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Charlene Meg

What is Flow?
by Charlene Belitz and Meg Lundstrom

Awakening one morning in his sunny Austin bedroom, Caylor Wadlington heard himself saying out loud, "So I’m moving to Denver?" The words were part exclamation, part question, and they woke him up completely. As surprised as he was, he also experienced a happy, pleasurable feeling. But by the next day, he had dismissed the whole thing as just an odd dream. After all, he was cozily ensconced in Austin, where he had lived eight years, and he knew hardly a soul in Denver.

The Power of Flow Book

Then, out of the blue came a phone call from an officer of his national professional association, who invited Caylor to participate in a week-long work meeting — in Denver. Hmmm. . . .maybe there is something to this, Caylor thought, and without further hesitation he said yes.

In Denver, after the meeting ended, Caylor was chatting with another participant, a man who ran a school in the city. "Caylor, if you ever want to live here, I’d like to hire you to teach for me," he said. Caylor thanked him calmly, but inside he was stunned: This is amazing! Walls are coming down to open the way for me to move here!

To leave Austin, however, would require selling a professional business that was so specialized he figured it would take at least a year to find a buyer. Quietly beginning to look around, Caylor invited a friend to Sunday brunch and, over coffee and pastries, laid out the prospect. His friend was not interested, but just as he said no, a colleague of theirs walked in. Caylor had not thought of him as a buyer, but struck by the timing, he told him his business was for sale. The colleague was more than interested — he was thrilled. "Don’t tell another soul!" he said excitedly. "I definitely want it." This seems to be happening all by itself, mused Caylor. Then he received a letter from his landlord: Caylor’s condominium was going to be put on the market. A dream, an opportunity, an offer, the boot—the message was unmistakable. Caylor willingly closed down his life in charming Austin, and moved to Denver.

Caylor wears no wings, sees no auras. But to him, life works in magical and surprising ways when he’s connected to a deeper force in the Universe—and he knows he’s connected because he feels it physically, as a soft, warm feeling inside that links him to a sweet expansiveness. When he’s in that state, he experiences meaningful coincidence after meaningful coincidence. "They add magic to my life, and tell me that the action I’m taking is safe and true and right," he says. And they point the way to new opportunities: "Although I loved Austin, I was starting to feel bored and a little stuck professionally and personally," he says now. "I thought that Denver might open the way in my life to some important changes."

Caylor lives in flow — and through it he has come into a fuller, truer existence. Flow is the natural, effortless unfolding of our lives in a way that moves us toward wholeness and harmony. When we are in flow, occurrences line up, events fall into place, and obstacles melt away. Rather than life being a meaningless struggle, it is permeated with a deep sense of purposefulness and order. Flow has tremendous power to transform our lives, for it is dynamic and moves us unerringly toward joy and aliveness.

Most of us have had experiences of being in flow. In those times, we know we’re in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. We feel both exhilarated and at peace, somehow connected to something larger and greater than ourselves. Life is rich with meaning, magic and purpose. We feel vital, alive, joyful. But for most of us, it doesn’t happen often enough or for long enough. We feel glimmerings of flow, and then they fade away.

This doesn’t have to be the case: people like Caylor have learned to make flow their way of life, the rule rather than the exception. The way they do it is through synchronicity -- those meaningful coincidences in which outside events, seemingly disconnected in time and space, link up with our internal states and connect us with the greater whole.

When synchronicity happens, people like Caylor follow the direction it seems to indicate — and then they watch synchronicity happen more and more. They know they are deeply in flow when synchronicity is sparking all around them. By using synchronicity for guidance, confirmation, and validation, their lives become a dance of energy with the Universe, a give-and-take with their environment that fills their days with insight and zest.

This way of life requires giving paying attention to meaningful coincidence. Caylor, for example, could have disregarded his dream and turned down the Denver job. But over time he had developed a strong respect for what he considers signs from the Universe, both subtle and unmistakable. He has learned that by paying attention to these signs, he reaches new levels of comprehension about his inner life and his role in the world.

"Synchronicity is lyrical—a little sprite of a surprise, a little gift," he says. "It can get so big that everything can start to talk to you; everything can suggest things. When you enter that dimension, synchronicity becomes part of your self-definition."

Think of the times synchronicity has happened in your life. It might be when you thought of someone and the phone rang with that person on the other end. Maybe you ran across someone from home in a faraway place when you were feeling lonely, or the same number repeated itself at significant times, or unlikely events dramatically converged to save you in a tight spot.

When you experience flow on a daily basis, synchronicities such as these are as natural to you as breathing. Although by its very nature, synchronicity cannot be created, controlled, or planned, when you live a life of flow, you can practically depend on synchronicity to show up.

