Just going with the flow

Yeah, it does feel like a roller-coaster ride around here. I do kind of want to just pull the emergency stop button before I find myself in a spot I didn’t intend to be. But it has to be said that the past few weeks have been fun. And that’s probably why it didn’t feel abnormal, at the time. It only struck me yesterday, catching up with me quite unawares, when I had a slow evening and silently, I realised I was feeling normal again. Like the old normal.

That’s the thing about being 100% engaged in things you like doing. Not having a moment to spare, or an empty window of time to think about being bored, or jaded, or tired or wanting a change. Because you don’t think about it you never really are. Bored. Or tired. Or in need of a change. See how that worked out?

I’m reading this book called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, and it has completely blown my mind. Every few pages I have to stop and breathe and recover from how eerily familiar it all sounds, because the book is pretty much a psychological study of the pursuit that has consumed the last 10-12 months of my life.

As the one year mark since I quit my job draws closer, I find myself evaluating many things. How far I’ve come, what I’ve accomplished, the obvious developments versus the subtle changes, the overwhelming differences versus the silent nuanced ones. A year of having no agenda is a long time. And this book chronicled exactly the way I feel about why I took time off, and what I wanted to do. I might as well have called it Project Optimal Experience.

When I decided I was going to take a break, a lot of people asked me what I would do. The simple answer was nothing. I didn’t have a plan. I only had a goal and I wanted to figure it out on the go, without plans and routines and schedules dictating my time. I wanted things to organically show up and lead the way. Which is not to say I sat in a Lotus Pose, day in and out until I attained a heightened sense of enlightenment. It’s not like a bolt of lightning struck me either, by which I suddenly realised what it is I wanted to do. All I knew is that I had two guiding rules. One, that I would fill my time with simple, meaningful things as far as possible. Two, whatever I decided to do, I would do well. Of course smaller goals like slow down and don’t multitask and be happy were peppered right thru. The overall hope was to gain some control over my life, which at the time was feeling like it was giving way at the seams. To gather myself, tie up all the loose ends and be a strong, happy person.

At the risk of sounding exceedingly conceited, I’m going to come out and say I think I’ve done rather okay. Every other sabbatical I have taken before had me tearing my hair out in no time, jumping into the first job I found just so I had something to fill my time and feel purposeful again. But over the last year I’ve learned to enjoy time out. Time alone. Time to myself. And I honestly cannot think of a single moment in the last year when I was bored, with nothing to do, at a loose end and like I wanted out. It could just be a secret map of providence that guided me through it, but at every point I found myself something deeply satisfying to engage myself in. Something that I enjoyed putting my time and effort into, something that gave me deep satisfaction (and I don’t mean monetary) and made me want to delve deeper into it. I’ve seen it happen with my baking, my writing, the resolution to read and with getting my body back in shape. That’s four major things that contribute to who I am. Perhaps that’s why the results are also so deeply personal and have made such a difference to the way I feel and live my life.

It’s only after I read the book did I realise how much of the last year has been spent in a state of flow — what the author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Try pronouncing it, I dare you!) calls the experience of being completely immersed and absorbed in a task at hand. Any task, that it gets elevated to a state of such immense joy that you lose track of time, space and everyhting around you. I’ve felt that several times this year. So many times through my stint at the cafe, or some times I was running and I forgot where I was and all I wanted to do was keep running, or it was when I was baking my ass off knocking off every order on a particularly busy day, or when I didn’t do anything for a day or two and just devoured a book from cover to cover. And this has little to do with a plan or a purpose. It has everything to do with being in the here and now, in the moment, giving yourself fully to whatever it is you are doing. No questions, no expectations.

Perhaps it also explains why despite the madness of tossing around my writing, baking, orders, reading and managing the home in all its WIP splendour didn’t feel all that annoying at the time. It was only when I had a moment of quiet yesterday, did I realise how long it had been since I just sat and caught my breath.

