I took a couple of psychology courses at UVA and the only things I remember are Phineas Gage (the vision of the iron rod through his head haunted me for years) and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “flow,” a notion that materializes in my waking thoughts at least a couple of times a year. Do you know about “flow”? The basic idea, as posited by Csikszentmihalyi, is that people are happiest when they are in a state of “flow”—of deep concentration and complete absorption in an activity. In those moments, your skill level matches the challenge at hand, and nothing else seems to matter.
When I started running every other day earlier this year, I was hellbent on reprising the experience of “runner’s flow” (others have called this “runner’s high”), remembering the rush I used to feel when I was strong enough to regularly run four or five miles at the drop of a hat. It was usually around mile two that I’d click into that flow mode and it would just feel good to be running, like my feet were moving me forward with minimal effort, and everything was loose and easy. You know how vocalists talk about singing “in the pocket”? As in, they’ve hit a smooth spot and are nailing the notes without strain? That’s kind of what it feels like when I hit the “flow” point in running.
Getting back into a groove with exercise was highly physically demanding this time around. I was in the right headspace, doubled down in my own determination, but my body was reluctant to catch up, and I was sore and exhausted for days. I’m not sure whether it is my age or the fact that I have been through the wringer with ailments this year (the flu, a nasty stomach bug, and COVID19) or the fact that my body is still strained from the third opening of my c-section incision just over a year ago or simply the fact that I had done so little by way of formal exercise for so long. It took me almost a full month of running every other day to start to feel my own strength, to power up an incline without wanting to slow down or give up, and to end my jog in a state of endorphin-induced glee. And it took even longer — six weeks? eight? — to experience my first moment of flow while running around the Jackie O. Reservoir in Central Park. I felt a surge come over me, and I looked across the shimmering surface of the reservoir, and I felt victorious.
As I completed my circuit, I had the strong sense that I would never forget that moment, and now, a week or two out from the occasion, when I mention running on this blog or in passing conversation, I find my thoughts circling around the exact spot on the bridleway where I reclaimed my flow. And when I pass that site, as I did this morning, I am aware, too, that a small stretch of gravelly path in New York City has become a landmark in the geography of my adult life, a monument to my recovery from the birth of two perfect babies and one horrific virus.
Written with deep gratitude–for my body, for this city, for the gift of flow.
Post-Scripts: New Athletics + Athleisure Finds.
I’ve shared some of these across recent posts, but a few new favorite athletics/athleisure finds (many of which I have purchased myself) all in one place:
SCALLOP-EDGED SPORTS BRA ($7.70 IN MY SIZE IN BLACK!)
THIS $31 SET — INCLUDES BOTH LEGGINGS AND SPORTS BRA! — DISCOVERED VIA LE CATCH…ORDERED IN GRAY
LOOSE-FIT RUNNING TOPS (MY PREFERENCE): LOVE BOTH OUTDOOR VOICES AND LULULEMON (AND JUST ORDERED THIS $24 STYLE, WHICH IS SUPER SIMILAR TO THE LATTER)
STILL A FEW COLORS/SIZES LEFT IN THIS AMAZING $12 RUNNING TANK — RUNS SLIGHTLY LARGE AND HAS A FANTASTIC, SOFT MATERIAL
WAFFLE TEE-SHIRT HOODIE — DREAM OF LAYERING THIS UNDER AN EXTRA LAYER OF KNITWEAR, LIKE THIS OR THIS
CASHMERE SOCKS AND/OR SLIPPERS (DROOL)
CASHMERE JOGGERS OR RIBBED JOGGERS FROM LETT
$22 MEMORY FOAM SLIPPERS — READ THE REVIEWS!!!
STRAPPY SPORTS BRA FOR UNDER $20 — LIKE IT IN THE SEAFOAM GREEN COLOR
WAFFLE KNIT LEGGINGS AND HOODIE
STILL IN A COMMITTED RELATIONSHIP WITH MY RECLINER SLEEP PANTS
P.S. On the topic of classes at UVA: notes from a fantastic class I took there.
P.P.S. On years that ask and years that answer. (Guessing that 2020 is a big fat question mark for most of us.)
P.P.P.S. Cozy sherpa and fleece for fall. Are we all twinning in this jacket this fall?! (And these clogs?)
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11 thoughts on “Flow.”
I love this idea of flow and love how you describe your running experience, Jen! I’m not a runner, but I certainly feel this way while swimming laps, which I unfortunately don’t get to do very often anymore. It’s a moving meditation for me, especially I think because being underwater immediately withdraws some of the usual everyday sensory input. I feel flooded (no pun intended!) with gratitude too for the ability to move this way. Here’s to health and movement and all the things our bodies help us do!
Ooh, Mia! You made me wish I was a swimmer with this comment. The note about being underwater enabling you to “withdraw from the usual everyday sensory input” sounds so appealing. I can completely see how swimming would be a natural companion for meditation. xx
I love this meditation on flow. I miss that bridle path like no other! While I lived on the UES, It was a space I would regularly go to meditate, process my thoughts, etc. — all while walking/running alongside fellow New Yorkers. I appreciate having the chance to stroll down memory lane via your writing 🙂
It really is the best — something about it, especially on the cusp of fall, is magical. xx
Loved this meditation on running. I completely relate. I find running sometimes emotional and I can’t even think about a marathon (always a spectator) without getting choked up. There’s something about the freedom of movement and the gift of getting to propel oneself forward. I could go on and on – in short, I’d love to hear more of your musings on running! And how I miss those reservoir runs.
Also I thought for sure you were going to say you found flow while writing fiction. Does it pour out of you or is it an arduous task? Do you tend to do a lot of rewriting or are you always writing in your head?
Emily, I feel the same exact way re: marathons! My mom has run around a dozen in my lifetime, and I always get choked up watching her.
Hi Emily! Yes – you absolutely get it re: running! It can sometimes be an almost transcendent experience. I mainly love the way my body feels after running. I feel like I can take on the world.
So thoughtful of you to make the connection between flow and writing — I definitely get into a flow with writing. It is the most magical feeling — my fingers can’t keep up with my brain! I do a fair amount of editing on my thought pieces (like the Molisano Midnight piece from this week) but a lot of time, that’s more cutting and pasting, trimming, etc, than re-writing or re-working. I get so attached to phrases once they’ve been written!
Anyway, yes. Flow definitely comes into play in my writing. What about you? Where else have you experienced flow?
While editing or making things – Flow is such a gift and it doesn’t always come, but to feel that charge from being all consumed and in the moment – bliss!
Yes — “that charge from being all-consumed!” That’s exactly it!! xx
Oh my gosh that dupe for my favorite lulu top looks amazing! Have you gotten it yet?!
I have not yet worn it – will report back!! xx