Flow Quotes

To me, flow is a state of consciousness.  It is the ultimate state, surfinga wave of engagement over a sea of experience, losing oneself in focused engagement.  I call it “dropping in,” and I drop in when I play music, or capoeira, or especially when I do massage.

Here is an example of what flow is not:

“If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, often leading to a big pile of sludge and a life of unhappiness. You’ll end up doing what everyone else is doing.”
― Sean Covey, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Teens

In my opinion, “going with the flow” and “being in the flow”are different.  One seems passive, like being carried along by a river, whereas the other is more active, like piloting a boat through the rapids.  Certainly the river is carrying you along either way, but lies exactly in the level of engagement required (unless the challenge at hand for certain personality types actually is participation with what everyone else is doing, in which case the criteria for success should be measured differently…).

Csikszentmihalyi says: “Flow is hard to achieve without effort. Flow is not ‘wasting time.’

To make living itself an art, that is the goal

-Henry Miller

The painting cannot be laid aside even for a day; for it takes constant work to keep ‘flowing,’ but above that it takes concentration, which in our language is consecration. (Morris Graves)

‘Being in the flow’ is definitely worth striving for. I know when I’m there. I’m tapped into something that is far beyond my ability. (Aleta Pippin)

Heart to Heart by Aleta Pippin

Heart to Heart by Aleta Pippin


see also:

Here is what some others have said about the experience:

“The phenomenology of enjoyment has eight major components. When people reflect on how it feels when their experience is most positive, they mention at least one, and often all, of the following. First, the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing. Second, we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing. Third and fourth, the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback. Fifth, one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life. Sixth, enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions. Seventh, concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over. Finally, the sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours. The combination of all these elements causes a sense of deep enjoyment that is so rewarding people feel that expending a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow4443081227_fa0d346e52_b

“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

“The mystique of rock climbing is climbing; you get to the top of a rock glad it’s over but really wish it would go on forever. The justification of climbing is climbing, like the justification of poetry is writing; you don’t conquer anything except things in yourself…. The act of writing justifies poetry. Climbing is the same: recognizing that you are a flow. The purpose of the flow is to keep on flowing, not looking for a peak or utopia but staying in the flow. It is not a moving up but a continuous flowing; you move up to keep the flow going. There is no possible reason for climbing except the climbing itself; it is a self-communication.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

“David Auerbach writes about the high you get from coding.

These days I write more than I code, but one of the things I miss about programming is the coder’s high: those times when, for hours on end, I would lock my vision straight at the computer screen, trance out, and become a human-machine hybrid zipping through the virtual architecture that my co-workers and I were building. Hunger, thirst, sleepiness, and even pain all faded away while I was staring at the screen, thinking and typing, until I’d reach the point of exhaustion and it would come crashing down on me.
It was good for me, too. Coding had a smoothing, calming effect on my psyche, what I imagine meditation does to you if you master it.

Auerbach asserts that there’s something different about the flow state one enters while programming, compared to those brought on by making art, writing, etc. Over the years, I’ve written, designed, and programmed for a living, and programming is, by far, the thing that gets me the best high. I’ve definitely had productive multi-hour Photoshop and writing benders, but coding blocks out the world and the rest of myself like nothing else. In attempting to articulate to friends why I enjoy programming more than design or writing, I’ve been explaining it like this: for me, the coding process is all or nothing and has a definitive end.
When code doesn’t work within the specifications, it’s 100% broken. It won’t compile, the web server throws an error, or gives the wrong output. Writing and design almost always sorta work…even a first draft or an initial design communicates something to the reader/viewer. When the code works within the specifications, it’s done. The writing or design process is never done; even a great piece of writing or the best design can be improved incrementally or even scrapped altogether to go in a different and potentially more fruitful direction. Maybe, for me, programming’s definite ending is what makes it so enjoyable. The flow state comes from knowing that, while the journey is difficult and maddening and messily creative (just as with writing or design), there’s a definite point at which it’s done and you can move on to the next challenge.
-Jason Kottke @


