The State of Flow

May 26 2024

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: The Red Spring, Glastonbury

I’m still buzzing from the very first Mindful Play Weekend workshop, where we explored our relationship with PLAY through meditation, movement, embodiment, artwork, writing, sensory exploration, Internal Family Systems and discussion. 

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: “Deep therapeutic fun;” Humans, barefoot on grass with arms outstretched in the sunshine during the first Mindful Play weekend, May 2024

The next Mindful Play Weekend is June 22nd and 23rd in Bristol. For a whole weekend, we will be exploring the theme of FLOW through meditation, play and reflection. 

This blog explores Flow: what it is, how to find it and why being in the Flow State might be A Good Thing To Do. There’s a video workshop, 'Exploring The Flow State Through Play and Journalling', flow poetry from past participants of Mindful Play and a story detailing a moment when I lost connection with flow and how I managed to find it again (with a little help from my friends, a tiny dog and a squidgy baby).

‘Exploring The Flow State Through Play and Journaling.’ 

Here’s a short video from an online workshop I led during the pandemic:

You can also find it on youtube here.

Feel free to press play and listen to me talking about Flow and maybe even try the exercises on offer. Bring your curiosity, your body and some paper and a pen and let's play! Or read on for an outline of the content.

In the video, I talk about the flow state according to positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

  • I describe the qualities of flow
  • I open a conversation about ways that flow is already showing up in our lives
  • I lead a physical warm up and an embodied exploration of flow
  • I offer some journal prompts to help you reflect on your relationship with flow.

What is Flow?

Flow is: being in the Peak State or being in The Zone. It’s the space where athletes are completely inside their experience, it’s also the place where artists can create their great masterpieces, they know what to do and they know when to stop! It’s the place where improvisers are; improvisers find the right words, they find the right actions in the moment, because they’ve tapped into this state of flow

- This is an abridged version of my interpretation of Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow (from the video)

The Qualities Of Flow, According to Csikszentmihalyi

🌊Complete immersion - there isn’t anything else

🌊A sense of ecstasy - being outside every day reality

🌊Inner clarity - you know what needs to be done and you know how well you’re doing at it

🌊The activity is doable - you have the right skills level to meet the challenge

🌊A sense of serenity - being in the activity without the usual self-consciousness / self criticism

🌊Timelessness - having no idea how long you’ve been doing it

🌊Intrinsic motivation - the thing that you’re doing becomes its own reward

Where Do You Find Flow In Your Everyday Life?

In the video, I ask the online participants where they find play in their lives, they list cooking, swimming, sewing or anything creative, walking in the woods, playing music (especially with a band), yoga, digging, cycling, swimming outdoors, clowning, blogging, walking in the countryside, baking, gardening, making birthday cards, running and sex. 

I spoke about how I find flow through play, movement and connection.

Q.) Where do you find flow in your life?

Movement and Journalling

On the video, I offer a physical warm up to help you release tension and bring your awareness into your body. From here, I invite you to physically explore the state of flow through movement. Once you've had a taste of flow, I offer writing prompts to help you further explore the flow state on the page. 

Flow poetry

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: A flow poem by Ed Rapley (see below for text)

In 2021, I ran a series of Mindful Play Sessions online as part of my Arts Council funded DYCP project. I led the participants through a similar exercise to the one in the video, they were then invited to shape their free writing into poetry.

in a beautiful animal body,
Seen: a joy
Seeing: delight
It's enough
-Ed Rapley

big bold small trickle,
enormous feet, miniature giggle,
another to another as, washed by the tide,
rocked and soothed
calm in the arms of the ocean.
I climb inside.
Up and down and down and deeper.
-Chez Dunford

The little gatekeeper can be charmed,
With enough space and buzzing bones
and a snaking dance around the lounge.
Their hiding places can be warmed and loosened,
til they emerge- stretched out, glowing.
- Naomi Smyth

Why Might Spending Time In Flow Be A Good Thing To Do?

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: My notes from The Mindful Play Sessions, 2018

Here’s Csikszentmihalyi describing the benefits of being in flow:

“Flow helps to integrate the self because in that state of deep concentration, consciousness is unusually well ordered. Thoughts, intentions, feelings and all the senses are focussed on the same goal. Experience is in harmony. And when the flow experience is over, one feels more “together” than before, not only internally, but also with respect to other people and the world in general.” 

Q.) Does that ring true for you?

It does for me. Finding my keys to the Flow State has allowed me to bring more and more flow into my life and into the lives of others. 

A Story About Flow

This morning, I got triggered during a Zoom meeting with a group of Internal Family Systems (IFS) practitioners and therapists. I felt the familiar clench in my shoulders and jaw as I held my breath and felt my heart harden. I sensed my inner parts scrambling around, looking for the emergency escape button. 

With the support of the group, I was able to notice and name the parts at play. Compassion helped my protective parts to calm down and reveal the vulnerable parts that had felt threatened and exposed. As the group members all spoke for their own parts, my system relaxed and I was able to come back into connection.

At the end of the meeting, feeling relieved, I opened a new document to write this blog. Within a few minutes I noticed I was pushing words around the page like Sisyphus pushing his boulder up a hill. There was no flow to be found here! Taking a moment to feel into my system, I realised the residue of the trigger moment still lingered. So I closed down my laptop and headed out into the wilds of Glastonbury, where I’m living right now. 

Feeling my feet on the pavement, noticing the warm sun on my skin, taking in the summer scents and sounds, I drifted up the rainbow-coloured high street. My feet led me through an archway, across a flower-lined courtyard and up a dark flight of stairs into a tiny cafe, where a musician was about to start playing a gig. I ordered a decaff flat white and perched on the end of a table next to a man with a tiny poodle on his lap. As the musician began spaciously plucking his guitar and softly singing his heart songs, I locked eyes with the little dog.

Held by the music and the gaze of the miniature pooch, I felt my heart begin to soften and my breath begin to deepen. Flow was beginning to return. 

Not quite ready to return home yet, I followed my feet to the top of town, into the cool, dark, candlelit cavernous space which houses the White Spring (Not the red spring as pictured at the top of this blog, you're not allowed to take pictures in the White Spring Temple so I hope this'll do). 

A young mother sat on the side of the fresh water pool, cradling her baby, with her feet in the icy water. She looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back. She asked “Would you hold my baby while I get in?” I said, “Of course!” without hesitation. 

Rocking the warm squidgy baby in my arms, a song spontaneously emerged, “Your mamma’s in the water, getting what she needs, she’ll be back for you soon my dear, right now you’re safe with me, I’m safe with you, you’re safe with me.” 

Soothing the baby soothed me and by the time the mother had finished bathing, I was ready to return home to write this blog.

Today’s keys to The Flow State were:

1.) Noticing I’m not in flow - noticing tension in my body / shallowness of breath

2.) Connecting with the parts that are preventing access to flow

3.) Receiving support / empathy / compassion from others

4.) Noticing when I am over-efforting and stepping away from the task at hand

5.) Taking a mindful walk - coming into presence through my senses

6.) Allowing myself to be soothed by music and connecting with a dog

7.) Putting myself in stimulating environments and giving myself time to let it in

8.) Making eye contact with a human, saying yes to an offer

9.) Rocking and singing to a baby, allowing myself to be soothed

What Are Your Keys To The Flow State?

Come and find out at the next Mindful Play Weekend!

22 + 23 June 2024, Bristol

More info and booking here.

Pssst, if you can't make this one, there's one more Mindful Play Weekend coming up in July, exploring the theme of SPONTANEITY, more info here.

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