In my last post, I distinguished between being zoned out online and using an online class to enter the writer’s trance. But is there a real 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.)?
True or False: A Trance Is a Trance Is a Trance
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.
But the number one characteristic of the flow state is a sense of purpose. When you’re lost online, you have a clear sense of the little steps you need to take 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 agen? revise the whole thing again?) and 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 a way to fulfill your big goals for your writing and 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/art/creativity comes “not from me, but through me from something larger.” In the digital trance, you lose your larger spiritual Self to try to appease your ego-self.
True or False: I’m Willing to Settle for Second-Best
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 it’ll be all we need without enduring the risk and fear that come with surrendering to the flow.
An awful lot of resistance is about trying to find a second-best we can settle for. The rest is about trying to not recognize that we’re settling for second-best.
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 the brain with addiction and resistance are very different processes. But the search for something that’s almost what you need is remarkably similar.
So the question is: are you willing to settle for second-best? Are you trying to numb your yearning for spiritual connection and a sense of life purpose with the digital trance? Are you willing to keep distracting yourself from the dissatisfaction of not ever getting what you need from second-best by telling yourself you really have to do a whole list of trivia before you write?
Or are you willing to risk feeling scared and vulnerable and go for the creative flow?
I hope you go for scary. I hope you choose to enter the writer’s trance.