 15 min...

Okay, so now I want to figure out how to further implement these strengths into my life. I know I'm already doing some of it anyway - I'm already drawn to new things, travel and discovery. I love a long chat with a good friend, especially on topics that are new to me or buckle my paradigms. That's the easy part. Now it's time to think outside my current box, (and maybe integrate some of the strengths a little further down the list)....and think about how they can apply to my work, my relationships and my 'inner satisfaction'.

Bravery and valor (I scored lower on this one in another, shorter test)

Fairness, equity, and justice

Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness

Kindness and generosity

Perspective (wisdom)


Honesty, authenticity, and genuineness

Humor and playfulness

Creativity, ingenuity, and originality

Forgiveness and mercy

Industry, diligence, and perseverance


Zest, enthusiasm, and energy (Scored higher on this one in another test)

Spirituality, sense of purpose, and faith

Citizenship, teamwork, and loyalty

Appreciation of beauty and excellence

Self-control and self-regulation

Caution, prudence, and discretion

Modesty and humility

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Damn it, where IS my Mind?

I've been on a quest to find my mind this last weekend. I wish I'd known how hard it would be. I wish they'd named the Retreat a "highly concentrated and mentally demanding weekend", because then I'd have rested-up first and not chosen THIS weekend to finally give up coffee (again).

At the new and rather glitzy Buddhist Kadampa Center about two hours north-west of New York, deer roam free, frogs grunt happily and a proliferation of bugs of various types celebrate their unassailability. Our group of around 70 enlightenment-seekers drove up in our various 4x4s and Fords, and set up our beds in a 'barn', which was more like an upper-class hostel, or a low grade motel without the mini-bar. My new friend Enny, a psychologist, perceptively pointed out that there no Jackie Collins books on the bookshelves.

Briefly, and far too glibly, were we here to embark on the path to enlightenment through a practice known as Heart Jewel. In essence, we were looking to be on a more intimate basis with our mind, to understand the nature of reality, and begin Tantric study. (No, this isn't an orgy retreat; "tantric" is just one of those oft-maligned words) This practice builds a foundation on which to layer the Dharma - the "right way of living"- through kindness, generosity, confidence, wisdom and love - so as to benefit ourselves and others.

This is a tough course - some Buddhist groups never bring up the subject with all but the most experienced practitioners. It's relatively easy to 'watch the mind' during meditation. For instance, realize the breath, note the thoughts, experience feelings all as being from the mind - being mindful. Now, take a step back. Watch the watcher. Change perception from the perceiver to the perceived. Find the mind itself; a clarity in which perception drops like water into an ocean, or clouds dissipate into a clear sky.

While I brought my best mind to proceedings, my best mind was not in very good shape. It was tired. It was annoyed at itself for not being able to find itself. It was trying very hard to at once relax, and seek itself out. It was me, I am it, it was in there/me somewhere!

In between two-hour sessions we ate fresh vege stir-fries, curries and for breakfast, cereals with fresh fruit and yogurt. The food was good; cookbooks lined the shelves in the dining room. I played with the cat and listened to the frogs.

I brought my frustrations at my lack of Mind to the Minds of a lot of patient people. And it became very clear that my frustration was natural - for many people it takes years rather than days to achieve that peaceful, clear state. One new friend even said he found the process joyful (at which point I realized I was probably mucking the whole thing up right from the beginning!)
Phew...cool...and I still hadn't had a coffee.

So, the rest of the day I concentrated, and eased off on myself. It was a whole lot better. I brought in other aspects of the teachings to my meditation, visualizing my highest potential, even joining in some of the singing. Letting go the bag of up-tight-ness I didn't even realize I'd brought with me.

Additionally, I learned that our teacher, Kadam Morton, (a most eloquent, funny and humble teacher who mixes Dharma teaching with Beck lyrics) is a roller-blader! In fact, he roller-blades to each teaching in the city, cross-town in Manhattan. Now I'm even more impressed with his spiritual audacity!

Sunday rolls around and I'm starting to recover from the week... my concentration is improving as I let myself relax, my visualisations carry me through the next few hours. I'm more aware of how I respond to people, I'm more aware of my thoughts. But it feels like just the beginning. And I have to leave early.

I say good bye to the frogs and the cat and the monks and all my new friends who, if you put them together anywhere else you'd be mighty confused as to how they knew each other. Unless it was in an airport.

Ironically, I'm leaving early to attend the "glamoros" TONY Awards - and wishing I had more time..... YET absolutely certain that I should leave now, instead of staying for one last sessions and cutting it fine on the way back. That's one benefit of meditation for me - better, quickly and more concise decision-making.

I'm writing this with one mind and many memories. If I wrote it tomorrow it'd be different (and maybe better). If you're reading it, you're reading it with your mind of today, which is different from your mind of yesterday and yet is also the basis of your mind tomorrow. How well do you know your mind?

