In Pursuit of Flow

I don’t make a habit of watch the Olympics. But I remember a moment back in 2018 when I happened to turn on coverage just as they were televising a gold-winning snowboard cross run by Red Gerard1. He blew out all the other riders in his group to take the gold. Silver was significantly behind him. What stood out to me watching him ride, however, was how keyed in he was to the whole thing.

I don’t know how much snowboarders are allowed to practice the cross course before the event, but given that he was on the hill with 9 other riders who didn’t look nearly as keyed in meant there was likely more to what was going on than simple familiarity with a series of cuts, jumps and bombs.

What Gerard was, of course, was in flow. I am not sure if you’ve ever experienced flow, but beyond snowboarder cross, the state of mind is also illustrated in Zhuang Zhou’s philosophical writing from 4th century BCE China. In his seminal work, Zhuang discusses a butcher who, having so mastered his craft, he is not cutting into an animal, but rather his motion guides the blade of the knife through the various cuts he needs to make to perfectly separate the carcass.

Life, it seems to me, is the pursuit of flow. In flow, everything goes from one to the next without deliberate thought of how to achieve a specific end. There is no value judgment on the task achieved. Flow is not about good or bad, it is about the accomplishment of a given task. There is different work to be done to assess value, but once value has been assessed and it’s time to work, we all seek flow, that place where don’t need to know we’re our best selves, but where we simply are our best selves and are doing what we set out to do with as little thought as possible.