Just spent a lovely weekend in London which included a trip to see Billy Elliott the musical – Christmas present from my sons – thanks boys!
I have to say I spent much of the experience in tears – if you’ve seen it you will probably know why. It is a deeply moving musical which brings many fundamental human themes to life set against the backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain and the miners’ strike. It deals with a boy pursuing his dreams to dance when his family are tied up with a political fight for survival, it shows the importance of a mother’s love and the power of community solidarity. At his audition for the Royal Ballet School, Billy is asked what it feels like when he dances and he replies with the wonderfully moving song, Electricity -
‘I can't really explain it,
I haven't got the words
It's a feeling that you can't control
I suppose it's like forgetting, losing who you are
And at the same time something makes you whole
It's like that there's a music playing in your ear
And I'm listening, and I'm listening and then I disappear.’
What he is describing is what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's famous investigations of "optimal experience" revealed as what makes an experience genuinely satisfying – a state of consciousness called flow, so focused that it amounts to complete absorption in an activity and results in the achievement of a perfect state of happiness. During flow, people typically experience effortless concentration and deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.
So, in recalling this concept and at this time of year when typically many people are thinking about maximising their lives, I invite you to consider, what really makes you glad to be alive? What are the inner experiences that make your life worthwhile?
If you are a runner, perhaps you get this experience when you get into a rhythm with your running and it becomes so effortless that you feel that you could run for ever. Perhaps you get this feeling if you sing in a choir and you get a sense of being as one with the other voices. You may be lucky to have this experience at work when you are so absorbed by an activity and fully engaged that the day just flies past. It is experiences like that these that make life vibrant and intense against a background of ‘normality’ and routine. It is these experiences that lead to growth and complexity of consciousness.
So, what can you do to actively engage in experiences that challenge you, give you intrinsic satisfaction, offer immediate feedback and make you really feel alive?