dress code: smart casual. I always say that you can’t go far wrong with an applique half-apron.

welcome to the first meeting of my Summer Book Club! I’ve never run a Book Club before, online or in RL. I’ve attended one, sketchily, but not for many years. so as this is my space I just thought I’d tell you what I’d like it to be…

primarily, I think, I’m writing it as an opportunity to think more deeply about some issues that were raised for me by a particular book. also as a way of structuring my blogging for a bit, to give it some bones, if you like. and in hopes of sharing that with YOU, dearest reader! because I have given up being even the slightest bit surprised at the waves of wisdom that flow into this blog in the comments, and just settle for being grateful for them, and trying to avoid being swept away.

to start with, why did I choose this book to discuss?

well, it all started with an article in an old Runners’ World magazine. (moral: never throw anything away, ever. oh, no, wait…) if you are the sort of person who reads the blurb and the last page of a book before starting it, you can read that article here 😉 if you would rather follow the logical flow of the book with me, then don’t click on that link!

the article interested me enough to buy the book, ‘Flow’, itself, which I would now add to my list of top sobriety influencing books, up there with (in chronological-for-me order):

  • Jason Vale’s ‘Kick the Drink – Easily!’ with planetary sized reservations as previously described elsewhere I think…the incredibly valuable nugget that I took from it were the words ‘the need for the drug is created by the drug itself’. the entire rest of the book gave me hives 😉
  • Lotta Dann’s ‘Mrs D is Going Without’ – honest and joyous in wonderful proportion
  • Ann Dowsett Johnson’s ‘Drink: The Deadly Relationship Between Women and Alcohol’
  • everything written by Brene Brown and Anne Lamott but in particular ‘Daring Greatly’ and ‘Stitches’
  • Rick Hanson’s ‘Buddha’s Brain’
  • Tommy Rosen’s ‘Recovery 2.0’.

as I asked in a recent post, ‘why am I still here?’ at over 20 months sober? one reason of many is that there are still times in my life when there seems to be something significantly out of place, awry. feelings arise for which I cannot account. these are not so much the itty bitty shitty committee who used to run the inside of my head, to mine own great detriment… more like unhelpful and unhappy thought patterns that continue to arise – despite therapy, despite exercise, despite taking my HRT meds. all of which help IMMENSELY but are not, seemingly, enough. and having taken the alcohol away it becomes more apparent when something doesn’t belong.

if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…

these are difficult to describe. they may of course be PAWS (excellent article here if you’re not up to speed on that particular barrel of laughs as yet.) as that article says, the effect of PAWS can last for up to two years. TWO BLOODY YEARS! that’s one hell of a hangover, and that’s not on the label on a bottle of Pinot, is it? ‘the effects of drinking this may last up to twenty-four months…’ gah.

so am impatiently waiting for that milestone to come to pass, but was also interested in other possibilities, as suggested by the RW article.

the first thing I’ve underlined in my copy of Flow is this:

‘despite the fact that we are now healthier and grow to be older, despite the fact that even the most affluent among us are surrounded by material luxuries undreamed of even a few decades ago..”…and regardless of all the stupendous scientific knowledge we can summon at will, people often end up feeling that their lives have been wasted, that instead of being filled with happiness their years were spent in anxiety and boredom.

[this is what I would say is the problem that both Mike and I are trying to address. less anxiety, and less boredom, please, and more happiness, ok? does this strike a chord with you, at all?]

In Flow it is argued that the primary reason it is so difficult to achieve happiness is that ‘contrary to the myths mankind has developed to reassure itself, the universe was not created to answer our needs.’  the secondary reason being that once we have temporarily met some of our needs, we immediately start wishing for more.

[in this context I was interested to read this (VERY long!) blog post from waitbutwhy – Religion for the Non Religious. basically – we don’t need God to be wise and grow – but cleverer than that, obv.]

