The Problem with Seeking “Flow”

The Problem with Seeking “Flow”


Review of The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance, by Steven Kotler

Published in the New Rambler


Click here for another blog post on “Flow” and a post on the Bhagavad-Gita referenced in the “The Problem with Seeking Flow”

The Problem with Seeking “Flow”

Hikin’ with Lichen

There are times to go fast and times to go slow.  Recently I headed off for the Catskills with the goal of bagging a few more peaks for my record of barefoot ascents.  It had rained earlier in the morning and was still cloudy, but the rain had let up, the winds had calmed, and the temperature hovered in the mid-50s — conditions which encourage a person to relax, move at a more leisurely pace, and take in the sights.  In no particular hurry, I was sauntering up the gravel road that leads to the saddle between Bearpen and Vly mountains, looking down at the ground to avoid stepping on sharp rocks, when I noticed a small green ball of puff lying on the ground.

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Hikin’ with Lichen

We may care about biodiversity, but does Nature?

I recently read The Future of Life by respected biologist, environmentalist, and Pulitzer prize-winning author Edward O. Wilson, who is not only the world’s foremost expert in myrmecology (study of ants) but also one of the most vocal crusaders for biodiversity.  And he’s not just a scientist, he’s a great lover of nature.  Early in the book he recounts one of the “most memorable events” of his life, when in 1994, in a back room of the Cincinnati Zoo, he encountered a four-year-old Sumatran rhinoceros named Emi.  He gazed into her “lugubrious face,” placed a hand on her flank, and communed with the solitary animal, as he pondered the critically endangered status of her species.

His love for nature leads Wilson to issue a harsh indictment:  “Humanity has so far played the role of planetary killer, concerned only with its own short-term survival,” he warns.  “We have cut much of the heart out of biodiversity.”  By this he means, we are responsible for a rise in the rate of extinctions and a decline in the remaining number of species.  The causes are well known:  hunting and poaching, loss of habitat, spread of invasive species, and now global warming.  Wilson states that by 2030, the species count for plants and animals could be down by 20%, and if we freeze conservation efforts at current levels, he claims that 1/2 of plant and animal species could be gone by 2100.

An Armageddon is approaching at the beginning of the third millennium. But it is not the cosmic war and fiery collapse of mankind foretold in sacred scripture. It is the wreckage of the planet by an exuberantly plentiful and ingenious humanity.

— Edward O. Wilson, The Future of Life

After finishing the book, I reflected on this warning.  I’m in favor of preserving wilderness, and I too would like to see the Sumatran rhinoceros flourishing again in the jungles of southeast Asia.  But for Wilson, biodiversity means more than protecting Emi, it means maximizing the total worldwide species count.  And here, his logic left me unpersuaded.  There are better metrics for measuring biodiversity, it seems to me, and stronger arguments for conservation.

What I most appreciated about the book was Wilson’s emotional connection with nature, and on the very last page, I thought his comments were spot on….

Edward O. Wilson.  Photograph: Frans Lanting/Corbis

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We may care about biodiversity, but does Nature?

Encountering Catskill Mosses

Last weekend, the weather was unseasonably warm for mid-March, with afternoon temperatures in the 60s.  It was a great day to wander through the Catskills adding additional peaks to the list of completions.  Rounding a bend on the trail between Balsam Lake and Graham mountains, I glanced to the right and spotted a marvelous moss tumbling down the side of an embankment, a cascade of silver feathery fronds.

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Encountering Catskill Mosses

Caumsett 50K Race Report: Seeking Clarity

I rolled across the finish line in 3:57, precisely in line with the modest goal of breaking four hours.  The year before, my time was just over four hours, as best I could recall, and I distinctly remembered a deep sense of frustration as I struggled to stay on pace.  It was nice to see some improvement — especially after a string of races in recent months with disappointing times.

Caumsett is a 50k (31-mile) race that takes place along a 3.1-mile loop in Caumsett State Park on Long Island’s northern shore.  It’s a pretty course on a paved path through woods and fields, and the day was sunny, calm, and cool — beautiful conditions for racing.  Except for a blister, I had felt good throughout the run, managing to complete it with no fluids or calories.  Waiting for the final results, I thought I had a shot at #3 in my age group.

So I was a little surprised when a friend asked, what went wrong?


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Caumsett 50K Race Report: Seeking Clarity

Tree Pose

The Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius once wrote,

It is in your power, whenever you choose, to retire into yourself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

This advice reminds me of one of the messages in the Bhagavad Gita, a two-thousand year-old Hindu text:

Wherever the mind wanders, restless and diffuse in its search for satisfaction without, lead it within, train it to rest in the Self.  Abiding joy comes to those who still the mind.

— Vishnu, Bhagavad Gita

I’ve been trying to put this advice into practice.  Walking down the street in the face of an icy winter wind, I make an effort to relax.  Instead of fretting at subway delays, I imagine shifting my brain into neutral gear.

The other day, arriving at a restaurant a few minutes before my wife, I took a deep breath and put away my phone…

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Tree Pose