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
This column continues to explore various paths to “flow,” that state in which we are fully present and meeting the challenges of the moment with a calm, clear focus and full access to all our resources. Most of us tasted flow at one point or another or recognized it when witnessing another person in a flow state, and thus we know enough to say, “I would like more of that, please.” But the truth is that very few of us experience pure flow states regularly.
So, with the goal in mind of achieving more flow, here are a few preliminary questions for you:
- Did you ever have a strong feeling that much more is possible in the human experience than what we seem to create?
- Did you ever wonder how you came to have a particular personality or knew that you wanted to become a veterinarian (or whatever you chose)? From where did those traits and preferences come?
- Did it ever seem odd that you spent countless hours being taught about past civilizations, mathematical formulae, scientific advancements and the like but almost no time being taught who you really are and how to expand upon your potential?
What’s interesting, at least in mainstream Western culture, is that people aren’t introduced to the concept of self-mastery in any meaningful sense. By self-mastery, we’re not suggesting rigid self-control but rather a focus on internal presence (our mindful awareness) so that our thoughts and actions emanate from that still point. We can catch glimpses of self-mastery in teachings from other cultures, such as the Shaolin kung fu masters, and more esoteric sources. But most of us experienced 15-plus years of formal schooling and might have gone to a church, synagogue or mosque regularly along the way, all without even grazing the concept of self-mastery in any meaningful way.
This leads us to a couple of bigger questions.
1. What if self-mastery was a doorway to living in an enhanced state of flow whenever you wished?
As has often been said, we’re always creating, and we can choose to create unconsciously or consciously. For example, many of us consciously decided to master a profession as best we could and at least attempted to master other activities and endeavors. The process might have been tedious at times, but it brought about immense personal growth and both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.
But according to some wisdom traditions, we can take this much further. We can go quantum. Instead of choosing to master only a craft or discipline, we can choose to master ourselves and unlock the full range of our human potential in one fell swoop. As Maharishi Mahesh Yogi said, “Capture the fort and all the territory will be yours.”
In his book “No Man Is an Island,” Thomas Merton speaks to the path to accessing our human potential from the Western/Christian perspective:
“Our life, as individual persons and as members of a perplexed and struggling race, provokes us with the evidence that it must have meaning. Part of the meaning still escapes us. Yet our purpose in life is to discover this meaning and live according to it.
“What every man looks for in life is his own salvation and the salvation of the men he lives with. By salvation, I mean, first of all, the full discovery of who he himself really is. Then I mean something of the fulfillment of his own God-given powers, in the love of others and of God. I mean also the discovery that he cannot find himself in himself alone, but that he must find himself in and through others.
“The salvation I speak of is an objective and mystical reality — the finding of ourselves in … the supernatural order.
“To find ‘ourselves’ then is to find not only our poor limited, perplexed souls but to find the power of God.”
2. Would you be willing to prioritize self-mastery to get the reward of flow if you knew it was achievable?
Admittedly, we pose this question for ourselves and anyone reading this article. It highlights one of the key elements of any form of mastery: commitment.
One person who focused much of his personal and professional life on mastery and had a keen sense of commitment was George Leonard. By any measure, he led a fascinating life. He helped pioneer the Human Potential Movement of the second half of the last century, particularly in his role as the co-creator of Integral Transformative Practice, which uses ancient and modern wisdom teachings to help participants consciously evolve in body, mind, heart and soul.
Leonard’s life was an incredible example of the expression of human potential. After serving as an attack pilot in World War II and then as an intelligence officer during the Korean War, he went on to get his Ph.D. and serve as a senior editor of Look magazine and later as president of a psychological association and the Esalen Institute. He was a fifth-degree black belt in aikido and an accomplished jazz pianist and music composer.
Along the way, Leonard authored 12 books on human possibilities and social change, including “Mastery: The Key to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment.” At the beginning of that book, he said of mastery: “It resists definition yet can be instantly recognized. It comes in many varieties yet follows certain unchanging laws. It brings rich rewards yet is not really a goal or destination but rather a process, a journey.”
He then shared insights from his years in aikido as a student and teacher, outlining the common elements in achieving mastery and overcoming obstacles.
One of the common elements that he discussed is commitment. As an instructor at his aikido institute, Leonard saw several personality types that he recognized were not destined for mastery. One of those he called The Dabbler. Activities such as aikido are too complex (and often too subtle) for anyone to master through dabbling. Instead, more meaningful results require regular, consistent efforts.
There’s a lot to unpack with a topic like self-mastery, but we at least can identify where to start. What if we devoted as little as 20 minutes every day to self-mastery, whether through meditation, reading something inspiring, journaling, exercising in nature or the like to start generating momentum toward the vision we hold for ourselves?
Self-mastery is a BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) by anyone’s standards. But if we have a clear vision of what we wish to experience and feel energized, then that vision can serve as the beacon for all our actions to follow. So, that’s the challenge and opportunity for all of us. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to choose the goal of self-mastery with an eye toward unlocking potential beyond our imagination.
And to that, we say, “Enough dabbling. Let’s do this!”
SHOWING HIM THE WAY
In the introduction to his book “The Way of Aikido,” George Leonard described how the Japanese martial art helped him to better deal with stress, anxiety and pain, create positive outcomes out of negative situations, and “find more love, power and joy in daily life.”