All of us at one time or another get into a state of experience where everything is going our way, where things just seem to be naturally working out perfectly. We frequently call this “being in the flow” or “in the zone”.
The mystery that we frequently ponder about such states is “how did we create them?” And, probably more importantly: “how can I experience them more often?” That’s today’s topic.
To get to those questions, we are going to look at some of the writings of early 20th century New Thought author Christian D. Larson as well as a few other topics on which I hope to “connect some dots”.
Who was Larson?
Let’s begin by looking at Larson. Back in 2011, although I had studied New Thought for many years and had heard the name Christian D. Larson, even seeing some of his books on the shelves of metaphysical bookstores, I really didn’t know much about him. However, that year, the editor of Science of Mind magazine approached me about writing an article on Larson.
At that point, I jumped into Larson’s background, read some of his books, explored a lot of archival material on him and interviewed his son, Chris (who was then in his 80s). It was a fun and interesting assignment which culminated in the article “The Legacy of Christian D. Larson” which appeared in the magazine’s October 2011 issue.
Recently, I revisited that article and began working on a more expansive look at Larson and his work for this website. I intend to publish that soon. In the meantime, thinking about Larson and his teachings led to this article. For the purposes of this blog, let me simply provide a few background facts about him.
Larson was born in 1874 in the midwestern United States. Although his parents pushed him to become a Lutheran minister, several life events exposed him to metaphysics and mental healing which led to a lifelong fascination with the topic. He attended a metaphysical mental healing college in Cincinnati and in 1901 opened his own New Thought healing school in the same city.
Shortly afterward, he launched his writing career. He published his own magazines, first from Cincinnati, then later in Chicago and in Los Angeles. The articles he wrote for his magazine frequently went on to form the basis of many of his popular best-selling books. These included The Pathway of Roses, Your Forces and How to Use Them and The Ideal Made Real.
Larson’s writings touched many people and influenced numerous other New Thought teachers who frequently appropriated his phrases such as “have an attitude of gratitude”.
NOTE: For more on Larson, check out our resource page.
What is the “Flow State”?
Alright, let’s switch gears. The concept of “being in the flow” has been popularized through the work of psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi as far back as the mid-1970s. It’s frequently referenced within the category of “positive psychology”. A general definition of “flow” would relate to “the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.” (Wikipedia)
Of course, this flow state also relates to what Abraham Maslow previously described as “peak experiences”, a key characteristic displayed in someone who is seeking “self-actualization” which was originally the highest level of his “hierarchy of needs”. Back in 1964, Maslow described peak experiences as “rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter.” Here is a link to the Wikipedia article which further describes the characteristics of peak experiences.
So obviously one who has “tastes” of these flow/peak experiences would most likely want to recreate them. There are a lot of people who have considered this and written about it. If we were to boil down the key recommendations on how to foster such a psychological state to a quick list, here is what you might find:
- See the sacred in the ordinary.
- Stay in the present, live in the now, be mindful.
- Meditate, take daily time in silence.
- Slow down, do less, simplify your life.
- Take time to be alone, time to be with your thoughts.
- Do something different (new task, travel , etc.) , out of the ordinary that may invoke awe, amazement, curiosity and wonder.
- Do something that you love, something you “lose” yourself in.
- Do something that is in service to others.
This is a good list. There are probably other things we can cite. And I believe that one who is on a self-identified “spiritual path” will find these recommendations in harmony with things that are encouraged as spiritual practices.
The bottom line is that there are times and experiences when we feel something unique; where we transcend the normal state of our lives, when we sense a greater inner peace and harmony with the larger life. Whether we see these moments through a secular or spiritual lens depends upon our worldview. Obviously, I believe that they have a spiritual purpose for us.
A Few Random Points to Contemplate
Now, let’s wander around and consider a few other things that I believe may be relevant in looking at the state of flow from a spiritual perspective.
One: As I have mentioned many times, in his later years Maslow added a higher level of motivation to his hierarchy of needs that was above self-actualization. He termed this ultimate motivation the desire for “self-transcendence”. What does that mean? Self-transcendence is about transcending (or going beyond) the self and forging a relationship or experience with a greater self. It’s realizing that you are one small part of a greater whole and incorporating into your life appropriate actions from that wisdom.
