Thursday, 10 February 2011

skip truck drivers, musicians, flow, mindfulness

(Found a way of avoiding the exhausting business of thinking up witty post titles - just string together a few words on your subject matter, job done...)

People sometimes confuse mindfulness with concentrating on the task in hand. But maybe one can merge into the other most productively.

Had a skip delivered to Munday Mansions this morning. The driver had to get his truck down our narrow, over-grown "drive" (a few yards of rapidly disintegrating ancient tarmac), navigate a twist at the bottom, do a nine-point turn, back the thing into a gap about a foot wider than the truck, offload the skip a metre or two in front of our LPG gas tank so I was imagining disaster scenarios. No worries. All done swiftly but unhurriedly, indeed with some panache. An inch or two to spare all round was no exaggeration. And off he trundled.

Reversing, I find, can be one of those things where the harder you try, the worse it gets, and tension in the neck and elsewhere really ruins the attempt. I reverse best when I'm relaxed; you too, I daresay. But of course, you have to concentrate. It's like plastering - relaxed concentration, and don't fuss at it, one sweep and leave it. Give it the wrong sort of concentration, get tense and pick at it, and it's a mess.

So was the skip truck driver in a state of mindfulness, of being entirely in the present? My guess is that although he wasn't in a meditative state (hard to drive a truck in the lotus position..), to drive that skilfully, he must have been showing a high degree of presentmomentness. And you can only drive like that after a lot of practice and experience. Skill, and relaxed concentration. Perhaps the concept of "flow" is closer to it.

Like music. You practice and practice, play a lot with different people, and eventually, whatever the musical form, It happens. A folk music trio I know describe how, at their weekly sessions, things sometimes go OK, but sometimes the tune just seems to play itself; at the end of the piece, they put their instruments down and say things like "wow, what happened there?" Flow is what happened. They were entirely in the present moment, and it almost felt as though the music was playing them. They are left elated and slightly puzzled. Some would call those moments a spiritual experience.

But don't forget the hard pactice, i.e. skilful repetition. Although you can get yourself into a mindful state whilst washing up, that's not flow. How much do you need to practice before you can wash up efficiently? I have never felt confused about whether I was washing the dishes or the the dishes were washing me; it's not music.

But you can stop ignoring what you're doing, or feeling dismissive about it, and hurrying. You can bring your mind entirely into the present, and lead it gently back whenever it wanders off to this afternoon's appointment or yesterday's irritations, that builder's bum or this anxiety about.... whatever. If you can do that, you find that washing up is not such a miserable waste of time, because you and it are both Now. And in any case, there's nowhere else you can be, but Now.

But flow, it ain't. That skip truck - it flowed into position.


  1. Gloria,

    Writing non stop?

    I am a fan of flow.

    Some things some times do flow, and I agree that practice and thought is involved, but when flow moves you along steadily and continuously and smoothly; it is wonderful. (Truly the right word.)

    One day a song could make you up, or a poem could compose you, or you could be run or swum.

    Self consciousness and being too aware of yourself can inhibit flow quicker than you can spill a bottle of ink.

  2. Hear him, he speaks truth. Clearly and directly, too.

    Writing in between ceremonies, i.e. at the keyboard, is a temptation and a release.

    But Saturday, I intend to get walked.

    Thanks, Arkers, nice to hear from you.

  3. Now-ness in the washing up sense; yes I can do that; farmers taught me that by example. But flow - no, sorry, I am both attracted and daunted but would have to work very hard indeed on disabling self-consciousness and self-criticism. This is something to ponder really quite hard as I walk around the watermeadows later today... Thank you for putting it into my head.

  4. H'm. Maybe flow is a more specialised kind of thing? Depends on nature of activity, level of skill and training, so the task runs you? Maybe fewer opportunities for it cf presentmomentness? Whereas mindfulness, that can be done anywhere any time, so perhaps is more approachable and has more potential for us ordinary only moderately-skilled people?
    Nothing but question-marks, sorry.But I'm pleased you feel it's all well worth a ponder, Charles.

  5. Definitely all worth a ponder GM. Flow, now-ness, present, mindful. I've certainly experienced flow at times, certainly while writing and running. I think it's the now-ness and being present that can be harder these days, what with analysing what's been and pondering what's to come. I did read a nice quote the other day in a Q&A from one of the Sunday papers. A successful, high-powered business woman was asked how did she get a good work/life balance. She said: "Be in the moment you're in. If I'm at sports day with the children, I'm there and I'm engaged. You get all of me or none of me, but never half-mast. Am I perfect? No. But if the quality of your engagement is high, they'll forgive you". Interesting...
    Sorry GM, may have gone away from the point of your post there!

  6. Absolutely the point of the post, dear Blanket, a very smart quote. "Distracted by distraction from distraction" (TS Eliot, I think...)is what our culture does to us, or us with it.That's why I think one has to create a time and space for meditation, however brief; I have to put a frame round the moment, as it were. Can't be done all the time every minute, but it does spread out from the framed time into the rest of life.

    But I'm sure the business woman is right - quality of engagement with others, being in that moment, is not only better for peace of mind, but makes for success, however you define it.

    I'm not much of a runner myself, but can relate to what you say through similar times walking; writing, certainly. Rock climbers sometimes say the same thing.

    Well, if it works, it works. One sign of flow is funny things happening to time and space (nothing too mystically hippy here, it's all happening in our brains) - in sport, a superb few moments in football that result in a goal, and the scorer seems to be operating with an ease and inevitability that puts him in a different time-frame. Skilled defenders look like incompetent oafs. Or the moments in dance when a really great dancer seems, for a few seconds, almost to hang suspended in the air, or an outstretched arm seems to go on and on, re-defining the sape around it. High-definition performance. Rightness.

    Subjectively, we sometimes don't notice time at all in the flow, or at least it ceases to crowd in on us. Ian Miller, imactEDnurse blog, is very good on this, insights he has reached in a desperately busy emergency department in a big Australian hospital. How to manage overload and haste? Stay in the moment, deploy the skill and knowledge, get in the flow and it comes right, that (very crudely put) seems to be his formula.

    Thanks for the comment, CB, I do enjoy sharing these insights and views, helps me grope onwards, wrestling with the angels in the dark, as Vale put it on the GFG recently.

  7. Sometimes I have nothing to say or add, but I'd just like to click a "like" button.

  8. Thanks XP - I've felt the same sometimes, I'll have to look into buttons and stuff. Don't hold your breath, I'll need an idiot's guide etc...