Updated: Feb 23, 2022
If you have ever found yourself completely consumed by a task, losing track of time, feeling unusually energized and fascinated, and effortlessly making progress, then you've likely experienced being "in the zone" or what scientists characterized as a state of flow. Many artists, technologists, entrepreneurs, athletes, and even the Navy Seals credit their peak performance capabilities to this elevated state of consciousness.
The term "flow" was first introduced by the Hungarian scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who pioneered much of the research and literature on the topic. He describes this state as "a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it."
In a world characterized by constant distractions and short attention spans, achieving and maintaining a flow state is indeed a critical task for anyone but especially those in competitive and high stake positions. In fact, researchers have found significant benefits to achieving flow state suggesting a 230 percent increase in learning ability and 500 percent more productivity. Furthermore, Csikszentmihalyi suggests that regularly accessing flow is "the secret to happiness"! It is no surprise that finding and maintaining flow is all the hype from Silicon Valley, to the military, and beyond.
How To Achieve A Flow State
In his research, Csikszentmihalyi identified 8 key components that make flow possible and enjoyable. He suggested that the more one experiences these states, the more likely they are to experience a state of flow:
Having a clear goal
Feedback that supports progress assessment
Challenges matching skills so that one is not overqualified and therefore bored or under-qualified and therefore overwhelmed
Focus on the task at hand
Control or rather the possibility of controlling some aspects of the experience
Loss of self-consciousness
Losing the sense of time
While we can experience flow during any activity where we lose our sense of self and time, flow is often experienced while making and playing music and other forms of art, dancing, creative writing, meditating, sports, time in nature, traveling, and psychedelic journeying.
Loss of self-consciousness or ego, as well as an unconventional experience of time (often slowed down) are classic hallmarks of psychedelic states. Under the right circumstances, focusing on a challenging task with a specific intent and purpose while under the force of psychedelics offers the perfect condition for flow to flourish. In cultures and communities where the ceremonial use of psychedelics is practiced, this is an all too common phenomena.
Psychedelics And Flow
In over a decade of intentional and ceremonial practice with psychedelics, I have both witnessed and experienced at times the absolutely mind-blowing power of flow states. From trance dances in psychedelic churches to the vocal and musical mastery unfolding in underground psychedelic communities, flow states are the rule not the exception in psychedelics.
When I personally began my journey into the intentional and ceremonial use of psychedelic plants in 2009, I had never meditated, read or played a single musical note, sang, or engaged in design arts at any capacity. I was a hyper-achieving geek with a background in politics and a career in tech. In 2011, during my first plant dieta in the Peruvian Amazon, our maestro teacher asked "how many musicians in this group?", 12 of the 20 raised their hands. He smiled and said "It's ok, the rest of you will be musicians before you leave!". I could have never imagined that this could indeed happen during our twelve day stay but it did.
Within one year of that faithful day, I was playing multiple instruments, singing, writing songs, and designing clothing accessories. While being in the company of masterful musicians provided inspiration to pursue musical expression, psychedelic states not only supported that inspiration, but also measurably enhanced and accelerated that process. During a five-day experience of silence and retreat where I ingested the ayahuasca brew in small amounts daily, I not only began to learn how to pluck a string instrument, but mastered multiple plucking patterns effortlessly in one day in an experience that I can only describe as a trance state.
I recall a single psychedelic journey where I mastered the art of dropping into deep meditative state with a single breath all while having struggled to develop the ability to meditate for years. That access has remained consistent regardless of practice frequency.
In my psychedelic journeys I have also experienced spontaneous expressions of complex skillsets not previously practiced yet alone mastered; from circular breathing to accessing soprano notes, at times I have found myself in awe and wondered how far our capabilities stretch and how little we seem to know about our consciousness.
These experiences are not an anomaly and are common amongst many individuals with longterm ceremonial practice in psychedelics. While science might never fully manage to explain these experiences fully, long time psychedelic practitioners have been harnessing the gift of these states and creating innovative pathways to access, experience, and share them under ordinary states of consciousness.
In the quest to curate the most accessible and impactful conditions to allow this level of flow to flourish, I have added two additional components to Csikszentmihalyi's list that have consistently supported flow state for my clients and myself: Rituals and Mindful Microdosing.
Throughout the years, I have developed different rituals to create an intentional container for flow to flourish. A ritual is most effective when it is personal, intimate, inspiring, and accessible. My ritual for accessing musical flow is clearly distinct than that which supports the creative writing process for this blog. Many of my rituals often include different influences of music, scent, dance, chanting, and environment to bring forth a certain energy and force to support flow in a set direction.
Another regular component of these flow rituals is microdosing; often psilocybin, occasionally ayahuasca, and a host of nootropics. Having practiced for many years, I have developed precise dosages to support different flow states for me personally. I keep meticulous notes, track progress, and measure biometrics when possible to find the optimal conditions that support flow across different activities.
While research into the role of microdosing in flow states in limited, few experiments have yielded promising findings:
In an experiment conducted by James Fadiman, the godfather of microdosing, 27 participants (including engineers, mathematicians, architects, and engineer-physicists) were told to bring a problem they had been struggling to solve for months. They were then administered small doses of mescaline after which 44% found breakthrough solutions (including patents and tangible technologies).
Microdosing as a catalyst for flow state is a powerful, joyful, and rewarding practice that takes commitment, patience, openness, curiosity, and a creative spirit. We each have different orientations that allow for varying degrees of access to flow states; for the artists and creatives amongst us, achieving flow on a consistent basis might be more accessible at first than those of us in careers with a heavy cognitive and analytical focus but with commitment, mindfulness, and effort to design work and life containers that nurture and maximize flow states, overtime every single individual is capable of accessing this elevated state of consciousness than promises enhanced productivity, performance, problem-solving, and happiness!
Need help cultivating regular flow with microdosing? Book a free consultation to explore group and private coaching opportunities.