Distinction Between Flow and Meditation

In this video, Kiku Day recounts a transformative experience where she became fully absorbed in her performance, reaching a state of flow. Through this experience, she gained a profound understanding of the subtle distinctions between being in a state of flow and a meditative state.

Being in a flow state

Nick: Something that jumped out at me on your paper was, you wrote on the difference between flow and meditation. And maybe some people do perceive flow like a meditative state, because you have this experience of loss of time and you're deeply focused in it, it feels right or it feels good. But there is a difference.

And you share this experience of performing at St. John's Smith Square in London, which apparently is quite a venue to play at. And so you documented this experience, and I think it may articulate the difference, at least for you, between flow and meditation. So would you like to share that experience and what you learned from it?

Kiku: Yes. So let me say that in meditation, the awareness is always there, you don't lose yourself. Once you're lost, you're lost in your experience, and the awareness is no longer there.

So what happened in St. John's Smith Square is that I got onto stage and was gonna play a piece that I love and feel comfortable with, but still is enough of a challenge. And I played it, and I got into this flow state. Normally, it will be just a flow state, that's great to be in as a musician.

It's just flowing out of you, you don't have to think, it's just there. And, of course, it's a piece that I have memorised, I don't have to read, I can just go into myself and it just flows out. It feels great, you know.

But for some reason that day, and this state, I think all musicians know when performing, but that day, there was suddenly a type of awareness that popped up. And I realised I was in this flow state. I also realised while it was going on, I didn't know where in the music I was.

I was just immersed in this flow state, it didn't matter because it was just flowing. And I wouldn't be worried about it. But because I had this sudden strange awareness, this awareness made me become really worried that I wouldn't know what note I should play next.

So what if it stopped? So I tried to find out where I was; I listened to myself playing as it was still flowing. It's kind of strange, I don't know how long this lasted, I experienced it very long. I tried to find different strategies, I played this and this note, so it must be this that comes later.

No, it wasn't that. So it must be there. And at some point, I realised I had to stop worrying, because otherwise I will stop the flow. And maybe I wouldn't know where it was.

So I kind of let go of it. And then the next time I was aware of it, I was just in a normal state of being: out of the flow, but still playing because I could play this piece. And so I managed to get through the piece without stopping that I was afraid of.

But it made me really think, what is this flow state I've completely forgotten myself? And in meditation, it is not about forgetting yourself, because you're immersed in the experience. And experience is one thing that takes you away from meditation itself.

So that's when I really started wondering: what happens and what is meditation in music? We say it so easily. But what is it then? And that's when I kind of embarked into trying to find out, at least for myself.

Nick: It almost sounds like it was an out of body experience or this heightened awareness or this intense observer. But you're aware of your awareness. But it must have been significant because it sounds like you hadn't had that experience before.

Kiku: No, I haven't had it like that. Right now it feels like once in a lifetime, it's actually 10 years ago, it was in 2013. No, it must be more, it must have been like 2008. And I haven't had exactly that since.

Luckily, because it wasn't particularly pleasant, then I would prefer either to be just in flow state and let it flow. Or in another awareness kind of state. The two combined were very weird.

Nick: It does sound weird, because it sounds like you are in this heightened, anxious state. You were worried while you were in flow.

Kiku: I got into an anxious state. It was in the beginning. In the beginning, when it just started. It just came like that. It was like, oh, my God, it's just flowing out of me. I have no idea where in the music I am. It's just flowing. How nice is that? But then, it started.

Nick: I think your mind started talking to you.

Kiku: Yes. But the interesting thing was I didn't stop the flow, you know, which I think normally, when you get these kinds of thoughts, you would actually come out of your flow state. But it didn't at that point.

Nick: And you were very familiar with that piece, it sounds like?  So it is fascinating, all these concepts like flow and meditation and studying ikigai has made me realise I really need to understand these concepts. And so flow is a good example.

I think everyone has this idea that flow is something that you can ease into. And sometimes I think you can, but it's defined by having a certain skill set to meet a certain challenge. So it shouldn't be too easy.

And it shouldn't be too hard. So I think the same is for meditation, we have some idea of it, but some people think it's floating into bliss, where you described it as, it's almost like work, like it is hard to try to meditate.