It’s late and you’ve never been here before. If you had known this morning what you know now, you would have woken up nervous. You’d also be electric. An odd, cushy terror underlies every move you make, even if you decide to stay seated. Each second, the distinction typically felt between fear and bliss begins to dissolve.
She’s joyous, ravenously free. Her hair is long, and it moves as she moves. Her eyes gaze in one direction for extended periods of time, until something alerts their attention — That’s when she smiles in a way that says, “Your hurt doesn’t exist here.” You stand to greet your friends who are running as late as usual, and she notices you. Immediately, everything has changed. Both eating and chatting seem to have morphed into one lengthy wave of discontent because you know where you’d rather be. Then, she walks under the twisting, colorful lights and dances. Like you’re supposed to do at weddings. Looking down at your half-finished plate, you sit oddly straight and scoot your chair back, hands still on the table, eyes fixated on your feet.
The Universe is a girl who doesn’t need you. But she caught your eye, and now you’re starting to think. You were comfortable. Now you aren’t. She is strong and she is dancing. You are nervous and you are sitting. Will you dance? She’s wondering.
She’ll be fine if you don’t — But you won’t be.
A phenomenon called “Flow State” has slipped into modern scientific research. Although it’s been catching steam over the past 30 years, only in the last decade have scientists been able to observe this state, recording both the brain waves associated with, and certain chemical releases particular to the experience of Flow. Flow is essentially happiness, focus and creativity — Accelerated. Perhaps you’ve heard of Flow by other handles such as “runners high” or being “in the zone”. Regardless, it’s a euphoric, spiritual level of consciousness that has been alluded to in foggy, poetic language for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Greek philosophy and various mystical, religious experiences. Now, following the hard science, we can sketch this miracle where before it could only be hinted at.
One thing is clear when it comes to Flow: You want it. If experienced, it’s likely to alter you forever. It’s the mystic made malleable. And as it turns out, mysticism is useful. Steven Kotler, director of research at the Flow Research Collective reports revolutionary information. Studying athletes, CEO’s and military operators, Kotler found the divine breath of Flow to increase human performance by 200 to 500%. Whether playing darts, sinking three’s, fighting, writing, negotiating, or cooking — Flow is fire. However, this state is a wave caught by those willing to pay the price: Risk. If you’re unwilling to micro-dose with psychedelic drugs, zap particular areas of your brain with electrodes, or meditate for hours, risk will settle you in the realm of Flow — Free of extraneous complication. Here’s a curt summary of the bill: High-consequences, novelty, unpredictability and intensely focused attention. These situational factors are known as “Flow triggers”, and when you place yourself in uncomfortable environments, you’re entering a Flow-rich zone. In other words, get into an unpredictably new, high-stakes situation. Then, commit, center and let go — You’re asking for it.
Interestingly, Navy SEALs have a cute acronym for the situations they often find themselves in, their own set of Flow triggers, as it were: VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous). What do we know about the SEALs? They are among the best at what they do. We watch movies about them. In general, by engaging in new, risky challenges, top performers of various disciplines rig their own psychology such that it falls in line, and puts out on command. They dance with discomfort.
But Navy SEALs aren’t too special. Flow is democratic. When you act upon your gifts, insulting your limitations with your own abilities; the royalty of your humanity marvelously activates like a hungry kid presented with a Happy Meal. At the end of your rope, there has been designed a special compartment of your soul discovered only by those who risk dipping their feet, lifting their hands to the music — The hungry. Those who understand that belief is what you do.
Here’s the irony in Flow: Deliberate discomfort leads to unparalleled joy. Intentionally and intelligently make yourself uncomfortable, dare to remember again your dreams, and watch with ecstasy as your misery shatters.
“|| This is how many people live, escaping boredom, keeping busy, being preoccupied with something from one day to the next, giving little thought to life or to death […] They are essentially people without personal biographies except for the events which the mere passage of time thrusts upon them ||” (Richard Taylor, ‘Happiness’).
The deepest reality of The Universe is a dancing girl. She’s looking at you, and you’re allowed to take her hand. The song could end at any moment. So, are you tough enough to dance? Do you have the boldness to get up and walk when you can’t feel your legs? What’s it like to grasp the hands of The Universe Girl, flowing under the heavy colors of a cosmic tango?
I wouldn’t know. I stayed at my seat.
Originally published at medium.com