the art of flow (aka learning to pause)

I am loving the new expansiveness and ease in my life.  For the first time I feel as if I have a panoramic view of things, internal and external, versus seeing things through one end of a tiny straw.  This inner spaciousness matching an outer pacing of my time suits me better than all the over-scheduled achieving I have done most of my life.  I was joking on my Facebook page last week that I can proudly offer an advanced course in The Art of Struggle.  Picture me, intensely focused, creased brow, sitting before a frozen bar of butter, diligently trying to cut it with a spoon.  I know how to do the hard things.  I am quite practiced at going for the impossible.  Where I really want to excel now is in The Art of Flowing.

Each year I choose a mantra, a guiding word or phrase, that I can return to as a reminder of who I am wanting to be during that year.  For 2011 I dedicated my life practice to Flow.  Some good questions I hold for myself are:

  • Where am I making it harder than it has to be?
  • Where is my energy naturally, easily moving at this time?
  • What am I needing to let go of in order to Flow?
  • Where does my body point out the dense rocks in the river versus the mellifluous water around those rocks?

Mellifluous, I love that word…means smooth and sweet sounding.  It’s opposite: unharmonious, cacophonous, effortful.  Flow calls for commitment to conscious awareness of our body rhythms, the stories held there every breathing moment.  Flow also asks for trust in ourselves. Flow demands of us much more letting go then holding on.  As in all things we practice, it is in the missteps, the off-cues we gain our most valuable insights.

Yesterday was supposed to be what I call a productive To-Do Day.  “Supposed to be” is the operative phrase here, and is where I often get myself into trouble.  I love taking initiative and being industrious.  I feel a great sense of satisfaction from checking off tasks from a list, from growing that To-Done list.  I learned this particular skill, tasking from lists, from my dad.  Picture an officer in the Air Force, trim, confident posture, dark hair and alert pale blue eyes, always carrying around in his front shirt pocket a small pencil and a stack of 3 x 5 index cards held together by a binder clip.  I can still hear him walking around our house happily whistling as he pulled out his stack of cards and checked off tasks completed, perusing the list and then moving on to the next task.  From him I learned to be a terrific To-Doer, a happily buzzing-around Busy Bee.  Part of my gift is the ability to make things happen.  Tenacity, endurance, yep, got those down.

I started out my morning yesterday, after my waking up ritual of chai and reading an inspirational book, by blowing right past my meditation practice.  That should have been my first clue.  Jumped on the computer and took one look at my To Do list:  big sigh, and a feeling of tiredness came over me.  Maybe one more cup of chai will help.  That was my second clue.  Started my morning writing but all that kept arising was a big blank computer screen in front of me, a long To-Do list beside me, and that gremlin right behind me whispering in my ear:  “Give it up – you have nothing to say that anyone wants to hear. No wait, you better write or else you’ll never write again.  No, actually, you could start writing in a few weeks.  No, must write hours, every single day NOW.  So, think, think, come on…….” (even bigger sigh).  OK, now I am really exhausted but still not catching the clues.

I arrive 10 minutes late to my phone session with my coach (another clue), and we are zooming right along in our work, and I finally interrupt her.  “Sherry, you keep saying I am incredibly productive, yet all I want to do today is do nothing.  I just don’t want to work today.  I’m tired and I’m confused.”  All she had to do was ask this simple question:  “Toi Lynn, how do we breathe?”  Pause.  Silence.  Deep breath.  Breathing.  Pausing to slow down and focus on the breath.  Breathing in… pause…..Breathing out…..pause.   Ohhhhhhhhhh.  I finally was able to relax and laugh at myself.  And I was finally able to give myself permission pause.

After our session I put the computer away, turned on some quiet music, and took the time to just be.  I read. I did some gentle yoga. I did my “doing dishes meditation” and “folding clothes meditation.” I went to the beach to watch a gorgeous sunset while Bodhi played in the water.  I flowed exactly where my body and my energy wanted me to go.  And after that wonderful day of pause, of entering into Flow, I had one of the most productive weeks in months.  So lesson # 1 in my year of Flow:  Honor the Power of the Pause.  Deep breath.  Breathing in…pause….breathing out…pause.  (Happy sigh.)  Now that is much more like it.


4 thoughts on “the art of flow (aka learning to pause)

  1. Adrian Ledbetter

    I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
    For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait
    without love
    For Love would be love of the wrong thing; there is
    yet faith
    But the faith and the love and the hope are all in
    the waiting
    Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
    So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness
    the dancing
    by T.S. Elliot from “East Coker”, in Four Quartets

    1. Toi Lynn Post author

      Beautiful, Adrian! Have not heard that one before. Thank you for sharing it. Reminds me of another beauty:
      You don’t need to leave your room.
      Remain sitting at your table and listen.
      Don’t even listen, simply wait.
      Don’t even wait.
      Be quite still and solitary.
      The world will freely offer itself to you.
      To be unmasked, it has no choice.
      It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.


  2. Tahia

    This essay is so powerful for especially for me at this moment in my journey and as I walk forward. Everytime I get too serious about something it never works out. It feels forced. Its always when I’m honoring myself in the moment and taking good care of myself that I find this magic – the flow! Thank you, Toi Lynn, for your gift of words.


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