The Effortless Action of Creative Flow
Your body tingles. Though your eyes are closed, you begin to "see" shapes, figures, and visions in your mind. One minutes goes by as you hold your exhaled breath.
Then two minutes.
Then three minutes.
I'm describing the sensation one might feel on the third or fourth round of the Wim Hof Method breathing exercises.
Each round involves about 30-40 seconds of deep breaths in and out, followed by an exhale breath hold — with the goal being a hold of 60 seconds, but usually stretching much longer once you've done the exercises on a regular basis.
A controlled stressor, the method has been shown to empower positive impacts, such as immune response, reduced anxiety, cardiovascular benefits, and more.
My daily dose of Wim Hof in the mid-day sun is also a form of meditation for me.
When I first lay down to do the exercises, I'm usually a bit fidgety. It takes a bit of time to clear my mind from the activities and thoughts of the day. As such, the first round always feels a bit stressful for me, and that stress is reflected in the fact that I usually can only hold my breath for about 60 seconds on the first round.
But then I get to the second round, and my mind begins to empty. The sun and the breathing begin to warm my body. The tingling sets in. And my body relaxes.
90-120 second breath hold.
By the third round, I'm lost in the flow of my breath, the sun, and my relaxation. The breaths aren't forced, I no longer think about time or my day or, really much of anything.
Two minute breath hold.
By the fourth round, I'm in full meditative mode. I've gone to 3 minutes and 30 seconds, though I know there are people who go much longer.
When I'm done, I lay still and relaxed in my meditative state. Sometimes for ten minutes; sometimes for twenty.
What I've done is CREATED my meditative state; a state when I'm in full flow.
To get there, I had to get over the hump of doing the work. But once I get over that hump and surrender to process, I'm no longer "striving" or "working."
I'm in that state of what the Chinese call Wu-Wei -- a word which loosely translated means "effortless action."
You see, on round one, I'm thinking about and working for results.
By round three or four, I'm getting the results without thinking or working.
As I write in my book, the fifth pillar of the freedom lifestyle is flow. There's an entire chapter there about how to get in a state of flow and what that means, but for the purpose of this post, let's envision a mountain stream.
When you happen upon the stream, you noticed that it flows downhill (even if the slope is slight). When the water comes upon a rock or a boulder, it flows to the left, to the right, or over the boulder. The water exhibits great power, but also does so effortlessly, working with gravity.
Getting in a flow state is being like the water in that stream. A state of Wu-Wei; effortless action.
But to get into that stream, the water had to come from somewhere. Perhaps from a violent rainstorm. Maybe the stream begins at the bottom of a furious waterfall.
The violence of the storm, and the fury of the waterfall, however, subside into the flowing stream.
The storm and the waterfall are similar to my first round of breathing exercises. Forced. Feeling violent. A bit of stress.
But once you get over that hump...everything begins flowing downhill.
This applies to anything in our lives, and is the exact process of how we can unleash our creative flow.
For example, Ernest Hemingway wrote every, single day. There were probably days when he woke up not knowing what the hell he was going to write; days when he woke up hungover or feeling groggy. The first words banged out on his typewriter may have felt like the storm, the waterfall, or round one of my breathing exercises.
But once we was over that hump, his creativity began to flow. Just read how he describes his daily writing process:
When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there.
You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that.
When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.
Writing isn't the only way you release your creative flow. The principles not only applies to the arts, but also to every part of your day.
Take, for example, running. Have you ever started a run feeling tight, when every breath and footfall feels labored? But then, after a few minutes, your legs and lungs loosen up, and before you know it, you lose track of time flowing through a five or ten mile run?
It's easy to deprive yourself of the fulfilling feeling of creative flow by getting scared away from the initial hump; from trying to avoid that initial storm and waterfall.
As much as we'd like to sit at our desk, or on the couch, and suddenly and magically create a flow state from thin air — flow comes when we engage in the process. And some days, engaging in the process means shaking out some cobwebs.
Want to get in that state of creative flow? Jump in headfirst and do the first round.
Follow your process, and begin flowing like that mountain stream.
Before you know it, you'll be unleashing your creative power, and doing it with ease.