Is there a difference between a creative flow state (while writing or engaged in any other creative activity) and being lost in a digital trance (which could include being absorbed by TV, emails, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, shopping, etc.)?
Both getting lost in the creative flow and letting digital media hypnotize you are engrossing trance states. Both totally absorb your attention and cause you lose track of what’s going on around you. You experience a sense of timelessness in either.
Both are what Mihali Csikzentmihalyi calls “autotelic,” something you do for its own sake. A match between the challenge and your ability to meet the challenge (another of Csikzentmihalyi’s characteristics of the flow state) is possible in either. And one feels a lot like the other.
What’s the Point?
When you’re lost online, you know what to do to stay engaged (when and where to click to open a new YouTube video or how to add a new app to play with). But it’s rarely clear how what you do in the digital trance relates to your life purpose.
When you’re writing, on the other hand, you may not always know what tactical step to take next (add a new character? shift POV? send the query to a different editor or agent? revise the whole thing again?). You may have times when you wonder why you want to write (when you get a rejection in the mail or criticism from readers), but when you’re in the writer’s trance you know with absolute certainty that writing is your true joy and purpose.
Getting lost in the flow is not only a way to fulfill your writing goals, it’s how writers make sense of life. The images and ideas you explore rise from your own imagination. Getting lost in a digital trance is using someone else’s images to follow someone else’s agenda.
In the writer’s trance, you lose your little ego-self to merge with something larger than yourself. Many artists talk about how their writing/creativity comes “not from me, but through me from something larger.” Conversely, in the digital trance, you lose your larger spiritual Self to try to appease your ego-self.
Why Scare Yourself?
Of course, it’s risky and scary to lose yourself in creative flow, so a part of our ego says “Of course, I’ll write, but not right now…”
We yearn for what we find in flow, but we’re afraid to surrender, so we try to settle for second-best.
For most of us, the digital trance is so close to what we’re really looking for, we keep going there, hoping that this time we’ll get what we really need without enduring the risk and fear that come with surrendering to the flow.
An awful lot of resistance is comes from trying to find a second-best we can settle for.
There’s a saying in AA and other recovery circles that you can settle for second-best, but you’ll never get enough. What an addict really wants is spiritual connection, love and a sense of meaning. But because s/he believes that’s not possible, the alcoholic settles for alcohol, the food addict settles for food, a compulsive gambler looks for the next big payoff, etc.
The difference between an addict and a non-addict is that the non-addict doesn’t expect a glass of wine (or an ice cream sundae) to be a source of spiritual connection, love and meaning. So the non-addict can enjoy a glass of wine (or ice cream) and be satisfied. The alcoholic/compulsive overeater will never find what s/he is really looking for and is never satiated. So s/he keeps drinking or eating.
Recovery is learning to stop looking to the problem (alcohol/excess food/etc.) for a solution for a deeper yearning.
What happens in a brain experiencing addiction is very different from what happens in a brain experiencing resistance. But the search for something that’s almost what you need can be remarkably similar.
Will You Go for Flow?
Are you trying to numb your yearning for a sense of life purpose with the digital trance? Do you really want to keep distracting yourself from the pain of not ever getting what you need from second-best? Do you really want to keep postponing the writing you love to do?
Or are you willing to be vulnerable, to risk feeling scared, and go for the creative flow?
I hope you go for scary. I hope you choose to enter the writer’s trance.
(Note: If you’d like traveling companions and guidance in your pursuit of the creative flow, my Entering the Flow class starts in October.)