Lots of navel gazing has also made me see that this business of finding a purpose has little to do with what we end up doing in life. So far I have always attached this slippery thing called purpose, that is somehow always just out of reach, with my vocation or my profession. And since we all know just how much confusion that area of life has caused me, it felt even more out of reach. The past year has taught me that its okay for your purpose not to earn you any money. Or to give you tangible results. Maybe my purpose is to flit from one thing to another. To strive to be happy and make people around me happy, whether through my interactions, my relationships, my work, my words or with a little cake! And maybe this business of finding a purpose doesn’t have a perceivable end. Maybe this perpetual roller-coaster ride is part of the game and maybe there will be several more such phases.

Maybe that’s why I have increasingly felt that that every time I reached a milestone, the finish line slips further ahead. Maybe this constant, ceaseless ride is what it is all about, and its what we made of the ride and how much we enjoy it that matters?

Maybe that’s why, despite having very little to actually pinpoint and call my own doing over the last year, I still feel so satisfied. I feel like I have gained a world of experience just sitting at home, tons of confidence by just sticking to the things I love and learning to do them well, the satisfaction of achieving small goals I set for myself, and most of all the immense happiness that comes from getting lost in an activity of my choosing.

I’m half way through the book, and maybe if I can articulate my thoughts better than in this long-winded and meandering post, I will do a review, because it really has been like holding a mirror up to my soul, like looking back the way the year has gone by and in making sense of so many things I have just passed off as good fortune, or good timing, or good luck.

Some call it flow. Or an optimal experience. It’s probably what being in the zone is like. Or what I sometimes flippantly dismiss as being high on life. And now I realise its just called being happy. Now I know it was all intentional. Some hidden force inside of me made me choose and do the things I did. It was all part of the plan I never made. And I just decided to go with the flow.

18 thoughts on “Just going with the flow

  1. Pingback: Finding flow again – haathi time

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  4. I quit my job last year. I Moved my whole set up from Germany to India. I decided to invest my time wisely during my sabbatical. I painted, baked, worked out, did my arts and crafts and never felt bored even for a minute. These small little things filled my life and showed me the side which I thought was extinct.. People questioned my decisions all the time but I never let them get in to my head.

    I learned the value of money, managing money, friends, family etc.. My support system helped me during my break… I enhanced my skills, acquired some new ones along the way!
    I am back to being a full time professional. Looking back, that time off has shaped me in to a better person maybe because I understand myself better now. I think it is okay to slow down once in a while and explore things…

    I loved your post and relate to every word written in this post. Sorry for a longish comment but I guess my emotions just overpowered me :)


  5. Such a beautiful post, Revati. It seems that the book is awesome. I do get the not-so-normal pangs at times and a break is needed coz we need to sit a while and do some soul-searching in life. We need our personal space to prioritize stuffs, something which the work denies us to do. I am on a four months break but will join new job soon,


  6. Am glad that you found what task you enjoy doing and the reward of the work itself keeps you going.. I do not know what we are chasing and for what?? I bet you must have gone through quite a struggle to reach the Zen state. Your posts are proof enough for it. Not many people( including me) have the courage to embark on the path less trodden !!Best wishes.


  7. Love your take on immersion vs multi-tasking. You articulate it well every time you touch upon it. You are truly lucky, as you mention in a previous comment, to be able to afford the navel-gazing and immersion experiences that are so enriching to you right now. Not everyone at your age is able to either see their need for it or be able to practically afford such a detour. Good on you and kudos to your husband for enalgin such a rich life experience for you. And i’m grateulf you help many of us articulate this simmering dismay at our frenetic lives. Like another commenter said, wish I could do your Goa adventure with you. But responsibilities to others call to me now and when i was younger, the necessity of securing a financially sound future, ruled everything. There is a lot though in your posts, that speak to me about the possibility of being mindful even in the midst of the uproar of urban life. I tihnk i might read this ‘flow’ book you speak of at some point but right now – i want to DO it. In fact I did: here’s my post on what I ‘saw’ when I really ‘looked’.

    Keep at it R: do it for ALL of us!


  8. What a beautiful post hAAthi.. you were like talking in my head, only in much beautiful prose. I find so many of us going through what you have articulated very succinctly. I am going to order the book NOW!

