Comments on “Tantra and flow”

karmakshanti 2012-06-27

You embarrass me greatly, David, by pointing out that something published in 1990 is somewhat dated and problematic. After all, I was published in 1952 and, being unfathomably old and absolutely moribund, with the library dust of decades settled on me undisturbed and undispersed, really deflates my morale. I suppose I’ll just have to console myself that I’m much better bound, with stronger thread and cover of tougher fabric than anything from the 1990’s, so if no one ever opens me again, I should last centuries.

Without being too explicit, I would point out that the above analysis of happiness is rather like someone trying to open a door with the wrong end of the key. What you lose in such flow is not your “self” but the habitual process of trying to cling to your “self” and always failing because it isn’t there. Actually the sense that “life has no meaning” is an emotive affect of this constant failure. Even if you step back and consider the matter hypothetically, not having a self turns the search for the “meaning of life” into a pseudoproblem. There is no one there for life to mean something for. Thus this also is trying to open the door with the wrong end of the key.

In such Flow, cause and effect is precisely the opposite of what is described here. You don’t lose your self by entering the flow, you enter the Flow by letting go of your ego-clinging. The Flow is actually the default setting, and we are constantly keeping ourselves from it by our obsession with our “self”. The five conditions for flow are actually conditions that encourage you to release this obsession for a time, but have little to no impact on the underlying habits that drive ego-clinging. When looked at this way, there is no such thing as “chaos” since there is no one there to interpret things as chaotic. It, also, is a pseudoproblem. There are merely different conditions that have no temporary effect on the underlying habits as well as no permanent effect on them.

The way to use the key properly is to take conscious control of these habits by deliberately attempting to find this self. In frank fact, doing this recreates the five conditions for Flow inside you rather than outside you, and renders them amenable to inner direction. Once this inner direction has been established, the possibility of permanently changing the habits finally becomes real. The techniques of Tantra are tools to do all of this. But it really isn’t a matter of a different relationship to the world, whether modern or postmodern. The notion of a relationship clearly requires a self to relate and outside conditions for it to relate to. Since at least one of these terms doesn’t exist changing our relationship by “abandoning a futile search” for anything is also a pseudoproblem. There is no one there to abandon anything and there is nothing there to abandon. All of this, also , is an emotive artifact of the habitual pattern of attempting to cling to a self which isn’t there.

David Chapman 2012-06-28
Without being too explicit, I would point out that the above analysis of happiness is rather like someone trying to open a door with the wrong end of the key. What you lose in such flow is not your "self" but the habitual process of trying to cling to your "self" and always failing because it isn't there.

Perhaps I was not explicit enough myself! I think we are fully in agreement, as I said:

Psychology sees loss of self as a temporary illusion, though; whereas Buddhism sees the self as a temporary illusion.

Also that Csikszentmihalyi’s attempt to make flow into a way of life fails utterly.

muflax (@muflax) 2012-06-28

“In the flow experience, […] your perception of time may change radically. It may speed up or slow down.”

Are you sure? I recall a study in which subjects where dropped from a high tower and asked to, I think, read a fast flashing display. They all reported to experience time dilation, but none could actually resolve time better. So it seems more like a memory quirk, not an actual change in perception.

Similarly, even though I find going into flow relatively easy nowadays (due to extensive practice - see Ma, playing all those games was good for something!) and I don’t remember ever having time distortions. I can react faster, or handle more simultaneous input, and so on, but my actual time perception never changes.

(Other things can change time perception, like shrooms, but not flow or really any meditation technique I know.)

(I’d also like to plug Super Meat Boy, or as it should be called, Flow - The Game.)

David Chapman 2012-06-28

Mainly I’m just reporting Csikszentmihalyi’s claim here (pp. 66-7 in his book). I think though that you’re drawing a distinction that he wasn’t, between experience and performance. He meant that the subjective experience of time slowed down, whereas the experiment you mention shows that this is in some sense an illusion.

So then I’m not sure which of those things you’re discussing in the paragraph starting with “Similarly.”

My experience is that sometimes about five hours passes between the time I check my meditation timer and it reads 39:04 and the next time I check it and it reads 39:47… if the thoughts that pass between are exceptionally boring!

muflax (@muflax) 2012-06-28

Ok, but that’s a memory thing. I meant (and understood the claim as) “woah the world runs faster / slower as I look at it”, like speeding up a movie, not the dreaded “but surely the meditation is over now!” 3 minutes in.

Gotta check Csikszentmihalyi then.

(And I’d also like to recommend a Zen koan I got through Susan Blackmore: “There is no time. What is memory?”, and its companion, “What was I conscious of a moment ago?”.)

David Chapman 2012-06-28

A koan from Danny Hillis: “a flip-flop is a wire turned sideways in time.” (This is one that didn’t make it into the standard collection of AI Koans.) Maybe that’s the answer to Susan Blackmore’s. (I can explain why it is true if the principle is unclear to anyone… it’s part of the insight that led him to the Connection Machine.)

Love the theme music for Super Meat Boy, btw.

Mouchoir de Monsieur 2012-07-05

Could Flow be explained simply by lower cortisol and adrenaline levels, and elevated/balanced amounts of dopamine, serotonine, phenyethyalamine, noradrenaline and endorphic/opioid chemicals while parasymphatetic system takes over leaving symphatetic and limbic systems to more passive roles, all due to simply relaxing a bit?

Studies have shown how meditation affects brain chemistry and neural pathways even permanently given that one continues to meditate daily over long periods of time. Relaxed concentration in arts or sports share similar qualities with meditation, which is naturally the result of ‘fiddling’ with neurochemical balance in brain.

Regarding to David’s meditation experience of time stretching/slowing down, I would say that you were on the treshold of shutting down the dopamine reward system, but not yet the opioid one. Or alternatively you were nearing the speed of light, but weren’t there yet, as time,place and motion stop completely if you are a photon travelling the speed of light. ;) All in all, let’s ascend from state of stable theta waves and embark on the journey of integrating gamma brain activity in every moment! Not that stablizing theta activity in brain is no small feat in itself, takes years too!

May your shiné be stable and lhaktong flowing!

David Chapman 2012-07-06

I don’t know! It does seem likely that the flow state involves changes in brain chemistry (and brain wave patterns). What you suggest seems plausible, but I haven’t looked into the research at that level of detail.

Generally, the science around meditation seems to be progressing rapidly at the moment, and that is really exciting. I’m tempted to dive in and try to understand the state of the art, but it would be a big job, so I haven’t yet. Enough other people are excited that I expect there will be good summary articles coming out in a year or two; those don’t seem to exist yet.

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