Monday, July 26, 2010

What Does Flow Feel Like?

I realized my last post spent a lot of time explaining how to achieve Flow through setting up the necessary components but I didn’t get a chance to talk more about what it actually feels like when you get to experience it.

How do you express in words a very inner experience? It makes me wish I had the word skills of a poet.

And what if you haven’t experienced it? Does that mean you suck as a climber? No. It just means that you are missing out on a more holistic climbing experience that includes the inner experience. You can still climb without experiencing Flow much like you can still have sex without having an orgasm; still feels great but feels much better along with the final product so to speak. But I digress. Again, wishing I was a wordsmith.

I think it is necessary to say that you feel Flow throughout the climb. It is a process, not something you feel only when you get to the top of the climb. For me, Flow is the feeling of effortless grace. Each move just folds into the next one as if I’m climbing automatically. I am not thinking about my technique, it just comes to me through muscle memory. I am fully immersed in the climb with a sort of “relaxed concentration” of calmness and confidence as I move upward. I seem to intuitively know where to go and how to move my body to get there. It’s like an organic dance with the route as my dance partner. I am in full control without consciously trying to control it.
The author in Flow
Am I the only climber who recognizes how complex this experience is? It’s like a spiritual experience for me. There are so many layers in what I just expressed yet the inner experience so often gets minimized and overshadowed by other components such as onsights and first ascents. Meaning, the inner process gets overshadowed by the final product instead of focusing on how you got there. What I’m trying to stress is that if you actually cared about HOW you got there you will start actually getting more of those onsights and first ascents you deem so important. You could say I’m advocating for adding the “inner experience” to the list of disciplines you need to hone in addition to technique, strength building and understanding gear systems.

Achieving Flow for me must feel something like a Zen student trying to experience a satori when they meditate. While I do not have a formal meditation practice, I have talked with many friends who do and our language is often similar in what we are trying to experience. The quick fix American side of me wishes I could just snap my fingers, put everything in place and experience Flow on every route. But feeling Flow is something of an accident. You can only set everything in place and build a solid foundation and then you have to wait for Flow to happen. How frickin’ frustrating! But I like knowing that if I do put everything in place waiting for this “accident” to happen then at least I am more accident prone.

I’ve met a few wordsmith climbers in my time. Are you one of them? Please share your experience of what Flow feels like. What does Flow feel like for you? Maybe you have experienced more layers or more sensations than I reflected on. I would love to hear about it.

1 comment:

  1. The best way I can describe it is by telling you what it felt like one day when I was giving a piano recital (I know this is a blog about climbing, but climbers do other things too! And in my case, it is playing the piano). I sat down at the keys, and started playing. Suddenly, the only thought I had was that I could smell the wood from the keys, and how odd it was that I could smell them, or that I'd be thinking that, when I should probably be thinking about the piece I was playing. Next thing I know, the audience is clapping. I had played my 6 or 7 piece repertoire in what seemed, to me, like only a couple of seconds (enough to have that piano key delicious, fresh smell of clean wood thought), but was in fact around 25 minutes. That's flow. During flow, it's like you only experience things. Your only brain inputs are the pure senses and the pleasure of the sensual input. Time vanishes. And woe to whomever interrupts or distracts me while I'm in this state. When/if they do, I literally feel as if I could frigging kill them, ha ha. :)


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