04-24-09 Japanese Temple – Kyoto


Something just occurred to me as I was trying to figure out what to write about this photo: I have taken around 75,000 digital photos over the last 6 years and when I look at them, I can remember a remarkable number of details about the circumstances surrounding each photograph. Why is that?

My answer has to do with flow, a theory developed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. Flow “is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.”

In a crude way, my “focus” while taking photographs reminds me of golfers like Jack Nicklaus and other athletes and coaches who can remember amazingly precise details about every shot they hit or plays they made in games performed 20 and 30 years ago.

No, I am not Jack Nicklaus, nor was meant to be. 🙂 But I can get focused once and a while. When do you achieve flow?

Canon 1DII 1/80s f/1.8 ISO800 50mm (35mm eq:65mm)

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3 thoughts

  1. When do I “achieve flow”? You actually made me stop and reflect! Wednesday, 2nd block this week, I achieved flow! I substitute taught for an English teacher in the high school, and I was “at the top of my game.” It happened while doing a review sheet for phrases and clauses. Ironic or what? Thursday, 3rd and 4th blocks, it happened again while working through a poem by Emily Dickinson with my sophomores.

    How did it happen though? I think a number of things came together. The kids were ready. I knew my material. I was in the right frame of mind. Can teachers make learning happen, or is it like waiting for the stars to be in the right position? Neither one, I suppose, but learning is certainly a beautiful thing when it happens.

  2. Comrades.

    Thanks for the pictures and ideas.

    I hope I can add to what “flow” is, as a teacher, former coach and an avid fan of ESPN.

    This may cause a gag reflex, but I think flow is … love.

    I don’t mean being in love, though that is true, but being totally in the moment and loving what we do. For Scott it is predicting the perfect moment at the optimal conditions for a great picture and snapping the shutter at that right moment. For Cal, it’s a love of books and language that inspires young people.

    In the 60’s, we called it “being in the groove.” It was also Michael Jordan torching the Celtics for 59 points in the ’86 playoffs; he said the basket looked like a garbage barrel. It was Annika Sorenstam or Phil Mickelson shooting a competitive record 59 in a round of golf. It’s what Sting called “synchronicity,” and all musicians know it when they play it or hear it.

    For me it was once a debate team so skilled and confident that nothing could deny them. It was putting the perfect swing on a golf ball at least once in my life and getting a hole in one. As a teacher, it is helping others to be better than they were, and surely better than I am.

    “Flow” is a fulcrum of skill and timing; it is the blessing of being in the moment, and nothing else matters.

    For some, “flow” is a myth. For a teacher/coach, it is a blessing that could happen every day with those we love to teach.

  3. Both of the responses above are eloquent and describe the feeling perfectly. The psychologist Maslow was describing ‘flow’ when he talked about being ‘actualized’, the peak of his Hierarchy of Needs. He says it happens when your other needs are met (you feel relatively safe, your belly is full, your feel loved.) If those conditions are met, you can create and feel fulfilled; you could acheive the peak of your game. He said many people never have these moments, because they are preoccupied meeting the other needs. He also said actualization is sometimes a fleeting thing. When this concept is applied to teaching, I agree that there is tons of potential for these moments in a teacher’s day, if we know to seize them and don’t get drug down by other needs.

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