Flow with the go
Back in Newcastle at one of the fight gyms I trained in, there was a sign on the wall: Higher Consciousness Through Harder Contact.
There is a single unifying factor in all man-vs-man competition, a single peak moment of self-actualisation when you hit the “flow” and everything comes naturally, in the moment. I have personally experienced this in Brazilian Ju Jitsu, Muay Thai, and BMX stunt riding. If I’d practiced guitar more often instead of taking the soft option and playing power chords in all the songs I wrote then I’m sure I’d have eventually begun hitting flow state there too. When hitting the flow the world disappears. There are no techniques, defences, scales, tricks. Time slows down and all that matters is in front of you right now at this moment. You see everything. Your body is moving before your mind orders it.
I wonder if the sports flow is tapping into the same moment of unburdened self-actualisation that Maslow put at the peak of his hierachy of needs, and Tolle placed in the power of Now. Consider the hierarchy.
The lower layers must be satisfied before the higher layers open up. You can’t concentrate on finessing social relationships when your stomach is rumbling and you have nowhere to sleep. You don’t worry over status increments and the corner office at work when the mugger holds a knife to your throat. I believe this explains much of the shock people feel when suddenly cut down by illness or physical violence.
I was once mugged while walking home from a late session at the university library. Two chavs asked me for a light and then followed me for a 100m before jumping me. One smacked me in the mouth with a brick and knocked out a tooth. Luckily my boxing training meant I didn’t collapse under attack but I didn’t kid myself I could take them both. After the first blitz failed to overwhelm me a stand-off ensued and finally after a tense thirty seconds they wandered off. An hour later in the hospital as I had my teeth and nose checked out I had a sudden attack of nerves, out of proportion to the severity of my injuries. I think the problem wasn’t fear (two days later a couple of friends drove me around the area as we tried to find the chavs to give them some payback) but just the massive relative shock from total comfort in life to having the curtain of civilisation ripped down and looking at the reality of danger in the world.
In modern societies most of nature, red in tooth and claw, is hidden from view. Unlike tribal savages we can go our whole lives without witnessing death, whether violent, natural, or pestilence. Unpleasant experiences are quarantined in specialist locations with specialist staff. Abattoirs prepare the meat. Soldiers fight the wars. Surgeons saw the bones. We get to sit a safe distance in offices and apartment blocks. Antony Giddens calls it the sequestration of experience.
We live mostly at the higher levels of needs, so when we suddenly drop right to the bottom and our body goes into fight or flight, we are not mentally ready. Even if the danger is mild, the relative shock is significant.
At the bottom of the pyramid all the social constructions, future projections, and ego props disappear. The lizard brain takes over. You see this in boxing when a pretender is put under pressure by a veteran. As Evander Holyfield said of Mike Tyson, “Pressure busts pipes”. After fighting your way up the pyramid you are once again freed of all the structure in life and enter the flow but this time as a free man, not a hunted animal.
Recently all of the men in my house have taken up fisticuffs in our home gym. We have a little room matted out and equipped with heavy bags, a mirror and two pairs of gloves and shin guards. There’s always someone in there cuffing his housemate around. It has changed the vibe of the house. In the middle of hearty sparring you can dip in and out of flow state. Usually after taking your first stiff jab. It’s lively.
Like the movie narrator states, “after a night at Fight Club the rest of the world has the volume turned down”