According to a recent newspaper report teachers (presumably including part-time teachers like me) 'experience higher levels of enjoyment and optimal flow experience than people working in comparable careers,'... 'Psychologists define "optimal flow experience" as a measure of enjoyment, concentration and absorption in a task, a concept recognised and reported by 44 per cent of teachers compared with 34 per cent of workers in other fields'.
The term (apparently first coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) was a new one to me, but it describes a mental state I recognise well enough. When my absorption and focus is so all-involving that time seems to pass in a flash, this is when I 'go with the flow'. According to Csikszentmihalyi 'The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost.' Yoga practitioners are apparently among those more likely to experience flow states.
Csikszentmihalyi may have coined the term, but he certainly didn't invent it. The links are clear enough between this idea of loosing oneself in the flow of the moment and ancient eastern philosophy such as Zen, martial arts and Taoism. Perhaps the ultimate flow state is that union with the godhead called Nirvana in Buddhism and Heaven in Christianity.
The spiritual appetites of so many of us in the west seem to be fuelled by a quest for a refuge from the buzzed up state of hyper-stimulation that passes for everyday life among the money rich and time poor. In an attempt to serve this need, a new condensed edition of the Bible which can be read (without poetry) in 100 minutes was announced this week. But how credible are the mix-and-match forays into no commitment, off-the-shelf religious experience that some of us indulge in? And does organised religion offer a path anymore, when it is so very fallible, so reliant on creaking dogma and science has boxed it into an ever smaller corner?
In a broadcast this evening, the BBC's former India correspondent Sir Mark Tully denounced spiritual practice divorced from organised religious tradition. For him this is merely self-satisfying navel gazing. At its best, evensong in my parish church sometimes offers me a space for contemplation and a 'flow' in the power and beauty of its poetry and reassuring ritual. A repeated television series called 'Monastery' is currently chronicling 40 days spent in a Benedictine house by five men from very different backgrounds. I am finding this particular slice of reality TV very involving. It asks questions of me that I want to put some real effort into attempting to answer. When I get a minute, of course.