Friday, February 3, 2023

all hail csikszentmihalyi

Greetings, Poetry People. Good heavens,it's the first Friday of the month again and the Inklings are working to a challenge--no, the gentlest of invitations--from Catherine Flynn: 

Somewhere, someone recommended the book How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope. It includes "reflective pauses" and invitations for "writing and reflection." After the poem "Work," by Sally Bliumis-Dunn, the invitation reads: "Can you remember a time when you felt so consumed with the act of making something that you lost all sense of time and your mind seemed to clear? What allowed you to enter this mindful creative space?"

This state of being, which I hope we have all experienced often, is now called FLOW, and the "father of flow" was the Hungarian-born psychologist who eventually made his home in the US at the University of Chicago. Read more about his very interesting life and work here.

I first became interested in his ideas when I was trying to explain in a public charter school application about how school should be "fun."  Many readers resisted the idea that school should be fun, should offer everyone opportunities to experience that "state of being in which people become so immersed in the joy of their work or activity 'that nothing else seems to matter.'"  Most young children, given the right freedom, easily become little bundles of flow as they draw, build with Lego, dig in the sand or repeat a chasing game over and over, and it's my assertion that that's when the broadly applicable skills of focus and persistence are learned. I quoted Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Chick-SENT-Me-High) liberally in the charter school application.  It was denied--because apparently school is NOT supposed to be fun and full of flow; it's supposed to teach us how to manage when our need for joy in our work is denied. (Thanks for listening to my TEDTalk; you'll probably get more out of Mike C's famous 2004 one!)

I worked with Catherine's poetic invitation two ways, but having read Linda's response before starting, all my efforts feel pale and flabbily human in comparison to her wiry and intense animal metaphor.  Don't miss it. 


I seek this feeling every day, and if I get there, I have to hope it hasn't made me late or derelict in my duties! You can see the responses of the other Inklings at these linklings:

Catherine @ Reading to the Core

Mary Lee Hahn @ A(nother) Year of Reading
Molly Hogan @ Nix the Comfort Zone
Linda Mitchell @ A Word Edgewise
Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche

Our hostess-with-the-mostess this week is Laura Shovan, and she's highlighting the "other Laura" Purdie Salas's new book FINDING FAMILY.  Paddle on over and find all the members of your poetry family!



  1. It's cool that you are a flow expert, Heidi. "Rigor" is what they want from public schools, but flow does lead to rigor imo. (I tried to click through to Mike C's TEDtalk but got an error)

  2. I love that you right justified that first poem, Heidi. Something about that gives it an intensity and a being-in-the-moment-ness that fits!

  3. "effort drops from every action, truth graces every movement" -- I live for these rare moments. I'm with you, Heidi. School should be FUN. When children are given time and sacred space, they open themselves to FLOW.

  4. I'm not finding these "pale and flabby" at all, Heidi! In the first poem I love "effort drops from every/ action/ truth graces every movement." Your use of space and line breaks is powerful in the second one, showing flow while describing it with phrases like "one stream of honeyed release from time." Sweet!

    1. I do agree, though, that Linda's poem sets a very high bar!!!

  5. I'm a big fan of FLOW and HOW TO LOVE THE WORLD. Learning should be fun! I just attended a session last week on making libraries more playful.

  6. You know, now that you put it that way, it really is tragic how we prepare children at a young age for a joyless life. Hurray for flow and "liquid thought!"

  7. I am sad that your charter school idea was rejected. They don't know what they missed! I love knowing more so thanks for the links, but love the idea of "the ego sheds its ballast and flies." My granddaughters do not like to be interrupted when they are, you name it, creating, reading, charting out a new idea, etc. They covet the weekend time. Wishing others would understand.

  8. Oh, for Pete sakes! The longer I"m in this education gig--the more I see that it's all just wrong, wrong, wrong. FLOW is exactly what we should be aiming for especially at younger ages...because once it's acheived it's what we all want again. If only the stupid gaming world wasn't the biggest purveyor of flow right now. Well, that's MY Ted talk...I think your poem of flow is not at all flabby but describes perfectly the state that I love to be in.

  9. Isn't it sad that we have to mediate flow with the "hope it hasn't made me late or derelict in my duties"??? Both of your poems flow -- the first down the page in your golden shovel (how clever to choose just the juiciest part of the quote), the second oozing like your similes: lava or honey.

  10. I loved learning about this guy whose name I have to look up every time. I definitely filled the "truth graces every moment" element. I can't even remember what I wrote. I have saved in my notebook the line "we are pure play, both slow and swift with peace alive."

  11. I long for "time to fall away" and to slip into that state when "truth graces every movement" and do wish kids had more opportunities to slip into that "stream of honeyed release from time." I love both of these poems, Heidi!

  12. I think your poems capture that flow pretty well. And I can't believe (even though I know) that people would want to crush flow out of schools. I bet they are the same people who complain kids this days lack focus. (and they fail to see the connection)

  13. "The ego sheds its ballast and flies." WOW, and yes, please.
    And the imagery of lava, flowing from one moment of knowing to the next, a honeyed release of time -- so evocative. I don't know if I ever really "flow," but this sounds... knowable and doable but elevated all at the same time.


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!