I just watched At Eternity's Gate, a biopic about the life of the master painter Vincent Van Gogh. It's a beautifully intimate art film, shot in a way to bring the audience to experience Van Gogh's life through his eyes. I love the story of his journey, and the dialogue. So much of what the character says about painting can be applied or interpreted in the light of writing, and also generally, living a creative life.
Some themes I extracted from the quotable quotes:
3. The flow state
The flow state
I've spent all my life alone, in a room. I need to go out and work to forget myself. I want to be out of control. I need to be in a feverish state. It's called the act of painting for a reason.
I paint, as a matter of fact, to stop thinking. I stop thinking, and I feel that I'm a part of everything outside and inside of me.
Many athletes in competitive sports will attest to this. I believe many craftsman, developers and skill-based practitioners experience this too. This peak experience of being in the zone, the mind's dialogue quiets down yet there's a relaxed concentration and alertness, where everything clicks, action is effortless and ideas come wave after wave. The very experience often becomes the main goal, not the extrinsic rewards that comes from the peak performance. Coming from a sport background back in school, I had experienced deep flow states before, which I now try to bring to my work. I too feel attracted to work in a "feverish state", because that feeling goes so deep, and feels so satisfying. It feels like a very authentic experience of what it means to feel alive. Truly alive in the most primal sense.
I love how he mentioned that he wants to be "out of control" - because control in this sense is the intellect, the ego, which wants to be in charge with thoughts and reasons. And by being out of control, we give up thoughts for actions beyond thoughts, a way of being beyond reasons. Sometimes, our minds can feel like being alone in a room. A mental space, that you and only you inhabit. And by stepping out of it through flow, one feels the breath of fresh air, the rays of warm light, the cool breeze on one's face. Yes, that's flow.
It's strange to write this way about flow, because it sounds almost like a religious experience. But in many ways, I feel that's not far from the truth. It does feel very similar, if not the same, just that it arose under a different context and attributing factors. It's spiritual for sure.