Wednesday, 24 September 2014


Hungarian Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the metaphor “flow”. “Flow theory” states  a phenomenological structure of seven dimensions and describes the experience for individuals across occupations, demographic groups, and cultures. Csikszentmihalyi lists them as follows.[1]

Phenomenological dimensions of Flow:

Balance of skill and demand
Action and awareness merged
Concentration on task
Sense of potential control
Loss of self‑consciousness
Altered sense of time
Autotelic (self‑rewarding) experience

The metaphor of flowing or “flow” is used by Csikszentmihalyi to designate the moods of life that are the basis of optimal experiences. He as describes these moments as:
These exceptional moments are what I have called flow experiences. The metaphor of flow is one that many people have used to describe the sense of effortless action they feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives. Athletes refer to it as "being in the zone", religious mystics as being in ecstasy, and artists and musicians as aesthetic rapture. Athletes, mystics, and artists do very different things when they reach flow, yet their descriptions of the experience are remarkably similar.[2]                     

In modern sports psychology, athletes and coaches have referred to this flowing mood as “being in the zone”. “Being in the zone” is a calm yet energized, challenged yet confident, focused yet instinctive mood. A mood characterized by confidence and only slight resistance.
In regards to religion, Csikszentmihalyi thinks that the “flow” phenomenon equivalent to ecstasy. I disagree and would not equate religious ecstasy always with “flow”. Ecstasy is itself an elated mood but different then flow. Therefore to maintain the religious connections, “flow” may be closer to the Zen Buddhist phenomena of muga or “no-mind.” The state of muga, occurs when the split between the acting self and the self-observing self disappears, and the act becomes effortless, automatic, and entranced.
In the arts, this “flow” phenomenon is frequently called aesthetic rapture. It was this phenomenon of aesthetic rapture that was the basis for the interest and the development of the metaphor of “flow” by Csikszentmihalyi. This is because Csikszentmihalyi doctoral thesis focused on how visual artists create art. To do this, he studied photos taken every three minutes as artists created a painting. After looking at many of the photos he writes:
Struck by how deeply they were involved in work, forgetting everything else. That state seemed so intriguing that I started also looking for it in chess players, in rock climbers, in dancers and in musicians. I expected to     find substantial differences in all their activities, but people reported very            similar accounts of how they felt. Then, I started looking at professions like surgery and found the same elements there in a challenge which provides clear, high goals and immediate feedback... They forget themselves, the time, and their problems.[3]

As it is shown, flowing involves a special experience of the self, reality, time and is filled with emotions of satisfaction and great enjoyment.

[1] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow (Harper Collins, New York, 1997) p.29
[2] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow (Harper Collins, New York, 1997) p.29
[3] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow (Harper Perennial, New York,, 1991) p.4