Immersion

I was thinking this weekend about those activities in which I become completely immersed. I lose all sense of time, as I am completely absorbed in what I am doing, reading, thinking at that time. It came to mind when I was texting with a friend about what she’d done that day, which turned out to be a craft project with her father. I replied that I had gone on a hike for the first time all year, and that it was just lovely not to think about work during the few hours that I was out there.

And that made me pause for a moment. I never thought of hiking as an activity in which I become immersed, mostly because my thoughts on the matter have typically centered around how I love my work, and can become immersed in it to the point of losing track of time.

The same thing happens when I hike. I got back in the car, heard my stomach growl, and looked at the clock, only to realize that more than an hour had passed while I was out in the woods. (Side note: it was an awesome hike to this really cool natural limestone bridge…short but steep hike, and completely worth it.)

Back to the texts with my friend. She then went on to say that she used to quilt a lot – before life got so nuts – and that she loved it for how it distracted her. I’d argue, instead, that she was completely immersed in what she was doing while she was quilting.

For me? I realized that the list is longer than anticipated. For me, immersive activities include my work, particularly when I focus on one thing for a decent period of time. Reading a good book. Counted cross stitch, which I did as a child. (Side note: I love cross stitch, but cannot find kits like I used to find as a kid… also, I kind of hate cutesy images and that seems to be what the majority of kits have you make. All of that to say, I’d love to pick it up again but don’t think it’ll happen unless there’s a revolution in cross stitch kit design. Ha.) Hiking, obviously. And baking.

All of these activities take all of my attention – get distracted while hiking, and you could break an ankle. For baking? Distraction = major recipe fails. Trust me on that one. This might not apply to something like meditation, if that’s an immersive activity for you. Unless there are dangers of which I am unaware related to meditation?

Finding that immersive state is such a gift. The mental engagement combined with the silencing of the incessant list of to-dos and issues and challenges and I-have-to-reply-to-100-emails is, in my opinion, one of the best parts of being human.

I feel fortunate. I’m into the summer now – freed to focus on my research projects, and preparation for fall courses (yes, already). I look forward to more immersive days than I’ve had in the last few months, although there have definitely been moments scattered here and there.

The other term for this immersive state is “flow”. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says, “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.”

Time to stretch my mind (my body was already stretched by my workout this morning, thanks). I hope you have a similarly excellent start to your week.

10 thoughts on “Immersion

  1. I was immediately going to ask if you’ve heard of flow state. I love studying it! There is some really cool research on it.

    That bridge is so neat! Also, I love how it’s never super clear where a location is on a WI natural resources-type site. Like, could you put the city name in the title somewhere? (Pet peeve I’ve noticed when trying to find WI parks)

    I am glad you have a summer of immersive activities ahead, yay! And what kind of cross stitch would you prefer?

    1. Flow state is so interesting, isn’t it? For me, it’s not necessarily WHAT I am doing (although, admittedly, if it’s something I love, it’s much easier to get into that flow state!), but dedicating sufficient time to the task to become immersed, and start to flow.
      Isn’t the bridge cool? And I hear you on the WI state parks. Seriously. Plus, the location of each park is harder to find than it should be. Thank goodness for Google maps.
      Ah, cross stitch. As I said, I dislike those that are cutesy… anything that has stuffed animals, or a Victorian house, or an “inspirational” saying is out. I’d love something with a Celtic design, or even something like flowers. I’ve searched online but haven’t searched specifically on those… maybe I should do that! I know painting rocks is one of your immersive activities; what are your others??

  2. This was such an interesting read, and what you said about “getting into that immersive state” and the relation to “flow” which I know very well from design or coding contexts. This immediately had me thinking of something I discussed with a music friend at our online session a while ago. She is brilliant and has that special “feel” to her singing and music, which I don’t usually have (in my own opinion, at least), because I’m too busy with playing the right notes or getting the phrasing right in my songs, I’m most often to focused on sounding good, and this will obviously change when I learn to play better. Sometimes I manage to get into the immersive state also now, though. Getting into that flow is a major priority to me in music, because that’s when playing music gets really, really fun and relaxing – although you quoted someone that relaxed activities are not the best moments… but to me, activities in which I get into flow, that’s when I relax IN those activities.

