I just finished reading Paul Tough's new book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Although I found the entire book to be informative and insightful, the chapter called "How to Think" was especially interesting. The chapter describes middle school students using chess as a way of developing their minds. It is a way for them to internalize success, failure, and perseverance. During this chapter, Tough describes the concept of flow. It is "rare moments in human existence when a person feels free of mundane distractions, in control of his fate, totally engaged in the moment." Flow moments occur "when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult or worthwhile." Tough explains that chess experts describe flow moments in similar terms, "as feelings of intense well-being and control."
Flow is a great word to describe how I feel in the studio, when working on a project. Total absorption in the creative process is flow. It is almost hypnotic. And, if I go for any long period of time without flow, I get depressed. I remember one particularly busy school year, when I was neglecting my art work, in favor of the chaos of school. We were painting a giant mural of the solar system, using house paint, and large masonite panels covered with planets. The four students that were in charge of Jupiter, had gotten carried away with the paint, and had lost the spherical shape of the planet. After school, I set out the panels on the outside school lunch tables, and started to clean up their work a bit with some house paint on a brush. The feeling of flow was overwhelming, just at holding the brush in my hand. It was a reminder to me, not to neglect my creative side. It's easy to let work, chores, and outside distractions take over. But, allowing ourselves time to create is crucial. Flow truly does produce feelings of intense well-being.