Posts Tagged ‘flow’

The phrase “The Floating World” is a beautiful one. I thought it was quite magical the very first time I came across it. I think where I first read it was in Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, “An Artist of the Floating World”, a book which I still think has the ability to put me into an entirely different state of mind.

The original Japanese term for “The Floating World” is Ukiyo.

Ukiyo means “floating/fleeting/transient world”.

In the past it referred to a “pleasure seeking” urban culture but in modern usage

“the term ukiyo is used to refer to a state of mind emphasising living in the moment, detached from the difficulties of life.”

I really like the phrase and, in particular, I like the modern usage of the term. Living in the moment, detached from the difficulties of life, sounds pretty appealing to me. But there’s a strange paradox there, isn’t there? From one perspective I think the advice to be present, to be really aware of the time, place and circumstances which we call “here and now” is the only way to really engage with reality. After all, if our minds are busy wandering off down memory lane, or busy creating fantasies and fears about the future, then life, itself, is passing us by.

But on the other hand, what’s this “detached from the difficulties of life”? Is that a good piece of advice? Is that not escapism? Well, I suppose it could be escapism. T S Eliot said humans beings couldn’t bear too much reality after all. The entertainment industry and the psychoactive drug industry are both heavily focused on detaching people “from the difficulties of life”. Didn’t the Romans say the way to rule a people was through “bread and circuses”? In other words, make sure they aren’t hungry and keep them distracted with entertainment. Well, seems to me that’s still the most used strategy by those who wish to wield power over others in this world – whether they be politicians, businessmen or members of the 0.01%.

But isn’t there also a long, well established teaching about the power of non-attachment to reduce suffering in the world? Actually, I don’t think “non-attachment” and being “detached” are the same thing, but I won’t go into that in any more detail here.

My dilemma is how to be fully present, fully engaged with my life, moment by moment, yet not drown under the weight of difficulties, my own, those of others, or those of society.

Well, here’s where the floating world idea comes back strong. Look again at the ways of translating “ukiyo” – floating, fleeting, transient. Let me pick up that last word first. I have no doubt at all that an awareness of transience heightens my senses of delight and wonder. I relish the seasons of the new fruits and vegetables. I’m glad that those seasons don’t last all year round. I love to see the migrating birds arrive in my garden, and knowing that they will only be here for a few weeks before the fly south again, somehow, intensifies my delight in seeing them. I’m already looking forward to the hummingbird moths and the different coloured butterflies which will be attracted to the buddleia bushes in the garden once they flower. Knowing that we don’t live forever makes it all the more important to engage with life every single day…….not to run away from it, or pretend it doesn’t exist, but to fully engage with it.

Ultimately, this idea of a floating world is a counsel to “flow” through life, and that, I would say, is one of my highest aspirations. I want to experience the flow of Life through the cells and fibres of my being. I want to experience the flow of Nature, of existence, of the Universe, through the creation of every single unique moment and experience of my life.

I like it. This notion of a “floating world”.

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Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon who lived and worked in the US, studied the relationships between self-image, self-esteem and personal growth. He wrote “Psycho-cybernetics” in 1960 [ISBN 978-0-671-70075-1]. He uses a distinct language and set of concepts, which seems very 1960s to me, but the underlying understanding of human behaviour, the connections between the mind and the body, and the ways people can be helped to grow, strike me as being very true. I particularly like his emphasis on the importance of imagination and how we use it to create a self-image, and in so doing, how that sets our embodied mind (not a term he uses) off to get on with delivering according to the interpretation of reality we give it.

I like the last chapter of “Psycho-cybernetics” especially, where he says –

…the body itself is equipped to maintain itself in health; to cure itself of disease……in the final analysis that is the only sort of “cure” there is.

I’m still amazed how little this is understood. So many people, health professionals included, are caught up in the delusion of pathology and drugs. Health is not absence of pathology. Drugs don’t “cure”……they just manage disease. If there’s any healing going on, it’s the natural processes of the body which are responsible. The best drugs can do is modify disease, and in so doing modify illness, whilst we hope healing takes place in the background.

It might be an old concept to think about healing energies, but I like the way Maltz puts it –

This élan vital, life force, or adaptation energy – call it whatever you will – manifests itself in many ways. The energy which heals a wound is the same energy which keeps all our other body organs functioning……whatever works to make more of this life force available to us; whatever opens to us a greater influx of “life stuff”; whatever helps us utilize it better – literally helps us “all over”

I think, and I hope this is the way Medicine will develop – by understanding better just how people get better, and by studying the methods and techniques we can use to genuinely stimulate and support healing. It’s not the dominant paradigm yet, but I’m going to bet it will be!

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These views suggest that we are not merely receptacles but channels of energy. Life and power is not so much contained in us, it courses through us. Man’s might is not to be measured by the stagnant water of the well, but by the limitless supply from the clouds of heaven…Whether we are to look upon this impulse as cosmic energy, as a life force, or what may be its relation to the Divine immanence in Nature, it is for other investigators to say.

Hadfield (writing in The Psychology of Power)

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Life flows

Life……is essentially a current sent through matter, drawing from it what it can.

Henri Bergson, the French philosopher worked on three major areas of thought – duration, memory, and what he termed “élan vital”  – the vital tendency.

There’s a Life Force – not a “thing”, but real nevertheless.

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I’ve long held that a way of thinking about health is to use the concept of flow. When the various different aspects of our selves and our lives integrate in a coherent way we experience flow – good energy, good vitality, strength, the feeling of being alive (there are many ways to describe it)


I recently came across an interesting expansion of this idea when I read “Mindsight” by Dan Siegel (ISBN 978-0553804706).
He describes health as being like a flowing river and he says the river has two banks, either of which we tend to drift towards as we become unwell.
One bank is rigidity, and the other is chaos.

It’s true. We can see that in some illnesses we are stuck, caught in loops, trapped in ever decreasing circles which shrink our world. What should be flowing has become solidified, sluggish, frozen, or blocked.
In complexity terms, this kind of pattern exists around “point attractors”. You’ll be familiar with point attractors in the universe; they are the black holes which suck everything into them. Nothing escapes.
In other illnesses everything seems to fall to pieces, life itself falls apart and we find ourselves lost, or overwhelmed with confusion. We don’t know who we are, or where we are, and we don’t know how to find a way out.
In complexity terms, this kind of patterns exists as a “chaos attractor”, a zone of chaos where there are no clear patterns but which somehow maintains itself.

Which of the patterns are most familiar to you?



or Chaos?

sea path

Healing involves a release from these states – from rigidity, or chaos, to flow.

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