I have found that maintaining a sense of emotional equilibrium and inner harmony has become more complicated since becoming a mama. Never before has my internal state been so thoroughly influenced by the whims of another being. Staying sane and in the joy can feel like an incredible juggling act on any given day. It's a continual process of taking what's arising and then trying to lean back toward my center, no matter the circumstances.
My particular brand of struggle is triggered by Rowen's ever evolving developmental edge. Somedays it is like he has taken a quantum leap and all I knew and felt comfortable with has vanished in an instant, leaving me with a new mystery to unfold. You know those days, like when they begin to roll over, teethe, crawl, walk, or say "NO" - oh my! Everything changes and a new learning curve has arrived. My default is anxiety or exasperation, both of which I may not be prepared to counter balance on any given day.
Here is where flow comes in. Years ago I read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It is a profound book that investigates the concept of optimal experience and reveals that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness he calls flow. During this state, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life. The book explores the ways this positive state can be regulated, not just left to chance.
In the book there is a graph that helps to illustrate how this works. Bear with me as I try to make this clear. On the vertical axis resides our "challenges" and on the horizontal axis is our level of "skill". These are the two most important dimensions of our personal experience in regard to flow. From the point where these two axes meet a column steadily ascends, which represents the range where a flow state can be experienced. Between the axis of challenge and the space of flow is where anxiety thrives, while between the axis of skill and a flow state is where boredom lives. The idea is that somewhere between anxiety and boredom, chaos and monotony, is a sweet spot of fluidity, grace, and joy. During the mastery of any activity we naturally will meet boredom when our skill is greater than the challenge and we will experience anxiety when the challenge overpowers our skill level. However, during this upward spiral of personal development we can find ourselves in this spot where the challenge engages with our skill and we land in the flow. It's a space where you are fully present and immersed in life. This is flow in a nutshell.
After I read the book, I remember feeling like I had few regular and accessible situations in my life where challenges and my skill could tango and I could really drop into the flow. I tabled it as an attractive theory, maybe something to work toward, and the years rolled by.
Recently, in the midst of caring for Rowen, it dawned on me that the act of parenting offered me the perfect opportunity to find a flow state. Both monotony and anxiety were present in the day to day act of caring for him while fresh challenges and my mommy skill level regularly played tug-of-war with my inner stability. So why couldn't I seek out the possibility of flow laying somewhere between the poles?
The intention alone brought an invigorated awareness of my internal state while reminding me that I can always do something to shift where I am at. My inner harmony no longer felt completely at the whim of my child or the little obstacles that seemed to arise endlessly. When I feel us drifting in a sea of struggle I think to myself "how can we bring a little more ease back into the situation?" This may be anything from just breathing to scheduling some alone time or going outside to switch up the energy. Or a hundred other little things that help us find balance and joy. Likewise, when I feel like a hamster on a wheel and the monotony becomes maddening we do something to up the challenge and make our day more interesting, playful and adventurous.
This is my practice. As we sway between struggle and monotony I consciously steer us back toward that sweet spot where the present moment is whole and nourishing, where life just feels really delicious and there is nowhere else I would rather be than hanging out with Rowen. And the love flows.