I'm definitely far from enlightened, except to the fact that hippie retreats are damn hard work.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Optimism helps prevent Alzheimer's

From an article in yesterday's USA Today:

"...A third study, also presented at the meeting,
suggests that optimism and the ability to establish and carry out goals might be traits that help keep the aging brain in shape. Simon Forstmeier and colleagues at the University of Zurich in Switzerland studied 120 people ages 60 to 95. He found that seniors with a can-do attitude did better on memory and thinking tests given at the time of the study.

Forstmeier says people can be trained to be more optimistic, to regulate emotion, and to formulate and achieve goals -- all traits that might help build a brain resistant to Alzheimer's.

"We don't know if we'll be able to fully prevent Alzheimer's," Brookmeyer says. But he and other experts are urging people to take steps now that might reduce their risk: "Even a small delay in the disease will have a big impact." "

Friday, June 08, 2007

Gad Damn Hippies!

When I attended my first meditation class six months ago I never envisaged myself going on a three day retreat with a bunch of tree-hugging hippies. But here I am, all packed with my mobile and camera and Ipod and sunscreen and cowboy hat, preparing to go upstate to the Kadampa Meditation Centre to attend meditation classes and talks on Buddhist philosophy.

I've had a curiosity about Buddhism for a while, but never really explored in much depth. However, when I stumbled upon (or into) the Chakrasambara Meditation Center, a Buddhist center (located on the 5th floor of an office building), the warm, bright space, non-dogmatic approach and seemingly 'normal' people all appealed.

Since then, I've been testing out the philosophies in every day life and in particular, to how I approach challenges and mental buttresses. It works. There isn't any need to dress this up...for me, the tactics, the ways of understanding the world that come from the Buddhist viewpoint, make sense. I feel happier for having employed them...more 'myself' and noticeably calmer (according to relieved roommates, friends and family!)

(I am not without reservations on some aspects, but can come back to these later, with more knowledge).

Each session includes a guided meditation followed by a talk - ranging from the nature of reality and of self, to how to live, enjoy and use every moment wisely, to karma, death and enlightenment. Our main teacher is Kadam Morten, whose philosophical yet very down-to-earth, funny and accessible teachings pack in around 80 people per class. (He also happens to be quite a handsome man. sometimes I look around at the women in the class and wonder how many of them are using the class itself in a practice in non-attachment!!)

The classes never fail to stimulate my mind, and the meditation - which I now try to practice every morning - has been, for the most part, massively rewarding.

I'm not too sure what's going on this weekend....like seeing a movie with good reviews, I haven't tried to find out too much about the content itself. I don't really even know the people that well...but it's unlikely there'll be any squabbling over who gets the most dessert. :)

Peace out.

Private Promises

How important is it to keep the promises you make to yourself? If you make the rules, does it matter if you break them as well? Is there any pay-off from keeping private promises, when no one else cares?

As a patchwork coffee quitter, I quit for weeks, sometimes months, then go back 'on it'. Coffee affects me wickedly, gets the brain jumping, the body buzzing, it tastes so goooood...but then there is the after-ache in the muscles and the inability to sleep at night.

So, after a week 'on' I promised myself I'd stop today. At 11am the argument in my head starts up...I'm tired, didn't sleep too good, am definitely going off it this weekend as I'm on retreat, can start tomorrow, one little one won't hurt' etc etc. Then - no, I promised myself. I won't, I said I wouldn't, will feel better if I don't etc etc.

Then at 12pm I feel a little more tired and a little hungry - about the amount hungry that a delicious french-vanilla-iced-coffee-with-a-splash-of-soy-milk-and-one-Splenda would fill nicely before lunch.....and then..... ahh bugger it...

So, post coffee (and a bit jittery) I'm not feeling a lot better although it tasted great. Every sip the true definition of guilty pleasure.

But now I'm annoyed at me for not fulfilling my own promise to myself. I let myself down. I'm guilty. I'm a little bit bad.

At the same time, I justify it - this is silly, stop beating myself up. I made the rule, I can break it. Right? How important is a little coffee anyway?

In the context of learning about my mind and the things that create long term happiness, I'm beginning to think that little promises kept actually do have a long term effect. Every promise kept is like a little pat on the shoulder - it instills confidence in my own willpower, my own ability to control my mind. When I not do fulfil a promise, it endorses an inability, a loss of self-control. Also it gathers the dust which becomes a cloudy premonition of the next time I promise myself something.

So, the remedy? (besides not drinking coffee...). Well, I thought I could make another rule to NOT do something, or I could make a rule to DO something. Something positive, like concentrating on finishing a piece of work, connecting to a friend I haven't thought about for a while, achieving a sense of flow sometime today. Snuffing out the negative with a positive. A positive that can be enacted NOW rather than waiting for the next coffee-nag to come knocking.

