How is “Flow” Not Overwhelming for You?


On a Facebook page dedicated to facilitators and practitioners of my meditation teacher, Shinzen Young, the discourse can be a wonderful event – ranging from experienced facilitators all kindly explaining a basic theme to someone new to meditation (or our teacher’s techniques) – to an in-depth discussion of subtle-yet-deep nuances on the spiritual path.  The word “Sangha” applies here – and I will be writing more about that in a separate entry – but here I want to mention a short interchange that happened recently on there between myself and another practitioner.  He asked me a question – and in answering, it made me wonder if I’d ever actually described my experience this way before.

Apparently, this man had heard me say that “Flow” was my “favorite” – and he wanted to understand that better.  He wanted to know how I “hold all the many things occurring simultaneously” – and how I “stay out of mental discourse.” He also asked about “how choices are formed (i.e. ‘following this not that, etc.’)”

I could feel, implied in his question, the potential “overwhelm” experience that could arise when people first start opening up to the amazing array of sensory experience available to us in each moment – especially with the realization that it’s all moving, changing, shifting and morphing! – A  lot of keep track of! And a potential stimulation to the analyzing, chattering mind that is attempting to make sense of it all.

This was my response:

“Well, what I’m going to say may be obvious to some – don’t know – but when I’m tuning into “Flow” (which is actually most of my waking time), I’m noticing & enjoying movement – it’s this wonderful massage. I’m seeing the world move around me, I’m hearing an orchestra – a symphony – both outside and in, and I’m feeling all sorts of flavors of sensation & energy – what’s not to like? And I MAY attempt to “zoom out” and hold all – but I may also “zoom in” and choose to listen to a specific instrument or duet or quintet.”

“And choices come from a natural processing of relevant information in the flow – and mental discourse may be an entertaining riff, or the source/inspiration of something to write or create – or it’s simply just a part of the symphony – maybe so totally in the background. (And, of course, whenever I totally attend to – i.e. put ALL of my awareness on a given sensory experience – then the chattering mind is not present – as I’m not “feeding” it with my attention. When I am zooming in like that, it is an absorption practice and there is, for that time, nothing else in my awareness.)

So, to answer your question about how choices are formed, I believe that my values, priorities, and interests will put a “flag” on the things I want to pay attention to – and I “zoom in” to those. Does that answer your questions?”

He responded:

“Thank you so much!! I’m smiling ear to ear. It’s so comforting to read your description. Your words elegantly describe an experience I might have without the judging. During the day I’m likely to just take a breath and Be all of life in a luxurious full way. LOL It’s rare for me to hear another talking so plainly about life. Thank you. ”

To which I responded, “I’m glad. You are most welcome. Enjoy that breath.”

And I chose to share this here, in case anyone reading this also benefits from these descriptions of fluid experience.  I do believe that our job as teachers is to describe, embody, and share – both the enlightened and the unenlightened experience – to help convey what the journey is really like – vs. how it “should” be.

And, of course, the danger in doing this is that some may read this and think that their experience should be like mine. So – No no no! -My experience is simply ONE VARIATION in the INFINITE POSSIBILITIES that arise in each moment – and I share these to potentially help open people to the possibilities they had not considered within their own experience.
Yes, so …..Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow – as feels good for you.

Categories : Email to Students


  1. Scott says:


    I just sent you an email requesting that you include your thoughts on how to do “Background Practice” in your upcoming HPP Creativity Class.

    Then, I came across this blog post: this take on “Flow” is fascinating!

    I hope you’ll talk more about this also in the class ->& make sure to mention this blog post to people b/c it’s an intriguing take on what seems to be a critical part of the creative process (I say seems because I’m very new to this whole thing & haven’t experienced it directly).

    • Steph says:

      HI Scott

      Thanks for your question & request, and first let me say that I’m glad you’ll be on the Mindfulness for Creativity phone workshop (which is also a reminder to me to put info about that on this site. I confess to being behind on posting things here.)

      But yes, to address your question/request, “background practice” – especially as I presented it here is definitely ONE of the elements that I will be presenting as tools/strategies for cultivating creativity.

      I had not thought to direct people to this blog post, so I thank you for your encouragement to do so. I confess that I didn’t even remember putting it on here – one of the “occupational hazards” from doing so much teaching. 😎🙏. So I really do appreciate that.

      And, as you can see, I did not label what I presented in what I wrote here as Shinzen’s “background practice” – mostly because this is something that I’ve naturally done – long before he came up with & presented that notion as a strategy. (The first time I’d heard him say it was when I was recording the mindfulness app for the Carnegie Mellon stress reduction study a year or so ago.) But it is very much along the lines of what he does present with that.

      So, I do encourage you to play with it – possibly as I presented it here – between now and the Mindfulness for Creativity workshop I’ll be leading on May 12th, and I look forward to hearing about your experience with it.

      All the best,

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