This You-tube clip – “Romancing the Wind” with Ray Bethell is well worth five minutes of your time. It’s beautiful, right? And of course it is nice to see a senior citizen who has found a pastime that keeps him active and engaged. But I believe there is also something important we can learn from it.
The spiritual masters tell us the way to spiritual growth is through transcendence of self, and most of them claim meditation is the way to do that. They say that at advanced meditation levels, the feeling of being a separate self drops away, and the person feels he is a part of the entire universe. The implication is that the more time we spend in that type of state, the more easily we advance spiritually. And spiritual advancement is indicated by a person’s lack of materialism, lack of need to control others, their tendency to want to connect with others rather than be divisive, and many other “goodness traits” too numerous to mention here.
But many people show signs of spiritual advancement without meditation. How would this happen? One way may be through other types of activities that begin to approach self-transcendence – perhaps through music or art, prayer, or even participation in religious ceremonies. While perhaps not as dramatic as an explicit episode of unitive consciousness meditators may experience, certain other activities can lead to peak experiences and almost transcendent states.
One researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has defined a state he called “Flow” that may contribute to our understanding. Flow is a state of mind or an experience that we feel when we are totally involved in a certain type of activity. While the particular activities that allow flow will vary from person to person, they all share some common features. The activity demands extreme focus on the part of the participant. It has very clear goals, and provides immediate feedback. Most importantly, flow activities provide an optimal balance between the level of challenge they present, and the level of skill required to complete them. That is, both the level of challenge and the level of skill must be high, but they must in in balance such that the person is capable of success. In a flow state, the person is practically carried away by the activity. He forgets about time, hunger, emotional worries and physical discomforts. His sense of being a separate self dissolves and he becomes one with the task. Under ideal circumstances, a flow activity can provide a type of self-transcendence not too far removed from that reported by advanced meditators.
I have never met this kite master, Mr. Bethell, but I feel pretty sure kite flying is a “flow” experience for him. I can see that it forces him to be very focused. The goals are clear, and it provides constant immediate feedback. What with continually changing wind conditions, Mr. Bethell’s expert kite flying must provide a very high level of challenge, and we can see it requires a most extraordinary level of skill. Watching this simple clip, you can almost feel how he “becomes one” with those kites, and with the wind. You can almost sense that in some way this “hobby” allows him to transcend his sense of self.
I know absolutely nothing about Mr. Bethell other than that he lives in Canada, is deaf and has quite a way with a kite. But I would bet anything I own that he has probably found sufficient life satisfaction at least in this “flow” activity that he enjoys some of those “goodness traits” exhibited by the spiritually advanced. I’ll bet he doesn’t feel the need to acquire continually more stuff, has no need of judging other people for their lifestyles, and does not participate in divisive forms of politics or religion.
If only we had more people finding and practicing flow activities, whether in their vocation or their avocations, I am sure we would feel more fulfilled in our lives. If people were connected at times to parts of the universe beyond their separate selves, I am sure they would be less inclined to exploit our natural resources. There would be less strife and divisiveness. People who have felt that sense of connection would care less about condemning people with different lifestyles, and more about evening out the different levels of opportunity based on income and class. They would care more about who is left out when certain religions claim superiority, and would care less about which religion was right. If more of us could find ways to connect to a larger whole, larger even than what most traditional religions teach, I am sure we would have a better, and more evolved world. Kite flying lessons anyone?