Two: I frequently mention that we live in two worlds at the same time. On the one hand, we live in the material/physical world of form or “stuff”. On the other hand, at our core we are spiritual beings living in a non-material spiritual world. We live in the world of the “relative” (things interacting “relative” to other things) and the world of the “absolute” (where there is no separation, only oneness).
Three: When we recently explored the Hermetic teachings outlined in the book The Kybalion, we considered the principle of “polarity”. This idea states that things that may appear to us as some kind of “either-or” type of opposites from one another really are not. Instead they are simply the same thing on a sliding scale from one state of being to another. Hence, cold and hot are not opposites but degrees of difference on a polarity of temperature. Right and wrong are the opposing ends of judgements of moral action with many intervening levels in the “grey area”. Everything that appears to be a “polar opposite” is simply the same thing on the other end of the pole but only different in slight variations from one extreme to the other.
Therefore, as I have described in prior articles, we might consider that the material world and the spiritual world are not “opposites” but exist on a sliding scale from the “densest matter” on one end to the “essence of pure Spirit” on the other end. Much of our human-spiritual experiences exist somewhere in the middle of this polarity. We live in human bodies at the physical level but as we “go up” the polarity, we move into the experience of emotions… then still higher, our mental awareness…. Then even higher, our spiritual state of transcendence where we relate to a vast oneness.
And when one (in Maslow’s terms) moves beyond the level of seeking self-actualization to the level of desiring a sense of self-transcendence, they are moving up the same polarity from dense material needs to higher spiritual needs. As Maslow pointed out, when our lower needs are unmet, the sense of “lack” or deficiency is what motivated our actions. At the higher levels, the greater sense of fullness or completeness that comes with the peak and transcendent experiences (which he called “being” needs) is what motivates us.
Larson: The Path to Freedom
In his book The Pathway of Roses published in 1910, Larson outlined what he saw as our way to reaching this sense of freedom in live where we live in this state of flow. Essential for us to realize he points out is that “there is only one will in the universe just as there is only one mind”.
Now the part of that statement that there is only one mind is not news to anyone who studies New Thought. That is a basic aspect of the philosophy and how one views the universe. As the Hermetic teachings stated, “All is mental, all is Mind.” Ernest Holmes, called his philosophy the “Science of Mind”. Mind with a capital “M” signifies that we are speaking of a spiritual sense of the grand “Big Mind”, the Mind or Consciousness that is the “ground of all Being” embedded in all and gives rise to all. So, yes, we live and move and have our being “in Mind” (or God).
One key aspect of this metaphysical perspective is to realize that when we think we are using our “minds”, we are simply making use of the One “Big Mind” by way of our use of our individual consciousness. Yes, we can think what we want to think (as after all, we have “free will”), but any of our use of consciousness or mind is simply a way of tapping into and using the nature of the One Mind.
OK, but what about when Larson says there is “only one will”? What does that mean?
In the words of spiritual teacher Ernest Holmes, “will means decision coming into execution. To will is to determine by an act of choice.” I think most of us would agree with that and relate to it. We feel that we have “free will”, we know that we make choices, we experience each day what it feels like to decide and act on that decision.
So, if there is “only one will”, then how do we relate our personal sense of using our will in our day to day lives to this “one will”?
Larson says that “the will of the individual mind is a partial expression of the will of God, just as the force of growth that is in each branch is part of the same force that is in the vine, and the power of the individual will depends upon how perfectly the individual mind works in harmony with the Infinite Mind.”
So, when we exercise our will by making choices and acting on them, the will that we are using is part of the one will of the Divine Source. However, the power to be given to our use of will depends upon the degree to which what we are choosing lines up with (is “in harmony with”) what is best for all.
This shift in the focus of our will to increase this power (resulting in more freedom and the experience of “flow”) has two components to it. First, we must recognize and truly embody the sense that everything is interconnected. Secondly, we then must consider which choice before us is best for All.
Here is how Larson states it:
“To develop the true will, the first essential is to realize that there is one will, and that we will with the one will just as we live the one life and think with the one mind, though in our thinking, living and willing, we do not, as a rule, do justice to that part of the whole which is our privilege to use. We think, live and will too much as isolated entities instead of divine beings eternally united with the Supreme.”
Once we move into sensing this interconnectedness, Larson calls us to realize “that the divine will works only for better things and greater things.”
So, when faced with a choice, how do we know that the choice we are making is one that is alignment with the Divine will? The best answer to this comes from one of my favorite quotes from Holmes:
“The criterion for any person as to what is right or wrong for him is not to be found in some other person’s judgment. The criterion is: Does the thing I wish to do express more life, more happiness, more peace to myself, and at the same time harm no one? If it does, it is right. It is not selfish. But if it is done at the expense of anyone, then in such degree we are making a wrong use of the Law.”
When what we will meets this criterion, it results in the sense life coming more easily and freely, bringing the feeling of flow that is our natural state. Holmes, again:
“Freedom, the free flowing of the Divine Spirit through us and, at the same time, to exercise the faculty of personal choice. Keeping personal choice immersed in the divine flow of Spirit — one with it — brings to us the power Jesus used, and the works he did become possible to us.”
But at the other end of this polarity of freedom and flow is the sense of bondage and blockage. This occurs when what we choose is based on selfish needs. To this Larson writes:
“The ills of personal life are not produced by divine will; they are produced by man’s inability to properly use that part of divine will that is being expressed in his mind, and his inability comes because man does not always apply his will in harmony with divine will….when man uses his will as his own isolated power, he separates his mind more and more from the source of his power, the power of his will becomes weaker.”
In a similar vein, Holmes wrote, “When we interpret freedom as license to gratify our baser appetites that Divine freedom can lead to bondage and degradation.”
Again, bondage isn’t being “locked up”, it’s the polar opposite of freedom. To feel free is to feel in the flow. To feel bondage is to feel the blockage of when the flow is not allowed to freely move.
Let’s bring this all together. Let’s connect a few dots.
There are these peak experiences of being in the flow that we feel in our lives from time to time that we would like to increase.
At our essence, we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Although we are a part of the One Mind, the One Life, the One Will, we shift in our ability to know this truth from moment to moment. We go back and forth in our awareness between the spiritual world and the human world.
The “higher” and closer to Spirit we are in our awareness, the more we realize our Oneness.
The “lower” we are when we are mesmerized by the material and physical needs of our bodies or egos, when we are trapped in seeing us as separate entities in competition with others.
This “higher” or “lower” state is really on a sliding scale of existence. Our thoughts and actions can shift us up or down this scale in depending on our choices.
Spirit is ever flowing into its creation. Although the unchanging aspect of Spirit is an eternal state of “Being”, the aspect of Spirit moving through the manifest universe is in a never-ending state of “becoming”. We can sense this movement of Spirit in and through us when we sense a state of freedom and flow.
This “flow” of Spirit moves in and through us at each of the levels of our being…the spiritual, the mental, the emotional and the physical.
We humans have the ability through our choices to either encourage the flow (increase our freedom) or to block the flow (increase our bondage) at each level of our existence.
Our spiritual awareness, our mental thoughts, our emotional states and our physical actions must all be in alignment with a sense of oneness and intentions for the greater good in order to be in the divine flow. If any one of them is not in alignment, we will not be in flow.
When our alignment allows us the sense of freedom and flow that we desire, it’s like opening the flood gates and allowing all of the power of One to show up in effortlessly and easily meeting our desires.
Yes, there are conscious things we can do to increase the sense of freedom and flow such as living in the now, sensing the sacredness of life, meditating and sensing oneness, being of service to others and the like. But the most effective way to bring about the state of freedom and flow is when our individual wills are in alignment with the divine will.
Final Thoughts from Christian D. Larson
In summary, let’s close with these words from Larson:
“The incompleteness of human life, in general, is caused by our failure to enter into perfect accord with all the laws in our sphere of existence”.
“There are many who take perfect care of their bodies, and comply most rigidly with all known physical laws, yet they violate the laws of mind nearly every hour of their existence. Others are very careful so as to think only the truth and do their best to remain continually in the most beautiful states of mind; but while aiming to live in mental ideals they are wholly indifferent to the welfare of the body. Not infrequently we find people who live in perfect accord with intellectual laws but violate daily the moral laws. Also, too many who do the reverse. In brief, the majority do the will of God in some realms while living entirely in variance with His laws in other realms. And here we find the simple answer to many perplexing questions.”
“Live in accord with the laws of life physically, mentally and spiritually; do all things in the consciousness of God; do all things to the glory of God, and follow the light of His spirit in every thought and deed, then you will always do the will of God”.
May we all be open to the divine flow in our lives each day!