Flow, Symbiosis, and Mastery: Can We Master Anything?
We write and we believe through the act of writing we are being honest.
The paper, to the pen, to the hand, the arm, the head, the brain.
A straight line. Connected. Mind to output.
But there are no straight lines in this floating space of existence. No full clarity, no open view of ourself. Not through anything, and not through writing.
Still, with whatever concept of mind we do have, we do our best to create, and that’s the best we can do.
I want to tell you that we can only write and write and in the practice of writing hope to distract ourselves from ourselves and therein discover some form of truth. The salamander caught lounging under a rock.
Unearthing Your Art
The repetition of writing brings us to ourselves. It is not the connection of pen, paper, mind, but the meditation, the recurrence of the act which takes us out of our mind to a place not quite within our own boundaries.
Why do we write? Because in the habit of doing so, the writing—itself an entity unearthed—begins to take over.
When we learn something new—horseback riding, let’s say—all thoughts must be about technique, procedure, maintaining one’s fears, ensuring the safety of both one’s self and the horse…
With enough practice and repetition comes an intuitive ability to ride that transcends any outline of the idea of what learning horseback riding once meant to you.
Then, it was you on a horse. Two disparate beings learning to cooperate enough that an enjoyable experience could be had.
One might even say that your focus was centered on control. Control + discipline = mastery.
Yet somehow it happens that the idea of control mixes with the art of riding and the result is an occurrence of symbiosis.
Master or Mastered?
A point is reached (with the right kind of practice) where the horse understands your desires not with reins or clicks or one-word-utterances, but with seeming intuition. It senses your gaze or feels the vague pressure of your inner thigh against its broadly ribbed stomach.
Now you’ve reached a place far beyond the idea of mastering the art of horseback riding; instead you’ve arrived to the place where the art of horseback riding has mastered you.
Think of an art or skill you’ve mastered.
Is it you who really feels so powerful over it, or have you relinquished yourself to a holistic understanding, one that enables you—not it—to be overcome?
“You must understand the following: In order to master a field, you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it. Your interest must transcend the field itself and border on the religious.”
— Robert Greene, Mastery
In the heat of a game, the professional basketballer is not thinking consciously of how to dribble and at which angle he should throw; he is in a state of flow.
In the flow state, mental chatter, sense of time, doubts, distractions, and anything outside the utterly-present moment all fall to the wayside. The created spirit of years of effort takes control, and conscious thinking becomes unnecessary.
A chessmaster, though years have been spent practicing moves and variations, does not win a set of 40 simultaneously-played games by meticulously analyzing each move to be made; instead, he lets his long-earned knowledge overtake him, dunking him into a state of flow.
Though effort was made to nurture the knowledge, the work, in truth, was only to turn oneself into fertile grounds from which the skill itself could grow strong enough to stand on two feet.
We write not to master writing, but to feed the fledgling art within us. Only when strong enough can it allow us to relinquish, if only briefly, the misplaced duty we’ve placed upon ourselves to remain conscious and in-control.
We cannot master an art, we can only hope that it is able to master us.
Want to know more about this flow business? Watch Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Ted talk on the state of flow, and maybe even find out the answer to “What makes a life worth living?”
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