Over the past year, much has been written about how entering into a flow state with an immersive hobby can protect us from the negative effects of a life-disrupting disaster like a pandemic. When the world outside is out of control, it can be lifesaving to find escape and release inside of our own minds.
As a writer, I can get into my most intense state of flow by writing long fiction. When I wrote my last novel, Leirah and the Wild Man, I felt possessed. I lost myself so completely in the narrative that when I went back and read some of the pages I had written, they surprised me. I remembered something like having a dream about the contents of the story but not actually coming up with those particular words.
During the writing process, I experienced sudden storms of inspiration that drove the story in unexpected directions but never totally off course. I learned to trust these moments and open my mind's sails, and my story grew more complex and nuanced and wild without losing the plot.
Like my characters trying to steer a ship through deadly rapids, I felt a dissociation from time and from any thoughts outside of the present moment and my next move. I felt hurtled along by an external force, unaware of exhaustion or worries about anything going on in my real life.
The flow state that carried me through the writing of that book was thrilling and helped me to complete an ambitious project, but I experienced some of the dark sides of flow as well. At times, the writing (and editing and revising and rewriting) felt like an addiction rather than a healthy habit. I became impatient and irritable with anything that distracted me from the project, including my family and friends, and I often lost track of time so thoroughly that I failed to eat meals, shower, or get ready for work on time.
And when the novel was complete, I felt such a huge letdown that it nearly caused a mental health crisis. That distress was compounded when the dust cleared and I took stock of my life and realized how much I had been neglecting.
I haven't given up on creative writing, but I did decide to take a break from it to clear my head, ground myself in reality, and focus on a new set of priorities for a new phase of my life. When the pandemic hit, I chose to seek out ways to get into quieter, shallower flows that wouldn't drain me of the energy I needed to allocate to my health and my family and closest friends. I eased myself into watching art films, playing board games with my family, doodling and sketching, planning home maintenance projects, working out gently to dance videos, walking outside, cooking, and baking. I had long chats over phone and video with old friends. I re-read some of my favorite old books, slowly. I learned how to make key lime pies. It has been good to feel like I have plenty of time in the day to get things done and plenty of time to rest as well. It has been good to revitalize my marriage and my relationship with my daughter as she enters adolescence in a pandemic.
There are many different ways to access a healthy state of flow. A wild, stormy, all-possessing flow can help people to achieve remarkable feats, and for some people, at some times in life, these accomplishments may be worth the personal costs. We all have the ability to play with flow and the right to decide for ourselves how deep we want to go at any point in time.
Whether you play an instrument or swim or bird-watch or craft, may you find a few different practices that can help you ride the waves of life with power and grace.