I was chopping vegetables. I know, no big deal you might say. I do chop vegetables basically everyday, since I like cooking and I am not a huge fan of all-prepared meals or take-out. Therefore, I chop. And on this day, I was chopping as usual some of my favorite vegetables. The same vegetables, with the same knife, on the same board. But something was different.
As I was chopping, I got totally into it. I started enjoying it much more than usual. It felt as if I was in flow. Really? Flow while chopping vegetables?
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is who we might call the Father of flow. He find out that people experience happiness and satisfaction when they are what athletes call “in the zone”, when they get totally absorbed in an activity, “especially an activity that involves their creative abilities”.
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990, p. 3)
We can’t really say that chopping vegetables requires me to use my creative abilities, and neither that it is a challenge requiring me to focus and use my skills. I might not be a Top-Chef, but I swear, I am able to chop vegetables without too much concentration.
Still, I experienced something something quite close to flow. How is that possible? Let’s see.
Attention to details
The first thing I notice was the attention to details I was putting into chopping vegetables. Instead of doing it mindlessly, I was carefully taking each vegetable, softly washing it, then taking my time to cut it into small pieces, instead of big chunks. I wasn’t in a hurry, I wasn’t coming back home after a long day, hungry and preparing dinner expeditiously. I kept the same quality of attention as I started cooking my meal, mindfully adding one ingredient after the other to the pan. It lead to the creation of a delicious meal.
The magic ingredient, the last touch, the cherry on top of that meal was the love I had put into it. Love acted as a flavour enhancer. Love is what changes a simple meal into the king of dinners, a simple rose into the most important flower for the Little Prince.
« – Bien sûr, ma rose à moi, un passant ordinaire croirait qu’elle vous ressemble. Mais à elle seule elle est plus importante que vous toutes, puisque c’est elle que j’ai arrosée. Puisque c’est elle que j’ai mise sous globe. Puisque c’est elle que j’ai abritée par le paravent. Puisque c’est elle dont j’ai tué les chenilles (sauf les deux ou trois pour les papillons). Puisque c’est elle que j’ai écoutée se plaindre, ou se vanter, ou même quelquefois se taire. Puisque c’est ma rose. […]
– C’est le temps que tu as perdu pour ta rose qui fait ta rose si importante.
– C’est le temps que j’ai perdu pour ma rose… fit le petit prince, afin de se souvenir. » – Le Petit Prince, chapitre 21
Ease of mind
The attention to details I put into chopping vegetables was made possible because I was in the right mood to devote my time to this activity. In silence, happy and calm, I started chopping without anything else on my mind at the time. I cultivated throughout my cooking an ease of mind, not stressing about getting it right, simply letting go of what wasn’t necessary at the time.
I learned to cultivate this state of mind through yoga. Even though it is definitely easier to get calm and happy when you are not challenged, it is when things get tough that this mental state will be the most helpful to you. If we stay mindful as we face obstacles, if we leave out stories we create about the challenges to overcome, emotions we feel about it, presumptions about a situation, we are then able to react appropriately, using our intellectual and heart wisdom to come up with creative solutions. However, in order to develop this ease of mind, we need to practice when things aren’t that challenging, when our life is a bit more under control. When we are chopping vegetables.
Less is more
Finally, I do have to mention one last key element I believe helped me get to that quality of presence. Whether it is chopping vegetables or practicing yoga, I find that it is much more easier to get attentive to details and find ease of mind when I do less, when I focus on quality over quantity. I am of course much more open, curious and happy when I am preparing one meal and when I know that I have a lot of time to do so, then when I have to prepare dinner + two or three lunches for the week. The same is true for yoga, or whatever else I choose to add to my agenda. I can fit in my weekly schedule five yoga classes, but I am much more attentive and enjoying my experience if I only practice three times a week.
The great thing is that when you do take your time to do things, that you put your attention into details, and that you do so with an ease of mind, you don’t need to do as much. In that case, less is more. Which makes me wonder how much we really need to be challenged to get into flow. With the right amount of focus, an ease of mind, and a devotion to quality over quantity, which we can summarize as mindfulness, I believe we can transform every moment into a flow instant.
Now is the right time to enjoy being alive.