“One of the fascinating parallels between science and philosophy concerns how this concept has been anticipated by the Chinese philosopher and provocateur Zhuangzi. According to Zhuangzi, the “ultimate happiness” (zhi le) is gained when we have learned to “let go,” engaging in activities for their own sakes without any ulterior motives. In such a state all human actions become spontaneous and fresh, childlike in their intensity. On the highest level we transcend our egos and merge with the Dao, or the way, the underlying unity that embraces all things in the Universe.
Zhuangzi’s typical examples of people who have achieved this state are artisans, butchers and craftsmen — you might call them “blue collar sages.” One of the most celebrated examples recounts the virtuosity of butcher Ting. Ting is cutting up an ox for his Master Wen-Hui, and his activity is described in the following way:
At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee — zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.
“When Ting is asked by his Master how he could achieve such skill, Ting responds:
What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now — now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants.
“Ting goes on to explain how this state of mastery is achieved:
However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until — flop! the whole thing comes apart like a cloud of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.
“Here we see all the elements of the flow described quite succinctly. Ting has a clearly defined goal in mind: to chop the ox carcass with minimum effort and least wear and tear on his cleaver. He is completely immersed in the activity of butchering with no space in mind for any other thought or feeling. Ting describes the stages he went through in order to achieve mastery of his skill. The attitude that binds these stages as a thread is single-minded focus and intention. The allusions to rhythmic movement and dance clearly indicate that he is going through an ecstatic experience. And at the end of the activity he describes himself as “completely satisfied.” Ting’s reference to “a complicated place” indicates that the flow state is achieved only after facing increasing challenge and the development of new skills.
“While Zhuangzi can legitimately be taken to be a precursor of the modern concept of flow, it is equally important to note some of the differences. Csikszentmihalyi prefers to use the language of “control:” the ego learns to master the external world in the conquest of a challenging skill. Zhuangzi on the other hand uses the language of “letting be” (wu wei): one learns not to interfere with the way of things. I believe, however, that these two different perspectives are complementary aspects of the flow experience. While Csikszentmihalyi draws attention to the strength and control that is achieved within flow, or its Yang aspect, Zhuangzi points to the effortlessness of the state, its Yin aspect.” -The Collected Works of Chuang Tsu, trans. Burton Watson 1986, p.50
– Lance Hickey @

“Sometime look at a novice workman or a bad workman and compare his expression with that of a craftsman whose work you know is excellent and you’ll see the difference. The craftsman isn’t ever following a single line of instruction. He’s making decisions as he goes along. For that reason he’ll be absorbed and attentive to what he’s doing even though he doesn’t deliberately contrive this. His motions and the machine are in a kind of harmony. He isn’t following any set of written instructions because the nature of the material at hand determines his thoughts and motions, which simultaneously change the nature of the material at hand. The material and his thoughts are changing together in a progression of changes until his mind’s at rest at the same time the material’s right.”
– Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

“The self expands through acts of self forgetfulness.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Buddhists advise us to “act always as if the future of the universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.” This serious playfulness makes it possible to be both engaged and carefree at the same time.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning

“Flow is hard to achieve without effort. Flow is not ‘wasting time.'”
-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Degas had it right. True creativity lies in using everything available in the medium at the moment. I think it’s important to have a plan but I think one should also be flexible and go with the flow.”
-Mary Jean Mailloux

“Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.”
-Chuang Tzu

“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke

“In deep meditation the flow of concentration is continuous like the flow of oil.”

“Flow tends to occur when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow: The Psychology Of Engagement With Everyday Life

“Become a river and then nothing is needed. That’s what The Secret of the Golden Flower says: Achieve inaction through action, achieve effortlessness through effort. But first comes the effort, the action—it will melt you—and then the river starts flowing. In that very flow it has reached the ocean.”
– Osho, The Secret of Secrets

“There is really nothing but the flow. You are not really on the bank. That, methinks, is the greatest illusion of all. You are the bank, the flow, the boat, the rudder.”
-Nicoletta Baumeister









Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal. . . . Albert Einstein


“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
― Alan W. Watts

“Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“The flow. Yeah. Knowing you could step on the court and make it happen. You practiced, sure. But then, when you walked out there, you could just go. You could flow, that was it: you created and you didn’t totally know how. You just knew you could, so you did. It wasn’t thinking and it wasn’t imitating somebody else’s moves, though you always looked carefully when you watched good players play. But when you played… it was something you couldn’t explain. Neal used to know. It didn’t come from thinking about it.”
– Doug Wilhelm, Falling

“But anyone who has experienced flow knows that the deep enjoyment it provieds requires an equal degree of disciplined concentration.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


Consciiousness Quotes

“Pain and pleasure occur in consciousness and exist only there”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“The names we use to describe personality traits – such as extrovert, high achiever, or paranoid – refer to the specific patterns people have used to structure their attention. At the same party, the extrovert will seek out and enjoy interactions with others, the high achiever will look for useful business conacts, and the paranoid will be on guard for signs of danger he must avoid. Attention can be invested in innumerable ways, ways that can make life eihther rich or miserable.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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