Notice the words: it’s when you experience flow — not if. That’s because the power of flow is absolutely attainable. To experience it requires first of all that you choose to undertake that process. Then you must develop the necessary skills, much as you do when you learn to ride a bike: it takes focus to learn the basics and practice to make it second nature, but once you know how to do it, you enjoy ease and smoothness and elation. Flow is a lifelong process that is rich with rewards all along the way.

In writing the book The Power of Flow, to understand how flow works, we interviewed fifty "flowmasters" — people highly engaged in the process of flow. They range in age from seventeen to ninety-six and include lawyers, dancers, secretaries, students, foundation heads, middle managers, therapists, professors, consultants, homemakers, teachers, activists, health professionals, a minister, a rancher, an inventor. We spent absorbing hours with them, delving into why their lives have purpose, inner ease and joyfulness. We asked them about their turning points, their beliefs, their daily practices. We explored why life works so well for them, and what they do day to day to experience flow consciously and consistently.

The flowmasters did not have only one approach to life. Some were feisty and engaged in changing the world; some were gentle and relaxed; some had the exuberance of children; some had thoughtful, deliberate ways. Looking back over our discussions, commonalities emerged. The flowmasters were open; they stretched themselves to learn and grow; they had deep integrity; they constantly felt steadfastly grateful; and they were dedicated to living by their inner truths. Being with them made us feel richer, and hours of engrossing conversation passed like minutes.

Valuable information came from two other sources as well. In response to magazine and newspaper articles, hundreds of people from all over the country filled out surveys on their experiences and beliefs. And we organized nine focus groups involving 98 people across the country who hashed through the topics, processes, and techniques we'd learned from the flowmasters. The flowmaster interviews, surveys, and group discussions were transcribed and sorted by subject matter into 241 categories. When printed out — a 12-hour process — the reports filled nearly 1,600 pages.

Our conclusion from this research process is that flow is the ultimate feedback machine. Flow responds directly to our beliefs, behaviors, and actions. We can either enhance this state of perfect timing and flawless serendipity, or we can diminish it and even cut it off. When we become open, willing, trusting, we experience flow as fulfillment and joy, and synchronicities pop up all over the place. When we become fearful, doubting, controlling, flow diminishes, our day is filled with blocks and frustrations, and synchronicities cease.

We distilled the major beliefs, attitudes and behaviors of the flowmasters into the nine attributes that engage flow. They are:

  • Commitment – Living by our deepest values
  • Honesty – Telling the truth to ourselves and others
  • Courage – Overcoming our fears
  • Passion—Engaging at deep levels with what we care about
  • Immediacy – Being in the moment
  • Openness – Saying Yes to whatever comes our way
  • Receptivity – Listening to inner and outer messages
  • Positivity – Finding the value in each situation
  • Trust – Having faith in ourselves and the Universe

We identified fourteen practical techniques to deepen those attributes in ourselves:

  1. Be aware
  2. Accept yourself and others
  3. Express who you really are
  4. Create silence
  5. Follow your intuition
  6. Practice mindfulness
  7. Do 100% of what you know to do – and trust
  8. Finish things and move on
  9. Take risks
  10. Break with your old reality
  11. Appreciate yourself
  12. Express gratitude
  13. Give of yourself
  14. Get a point of view from the Universe

The response of focus groups that tried out the exercises offered in the book and the feedback of readers since then has assured us that, yes, we all have it within ourselves to expand into meaning, lightness, and serenity. We don’t have to be yogis chanting mantras in icy Himalayan caves to live in this state of inner peace. Because synchronicity is the key — and synchronicity occurs to absolutely everyone — we all have it within ourselves to live in flow.

No matter where you are on your path, this approach works. If you have been pursuing personal and spiritual growth for years, this approach can provide you with feedback from the Universe that will lead you to understand yourself even better. If you are just now turning your attention to life’s deeper questions, it offers you an easy, immediate means of access into the workings of your consciousness. If your world is devoid of meaning, here’s a way to find significance in the commonplace. A bird flying across your path, a book dropped at your feet, a postcard arriving in the mail – all can improbably but definitively connect you to deeper currents of existence.

The journey will transform your life. With synchronicity as your compass, flow is your inevitable destination.

© Charlene Belitz and Meg Lundstrom. All Rights Reserved. Adapted from The Power of Flow: Practical Ways to Transform Your Life with Meaningful Coincidence (Three Rivers Press 1998).

Charlene Belitz teaches human communication studies at the University of Denver, where she is in the doctoral program. She has led hundreds of communication and transformational seminars in corporate, academic, government, and personal development settings. She has traveled to sacred sites in India, Nepal and Tibet, and lives in Denver.

Meg Lundstrom, a magazine writer and former newspaper reporter, has written extensively about self-development approaches and the human search for meaning in relationships, work, and spirituality. She has spent time in holy places around the world, particularly in India. She lives in Saugerties, New York.


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