this chapter examines activities that promote flow, such as play, art, pageantry, ritual and sports, which facilitate concentration and involvement by making the activity as distinct as possible from the reality of everyday existence. the French psychological anthropologist Caillois divided such games into four classes, including that of vertigo – activities that alter consciousness by scrambling ordinary perception. examples of this might include the child’s merry-go-round or the whirling dervish – and of course the array of ‘consciousness-expanding’ drugs of which alcohol is a member.
to quote Flow here, where it seems particularly related to recovery:
‘Consciousness cannot be expanded; all we can do is shuffle its content, which gives us the impression of having broadened it somehow. The price of most artificially induced alterations, however, is that we lose control over that very consciousness we were supposed to expand.’
the tragedy of alcohol dependence certainly as far as I am concerned, is that I drank because I wanted to bring more into my life. more happiness, more relaxation, more freedom from what I perceived as constraining me… whereas in fact alcohol itself constrained me and limited me at every step.
those activities promoting flow provide a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality. they transform the self by making it more complex.
at this time of year when children transition between academic years, or to new schools, or leave home for university or college, we see this in action. the wider scope providing new worlds to explore, new knowledge to gain. the bigger the step, the bigger the transition for all concerned.
the following chart is not from the book, but from the original article I read on this topic. it’s the image that really grasped my imagination and helped me understand so much about myself and the day to day tasks that make up my life.
by comparing the level of challenge to the level of existing skills, we can see which activities promote either flow, or less desirable sensations of boredom, apathy, or – most crucially for me personally – anxiety.
the problem being that once immersed in anxiety, one becomes incapable of doing anything other than protecting what is seen as the vulnerable self. the attention turns inward in an effort to restore order to one’s consciousness, but doing so is self-defeating, as that inward-turning makes the person less able to identify new opportunities for action.
by keeping this chart in mind I have been able to assess how it relates to whatever position I find myself. in particular, I have found it useful to consider it in light of the concept of the growth mindset, which I blogged about here.
in addition, I’ve realised that when I am engaged in activities requiring little skill, my mind often spirals into negative thinking – and by realising this I have been able to avoid this happening by engaging my attention in a variety of other ways. some that I’ve found successful can include by listening to podcasts, or by giving more deliberate notice to other people around me, or by paying deeper attention to the task itself. there is no one right answer!
Flow states that the ability to control consciousness is in part a result of biological inheritance and early upbringing, but also that it is an ability that can be cultivated through training and discipline. in subsequent chapters Flow will examine ways this can be done.
at 22 months sober, I feel that I am heading in the right direction in my life once more. I have stopped going round in circles, now that I have stepped off the merry-go-round.
I don’t want to make myself dizzy any more.
as ever, all thoughts welcome! Prim x