Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Overcoming Inertia and Finding the Flow

Sometimes you feel like Sisyphus, straining and struggling to get that rock up to the top of the mountain, only to find it roll right back down.

And sometimes you find yourself so involved in what you are doing, that time itself ceases to exist, until you stop and realize, "Ohhhh yeah, I was in the flow."

Why is most everything such a struggle?
And why is it so bloody difficult to find the flow?

In order to offer an answer to these two questions, I'd like to connect the concepts of overcoming inertia and finding the flow to an epiphany I had in High School.

On the way to the baseball field for tryouts, I walked through the gym and saw the Hamilton High School gymnastics team going through their paces.  I recognized one kid; to avoid slander, I'll just call him Frizzy-haired Nerdy Guy, who was doing an elementary "muscle up" on the rings.   Frizzy-haired Nerdy Guy taunted me, saying I couldn't do the trick he had just done.  Now mind you, I was pretty strong.  In fact, I had set the record in Junior High for pull-ups, so I jumped up and grabbed the rings with bravado and proceeded to struggle and strain and kick my legs around helplessly as I fought with every ounce of strength to pull my body up and I was going nowhere.

With the laughter of the Frizzy-haired Nerdy Guy ringing in my ears, I found myself on the baseball field, waiting to bat, then waiting in the field for someone to hit me the ball.  Just waiting, becoming the very principle of inertia, unchanged, in an existing state of rest until that state is changed by an additional force.  What was the force?  Frizzy-haired Nerdy Guy's laughter?  My ego?  My desire?  My curiosity?  My boredom?  My life passing me by while I'm wasting my time waiting when I could in that gym DOING SOMETHING COOL!

So I took off from the baseball field, ran in my cleats back to the gym and signed up for the gymnastics team.  I strained, I struggled, I ripped up my hands, I woke up each morning in excrutiating soreness, I embarrassed myself constantly, and over time, I got better and better and as I mastered each trick, I found the glorious flow.  The magical moment when all that hard work and struggle and complex thought leads to a magnificent ease and BAM, there I am upside down in perfect balance with people applauding. Countless moments of pain and frustration for a second of glory.  And oh, how it was worth it.

In Taoism, the phrase "wu wei" means effortless flow.  By going with the flow of nature, instead of fighting the laws of the universe we allow them to aid us in our action.  "Wu Wei" makes the difficult look easy.  It's the moment where "Think.  Think.  Don't Think!"  takes you to another level. Picture in your mind any high-level athlete or performer you admire and they seem to defy the laws of physics; but in reality they have learned how to efficiently use them.

Both of my kids played Division 1 soccer in college.  And they both know how in a 90-minute match, they may touch the ball a total of less than a minute, and as grueling as defeat can be, there is that magical moment when time doesn't exist and they make that one play that makes it all worthwhile.  I've seen it in their faces on a game-winning goal and the heavens open. 

So whether it's gymnastics or soccer, or a yoga class or dancing or a project or activity that challenges you to overcome your inertia, you may struggle and strain, but when you find that flow, even if you just touch it for a millisecond, it's glorious, it's magical, and for a fleeting moment that you can recall whenever you need it, you are lifted by the wave, the wind is at your back, and the world is spinning at your speed in your chosen direction.  You aren't just a part of something greater, you are something greater.

So to really beat the sports metaphor up, you have two choices.  Be the spectator and give in to inertia.  Or get on the field of play and find the flow, whether it's commiting to a new exercise plan or a new eating plan or taking the necessary supplements to protect, cleanse and up-regulate your body, or reading that important book or starting that new program.  The additional force to overcome inertia and find the flow is not only within you.  It is you.  

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