Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s basic argument is that flow needs special attention because of the difficulty with achieving happiness over the long haul, contrary to the myths mankind has developed to reassure itself against the fact the universe was not and is not created to answer our needs. Flow answers the constant frustration that is so deeply woven into the fabric of life – is there some way for me to be in harmony with life. Flow puts to good use the burden of dissatisfaction with our own paradoxical nature with its flaws and limitless aspirations – by invoking resilience.
As someone that likes the language games of philosophy the above argument’s formulation makes a lot of sense to me.
Now I’ll tell about my own encounter with the reality of a belief in the universe that is fruitful to some people but not others. My variation was developed in 1983 when I was pondering the “American dream” – “the hard work myth”. I was a Branch Manager for Xerox who had survived the third rif (reduction in force layoffs) in four years. I was caught by the strangeness of it all being the only black manager left in my office, where there use to be five of us. I witness several break downs of both staff and manager – these where tense times. In this state I began to question lots of what I had kept clear of in the past. As I look, all the questions led me back to just one: “What had Black people done to be treated so miserly throughout the world”, but especially Black Americans like myself.
At the time I had never thought of myself as religious nor spiritual but it wasn’t like I didn’t believe either. I studied the question from many angles – economics and philosophical. I became consumed with the question.
There had to be a reason and I was bound and determine to find the answer.
You might call my timing a mid-life crisis away of acting out, but this question forced me to quit Xerox, get my BA in economics from De Paul, graduate from Yale’s Divinity and Management schools and end up at Cornell’ University’s City and Regional planning department.
The flow like question for me was primarily answered at Yale. Going to Divinity school was intoxicating – terrifying. I was lucky enough to take 4 classes with Cornel West. The discussions in those small 8 or 9 person settings were like having Aristotle or Foucault in the room week after week. All the fundamental questions were discussed, researched, explained, written about and presented. We had the full plate of ideas to fill our fancy. One of the real joys of the classes I took from Cornell was how dedicated and informal he was with his students – each week we would have a dinner discussion at a local soul-food restaurant . The most exotic of these was when we discussed god as demon.
It was not these setting where I finally came to grips with my question. It was in the three individual research classes I had with Cornel that took me through the process to my answer. Cornel is an amazing teacher!
In those session I began to see the world in terms of “mystery – where I could finally let God be God. I see the world as ambivalent to our needs, but there are at least two other forces at work.
- The first is the world’s ambivalence does not have be malevolent.
- The second is that how I encounter that ambivalence is to large measure all made up in my head in a conspiracy with and against other people that are making stuff up as well.
The development of Flow is to provide skills and tactics in managing living happily – given the world’s ambivalence.