The State of Flow | Zen Explained Simply

The state of flow is something that we’ve all experienced before, something I’m sure that you yourself are familiar with.

Think about when, for example, a master horse rider rides a horse. The rider becomes one with the horse, and you can never quite tell whether the rider is leading the horse or if the horse is leading the rider. They move as one.

In the same way, with masterful dancers, who leads? Who follows? You never can quite tell. That’s because they’re both in a state of such receptiveness that they’re perfectly in sync with one another.

This same thing can be done with yourself and whatever it is you’re doing. No matter what it is, whether you’re grooving with your favourite instrument or completely nailing the project you’re working on, if you really go with whatever it is that you’re doing, you’ll begin to trust in the combined system of yourself and the task at hand, moving effortlessly and skillfully in a joyous expression of sincerity called the state of flow.

Now, the state of flow is the same state that you experience deep in meditation, and it’s the same state as enlightenment. But remember, the goal is to live your entire life in this state. Meditation doesn’t end when you get up from the cushion.

The state of flow isn’t just something that happens when you’re deeply involved with whatever it is you’re doing. It’s a phenomenon that happens in those circumstances, but by no means is it limited to it.

You see, you might have also heard the state of flow being called Mushin. It’s a state of being that’s actually attainable if you know what it really is. Of course, there’s a lot of confusion about that, so let’s clear that up.

The State of Flow Isn’t a State You “Get To.”

It’s actually the original state of mind, before ego gets in the way.

If you’ve ever “lost” the state of flow while being in it, you’ll realize that it was because you started worrying about losing that state, started trying to improve upon what you’re doing, or you got self-conscious in some other way.

All of that is simply the re-entrance of ego. The state of flow is the original state, an absence of ego, and when ego comes back, you’re back to the normal mode of “trying,” “needing motivation” and “overthinking pretty much everything.”

When you were a newborn baby, you were in that state of flow originally. Think about it: you didn’t know how to do anything, yet you did everything you needed to. Even when it came to learning about the world, you didn’t know how to learn, except, through play, you discovered how the world around you works.

That all changed when you began to get a sensation of self. When you started identifying yourself as a person, and feeling that you were an individual separate from the world you found yourself in. That was the beginning of the end of your original zen.

You’ve remained in that darkness ever since, with only your passions being able to let you momentarily break free of ego, when the brain cannot hold onto it during times of extreme focus.

That’s why you felt in flow during exams in school that you had to nail. That’s why you lose all awareness of time and space around you when hours fly by during your favorite hobby. That’s why you’re even able to even re-organize your brain and replenish your energy during sleep even though you’re unconscious, and even though you have no idea how to actually do it.

Zen master Bankei called it the “marvelously illuminating wisdom of the Unborn.” Unborn, as in, you always had it, and marvelous, as in, how it solves everything by itself. Simply trusting in the Unborn is what Bankei’s sole advice was to all people who were willing to listen. What he meant was, trusting in your own, original state of flow, is what causes you to solve your own problems automatically.

I’m doing it right now, while typing this post. I’m not planning what I’m saying, but I’m speaking the truth as I witness it. That slight sensation of “knowing that you’re flowing” is called Furyu, but anyway, that’s beside the point.

The point is, that the almost mythical increase in skill level you’ve likely noticed when you’ve hit the state of flow during your favorite hobby, is in fact, due to the state of flow being nothing other than when your brain is working properly.

As the zen saying goes: The ear that hears well, does not hear itself. The eye that sees well, does not see itself. And, of course, the brain that functions perfectly, is not aware of itself. That is what is called the state of flow.