“Effortless effort and the state of flow” talk and reference materials

Oct. 3, 2017 Group Meditation Part 2 of 2

This talk happened October 3, 2017 at the Boundless Love Project’s Group Meditation. Before listening to the discussion, we suggest you listen to this guided bare awareness mindfulness meditation that introduces you to your intentions. This meditation preceded the talk. This discussion has been edited to improve its clarity, content, and for length.

Main points from the “Effortless effort and the state of flow” talk

• The key to happiness is learning to love doing what you already do.

• Here are two key ways to learn to love what you do:

1. Know your goals, but be intention-focused, rather than goal-focused. Be mindful of your intentions and ensure they are skillful. This will ensure that you appreciate the intrinsic value of what you are doing, while you are doing it, regardless of what the outcome of the activity may be. This helps free the mind from the delusion of greed, by keeping you grounded in the present moment rather than in thoughts about the future and the desired outcomes. 

2. Work mindfully and whole-heartedly with great care and quality. By directing all of your energy towards mindfully doing the task at hand, there is no energy left for the ego to use to create egoic thoughts that distract you from the task at hand. When egoic thoughts arise, being mindful, allows you to see them, see the delusion in them, and ignore them as irrelevant to what you are doing.

8 Characteristics of Flow

These eight characteristics of flow come from the research of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. The first two encourage us to know our goals, yet be intention-focused. The second two aid us in quieting the mind so we are free of delusion. The last four is how the state of flow feels whenwe are in it.

  1. The experience is intrinsically rewarding, and is an end in itself.
  2. Have “clarity of one’s goals, along with immediate feedback on your actions.”
  3. Complete concentration on the task, and do the task with quality and care.
  4. There is a balance between the challenge of the activity and skill level of the actor.
  5. Actions and awareness are merged together, and we lose our self-conscious ruminations.
  6. Activity becomes effortlessness and easeful.
  7. Time can seem distorted, either faster or slower than normal.
  8. There is a feeling of high-level mastery over the task.

Quotes from this week’s talk

Many wisdom traditions speak of this state of Flow or give instructions on how to get in it. Here are the quotes used from various traditions during this talk.

“Be intent on action, not the fruits of action;
avoid attraction to the fruits and attachment to inaction!
Perform actions, firm in discipline, relinquishing attachment;
be impartial to failure and success -- this equanimity is called discipline.”
- Bhagavad-Gita

“Give, and it will be given to you.”

Meaning that when your actions are based on skillful intentions of love and service, and you are mindful of them, whatever you do immediately generates feelings of love, generosity, intimacy, calmness, and joy, providing “immediate feedback.”

 “Don't you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me.”
– Jesus

When we are in flow, we are free of self-view, as a result, it feels as if a creative force other than ourselves, be it God or life, is working through us.

“…the saint performs effortlessly according to the natural way without personal desire, and practices the wordless teaching thru one’s deeds.”
-Lao Tzu, author of theTao de Ching which speaks of the concept “wu wei” which can be translated as “non-doing,” or “effortless effort.”

"Be Here Now": Your Action Plan

• Be mindful of your intentions. Do they skillfully arise from renunciation, love, and compassion; or do they unskillfully arise form greed, hatred, and cruelty?

• Be mindful of the sensations of the body. Is there peace, calmness, joy, or enthusiasm present as I work? If so, you are in flow. If not, there are a few things to become mindful of:

  1. Am I too focused on achieving a certain outcome? Am I using this activity as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself? This will cause stress, anxiety, and a variety of delusions to arise including greed, self-view, and aversion. When you see this, try to remember who or what you are serving by doing the work and put your efforts into doing quality work and honoring the inherent value of the work, regardless of the outcome.
  2. Do I have an aversive or judgmental view towards the work, or resentment towards a whoever assigned the work, or how they want the work done? This will cause frustration, impatience, and anger to arise. See if you can’t make the best of the situation. Make it your spiritual practice to do the work with as much peace, joy, love, and ease as possible. Experiment and play with what mental states and truthful thoughts allow this to happen.