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Mindful : February 2017
ride was directly related to how epic I would judge it to be afterward. I had also experienced transcendent moments while making music in college, yet had chalked this up to what happens when my quartet or orchestra had played well together. Now I was having these flow moments more and more regularly. Getting Our Flow On The psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi first coined the term “flow” in the 1970s while studying why people were willing to give up material goods for “the elusive experience of performing enjoyable acts” such as rock climb- ing. It became his life’s work, defining how we currently conceptualize “being in the zone” (the opposite of being zoned out). In an inter- view with Wired magazine, he described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego [self ] falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz.” At times when I was mountain biking, there would be stretches where I would lose all sense of myself, the bike, and the environment. Every- thing would merge into this amazing fusion of awareness and action. I wasn’t there, yet there I was, in some of the most awesome experiences of my life. The best way I can describe moments like this is that they are delicious. When I went to college, mountain bikes were coming onto the scene. I bought one my fresh- man year, rode it everywhere—on campus, and on the local mountain bike trails with friends. In medical school, I bought my first bike with front suspension, with which I could ride more challenging and technical terrain. There were excellent trails within 30 to 60 minutes of St. Louis, as well as enthusiasts in each of my classes whom I could link up with (school was challenging, but we would always find time to get out for a ride). In the summers, I also started traveling with friends to places that had “real” mountain biking, like Colorado and Wyoming. We’d ride huge descents in Durango and long stretches of single track in Alaska’s Kenai pen- insula. On these big trips, we judged our rides by how “epic” they were. And that’s when I started tripping into flow. Flow is at the opposite end of the spectrum from habit. Mindlessly watching TV or automatically responding, “I’m fine how are you?” when some- one greets us are examples of responses that are triggered by a stimulus, yet are disengaged. We can feel like we’re on autopilot, almost floating somewhere with a daydreamy spaced-out qual- ity of awareness. In contrast, awareness during flow experiences is vivid, bright, and engaged; we’re so here that it’s like we’re so close to the camera, so engaged with the action, that we forget we’re separate from it. I didn’t have a language for it at the time, but that feeling of completely losing myself in a mountain bike Judson Brewer is the Director of Research at the Center for Mindfulness, where he plays with “getting his flow on” every chance he gets, even while biking to work. 72 mindful February 2017