I always thought of blogs as being narcissistic, business related, or as my sister's, a way of keeping in touch or memorializing.

But, by necessity, I am learning a lot about myself. I find I need to get my thoughts out, and it helps me to know that someone else will read them. So I have created this little space for myself, to express the things I have trouble saying (be it emotional or physical trouble), to share what I'm going through, and what I'm learning through it.

I absolutely welcome comments. It's nice to know how people relate to what I'm saying.
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Friday, 24 June 2011

Goal # 2 - Do I Really Want to Challenge Time and Flow?

My goal for this week is to make TO DO, and NOT TO DO lists every morning. The idea is to give my mind relief from thinking about what to do, and about the things that need to get done, but won't get done today.

Then, the task will be to plot this into my activity logs, and make sure that I am following my body's natural rhythms, scheduling in activities at the time of day when I am most energetic. Pretty cool. I like this idea. Except I am still very resistant to schedules, and for good reason.   :) 

Here's where I had trouble yesterday: I originally plotted in writing yesterday's blog entry at 5:30, and visiting the forums at 3. But at 3, I didn't feel like it. At 3:30, though, I had just rested, and the words were clambering at my skull to let them out. So I wrote yesterday's entry. I did visit the forums, later in the evening, because that was when I felt the need to reach out to people.

This all got me thinking about the idea of fractal time, flow and Montessori - now, I have to say, I know next to nothing about creating or making sense of mathematical sets, or how physicists actually use them. But I know plenty about what it means to the social sciences, and how it relates to education and cognition, and to my own personal psychology - it's all about the experience of time being fractal rather than linear.

Here's a wee explanation, from my Master's Thesis, from the postmodern perspective.

Eschatology is a concern with the end of time, the final judgment in theological terms; in postmodern terms, it is related to a transcendence of time as a linear construct which chaos theory terms ‘fractal time’ (Briggs and Peat ch.6), and Slattery calls ‘proleptic experience’ (84). He believes that during these instances, “The past, present and future are dynamically interconnected rather than segmented on a linear time line” (6). The already and the not yet are both part of the same reality, which is the present moment.

So really, the only time that matters is NOW. Very zen, budhhist, new age, and all kinds of things. But also very true. I haven't yet read, but do have on my list "The Power of Now."

Basically, the idea is that time is not an external and rigidly rhythmic march, but that it follows fractal patterns, and is experienced in a completely subjective way. It has repeating motifs and energy flows, just like everything else - it conforms to the rules of nature, which are those of chaos. We all know that time flies when you're having fun, and it plods at a relentlessly slow pace when you're bored. We know that it slows down in moments of crisis, and it speeds up when we are lost in our own world. It's slow when we're waiting, and fast when when we are busy. I can't count the number of times I've lost hours because I was so into whatever it was I was doing, which brings me to the concept of flow.

Flow is a concept defined by psychologist Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi, whose life work has been spent analyzing happiness - his conclusion (to really simplify it) thus far is that happy people are people who engage  in activities that put them in a state of Flow. This goes hand in hand with fractal time.

Flow describes a state of being in which we are fully engaged with something that is just challenging enough to keep us interested and at which we are skilled enough to succeed with some effort. This is the best description I've found:

‘Flow’ is the period in the creative process when self-consciousness disappears, time vanishes or becomes full, and there is total absorption in the activity. There is an intense clarity about the moment and a sense of clear movement, and there is little or no concern for failure. (Seven Life Lessons of Chaos Theory, by Briggs and Peat, pp. 26-27) 

Unsurprisingly, when Csikszentmihalyi started looking at Montessori environments, he found tons and tons of Flow. If you know anything about Montessori, you know that a key part of the philosophy are long periods of uninterrupted time in which the students are free to choose their work with no pressure to finish or move on to the next activity. This allows them to control for how long they are at a task, and therefore, to achieve Flow fully. Montessori described the traditional practice of scheduled lessons and changing classes that frequently interrupt the work and interest of children and adolescents as a “refined form of torture” (From her Third Lecture). I think one of the key aspects of Montessori that makes it so different from other pedagogical theories is the time that is allowed the students. The time to do, to be, to explore and to grow.