    I also took a break 3 months back and found myself rushing madly to ‘do’ break things. I was sleeping less than I did when on job because I felt somehow I had to justify the break- to myself. We are so so conditioned to do ‘right’ things in ‘right ‘ time. Unfortunately the so called ‘me time’ is also a victim of this ‘doing right’.

    Anyway, I think it is great what you have discovered and are still discovering.. inspirational!


    1. If you are at a similar juncture, the book might be a very good read. As I am reading it I keep wishing I had encountered it last year. Maybe my decision making would have been a lot less painful! Then again, better late than never.
      You’re right about us being conditioned. And I think Indians have it worse. Our whole lives are spent in achieving things.. education, college, a spouse, children, making a life for the children, that far too many people find themselves at 50-60 one fine day realising they have spend few decades doing stuff and none of that constitutes a satisfactory life!


  9. Sigh! you say it so wonderfully..and I am so glad you have learnt to go with the flow..

    People like me are still sratching our heads wondering where all this running (behind trains, buses and money) is going to lead us to..

    one day, I promise myself, one day I will do such a post when I can find my flow

    PS – you sound like my Amma now..she says now (after 35 years of working!) she has found time for herself and is very satisfied in life :)


    1. The running behind trains buses and money is essential I think, for as long as it lasts. I dont think my decision or the last year would have been this smooth and steeply upwards-moving if I was in a big city like Bombay or Bangalore. I would have had some hard thinking to do before quitting the rat race, because it is not easy. I had living in Goa on my side, and most importantly I have a husband who understood that it was essential to cut back on the “I wants” and focus on the “I need” so he supported and continues to support me in my time off.. So dont scratch your head too much, I think most rational thinking and sensitive people find their flow sooner or later. And if I know you at all, you are definitely one of those people!

      PS — should I be flattered about you likening me to your Amma :D


  10. Wow ! you know what…i wish i could write or even think the same way you do..i guess i still have that unsettling thing called “ego” that does not yet let me know what i want..you know, its a life i have always dreamt of, but i miss my books, i miss walking alone on good music, i miss cooking, i miss the luxury of taking off on my own…i dont know when or if at all i can get those back..but till then, knowing a woman who has it so sorted out, is good..it really is good


    1. Sula! You’re here!! How come?!
      Arrey you have chosen a life that is equally satisfying, from what I see and read. I think we all have our calling in life, and yours was in a precious little baby, maybe? Mine is in cakes and bakes, maybe? Same story, different path..maybe?


  11. Meera Parameswaran

    This post is so serene Revati that I feel to just swim in it for some while and not get out yet.

    This post is so so inspiring, believe me or not, I have tears in my eyes because I just realized that my dreams are not un-reachable and in fact, not even very far away that I cannot catch them.

    This post is going into my drafts so that I can read it time and again.

    This post is so refreshing when your Friday is just about to be doomed with a tonne of work at office.

    This post is sweet and kind of dissolves into you like a pastry (Yeah, I have been craving for one since ages!)

    I really have to congratulate you dear. This is more than getting into business or winning an award. You are living and not merely exisiting, which I feel is the greatest thing anyone can ever achieve in life.

    Wish you the best and god bless you :)


    1. Thank you for your words. I am always a bit awe-struck by how quickly you hit like and post a comment. Thank you..

      I think the post was more for me. Far too much introspection about the year gone by was tossing around in my head and I needed to put it all down. The book couldnt have come at a better time for me. Because its further reinforced that my decision to put my life back on track was not a wasted one.

      It is even nicer when I can blurt it out randomly in cyber space and people like you comment and seem to wholeheartedly get what I’m talking about. I feel like like an alien hahaha


      1. Meera Parameswaran

        Exactly! Doing the right thing in life is not easy/possible for anyone and if you are able to do it, what more can you ask for? :)

        Your post comes directly to my inbox. So whenever I see “hAAthi [New post] Just going with the flow”, I stop everything else :D Call it addiction or source of inspiration!

        And guess what, the other day, I was showing my hubby your blog and he said I can see a lot of you in there :D So it must be inspiration that brings me back here every single time. Thank you!


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