The Science Of Spirituality: A Psychologist And A Neuroscientist Explain Being 'In The Flow'
These are some really valuable psychological takes on the phenomenon. But what would a neuroscientist say? Judson Brewer, MD, PhD, who’s done some of the leading research on how meditation affects the brain, offers an interesting analogy for our usual way of being: “The simplest metaphor is that it’s like driving a car with one foot on the break and one on the gas,” he says. “In the analogy, the gas is our brains’ the natural function, and the brake is self-referential processing. If you take foot off the break, the brain functions more effortlessly. Our brain is like ‘thank god, you got out of the way.’” And that’s when we get into the flow.
Brewer has talked about this phenomenon (see his TEDx talk here) and his research, which has shown that meditation quiets the areas of the brain that are the equivalent to the “brakes”—the default mode network (DMN)—which helps us get into a flow state very quickly. He adds that to get out of our own way, and even out of more significant states, like depression, you have to utilize other methods besides your usual mode of thinking: What got us into this mess can’t get us out, he says. “Here’s the paradox: You’re the problem. You can’t solve the problem with the same consciousness that created it. Saying to yourself, ‘I’m going to make myself one with the universe’ is a futile task. It’s just like someone telling you to relax. It doesn’t work. We naturally let go, when we see how painful our usual process is.”
He acknowledges that there’s a place for “the universe prompt,” as he calls it—the idea of consciously giving in to something bigger. “Every religious tradition that I’ve seen has something like this, just with different words. It’s letting go of the small self, so grace of god can flow through us. ‘Advaita vedanta’ [from the Upanishads]; in Catholicism, it’s emptying so god can flow. The universe prompt is helpful,” he adds, “where I realize I don’t need to do anything. That can be part of the work, but it’s not all of it.”
As to whether flow is our natural state, or the product of being in tune with something greater, he says this. “Does something (like the universe or God) need to be creating something that is our natural propensity? In other words, what makes water flow downhill (instead of uphill)? Our brain has evolved for efficiency. 'Flow' is likely a manifestation of the brain working in optimal conditions.”
The teachings Esther and Jerry Hicks in the Law of Attraction, a channeling biography sees things more spiritually.
Many have overcome their inhibitions to manifest by thinking on the principals of the universe that may be invoked to open our minds open and clear the heart.
In channeling Abraham they propose that a "guidance system that indicate how close or distant that person is to how their source" and that life is meant to be fun and easy.
The essence of Abraham–Hicks' teachings since 1986 has been presented as follows:
- Individuals are physical extensions of the non-physical.
- People are in their bodies because they chose to be.
- The basis of life is freedom; the purpose of life is joy; the result of life is growth.
- People are creators; they create with their thoughts and attention.
- Whatever people can imagine clearly with emotion, by creating a perfect vibrational match, is theirs to be, or do, or have.
- Individuals choose their creations as they choose their focus.
- Emotions indicate what people are creating, either consciously or unconsciously.
- The universe adores people; it knows their broadest intentions.
- Individuals are invited to happily relax into their natural well-being and know that all is well.
- Life is not meant to be a struggle, but a process of allowing.
- People are creators of "thoughtways" on their unique "paths of joy".
- Desirable physical manifestations such as money, relationships, and lifestyle success are by-products of focusing on joy.
- Individuals may depart their body without illness or pain.
- People cannot die; their lives are everlasting. Death of the physical body does not end the life of the individual.
- The nature of the universe is life-affirming. It is infinite, creative and expanding.
- All desire can be fulfilled.
- Individuals are not only a part of the universe but are the very source of it.
A large part of Hicks' work centers around the law of attraction, a concept which William Walker Atkinson (1862–1932) wrote about in his book Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World (1906).
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is a global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist, revered throughout the world for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on mindfulness and peace. His key teaching is that, through mindfulness, we can learn to live happily in the present moment—the only way to truly develop peace, both in one’s self and in the world. A prolific writer, Thich Nhat Hanh has published over 100 titles in English, ranging from classic manuals on meditation, mindfulness and Engaged Buddhism, to poems, children’s stories, and commentaries on ancient Buddhist texts.