Go With the Flow co-columnist Trey Cutler has a law practice focused exclusively on veterinary transactions and veterinary business law matters.Read Articles Written by Trey Cutler
DVM, BCC, PCC
Go With the Flow co-columnist Dr. Jeff Thoren is the founder of Gifted Leaders and an expert coach specializing in leadership and team development. He is one of only five veterinarians in the world to hold a credential from the International Coaching Federation.Read Articles Written by Jeff Thoren
Some of our previous articles noted the benefits of meditation, one of the best ways of opening ourselves up to experience the fullness of who and what we are. If you’re looking to experience more flow, we suspect that meditation is one of the single most effective methods of creating that outcome.
But just because we talk about topics like meditation doesn’t mean we always practice what we preach. The truth is, we go through periods of motivation/depletion, confidence/insecurity and focus/distraction. The intentional steps we take to experience more mindfulness and flow vary significantly over time. We suspect that describes you, too.
Nonetheless, we have both discovered some go-to activities that help us live more balanced, centered and sane lives. In our most recent article — read it at bit.ly/386qDy8 — Jeff noted that cycling has become an important means of achieving mindfulness for him, or as he put it: “Miles are my meditation.” That got Trey thinking about activities that bring him a sense of peace, joy and expansion similar to meditation and about the specific activity he was surprised to discover later in life that has been effective at helping him reach those states.
So, in this article, Trey will share that journey in his words.
Something Was Missing
For starters, I have to confess to being a sports junkie. I’ve always loved competing in sports, especially team activities. I love the physical challenge of testing myself against others and working toward a collective goal. And I like having a concrete way of measuring success: winning! In many respects, sports provided some of my richest experiences. It deepened relationships with my peers, taught me to deal with success, failure and adversity, and helped me understand how to work more effectively with other people.
But to be honest, the competition brought out unhealthy aspects of my personality. I’m probably the only person you’ll meet who was so focused on winning a game of two-on-two whiffle ball at 16 years old that I crashed through a plate-glass window. And while that was by far the worst example of my competitiveness run amok, it was by no means the only one. Still, I was enthralled with the experiences of running, jumping and “making the play,” so sports have dominated my free time for most of my life.
As rewarding as those experiences were, I realized upon reflection that they typically did not bring me to a state of peace, acceptance, equanimity, calm or love. Instead, I experienced various states of excitement, agitation and fulfillment, but not the feelings of peace, acceptance and openness that I later learned to recognize and appreciate during meditation.
Given so much focus on competing in sports, I never expected to find a non-competitive activity that would be nearly as rewarding, but that’s exactly what I found in dance. I’m married to a gifted dancer, which initially had a chilling effect on my eagerness to dance because I was way out of my league. But while living in Colorado, we stumbled on a way in which we both could dance without me having to keep up with my far more capable wife. The format was free form — do whatever you want. It’s sometimes referred to as ecstatic dance or authentic movement.
Right from the beginning, I loved it. I enjoyed the freedom to move to the music. Since free form is truly anything goes, there’s no wrong way. You can’t win or lose. You can try something that doesn’t work as you intended, but you’ll likely be the only one who knows when that happens. I appreciated the physical nature of the activity. I could make it as strenuous or subtle as I wished. Most of all, it was a great workout that almost always left me with a positive afterglow.
After a while, I began to notice that the music and related movements were enhancing a process of my finding feelings of which I hadn’t been consciously aware. And so, for a long time, dance became a largely cathartic exercise in which I expressed whatever was inside me and let the music find it. Almost always, I would dance by myself during this period, and I was grateful for the safe space for inner exploration.
In recent years, I’ve found dance to be mainly an opportunity for expression in the moment. As I gradually let go of ideas of good/bad and right/wrong, I began to relax enough to dance with my wife. We eventually developed through dance our ways of connecting and creating. Now, we’re the couple dancing at the free outdoor concerts (pre-COVID, at least) and not caring whether we’re moving in the same way as everyone else. The older folks smile at us and the teenagers laugh, but mostly we enjoy being in our own world, lost in the music.
As I look back at this unexpected arc, I realize that two key components make dance such a healthy and compelling experience for me, just as cycling is for Jeff:
- While improvements are possible, dance has no element of “doing it right.”
- Dance provides an opportunity for the participant to get out of his or her head.
For lack of a better term, we refer to any activity with those two characteristics as “expansive.”
The lack of right or wrong, winning or losing, good or bad when we engage in expansive activities is what makes getting out of our heads possible. As much as I’ve thrown myself into sports, I can think of only two times in my life when I experienced flow while competing. I’ve experienced it countless times while dancing.
So, the real question is, what is your dance? Are you a cyclist like Jeff? Is there something else calling you?
Go Ahead and Exhale
Finding an expansive activity that suits you will bring more peace and joy into your life. Almost always, your breathing will tell you whether you achieved it. If an activity leaves you tense, then your breath will feel contracted. On the other hand, if you have found an expansive activity, it will literally expand your breath. You will find that it helps you breathe deeper, easier and effortlessly.
So, whether you like to hop on a bike, dance to the music or do something else entirely, we hope you find what moves you and then consciously choose to experience more of it. That simple decision to follow your joy should be a recipe for creating more breath, more openness and more flow in all that you do.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
To discover a natural form of expansiveness, consider one of these activities:
OPEN TO WONDER
- Cycling or walking in a place you love
- Witnessing wildlife
- Staring at the night sky
- Witnessing other beauty in nature