The Evolving Self Embraces
Where can a person find a faith to believe in as we enter the third millennium? Answer: In the flow. This is what one University of Chicago psychologist has concluded after years of research.
There is a river and may the force of it be with you. Some might call it the Tao, the way, or--for lack of a better expression--the flow of consciousness. Entering the flow begins with happiness.
By studying when people are happy and what makes them happy, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chick-sent-me-hi) has developed a scientifically based mysticism of enjoyment. As hedonistic as it sounds, it's a theory which has many connections with spiritual traditions. By using experimental methods, such as calling people at odd hours of the day to check on how happy they were at that moment and why, the professor discovered that what makes us happy is when we are absorbed in an activity, enjoying the process of the activity itself and not concerned about potential outcomes. Happiness is the psychology of intrinsic motivation, doing something for the sake of the doing. When people become thus absorbed, they enter the flow.
Learning how to stay in the flow makes for a happy life. In his best-selling book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper-Collins), Csikszentmihalyi explained how his research pointed to the formula for an optimal self. When a person is in the flow, there is often a sense of harmony. Enjoying what one is doing and experiencing one's purpose in life come together into an encounter with one's destiny in the moment. The image of meditation as "watching self go by," which has been envisioned by masters like Gurdjieff and Edgar Cayce, is here enlarged into a flow of enjoyable moments that make a life. But how does that flow of life come to express a purpose for life?.
The evolution of a sense of purposeful destiny is now described more fully in Csikszentmihalyi's latest book, The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium (Harper-Collins). In the context of a study of the flow of history our professor has discovered the existence of the possibility for us to evolve a "transcendent self." This spiritual being is the fruit of a faith and actions based on that faith, in the meaningfulness of flow. Transcenders find fulfillment by giving themselves to the flow and allowing their lives to be used in service to others.
The path to becoming a transcender involves the image we form of our ideal self. A faulty ideal, such as turning the self into a false god for worship, will lead us astray. His study of transcenders suggests that the path entails seeing within oneself the entire human community. Especially important is the embrace of complexity created by harmonizing the opposites of differentiation and integration. In other words, as an individual finds a personalized path of serving the common good, in the crossing of individuality and universality, the self becomes transcendent.
The secret of the serene happiness of the sage is that as self and world have become one, the flow of consciousness and the flow of life have become one. In that complexity of flow called enlightenment, there is both happiness and harmony to share in abundance.