Considering that I spent solid portions of my formative years in flow, and in adulthood have gravitated towards jobs in which I can also achieve a state of flow, it is not at all surprising to find out that I have what Csikszentmihalyi calls an autotelic personality. I am driven by internal reward and personal satisfaction. I am spontaneous, and creative, and at my best when working in the moment. The best lessons I've ever given are those where I've gone on a tangent that occurred to me at the moment - because they were tailored for the students sitting with me at that "now" moment. I am miserable if I have to stick to a strict schedule and limited tasks / scripts. I think the worst year of my life (although I learned a lot from the experience) was spent working in a call center, where every moment of my day was monitored, each task was timed, and there was a script to follow for each call I received. I took a substantial pay-cut when I decided to dedicate myself to Montessori education, but I don't really care so much about the external reward. I am far happier, and more engaged, and living more fully.

The relevant aspect of all of this right now is that when I am engaged in something (anything) I have little, if any, connection to external time. Time is the last thing on my mind. My students and I would laugh about how often our lessons and discussions would go over the scheduled time - when I told them I would try to keep them shorter, they surprised me by saying that I just forgot to plan for their interest and millions of questions, so instead of trying to restrict them, I should just schedule them for longer periods of time. That was then. But now, I need to be more aware of time, because my health requires it. Pushing my body past its limit impedes recovery.

Learning to be sick and still being able to achieve a state of flow is incredibly important to me. I do not want my pacing, activity logs, and to-do/not-to-do lists to interfere with that state, because it is what keeps me positive, and content and satisfied. I may not be achieving flow in the same ways I used to, but I still do through my jewellery making, my knitting, doing jigsaw puzzles, writing, reading, drawing, colouring, even playing certain video games. These are the things that keep my life in balance. Without them, I'd be a real mess. But if I give way fully to the engagement, then I crash, and my body suffers, which is also emotionally difficult.

So I've decided I need to find a balance.

Back to the to-do and not-to-do lists, and my goal for the week.

Instead of putting times on the lists, I am going to go back to my roots, and the three hour work period. I am going to start listing activities as fitting into my morning, afternoon and evening active times, or as whenever they happen they happen. I'm hoping that within that structure, I will still be able to engage with what calls my attention, and although I will still need to limit the amount of time I am engaged, it will be a slightly smaller leap for me, and hopefully one that will help me find the balance I seek.

Wish me luck!


  1. Why limit challenging the constructs of time to hours? Why not extend it to days, weeks, months? As someone accustomed to not knowing what I'll be capable of from day to day, or for how long, I've learned not to place expectations on a single day in the same way you speak of not placing them on a single hour.

    Also, my lists aren't linear, they are random. There is a list of things to be done within the next day/week/month/year or so, but the priority is determined by my capacity in the moment, not some predetermined sequence.

    Totally agree with the futility of forcing oneself out of living in the present by trying to conform to a schedule. Rigid schedules are for flexible bodies.

  2. My grandfather used to say that as he got older the years got shorter, but the hours got longer.

    Looking back at certain points in my life, not only can I see self-similarity in larger and smaller chunks of time, but I can see time speeding up and slowing down in terms of weeks and months for sure. Not years, but perhaps I am still too young to see those patterns.

    I'm too new at this to fathom thinking about managing in terms of undefined strands of time, but I look forward to getting to where you are, in terms of random non-linear planning. Love it!

  3. I remember reading as a kid someone's claim that if you were happy, days passed quickly but months passed slowly, while if you were unhappy, days passed slowly but months passed quickly. I could never decide whether I agreed with that, but eventually discovered that ill health and brain fog can distort one's perception of time far more than happiness or lack thereof.

    In brain fog episodes the brain's time tracking feature seems to get disabled, two weeks can go by in which nothing is accomplished, and when it lifts it can feel like it only lasted a few hours. Protective if nothing else. As my osteopaths remind me, the body does not remember pain, and if it did, we would never heal.