The state of flow

The “state of flow” describes the moment when a sportsman or woman forgets all their physical and psychological preparation and training, all their strategies and techniques, and abandons themselves to the action. It is a moment when they play their best. “There is lots of anecdotal evidence and research,” says Dr Mark Nasti of Liverpool John Moores University, “to support the idea that our optimal performances occur when we forget about achieving rewards and instead focus purely on fully engaging with what is in front of us.”

Perhaps that is why we love watching, if we cannot play in, sport. Something of the thrill of achieving the perfect shot rubs off on us who are only spectators. We are most fully alive when we forget ourselves in the action. For many years I was involved in proposals, budgets and plans. All these are necessary but sometimes we become slaves to them and even judge our success by whether we completed the plan.  I have written or edited many beautiful reports but I often wondered whether they really described changed lives.

We can, I think, preen ourselves with so many articles published, so many talks given, so many contacts made. But, when we stop for a moment, we ask where was the life in all this? Where was the abandonment? The risk? We have a sense that we are most alive when we forget ourselves and plunge into the action. The word sacrifice is, perhaps, overused. It has become too familiar. But it has primordial resonances in every culture and religion: losing oneself in order to find oneself.

The first “title” of Jesus in the New Testament was given by John in the desert: he was “the Lamb,” a symbol of weakness and innocence. In the Jewish tradition the Paschal lamb was sacrificed in Egypt as a prelude to the liberation of Israel from slavery.  The Christian Church has always seen this as sign that would be fulfilled in the free offering of himself by Jesus in his passion and death, which would inaugurate the liberation of all the people of God. Jesus abandons himself to the struggle against evil. He is crushed but not conquered.

The “flow” leads to resurrection, fulfilment, achievement, victory – whatever word you want to use. But basically it means, “we’ve done it! We’ve won!” I have in mind a picture of Pope Francis greeting a little girl. Her hands go out to him but her head is turned back to her mother as if to say, “Look at me! I’m with him and he is with me!” I’ve had a similar experience where I live as I often pass a crowded household on my walks. A child sometimes runs out to greet me. She grabs me but then looks back to her mother as if to say, “Aren’t I clever?” Success comes in many ways but it seems to be linked to forgetting ourselves and giving everything.

January 15, 2017                     Sunday 2A

Isaiah 49:3-6           I Corinthians 1:1-3                  John 1:29-34

Mark Nesti, in Advent Extra, Redemptorist Publications, 2016

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