The Pursuit of Flow

Ask anyone who knows me, and they can instantly name one uniquely defining feature that pretty much sums up who I am as a person at this stage in my life: I’m a hula hooper.

Yes, a hula hooper. Remember that toy you used to play with as a child? Your grandmother used to brag about how good she was back in the day when Wham-O first came out with them. They’re a staple in the WalMart children’s section. And yes, hula hooping is my career.

I’m not exactly sure how the cycle of addiction first began (I will be using many circular puns throughout this post). I meekly picked up hula hooping once in high school when my best friend prompted me to under the pretense that it’d be a good workout. I don’t think she realized exactly what she was starting. From there I lost interest and moved on to college, where, once again, fate dropped me back into the sacred circle. I was spontaneously brought along to a late night pub jaunt by two fellow students who I had just met, where something called “fire spinning” was promised as the entertainment of choice. I lounged nonchalantly in the back of their car as we pulled into the parking lot. I was not prepared for what I was about to see. There, amidst the drunken pub goers and night owls, their flames bathing the parking lot in an orange aura, was a group of shirtless, perfectly tanned, impeccably toned guys “spinning fire.”

But it wasn’t the hormonal teenaged girl in me that lit up inside – it was the pyromaniac.

From then on I involved myself with this eclectic group of people as much as I could. I learned about object manipulation, about performance etiquette and the finesse behind building an illusion. I drowned in an endless list of possible props with equally eclectic names – rope dart, puppy hammer, meteor, poi, diabolo, contact staff, buugeng, mini hoops, fans, double staff, devil sticks… I immersed myself in the culture and built up an impressive collection of burn scars that now adorn my body like tattoo sleeves.

It was addicting.

But it wasn’t necessarily just the feeling of community, the addiction to adrenaline, the power of controlling the elements that was so consuming- it was something I would come to learn about later on in my experience with prop manipulation. But ask any true manipulator about it, and they will respond emphatically: it’s the concept of flow.

The idea of flow, or hitting “flow space,” is a tricky one. It’s one that is better felt than explained, but you may never realize that you’ve actually felt it once you do. It’s unique to each person, everyone experiences it differently, and some people may never hit flow. At its most basic, flow is that moment in time when you’re entirely connected to what you’re doing. You lose track of the concept of time and space and are consumed by the moment. To me, it’s like finding a little bit of my bliss.

Personally, when I hit flow I tend to black out. It happens on its own accord, I can’t summon it. I’ll be hooping and I might hit a series of moves or tricks that I didn’t think I could, or that I’ve been trying to figure out but couldn’t quite get, and then I’ll get sucked into flow. I can be performing in front of a crowd of hundreds or I can be alone with only a mirror, but everything around me gets dull and out of focus and all I can concentrate on is my body, my hoop, and the music. I’ll spin with my hoop and then everything around me accelerates into a whirling mass of colors and then disappears. Most of the time, once I pull back from that dimension, I can’t remember anything that happened. I was once performing on top of a giant wooden boombox structure that was about to be burned down as an effigy in front of a crowd of hundreds of cheering burners, and after I got down I had people rushing up to me all night to congratulate me on my hooping…. I had no idea what I had just done. I couldn’t remember. I was that deep into flow.

It’s kind of become an obsession, trying to hit that deep, personal state of trance.

But it’s not just burners that experience flow. I’ve talked to comedians, musicians, DJs, dancers, visual artists who all admit to experiencing a similar mind state. Some people regard it as the moment when you’re completely synced up with what you’re doing, when the task at hand is effortless. Others says it’s when you’re most expressive and creative, as if being driven by some higher source of power and inspiration.

I just call it, plain and simple, bliss.

Happy spinning, everyone.

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