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  • Writer's pictureCadu Lemos

#10/ The Dance: Flow and Non-duality.

On the paths of inner search and self-knowledge, two states of consciousness stand out like precious jewels: non-duality and the state of flow.

In recent issues of O PSICONAUTA, I have dedicated myself to unraveling the theme of "Non-duality", a state of consciousness that I awoke to a few years ago and which I strongly believe can lead us to a fuller and more equitable life in all aspects, including (especially) in terms of conscious, humanized leadership, beyond the ego (see more in the posts and articles adapted and translated from the author Katrijn van Oudheusden that I have been publishing since the beginning of this year, see an example here).

Both flow and non-duality offer glimpses of a richer, more connected reality, leading us to question the boundaries of perception and experience.

Although distinct in their characteristics, they share a deep connection that many spiritual seekers and practitioners of creative activities long to understand and experience.

In this article, I dive into the essence of these states, exploring how non-duality and the state of flow are intertwined, where they find common ground and how we can open the doors to access them in our lives.

I recently came across this article published in 2021, from a study that talks about the synergy of the two states of consciousness, where I highlight a snippet. For the full article, just follow the link here.

The study investigated the hypothesis that the relationship between the state of flow and well-being is mediated by non-dual experiences. Previous empirical and theoretical work suggests that flow shares similarities with non-dual experiences.

The current study extended previous work by examining the relationships between flow, non-dual experiences, emotion and well-being. I've highlighted the excerpt below:

"The integration of the self during flow state activation activities parallels ideas found in the broader philosophical perspective of nonduality.

Non-duality describes a unification between subject and object, so that the boundaries between the self and the world dissolve. This perspective permeates many different religious, mystical and philosophical traditions and can be found explicitly in the Hindu schools of Advaita Vedānta and Kashmir Shaivism, Mahāyāna Buddhism and the Tibetan Dzogchen and implicitly present in Taoist traditions (Blackstone, 2015; Krägeloh, 2018; Wright, 2017).

For example, flow shares conceptual similarities with the Taoist description of wu-wei*, or "non-doing", "action without action". In the Tao Te Ching, the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tse describes the way of the Tao as an embodiment of dichotomies (Lao Tse, 4th century BC). He encourages us to behave like water; fluid and flexible, yet strong and powerful.

In our endeavors, this means that we should strive for a sense of ease, fluidity. At first, it seems counterintuitive to imagine how disinterest in a goal can be more efficient in achieving it. We can conceptualize non-doing as effortless behavior to perform a task that would otherwise be considered challenging."

* My favorite definition of Wu Wei is "not forcing", originally proposed by Alan Watts, see video here.

Alan Watts Watts points out that Wu means no, and Wei means action, doing or forcing. Wu Wei is the principle of not forcing. If you watch a player who is forcing his movements and doesn't seem to be flowing, you can easily see the artificiality.

Some of the best artists, musicians and writers work with the minimum of effort, which is why they never tire of their work. There's a distinct glow of energy in their whole disposition.

Wu Wei is sometimes confused with "no action". This is often put forward as an argument by people who are afraid to work: "Let things happen in their own course" or "according to God's wish".

Don't fall into this trap to justify your procrastination ;)

There is no greater evil than a distorted interpretation of a principle that should be used to improve someone's life.

Wu Wei is the art of sailing, not the art of rowing.

The Background: Understanding Non-Duality and the State of Flow:

1. Non-Duality: Dissolving the Boundaries

Non-duality is a perspective that transcends the dualistic division between subject and object, self and other, inner and outer. It recognizes that all distinctions are ultimately illusory, and seeks an underlying unity in all existence. Through contemplative practice and self-inquiry, awakening to non-duality allows one to transcend the limitations of the egoic mind, of separation, and to experience reality in its interconnected totality.

In non-duality, the mind stops categorizing and labelling the world and instead embraces the totality of experience as a single unit.

2. State of Flow: The visceral relationship between Skill and Challenge

The flow state, in turn, is a state of total immersion in an activity, where the notion of time and "I" disappear, giving way to deep concentration and involvement, leading to a sense of accomplishment and intrinsic satisfaction. During this state, actions flow naturally, and the person feels connected to the activity in a way that transcends self-consciousness.

Flow is also known as "being in the present moment" and is characterized by deep involvement and concentration on the task at hand.

Proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the state of flow is characterized by harmony between the skill required by the task and the challenge it presents. In this state, action seems to flow naturally, and the person feels compelled to move forward without conscious effort, as if there were no interference.

The table below summarizes the conditions that may (or may not) lead to the activation of Flow:

Commonalities between Non-Duality and Flow State:

Letting go of the illusion of the separate self: In both non-duality and flow, there is a dissolution of the separate self. While in non-duality this is achieved through the recognition of the interconnectedness of all things, in the understanding that we are an awakened consciousness manifested through our body and mind (see previous articles), in the flow state it occurs through complete involvement and absorption in sustained activity, focus and concentration, where the "I" disappears into the experience.

Detachment from Judgments: Both states involve a letting go of judgments and evaluations, a human condition that has persisted in us forever. We judge ourselves and others all the time... In non-duality, this 'non-judgment' occurs because there is no separation between the observer and the observed, while in flow, the focus on activity excludes the need to judge what is happening, generating what we define as "thinking and acting intuitively and naturally".

Presence and Timelessness: Both non-duality and the state of flow involve a deep "presence", wholeness in the "here and now", in the present moment. In non-duality, this presence arises from the perception and understanding of the totality of the now, where only it exists, while in flow, it is total immersion in the activity that leads to timelessness, where time seems to dissolve.

Loss of Self-Consciousness: In both states, the perception of a separate 'I' is reduced or disappears. In non-duality, this occurs because the notion of a separate self is recognized as an illusion, and in the flow state, total attention on the activity leaves little room for self-evaluation, leading to the phenomenon of temporary hypofrontality, which refers to a temporary state of reduced activity in the brain's prefrontal cortex - the part of the brain responsible for functions such as planning, decision-making, concentration and emotional control - and increased activity in areas related to memories, emotions and insights.

Sense of Unity and Connection: In both non-duality and flow, a deep sense of unity and connection with the universe arises. In non-duality, this extends to all things, while in flow, it is more focused on the activity itself and the feeling of being in sync with the environment (all 5 senses engaged in the activity).

Accessing Non-Duality and activating the Flow State:

Meditation and Self-Inquiry Practices: To access non-duality, meditation and self-inquiry practices are fundamental. Meditating on questions such as "Who am I?" can reveal the illusion of the separate self. In the flow state, meditation can help calm the mind, making it more receptive to the present moment and creating the conditions for opening the flow channel.

Total Immersion in the Activity: To activate flow, choosing activities that challenge your skills while maintaining your interest is crucial, activities that provide a balance between skill and challenge (see box above). Identifying your natural passions and talents can help direct your energy towards tasks that stimulate frequent flow. Focus on the task without worrying about results or judgments. As you get more and more involved, flow can emerge.

Acceptance and surrender: Both non-duality and flow are facilitated by accepting the present moment. Accepting what is, without resistance, opens the door to a deeper experience. In non-duality, it is the acceptance of the reality that there is no separation between the 'I' and the awakened consciousness, we are more than body and mind. In the state of flow, it is the acceptance of the activity itself and sustaining the focus for as long as necessary.

Attachments and aversions are obstacles to non-duality and flow. Practicing detachment from experiences and emotions is essential. In non-duality, it is detachment from identifications with the ego, with the individual separated from the world; in the state of flow, it is detachment from the results of activity, understanding that the best result is the consequence of a disciplined process of activating flow.

Mindfulness and Inner Observation: The practice of mindfulness is a bridge to both states. Developing the ability to observe thoughts, emotions and sensations without identifying with them is crucial for both non-duality and flow.

Conclusion: Beyond the Limits of Perception

The search for non-duality and the state of flow invites us to explore the boundaries of human perception. These are states that challenge us to transcend self-imposed limitations and enter a dance of expanded consciousness.

As the inner journey unfolds, we encounter the richness of a reality that goes beyond superficial appearances, plunging into the depths of universal connection and authentic expression.

Through constant practice and openness to possibility, we can unravel the veils of duality and enter the infinite dimension of full, awakened consciousness, where non-duality and flow are the main vectors for awakening and the possibility of seeing the enormity and infinity that human experience represents.

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"Psychonaut" is a word based on Greek roots that translates into "explorer of the mind". It's a mixture of "psycho", a prefix used to describe mental processes or practices such as psychology, and terms like argonaut and astronaut, whose "voyages and explorations of the seas and space" evoke a high or spiritual transcendence. The idea is to provoke, reflect and act on themes of the mind and spirit on a monthly basis.

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