I have been searching endlessly for my flow / groove / raison de vivre since the pandemic began.
Not only has the pandemic forced me to reassess my values, activities, and career but the examination of social equity precipitated by the murder of George Floyd has especially made me evaluate what I am doing and who I am doing it for. I wanted to share a few things that have given me slightly more clarity in this arena.
The first thing I read this summer that flipped my thinking about the age old questions of ‘who am I?’ and ‘what is my purpose?’ was Eckart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. In it, I found the wisdom that when I embrace the statement “I have no idea who I am”, I am the closest to “I am”, to simply being. And from the place of I am all things flow. The who part of the question is where the ego gets involved and it becomes a game of comparison. The mind goes, “Who I am is not working hard enough, not making enough money, not in the right marriage, the “right” job.” Letting go of knowing who I am and recognizing that I am in this world, connected with all of it’s weather systems, political systems, solar systems - a part of the whole - softens the ego muscles, allows me to lean back a little, and sigh, “What an exquisite ride - with all of the ups and downs therein. I am.”
From there, I execute my tasks with love and connection to the whole. When I let my heart lead me in all my endeavors I am more satisfied and I have found pleasure in doing things like making and donating masks or running raffles to benefit Black non-profit organizations like The Loveland Foundation. Even though these are small acts, all of our small efforts add up and create a better world. And this collectivity reflects the state of being in the statement "I am" (ham sa or so hum).
Eckart Tolle calls the act of being present in that I am state of existence our primary purpose. The thing that we do next is our secondary purpose. So here I am, thirty and uncovering my secondary purpose.
The pandemic gave me time to consider all of these existential questions and for that I am grateful. I realize that not all were given the luxury of time because some of you out there are essential and your jobs don’t move home, and for you I am grateful. And for others, your home job turned into two or three jobs taking care of schooling, cleaning, and work! Phew! To you I am amazed.
I gained a bit of time. (Just an aside that I found poetic - my dad often called Corona Cronus at the beginning of the pandemic. Not sure if it was intentional on his part but I like it because Cronus is the Greek god of time - “in particular time when viewed as a destructive, all-devouring force.” source)
Anyway, I received time to think and assess and take online classes. As I have talked about before in some recent instagram posts, I did a Tantric training which was very complimentary to reading A New Earth. (Here are some meditations derived from this tradition on my YouTube channel) The training provided me with meditations that compliment my new found 'primary purpose'.
The other class that I have begun is “The Science of Well-Being” taught by Yale professor, Laurie Santos on Coursera. In the first week’s homework, we were supposed to take a few different quizzes to get an idea of our baseline well-being before taking the class. I imagine we will take one at the end to see how it differs after ten weeks of practicing re-wirement exercises such as gratitude journaling, exercise, and meditation.
One of the most exciting tests to me was this quiz to learn our Signature Character Strengths. Here is a link to take it for yourself, which I highly recommend!
Martin Seligman, who wrote Authentic Happiness, coined this idea of signature Character Strengths. A Character Strength is characterized by a desire, a disposition to act, or a feeling that involves the exercise of judgement that leads to a recognizable human excellence or instance of human flourishing.
Here are my top five Signature Character Strengths:
I love that all of the 24 character strengths are good and morally valued. I feel like sometimes you take a character quiz and can be disappointed by your profile. This is not one of those kinds of profiles.
What has been studied and found is that if you are utilizing a few of your top character strengths in your job, you will feel more satisfied and happy in life. As Laurie points out, using our character strengths in our job will transform a career into a calling. So in order to experience the most meaningful purpose in life, we should be using a few of our top character strengths daily.
Seligman recommends finding out your top strengths and then for a week practice using them. “Use one of your top strengths in a new and different way everyday for one week.” This was also one of our re-wirements in the class. Try it! And notice the challenge of using it in a different way everyday. In his study, he found that the participants using their signature strengths happiness increased.
Even if you don't much like the job you're in, it is possible to turn it into a calling simply by finding ways of employing your signature strengths in different ways everyday. For me that could be as simple as expressing love, gratitude and/or kindness to my students and colleagues.
After taking the VIA quiz, you can read more about each one of your top character strengths to find out ideas and ways of using them in your daily life. Try some of their suggestions and keep a journal about it for a week to track how it makes you feel. I have done this and while it is hard to be consistent with, it's amazing how much happier I feel.
So what about FLOW!? Flow is a term coined by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It’s a mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment. We sometimes refer to is as being in the zone where it is easy to lose track of time because you are so immersed in an activity. So how do we achieve flow!?
Well, what Csikszentmihaly came up with is a correlation between the amount of challenge an activity presents and the amount of skill one possesses. What he found is that there is a sweet spot where we feel flow when we find maximum challenge in an area where we poses maximum skill. A 1988 study by Lefevre confirmed this by surveying peoples challenge, concentration and mental state at work. It showed a positive correlation between challenge in a high skill situation with a sense of efficacy and self-confidence.
What this study affirms is that we are happiest when we are being challenged in something that we feel that we have some level of mastery over. This can be applied to work but it also goes for extracurriculars. I have picked up long-boarding and surfing. These have both been challenges because a.) they are hard and b.) they are new to me; but I am using my skills of balance and agility that I have honed with my 15 years of yoga practice. I am finding that they bring me a great deal more joy and satisfaction in my downtime than, say, watching Netflix (which also can bring joy at other times, but the point is that I am seeking challenges in my downtime as well!)
So to summarize my recent findings, here are my three rules for a more happy, purpose-filled, Flowy life:
Stop trying to figure who I am and simply realize that I am. (Practice presence)
Try to use my top character strengths everyday in what I am doing.
Seek challenges within my skill sets - at work and during leisure time.
I hope this helps you find some joy, purpose and flow, even in our bleakest days <3
Sending Out Love,