The alchemist's workplace, the "Laboratorium", comes from the Latin words labor (work) and oratorium (a place devoted to prayer).

The alchemist’s workplace, the “Laboratorium”, comes from the Latin words labor (work) and oratorium (a place devoted to prayer).

I don’t bother with resolutions in the new year or otherwise, but I do like fresh starts. One new start I’m going to implement here on the Forest Friend blog is a writing structure of semiannual themes. This is an exercise to help me build attention span and deep focus, forcing me to fence my rubber ball of a brain to bounce around in one (albeit large) playground for a significant length of time. I’m calling these semiannual subdivisions “season arcs”; they’ll align less to the calendar and more to the moods that change with the seasons (read: my moods, with the seasons as they appear out of my own window — inevitable subjectivity…  this is a blog). Therefore, I’ve dubbed the winter season of 2013 the Flow Magic Arc. (Hang in there, reader — I promise it’s not all absolute balls.)

Since 2010, when I finished school and had my life robbed of structure, I’ve noticed the seasonal arcs that seem to shape my activity. The project-based nature of my employment means a schedule always in flux (chaos I cherish, which I’ve harped on already) but I’ve noticed a natural ebb and flow to my capacity and output during the year. Spring is by far the most productive period of the year and sustained effort seems to come easily. Summer is for chasing ideas down rabbit-holes and gathering experiences. During autumn, these ideas and experiences are tempered and all my important decisions seem to be made between first frost and the solstice. But winter, when the physical world is most forbidding, is also most conducive to introspective journeys into the narrowest alleyways of the mind. This is the most valuable time of year for me if I can conjure the kind of magic necessary to mine the depths of myself and the experiential world for expressive fodder.

“Flow” is one of those words that gets used a lot within hackneyed phrases for expressing the creative process (much like the phrase “creative process” itself). But it has an actual encyclopedic definition in the field of sociology. Flow describes the act of engaging in intensely focused activity simply for its own sake. It occurs at the point where the challenge meets or slightly exceeds your skill level. If you’ve ever gotten lost in an activity you find intrinsically rewarding – maybe you’ve forgotten the time or neglected mealtimes or even stayed up all night – then you’ve experienced this state. Producing in flow means better work due to the intense concentration fostered. It is also exceedingly pleasurable (and possibly addictive).

I call the intentional induction of a flow state “magic” because that’s exactly what it is – it’s the art of producing a desired supernatural effect through invocation, ritual and technique. It may be debatable whether the intense concentration and heightened abilities unlocked during flow can be called “supernatural”, but the effect is certainly metaphysical in nature. In any case, dropping all consciousness of body and time and duties is not exactly easy to achieve on purpose, but there are ways you can align your interior consciousness and exterior circumstances in order to help you find that sweet spot.

Practical techniques to prepare for the induction of flow:

  • Cultivate some sort of basic time management. Use a calendar with audio and visual reminders to keep track of appointments which may vanish from your thoughts when you’re concentrating on more important things. Make a habit of putting EVERYTHING in the calendar, even things you’re sure you’ll remember, and check it each day to be sure you’re not missing appointments or deadlines, which can seriously fuck up your groove.
  • Make a list for each project or subset of work you do in daily life. Don’t leave things dangling about in your mind: write things down in predetermined places to avoid the unnecessary stress of trying to remember those little things that need to be done to keep you fed, clothed and in other people’s good books.
  • Keep organized files (drawers, boxes) for what you need. Nothing’s worse when you’re in a state of heightened creativity than not being able to find what you’re looking for.
  • Finish any pressing tasks that absolutely need attention that day BEFORE you start practicing any sort of flow magic. You’ll never be able to properly relax and enjoy yourself if there are undone tasks niggling in the back of your mind.
  • Tidy up. My husband has a pathological inability to relax when the house is in disarray and cleaning up is an important part of his ritual – and is slowly becoming one of mine, too. (Sometimes I think he worked his own little Pavlovian experiment.)
  • Remember, the whole point of flow magic is to divest yourself of everything that requires your attention EXCEPT the activity you’re concentrating on. If you live with someone else, make sure they know what you’re doing since you may seem unresponsive or inattentive if they try to engage with you.

One of the most important tools for engendering and directing creative flow is setting up a structure for you to play within. No plan or direction for your thought may mean an enjoyable psychological experience, but you’ll not have much to show for it. Have a project (and if it’s a big project, select a task or a list of tasks) that you can build and shape towards some sort of end — even if you have no vision of how it’s going to turn out. Even though I find the process in intrinsically rewarding, slowly working towards a state of completion — defined by the clear conveyance to other people of the message I wish to share — adds a dimension of excitement and therefore motivation.

Magical techniques for inducing flow:

(I’m not necessarily advocating the methods listed below; some I’ve not tried and may never. This is for information’s sake.)

  • Meditation & prayer. Deep breathing , concentrating on an idea or a phrase, and engaging in focused, audible or silent prayer are some of the oldest techniques for turning off the quotidienne yammering in your head. Glossolalia, also known as speaking in tongues, is a learned practice of repeating sounds in a language-like pattern; in the act, areas in the language and control centres of your brain decrease and activity in emotional areas increase, leading to a state of increased emotional or spiritual arousal in which the boundaries of your own knowledge and perceived capabilities become insignificant.
  • Sensory deprivation. This can be done in an immersion tank or at home in a dark room with white noise in your headphones. The point is to deprive your mind of feedback from its surroundings in order for it more easily to concentrate on other things. There are spas (though not in Halifax, unfortunately) that offer time in an isolation tank for those who are seeking a deep experience of sensory deprivation.
  • Psychoactive drugs. Traditional psychedelics like psilocybin mushrooms, peyote and ayahuasca have been used for thousands of years for their consciousness-altering effects. Though not necessarily categorizeable as a psychedelic, marijuana produces states of altered perception and mood — and was adopted as a truth serum by the US government in the 1940s.
  • Lucid dreaming & hypnogogic induction. It’s apparently possible to learn how to lucid dream by training yourself to perform reality checks on your surroundings in waking hours. Experts report that being aware in a dream is like playing in an infinitely complex sandbox.
  • Yoga, sex & other intense physical activity. If you have the stamina, space and paraphernalia for things like tantric sex and hanging, go forth and burst open the doors of perception.
  • Self-hypnotism. It is apparently not difficult to learn to lead yourself into a trance state. It’s a headspace like a lucid dream but less intense, and particularly useful for feats of visualization that are difficult to achieve while awake and impossible to focus on in dreams.
  • Sound & music. Binaural beats, certain tonal sounds and even ambient or trance music can subtly affect your neurological state, encouraging concentration, relaxation and other altered states.
  • Fasting & sleep deprivation. The oldies & goodies of your favourite saints — combine with other methods for increasing intensity.

STOP RIGHT THERE! I know what you’re thinking: What an excellent idea for a New Age Magickal Self-Help Tome of Ancient Wisdom and the Key to Happiness™. I am all over this already and I hereby copyright the term ® “Flow Magic” for my exclusive use in a best-selling, extensively infomercialed, virally-marketed global phenomenon which will fund my early retirement to the ninth dimension or wherever it is us gurus go.