Yet Untitled 016 - The Zone
That place where things Flow
The Zone. Flow State. The Flow.
I wondering if this is a relatable experience to everyone. I have a feeling it is, so here goes:
A lot of people have written or Ted-Talked about the Flow/Zone. I’m not attempting to summarise or curate a collection of perspectives on what The Zone is, but here’s a really famous Ted Talk on it in case you’re interested in one of the major prevalent interpretations.
To me, The Zone is an expansive, immersive state of life experienced while doing something with extreme involvement.
Significant things happen when I’m in The Flow/Zone. I enter it most often when I’m taking pictures. I quote Henri Cartier-Bresson from “The Mind's Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers” to give a very close approximation of how it feels:
“To take photographs means to recognize—simultaneously and within a fraction of a second—both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one's head, one's eye, and one's heart on the same axis.” (my emphasis).
Going by Bresson, The Zone happens with the confluence of multiple internal perspectives. I would throw the word ‘vacuum’ into the mix. I have always found being in the Flow/Zone to be accompanied by a “vacuum” situated in the pit of my stomach or the depth of my chest. When in the Flow, everything around feels like it’s being drawn into that vacuum.
I have reflected on the nature of this vacuum often. For me, its engine is desire.
Good desire. Strong, positive, value-creating desire - the engine of life.
Dearest Yet Untitlers, welcome back to Edition 016!
There are over a hundred of you now. A hundred!
Once again, I thank you for giving me this license to reflect and to reproduce the imprint of my reflection, placing it before you like something hot and steaming right out of the oven. Perhaps the fare emerges overcooked sometimes; maybe a tad underdone once in awhile too. But hey, I’m getting to fire up stove each week, and more often than not - being able to enter the sacred realm of The Zone - even for a short while - when writing it!
I wish I could describe this feeling to you in its entirety: it usually comes after a Tuesday spent irritably grappling with the knowledge that work on this week’s edition hasn’t even begun. Then, sometime during those hard-won moments at the end of Tuesday - after the kids are asleep - when a photograph has been chosen and a couple of ideas have been thrown onto the page, The Flow begins. Things connect. Something is created.
The Flow is best recognised by its accompanying feeling of limitlessness and its apparent existence outside time. Perhaps ‘abundance’ is a better word. The Flow taps into resources you never felt you had. The Flow channels your attention with a focus you don’t experience when outside it. The Flow makes you eloquent. The Flow makes you a master.
Incidentally, a way to understand the concept of Buddhahood - the quality of the Buddha’s enlightenment - is reading it as “unlimited compassion, unlimited wisdom and unlimited courage”. Hence, we are in very fine, profound territory with The Flow.
The Flow is Freedom - to be able to say what you feel (courage?). How precious this is! It makes me think whether I have been fighting hard enough for freedom of speech in my country that is slowly tightening the muzzle on dissident voices that do not conform to its leaders’ agenda (see where it led one vast country a little to my north).
Yet. Here we are - about a hundred of us - allowing this dance to take place. The Flow may be channeled through me, but its bounty is as much yours as it is mine. It wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for you.
For this I cannot stop being grateful to you.
Photos taken while in The Zone
With all these photos, I recall the moment’s sensory vividness when I had pressed the shutter. Another accompanying feeling was that of reverence, of privilege. I felt lucky to be there, and hence regarded my role in the moment with care and humility.
When entering The Zone through photography, I observe that it’s an external stimulus that’s triggering an inner state of Flow and harmony. At the same time, it’s also an inner shift triggered in me by my purpose for being there - a meaning that I alone am attributing to the situation.
Often, to me, such meaning/purpose is encapsulated best by a simple sentence I repeat to myself: “This is Important.”
Once, sitting in the presence of a master writer, I had the privilege to hear those very experiences, first hand, that he translated into widely read short stories and famous novels. I remember other sounds drowning out and being aware that my breathing had slowed. I even took a few photos.
My mind had declared: this is important…and I had entered The Zone.
See “Yet Untitled 006” for more on my encounter with the said writer:
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Over the past few years, via my study of Nichiren Buddhism - a sense of mission has also served to attribute poignant meaning to scenarios that might have otherwise been mundane, or avoidable, or ignored. Imagine me being stuck on a traffic jam: rather than channeling my anger towards some form of road rage, I channel it towards a prayer for forbearance, because we need forbearance if we are to create value in this crazy world. At least, that’s how I choose to roll. Mission.
This makes me think of Victor Frankl’s deeply moving book: Man’s Search For Meaning, in which he recounts how his survival in a concentration camp was contingent on how he chose to imagine his future; on what meaning he gave his experience.
It also reminds me of one of my favourite quotes by Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, the Buddhist philosopher, educationist and philanthropist:“Hope is a decision” - implying that the meaning we give our present and our future is in our hands.
Ikeda has also written a book by the same title, one that I highly recommend and gift often (I sense some of you nodding knowingly 😄).
I’m pretty ordinary as far as athleticism goes, but I have pursued running as much for its health benefits as for what it does to my mind.
On some good days, running gets me into The Zone and then some.
Some interesting things have happened to me while running. The physiological effect of heightened breathing, muscles cranking, the inner ear working overtime to preserve balance while the body topples forward, the circulation struggling to prevent buildup of lactic acid so that the limbs keep moving - all these add up to do something quite crazy to my mind.
What exactly happens?
Sometimes, while running, I feel the presence of another runner inside my body. Her (yes, her) name is Ktulu (yes you heard me right), and she’s from and undeclared African nation. And she never tires.
My conscious brain has screamed invectives at my subconscious brain for bringing such idiocies to the fore, but while running I’ve simply ignored my waking mind’s chatter and have proceeded to run my longest distances and best timings riding with Ktulu. I’d say she’s a welcome guest who I look forward to meeting.
If my Flow was a person, Ktulu would be her name. And I love the fact that she’s a woman!
What’s that? Have I envisioned Ktulu as a film? Is that even a question?
I have not seen Tarkovsky’s Stalker…
…but I do know it is about a man’s obsession with a mysterious place called ‘The Zone’, or “zona” as it’s referred to in the film, where deep desires are fulfilled.
They say it’s Tarkovsky’s masterpiece.
I’m referencing it here as a response to my own growing disgust for this war, reminding myself that a people, a culture, a nation are far more than simply their one despotic leader.
There is Genius in there too. May it meet with Resourcefulness, Courage and Compassion and turn things around for that vast ailing country to my north. And may this change inspire growth inspire growth and betterment in my own country.
What gets you in The Zone?
Even, what is ‘The Zone’ for you?
I want to know.
That’s all for this week, my 101 brothers and sisters. I am happy that you are readers and not Dalmatians. If you were 101 Dalmatians with a taste for newsletters, that would definitely be something to write about!
May your tribe increase. May your shares and comments increase too.
Lots of love,