Saturday, January 3, 2015

#Flow in relationships

There's this one short, steep slope on the trail where the underlying sand and gravel is exposed and the gnarled roots of old white pines form stairs and keep it all from slumping down to the bottom. Half way up, there's a yellow birch about six inches in diameter. It's roots mingle with the white pine--no, mingle is not the right word, they are tangled like the interlocking scaly fingers of of a couple of old dragons. In fact, they are growing together--growing into and around each other.

It made me think of the way relationships are like that. Our lives grow together over time, and we have to be careful with other people, because we're inextricably linked together. And the longer we've been in a relationship, the closer the ties, and the harder it is to tell where one of us ends and the other begins.

I remember Ray Kurzweil talking in How to Create a Mind about how our loved ones end up such a part of our minds that when a person's partner dies, it leaves a sort of gaping hole.

But I think this goes beyond our significant others, spouses and family members. We are all, of course, interconnected, especially with those we interact with the most--students, friends, colleagues.. We have to be so careful, but it's more than being careful. It's more than avoiding short-sightedness. It's more than being mindful of others... and compassionate. This interconnection means we are not alone. I'm not even sure we're separate at all.

But it's not easy, is it? When I'm on the trail, obstacles--rocks, mud, water, make the hike enjoyable. The challenge is part of the fun. But challenging relationships often don't seem the same way. Instead, those gnarly roots and boulders are often a just a source of stress.

But if rocks on the trail are sources of exercise and flow, why not these other obstacles? No doubt, navigating a few boulders on the trail is usually easier than relationship challenges: The wilderness of minds is much more complex than Wolf Den. But the fact remains, it's all in the approach.

Csikszentmihalyi hits on this in Flow, explaining how family relationships can be a source of flow experiences. There are certainly rules that govern relationships like these (like monogamy and societal expectation about childrearing) and as long as you have clear rules, clear goals, clear and immediate feedback, and just the right balance of challenge and skill, you've got flow.

And what about other relationships? What about our relationships with students and colleagues? Can my classroom be flow experience, just by virtue of my relationships with my students? Why not?

Of course, this takes lots of work. Csikszentmihalyi again:
"To play the trumpet well, a musician cannot let more than a few days pass without practicing. An athlete who does not run regularly will soon be out of shape, and will no longer enjoy running. Any manager knows that his company will start falling apart of his attention wanders. In each case, without concentration, a complex activity breaks down into chaos. Why shuld the family be different? Unconditional acceptance, the complete trust family members ought to have for one another, is meaningful only when it is accompanied by an unstinting investment of attention."
So let's go. Time to pay more attention to these relationships (#mindful) and take advantage of their flow-producing potential.

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