So...baby steps, baby promises. If I can keep baby promises to myself, I anticipate a feeling of accomplishment rather than that niggling feeling of slight self-disappointment by the end of the day. And if I stuff up, I'll just make some more. Easier ones.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Inline skating - trying to flow and not fall over

As an added incentive to my desire to learn how to roller-blade, (inline skate, whatever) I'm looking at it in the context of Flow.

I heard that blading tutors gave free stopping lessons in Central Park, so after making a plan to go up there one hot Saturday, telling people at lunch that I was going, getting on the subway...walking over there....I was definitely hoping that it would rain. Really suddenly and really hard.

I did end up rumbling down a very slight hill with my instructor, Michael, guiding me...and me being VERY aware of actually listening to his instructions rather than drifting off. The below photo is not me, but I pretty much looked like this...(photo by Kim Moran)

Being in flow requires absolutely no emotion, and total concentration. So, I'm concentrating pretty hard and have graduated from the learner's area to a hill that leads down to the Park proper, and I'm supposed to be using my brake on and off, like in car...but I sort of veer off and start speeding up and can't brake or I'll fall over and start yelling obscenities in Michael's direction (not at him; wasn't so silly as to insult my potential savior...) and break out into a flash-flood all-body-sweat ....before he eventually does save me. Being petrified surely counts as an emotion? In which case this whole 'experiment' is likely to be irrelevant as well as traumatic.

Michael told me not to panic. THEN he said - how about doing a loop of the park? Nutter! - There's a hill right there, and another further on!

After much persuasion (and me debating my own dedication to this flow rubbish) off we go.... The loop was a short one - about 25 minutes - but with plenty of sloping hills. Plenty to scare the crap out of me, leave me crimson-faced and dripping and shaking, legs going even more spastic than usual.

A couple of times Michael saved me but all along he chatted to me and asked if I was glad I agreed to this. And after I again went too fast and couldn't brake but 'hunkered down' (with Michael yelling 'hunker DOWN! hunker DOWN!') and not crashing into those people or that stroller and not falling over..... I was glad I was at least trying.

The other pay-off was me doing something that I had said to myself (and others) that I would do. I knew that at the sniff of any little excuse I would have high-tailed it home and 'made up' for it by cleaning my room or doing the dishes.

Going round Central Park was a grade beyond my presumed capabilities, something I had thought impossible to do NOW. The pay-off was correspondingly large. Whether or not I was in Flow some or all of the time is debatable; I was certainly too busy trying to stay upright to notice anyone else. And, now, a week later, I'm actually looking forward to trying again. Well, maybe THAT is extrapolating, but I'm not dreading it.

Michael wouldn't take the money I tried to push on him, but offered to come blading with me again. So I guess there's some positive pay off in teaching something new to a sh*t-scared, potty-mouthed, sweaty and spastic-legged foreigner ...

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Bit of background on the concept of flow...

Here are the key components of flow by Martin Seligman:

  • The task is challenging and requires skill

  • We concentrate

  • There are clear goals

  • We get immediate feedback

  • We have deep, effortless involvement

  • There is a sense of control

  • Our sense of self vanishes

  • Time stops
Flow is the difference between a philosophical conversation or gossipping about celebrities; between background Muzak or picking apart the different elements and melodies produced by a jazz ensemble, or creating the music yourself. Flow is cooking a full meal rather than ordering take-out. Flow is utterly absorbing, yet contains no inherent emotion in itself.

Flow was proposed first by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ("cheeks sent me high"). It is the state entered into where no emotion exists, yet our mental (and sometimes physical) faculties are absorbed into an immense concentration. It delivers measurable results, and involves risk of failure. Engaging in flow frequently has been shown to improve long term happiness.

For me, writing this post is an example of flow.

Here's a thought (well, new for me)... considering the above, it strikes me that there must be levels of flow. That it is possible to engage in pursuits that have meaningful results without COMPLETE concentration or loss of the sense of self. I'm sure for instance, that a cabaret singer is at once involved in flow, yet utterly in sync with her own reactions to the audience, and their reactions back towards her.

Listening intently to music versus creating music itself.... surely the latter involves a far greater depth of flow (and therefore greater mental rewards). It would follow that the more intense or difficult the activity, the greater the concentration, and the greater the reward.

Someone old (I know, I never said this blog was about total accuracy!) once was asked how she lived to such a great age and kept her mind agile, to which she replied - "Every day I pray to God to send me something difficult to do, and every day he provides".

As part of my self experiment, I'm going to try and choose flow whenever the option presents itself. Then I'll describe how the activity influenced my mind, my body, and my mood. My aim will be to measure both the short and longer term benefits (over say, months rather than hours) of the activities, and further define the 'best' sort of flow for me.

Another article from the American Psychological Association