Flow and the art of Archery


I’m very passionate about the idea of the flow state. In positive psychology, flow is a mental state of completely focused motivation. You get sort of hyper involved in what you’re doing, living a temporary moment where you reach a sense of ecstasy, clarity and losing the perception of time and space, like an active meditation.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who first coined this concept, explains that this feeling can be reached when both the level of challenge and your own skills are high enough. I have thought that from the moment you develop certain skill or tool, you incorporate it into your mind and body. It becomes a part of your being to the extent that you can work and play with it naturally, even creating and exploring new possibilities with it.
Artists, musicians and athletes experience this as an enhanced level of performance, using different names like being ‘in the zone’ (sports) or ‘In the pocket’ (jazz). Personally, I have been able to reach this state by some activities like drawing and biking.

One of my readings for the winter break was ‘The Zen in the Art of Archery’ by Eugen Herrigel. In this book, he explains that the traditional art of archery in Japan is rooted in an individual’s ability to harness their spirituality. Instead a sport, it is considered a ritual of gradual mastery of one’s self. The idea is that the archer must disentangle himself from all the attachments and distractions in his mind to succeed at the art of archery, learning to aim at himself instead of the target. However, this can only be achieved only through constant practice, until he reaches an ‘egoless’ state and becomes unable to differentiate himself from the arrow, the target and the bow. He becomes one with the whole external environment, which is one of the fundamentals of Zen Buddhism.

I find this same idea in many different fields, specially the ones that involve physical motion: painting, dancing, practicing yoga or any activity where the ‘challenge’ and ‘skill’ levels are high enough to turn the experience into a way to achieve focused meditation. The idea of becoming one with the tool or with the physical activity that people performs, is something that I would really like to explore in my own work. I believe it is possible to design interactive devices, experiences and ‘social systems’ with reinforcing feedback loops that teach flow, to make it an innate, natural emergence. I want people to transcend themselves during the experience, and become a part of it.

Related Bibliography:
Herrigel, Eugen. Zen in the Art of Archery
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk on Flow

Leave a Reply