    Another activity that usually gets me in the immersive state is photography – especially when I’m alone with the camera and can spend all the time I want to create something good. This is something I’ve lost lately, as you know i’ve had a major creativity slump recently, but I think I’m slowly getting out of it. I’ve had such amazing moments with the camera when I’ve been able to forget about everything else and just indulge in the creative moment with the camera.

    1. What a fascinating observation, Susanne. I think you’re absolutely right that relaxing into the activity is what’s key. And, to add to that, immersive activities are not those that I consider “mindless”. That’s how I interpreted the quote. So, for example, watching television would not be an immersive activity. A distracting, and mindless, one, sure. I think it has to be an activity you love (which, I think, relates to how music playing can be immersive for you), that you find relaxing and enjoyable, but that requires SOME mental engagement (playing the right notes, adding the right ingredients if baking, etc.).

      RE the music playing sometimes being immersive for you… I suspect it might be for those pieces that you know better. Have you noticed that? I think it would be harder to immerse oneself if one has to concentrate hard on playing the right notes. I have noticed this with the YouTube videos I’ve watched of Talisk – one of the Scottish folk groups – for which the concertina player is Mohsen Amini. He’s in about 4 other groups, too, it seems. Anyway! He is ALWAYS immersed in playing, and I suspect it’s because he’s so skilled at what he does. (If you get a moment, watch one of the videos. The speed at which his fingers move is simply mind-boggling.)

      I’m rambling, but I do think you hit the nail on the head. Being in the moment, relaxing in to the moment, is the key. 🙂

      1. You’re absolutely correct that when I know a song/tune well, then I get into the flow. I had such a moment last night. A song we used to play a lot but I sort of lost interest in it after pubs and sessions had to close. But we did it last night and it’s one of those songs that just “click” and both the singing and playing is there, where it should be, and I can totally engage in the music without thinking of technical aspects.
        And I need to go and listen to Talisk now!

        1. Oh, that “click”… so much fun to feel, isn’t it? The other thing fun about Talisk – and now that I think about it, any really good music group of any genre – is how they seem to get into the flow *together*. The way they move their bodies, smile at each other, and really feel the music together… you can just see it (and hear it!) in everything they do. You’ll have to let me know what you think of that concertina playing. 🙂

  3. The cool thing for me about flow state is that time seems to stand still (while you’re in it)…. in a way, that’s the way to “slow things down” which is so hard to do when we’re in the daily grind.

    I love that you used to do counted cross stitch! Me too! There are some neat cross-stitching books out there, maybe you should check those out. I hear you on the cutesy images though… it’s hard to find something that you want to cross-stitch and then maybe display in your living room 😉

    1. You’re right – time does seem to stand still, but then I look up and realize an hour (or more) has passed! I hadn’t thought of it as a way to slow things down in the middle of the daily grind, but it does make sense. And yes, on the counted cross stitch – I don’t need a cutesy Victorian house in my living room, thanks. I’ve seen some interesting patterns on Etsy; the challenge for me is putting together my own “kit”. You know, getting the fabric and hoop, the floss, etc. Which, now that I type it, sounds like a pretty lame excuse. Ha. Maybe I should get over that and get back to something I enjoy! I knew you were crafty (you knit, too, I think?) but didn’t realize it extended to cross stitch. 🙂

  4. I love the concept of flow and it fascinates me. I sometimes have thoughts that I don’t feel like I get into a true state of “flow” with my work often enough and then I worry that maybe this means it doesn’t fulfill me enough or something?? I don’t know. I find myself in that “flow” feeling phase (I.e. not paying attention to time, not looking at a clock or even wanting to do anything else) most often I think when I am writing my blog posts in the morning, journaling or playing the piano. While walking /hiking or exercising I tend to feel that way also. 🙂

    1. I know, I’m starting to feel like I should read the book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the person I quoted in the post.
      In the meantime, I’ll probably start with this online resource from positivepsychology.com, which is based on an interview with him.
      It’s interesting that you say that about your work, in contrast to the other activities you list. It makes me wonder what the differences are between them. Are the things you do for work relatively short in duration, for example, vs. something like journaling that you can make last as long as you like? Or are there other differences you can think of that might make it more difficult for you to get into flow state while working? I guess I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that your work isn’t fulfilling quite yet. 🙂

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