During a recent trip to London, I had the pleasure of talking with a lovely shop owner who suddenly began to discuss her love and admiration for the game of golf. This caught me off guard, because I had never envisioned a fashion-minded owner of a high-end boutique to be remotely interested in a game I had, until then, only ascribed to a demographic of retired, mature men. Yet, as she explained, golf allowed her to be fully absorbed and engrossed in the moment. There on the green, she felt at one with the universe. There is only you, the club and the ball. She said that there was nothing else that brought her to that level of consciousness.
I likened her description to a kind of meditative practice. As a matter of fact, a quick Google search will tell you that meditation and golf do have somewhat of a history together. I imagine that, as a person becomes more skilled at the game, he or she experiences not only a sense of accomplishment but also a serene, contemplative feeling from the concentrated effort.
It brought me to consider that humans are always, whether consciously or unconsciously, striving towards what psychologist Abraham Maslow called self-actualization. That is, all people have an innate desire to realize their full potential. I think this is definitely true. I see it in the work I do with children, and as for myself, there are certain times that I am mysteriously driven to do something that usually benefits me in the long run. “What a man can be, he must be” were Maslow’s exact words.
But the interesting thing is that when people are doing something they are drawn to, for some inexplicable reason, they also feel good. When I am teaching in the classroom, usually I am observing children to better understand what they already know and what they need to experience to further develop that knowledge. When I have witnessed a child coming upon an activity that interests her and engaging with it in such a deep and engrossed way, then I know that the needs of that child have been temporarily satisfied from both a psychological and physiological standpoint. I would describe her as having a certain aura of contentment from that point on, with which she moves on to try other things with a bit of bounce in her step.
I heard this sensation best described at a Montessori conference I attended some years ago in New York. I was fortunate enough to see a talk given by psychologist, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, who is known for his work in the study of happiness and creativity. On this particular day he was speaking about his concept of “Flow,” which could be translated as being “in the zone” or “in the groove.” It can be described as finding oneself in a state of complete intrinsic motivation while engaging in an activity. Now I know most of you have felt this at some time in your lives. I know that I did while developing prints in the darkroom, while I was still back at art school. I would lose track of time entirely, and I felt deliriously happy.
Time and time again, I learn something I never imagined I would know. If I had ever decided that I was finished learning or growing as a human, I wouldn’t have been open to understanding half as much as I do now. I believe we can’t always know exactly what it is that we need or what will motivate us. Yet we can keep ourselves open to possibilities. We can let go of our egos and open ourselves up to the universe. We can retain that curiosity that a child has and uses to engage with the world, and hopefully it will allow us to realize our full potential, one day at a time. Who knows? Perhaps finding your flow could be as simple as playing a round of golf.
By Whitney Bushnell
Whitney is an American expat, mother of two and a Montessori teacher living in Switzerland. In her spare time, she reads, travels, and loves to cook.
Illustration by Susana Gutierrez
Susana is the mother of two little girls and a freelance illustrator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org