Mike describes all religions and beliefs as protective devices to shield us from chaos. I would not necessarily agree with this! my own currently nebulous religious belief is not inconsistent with his primary reason, in that I do not assume the universe was created to make me happy, per se. and that happiness itself is not sufficient to be a raison d’être. 

he goes on to say that where we try to achieve happiness on our own, without the support of a faith, we usually seek to maximise pleasures that are either biologically programmed in our genes or are prized as attractive by the society in which we live. however, as soon as the basic problems of survival are solved, new needs are felt, new desires arise. with affluence and power come escalating expectations, and the sense of well being we hope to achieve keeps receding into the distance.

the proposed solution is that we become free of societal rewards and the dictates of the body, and learn how to substitute for them rewards that are under one’s own powers, finding rewards in the events of each moment and what happens in the mind.

[so, how does this compare to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, for example, which I blogged about here, and which suggests that self-actualization is the ultimate need, to be met once all others are achieved?]

how this can be done, and how we can control our own consciousness and therefore the quality of our own experience, is examined in the next chapter of the book.

in this first chapter it is also explained how this theory was arrived at: firstly by interviewing a few hundred ‘experts’ – artists, athletes, musicians, chess masters, surgeons – to try to understand how people feel when they most enjoyed themselves, and why. this was later broadened to a much larger sample to try and measure the quality of subjective experiences. this was called the Experience Sampling Method. subjects wore an electronic pager and were asked to write down how they felt and what they were thinking about when the pager beeped at about eight randomly chosen intervals each day.

from these studies was developed the theory of optimal experience based on the theory of flow – the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.

in subsequent chapters Flow examines:

  • how consciousness works, and how it is controlled
  • how ‘flow’ – the optimal state of inner experience – occurs when there is order in consciousness
  • what conditions are necessary for flow
  • what physical, sensory, and symbolic skills give opportunities for flow
  • how we can transform jobs into flow-producing activities
  • how we can continue to enjoy flow even within adverse circumstances
  • and how we can join all experience into a meaningful pattern.

phew! I feel like the writer of a new costume drama who has to introduce all the characters in the first episode. (The Onedin Line, anyone?!)

stepping back a bit from the detail of the first chapter and looking at it as a whole… I am conscious that I am seeking, as I frequently do, to reduce highly complex matters to a simple tidy formula. this derives in a great extent to my often-felt sensation that I have gone to sleep for thirty years and woken up in a middle-aged woman’s body with a husband, three kids, a business and a household to run and the emotional intelligence of a sixteen year old, gawd help them all. like the juvenile heroine of the mother-daughter body-switching novel by Mary Rodgers, Freaky Friday, I am sometimes at a loss to understand the world, and eating macaroni for breakfast in a velvet pant-suit seems entirely reasonable, to me.

but reducing life and living to a formula is not ultimately the solution. life is richer and infinitely more complex than that! for example, please read in its entirety the wonderful post from In Others’ Words, Someday Woman, about who she wants to be when she is older: this extract:

‘Someday, I want to be the sort of woman who lights up a room, not because she’s there but because YOU are.  I want to love my people fiercely, and I want them to know it.  I want to be less concerned with how I look, but still have style.  I want to avoid that desperate dance so many women do where we try and combat the aging process as though it was a cancer as terrifying as the one that lovely woman was battling.  I want to move through my life with energy, and verve, and sparkle.

I want to care less about what people think, and more about what they feel.  I want my stubbornness to be more like persistence as I age.  I want to be firmly planted in my life, and soak it up.  I want to be joyful and serious.  Creative and practical.  Spiritual and grounded. I want to be a life-long learner.  I want to stay open to new ideas.  I want to love my people big, and deep, and unconditionally.  I want to love my people well.  I want them to see me and know me, and I want to really see and know them, too.

I want to be feisty like the woman on the ferry, though, perhaps, a little less of a grouch.  I want to have opinions, but be open to changing them.

I want my old age to be as joyous, and wonder-filled, and fearless as my childhood was not.  I want to stop worrying so much.’

me too.

any thoughts, anyone? in particular with the assumptions and statements made in the first chapter of Flow? would you agree or disagree, and does any of this reflect your own experience?

lastly, is this post valuable to you to read? not fishing, honest, just not sure quite how to pitch this! any positive suggestions welcome. this is a place where we use our words kindly 😉

happy Monday and safe journey home! and remember this: