A few Saturdays ago, I participated in a Crescent Outreach initiative with Don’t Mess with the Don. This local organization partners with schools and other community groups to maintain, restore, and live in harmony with the city’s parks and ravines, specifically the Don Valley.
We gathered in the courtyard, divided into three groups, put on gloves, and proceeded to our campus ravine. After sliding down a fairly steep bank, which I’m sure greatly amused the students in my group, I sparked up a conversation with one of our new Upper School students. I thanked him for giving up his weekend morning to pick up garbage and beautify our green space. He responded, “There is nowhere I would rather be.” I, too, felt pretty good about our accomplishments that morning, however his comment stuck with me as I pondered my own experiences.
Famed Hungarian American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was known for his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Csikszentmihalyi, who passed away at the age of 87 in October, theorized that people are happiest when they are in a state of “flow”—or complete absorption with the activity at hand. While still in graduate school he observed painters in their studios, and made the following comment in one of his last interviews:
I was most interested in the fact that these people would spend weeks and weeks working on a painting and they would forget everything while they were working. Then they’d finish a work of art, and instead of enjoying it—which is what you would expect from the theories of psychology…that you work in order to get something rewarding at the end. After 10 minutes or so they would put it against the wall and start a new painting. They weren’t really interested in the finished painting.
When was the last time that you felt like time was standing still while fully immersed in an activity? What were you doing, thinking, and feeling? What was distinctive about that experience? What made you more interested in the process than the product?
I have always been passionate about sports. As a boy, I found that some of my school classes seemed to take forever, but when I was on the court—or more specifically on the ice—I lost track of time. Instead, I found myself deeply immersed in play and competition. In high school, I picked up a golf club for the first time, and since then have been obsessed with the game. During the past 20 months in particular, golf has provided a unique spiritual getaway from the ebbs and flows of worklife.
Outside of sport, though, there is another area of passion that has slowed my clock but heightened my engagement–giving back to causes larger than myself. Whether in my role as Headmaster or through volunteerism, serving my community is especially significant to me. Growing up in a faith-based home, I came to appreciate that I had a responsibility to give back because much had been given to me and I deeply value connecting and supporting others.
Despite the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic, this holiday season will most surely afford space to find flow, that state of consciousness in which outside stimuli, even time itself, seem to fall away. I suspect this might happen during a deep read of a treasured book, or a long walk along a nearby trail. My wish for us at Crescent is to temporarily resist responding to the pressures of external forces and instead turn inward to marvel at and celebrate the joy of doing nothing at all but being fully in the moment.