Finding Nemo

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Flow

Snake River, Tetons
After reading my "Spark" post, someone asked my what the opposite of the spark would be.  It caught me off guard, I guess I've never considered its yang.  My response was, "You are asking the wrong guy!"  But upon reflection, I decided to take a stab.  I would call it the "Flow".

One of the greatest things I ever did was decide to move to Southern California.  I came into my job at Hughes Aircraft in '98 fired up, with my eye on one thing: quick career advancement and making money.  I was about as A-type as they come.  But the southern california culture, which oozes throughout this region in subtle (and not so subtle) ways, eventually began to work its magic on me.  Slowly, I realized that there is much more to life than work, career, money, and status.  For me, as someone who is borderline ADHD, going with the "flow" is about as natural as a cat swimming.  But for many people, going with the flow is in their very essence.  I have a friend name Ratboy who naps religiously every afternoon!  He recharges his batteries and lets his body dictate a natural rhythm.  I am the opposite... I simply can't nap during the day.  My mind races, I have ideas I want to write down, even if my body says "nap" my brain says "do".  But Ratboy, he embodies the idea of the Flow.  Using my previous metaphor, imagine the parents with two kids.  One baby is fussy, but the other is quiet and easy.  From birth, that second baby is much more likely to grow up easy-going, in-tune with the world around them.  People who have the "Flow" are naturally more empathetic, better listeners, and conversely are skilled at choosing their words.  People with the flow speak quietly, may be more artistic.  Of course, there are problems with going with the Flow all the time.  Sometimes you need to take a stand.  People with the flow are probably less likely to end up as leaders perhaps.  But if they do they are a "player's coach" that people enjoy following.

In the midst of my trip away in 2006, I was in my 2nd week of hiking to Everest Base Camp.  There I stood, looking up at Sagarmatha, the goddess of the sky, her black peak brooding over her mantle of white clouds like the eye of god.  I was at the highest point of my trek, my head pounded from altitude, my vision was little off in my right eye.  But after saying goodbye to her, we began our 10-day descent to Lukla.  Over the next couple days, as the oxygen thickened, I began to feel euphoric!  Looking around the Himalayan peaks, strolling downhill, I was filled with energy like never before.  I was in the midst of reading a book by the Dalai Lama called "The Art of Happiness."  It asked a basic question... how does one achieve inner peace, satisfaction, that elusive state of deep happiness?  In my current state of relaxed contentment, I was perhaps finally ready to truly ask this greatest question in life.  His answer is simple: happiness is only found by looking outside yourself to others.  Only by focusing on the perspective of others, by cultivating empathy, compassion, can you truly be happy.  Why is this?  Because as humans, we have evolved to be social animals.  Study after study has shown that those with strong family and social bonds are the happiest people on earth (these studies are referenced directly in the book).  The problem we face today in modern society is that traditional family bonds have dissipated.  We are much more mobile and free, but it has come at the cost of undercutting family and community ties.  Today, we are more lonely than ever.

His suggestion is that we can strengthen these social bonds by cultivating Empathy.  In religion after religion, this "secret" is announced over and over.  It is the golden rule itself.  Do unto others.  This simple idea is not so simple however, because it is difficult to overcome our natural tendency to look after ourselves first.  The ideas of sacrifice, volunteering, service, are contrary to the primitive animal parts of our brain that say "Me!"  But again, the studies consistently show that those who sacrifice, volunteer, and perform service are the happiest people.  Not only does it make the person performing those acts view themselves with higher esteem, it also cultivates ideas of trust and integrity onto the Samaritan from others.  Thus, in turn, those same acts of service come back to the giver in the form of better social relationships.  And therefore these people are the most content with their lives.  Its a form of Karma perhaps.

I think that people who are born with the "Flow" come intuitively to these ideas.  For someone like me, it has been a struggle to fully appreciate them.  But one thing I do appreciate are those around me with the Flow who set an example for me to follow.  One of the things I am most looking forward to on this trip is re-capturing that state of Zen I had obtained in Nepal.  And that is why, of all the places I have ever been, it is to Nepal that I feel I must return.

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