Flowing Freely Forward

by Christopher Lovejoy on November 22, 2022

The human brain is exquisitely designed not to turn off the fear response until the associated threat or danger has fallen away completely, so what is a brain to do in the face of a stream of probabilistic threats and dangers, both real and imagined? Is there no respite for said brain?

In a world of threat and danger, perceived or conceived, is hyperreactivity par for the course? Can the human nervous system be tuned up (or down) in lieu of reaching for a pill or a potion? Is it true that human beings can learn to harness the flow state so as to manage their stresses?

Steven Kotler eloquently describes peak performance as “getting our biology to work for us rather than against us.” In other words, “getting the systems that underlie motivation, learning, creativity, and flow to work in tandem to beneficial effect,” but in such a context, what is flow?

Again, Steve Kotler . . .

“flow is an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and we perform our best”

In any cultivation of flow, as defined here, the research indicates three simple ways to optimize the flow state. These three daily practices have precise impacts on the anxious brain over the short term, helping said brain to be less reactive, and more open to the flow of experience:

consider making a daily habit of recording “3 to 5 things for which I can feel gratitude”; repeat this three times, slowly and with feeling; this habit does two things: it serves as a buffer against hyperreactivity and it serves as an opener for allowing more novel experience to trigger flow

e.g., I feel thankful to be alive; I feel thankful to be awake; I feel thankful to be aware . . . x 3

consider making a daily habit of honing the mind to focus and diffuse attention with intention: use anchors (like the breath, a count, or an image) to concentrate, then occupy a spacious stillness to disperse attention outward like a searchlight, moving back and forth between the two

e.g., breathe . . . 2, 3, 4 (inhale deeply, focus) . . . breathe out (exhale slowly, diffuse) . . . x 3+

consider making a daily habit of exercising the body for 20 to 40 minutes; for optimal results, do this until the voice in the head grows quiet and the lungs open up; both of these outcomes indicate the global release of nitric oxide, which serves to flush stress hormones from the body

e.g., become a witness to the movement, in the moment; note when the inner voice goes quiet

A walk in nature for 20+ minutes can do wonders for the mind and body.

A walk through familiar terrain naturally produces serotonin, inducing a sense of calm; a walk through unfamiliar albeit safe terrain, what with its novelty, complexity, and unpredictability, produces dopamine, inducing a sense of anticipation with servings of “feel-good happy juice.”

In light of this example, it’s nice to know that we already have a drugstore inside the brain (and body). Unlike any manufactured product of the mind, the brain (and/or gut, heart, body) can be guided and goaded to serve up a cocktail of any two or more of these feel-good molecules:

anandamide : associated with lofty feelings of bliss and contentment (“ananda”)
intense exercise, 2+ minutes; “touch, and be touched;” flavonoids; essential oils

dopamine : associated with pleasant feelings of anticipation and satisfaction
eat well, sleep well, exercise, listen to music, meditate daily, spend time in the sun

endorphins : associated with pain relief, stress reduction, and general well-being
acupuncture, dark chocolate, exercise, love and sex, meditation, stupid funny videos

norepinephrine* : associated with stable mood and the ability to sustain concentration
same as dopamine; dark chocolate, daily doses of continuous improvement (Kaizen)

serotonin : associated with calm in the regulation of mood, sleep, and impulse control
exposure to the sun (or bright light therapy), high protein foods (like nuts and seeds)

note : to round out your study, consider searching the Web for “what depletes ____?”
e.g., responses to “what depletes endorphins?” include “the presence of chronic stress”

*bonus : feeling tired and want to keep doing what you’re doing effectively and efficiently?
look up to the sky or ceiling for 10 to 15 seconds to activate wakefulness and alertness

For many, flow is a favorite experience, the go-to experience, and (when endorphins are depleted) the most addictive experience. Why? Because entry into flow gives ready access to five of the most pleasure-seeking, happy-making, stress-busting “drugs” the human body has to offer.

The bottom line is that, in and with flow, we are all so much more capable than we know. We are all wired for flow; flow greatly expands, if we let it, what is possible for ourselves and each other.


a beneficent nature flows freely forward in its impressions when it can accept nothing false or uncertain; when it can align its impulses with the common good; when it can be responsive to desires within its power to realize; when it can navigate (with grace) what fate brings up (or down)

~ yours

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