Friday, September 25, 2009

Flow States and Everyday Spirituality

In my previous post, I wrote about flow states and spiritual disciplines but here I want to expand on how flow states could be related to everyday spirituality. I encourage you to read the previous post first to get a better feel for what I am writing about here. But, to summarize, a flow state is an "optimal experience" where one feels highly challenged and highly competent to meet those challenges. An example would be expert rock climbers when climbing a difficult face, they feel a sense of "flow" in what they are doing.

Now can Christians achieve this type of experience in their everyday lives? I might argue that the Apostle Paul, who was able to bear numerous trials and still remain connected to the faith, is an example that one can. But I believe the trick is to achieve the proper amount of "spiritual competency" to meet the challenges of everyday life.

Now, first of all, let me say that I believe that all believers have the Holy Spirit working inside of them and are capable of doing everything that God requires of them. So I'm not saying that spiritual competency is just a skill-base or something that we can develop apart from God. But I also believe that all Christians need to rely on numerous resources that they are not inherently able to do as soon as they become Christians.

One might call this concept "religious coping" - using religious resources to cope with problems (the term has limitations - true faith does not use strategies just to get through life, it embodies faithful devotion that has a secondary effect of being able to overcome difficulties). Religious coping is not bestowed through conversion but is taught in sermons, books, etc. and modeled through relationships in the church. Religious coping involves both external forms of coping (seeking support of a pastor, listening to and participating in religious music, etc.) and internal forms (surrendering will over to God, prayer, etc.). These are the resources that will enable a believer to feel competent to meet the challenges in their lives.

But one important point needs to be made. Some Christians (I might even say most American Christians) do not experience "high challenge" that requires them to feel a state of flow. Their lives do not involve the threat of extreme poverty, violence, or political control. These Christians likely do not experience recurrent times of "high challenge" that can facilitate the awesome experience of flow. But there is hope here. By challenging themselves (and I can say this to myself - by challenging myself) to grow in ways that are uncomfortable, by giving generously, sharing one's faith, and giving voice to the powerless, Christians can have the opportunity to experience the pleasure of being in a state of optimal experience. By giving of themselves, they can receive the blessing of fulfillment.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Flow States and Spiritual Disciplines

I have been doing some reading on the concept of flow lately and wanted to see if I could relate this popular concept to spiritual disciplines. Flow states, or optimal experiences, are thought to arise when situations are highly challenging and when the individual feels like they have the capacity to meet those challenges. There is a balance of high difficulty and high ability (Hektner, Schmidt, & Csikszentmihalyi, 2007).

When we engage in spiritual disciplines, we are engaging in an activity that might have variable levels of challenge. While reading the Bible may seem like a straightforward task to some, trying to grasp deeper spiritual meaning of any given passage might be more difficult. If someone tries to simply read the Bible for simple answers (or to check off their to-do list for the day), but is actually quite capable of deeper reflection, they will likely not experience flow. On the other hand, if someone tries to really dive into the Word, looking for deep truth, but is not trained on how to do so, that can inevitably end up being frustrating.

To achieve a flow state when engaging in a spiritual practice means taking on the activity with challenging goals appropriate for that person and with the skills to meet those goals for that time.

A new Christian, for example, might take prayer as a time to simply talk with God openly and honestly while submitting to God's will in their requests. A mature Christian, on the other hand, might look at prayer as a chance to speak with God with Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (ACTS) to achieve greater personal devotion and submission in all they do.

Why would flow states be important to consider when we practice spiritual disciplines? Well, I believe that spiritual disciplines are more likely to be adhered to when we enjoy doing them. That means that asking people to engage in such behaviors means assessing how capable they are at engaging in the behavior while providing them further skills to grow in their practice of spiritual disciplines. As people grow more capable of practicing spiritual disciplines, they must be further challenged and provided further resources to meet those challenges.