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Play, ego, mind and flow

When we play, it often feels like we are reacting instinctively; our minds and body become seemingly hard wired to the moment and we allow ourselves to act without thinking.

We often do things without thinking about them or say things things without thinking about what we are saying, only to find ourselves reflecting on it afterwards. When deep in play, our minds are not full of conscious thought (that is so consuming post play), we simply play. This way of being often feels great. liberating, nostalgic even. So why, as adults, is this state of play so unusual. Why, when we grow older, do we not allow ourselves to become deeply immersed in the moment, and act free from judgement-without a care.

Playing when we are young is natural, and essential to our learning. Yet when we get older, it becomes refreshing and sometimes even scary. Over time, our conscious minds become concerned with more 'serious' aspects of life, like achieving a to do list or maintaining full control. We may find ourselves often belittling the act of play as something without purpose or value. "How does it help us pay the rent? We should be training/working instead!"..."How does it help us with our career?"..."What will other people thinking of me if I act like a child"...and so on.

The older we get the more our pre-frontal context grows and naturally we become more consumed with seeing the world through this lens. Our cognitive explicit system takes the reins and we start filtering every moment through thought and some kind of analysis. This process becomes preferred way of operating through most styles of education and work. Indeed, we use our conscious lens to help us meet our internal desires, keep us safe, and become social acceptable. In this process of continual conscious processing, we develop and become more and more attached to a self-image or self-representation of ourselves that we project to others; often referred to as our ego or super ego. This projected self-image is generally built on the premise (collection of thoughts) of what we believe others want us to be. We start changing the clothes we wear to meet the projected self image we have made up, and even change our friends, our jobs and our hobbies to keep this self image intact.

For many, affirming this self-image is critical; we spend our hours climbing the social ladder or improving our social status in the hope of strengthening this projected self. All the time, assuming it is improving our self-worth, resolve, and identity. Though the reality for many is that it further creates a need for affirmation, acceptance, and continuance. Rarely does it meet our fundamental authentic human needs, rather it keeps us pre-occupied and entrenched in thought ensuring our ego is matching up to the consensus.

This way of operating may be helpful in certain circumstances, though it comes at a price. Like the serial 'Instagrammer', it can take over our very notion of self-identity creating a divide between our authentic self and the image we think we need to be living up to. Whilst for others, it furthers a pattern or habit that de-values play and connection.

For many, we become so obsessed with our self-image it takes over our thinking behind most of what we do. We begin to believe that this manifested projected image of ourselves, is actually who we are. Meanwhile every minute we spend on developing and sponsoring this self-image, we sponsor our super ego and the need to control our situation, context, environment (anything and everything) to keep the status quo alive. We embed a fear of loosing control–taking us further away from the art of play.

Before long we are attached to our thoughts as if each thought represents who we are. We spend most of the day in our own head entertaining the thoughts that fleet in and out.

Practically speaking, we then naturally (stuck in this continual habit) rock up to work, training, or a performance in this manner. Just when we want to be playful and become absorbed into an act we instead approach the task with this same manner of operating and often wonder why our performances and experience in these moments are 'half-mast'. We approach important situations through our egoic self-image (which we have created), hoping for fluent action, expecting our mind and body to deliver the goods on demand, yet instead, we often get strained performances, limited ability, and a string of fear and self-doubt–underpinning most of what we do.

Now this is all a bit deep, I know. It sounds like we are living an inhibiting reality as if lost in a matrix. And as an analogy, the 'truth' is probably not too far off. The above usually takes a lot of unpacking to really understand what this all means and how it affects our day-to-day. Regardless of the confusing complexity of our mind, ego and entrenchment to our habitual thoughts, I urge you to start exploring this space. It may be the ticket to freedom that you are searching for.

We all share these patterns to some extent or another. Being attached to thought and embodied in our egos is part of being human and having a developed conscious mind. In many ways it is often viewed as the apex of humanity, separating us from the other animals around us.

The question that needs asking, however, is does it help our performances? Although the rationality and logic sequencing of the conscious brain can help with structural changes in our life and work (it helps us to debate different strategies, analyse what we could do better etc.), when it comes to performing in the moment we want to be playful and in flow. Operating through our conscious explicit system may help to calibrate what we do and how we do it, but when we get to the stage of actually doing what we do, sustaining this manner of operating is like taking an anti-flow pill.

Learning to use the mind as a tool rather the who we are is critical in obtaining flow more readily. When we learn to value play and prioritise it over our conscious thoughts during training and performances we prime ourself towards being in flow.

When we play we do not think of the pressures around us, we simply play. When we play we do not focus on our weaknesses and doubts, we just play.When we are playing we become present to the moment, we start experiencing life in the here and now. When we play we do not demand or expect the body to do anything, the body simply plays willingly. We allow the intuitive action that is a fundamental characteristic of flow.


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