Altered state of mind

the author in flow

The very first moment I jump into the water and my chest bumps against the board I gain a superhero alike focus on the task of paddling and making it to the peak. I get a mix of what seems like contradictory sensations, that might be amplified by the surf conditions:

  • My mind enters into an “hyper-focus” mode, where nothing is in it. It is empty, calm and silent but vigilant to the surroundings. I can perceive everything around myself. I’m totally aware of my body and how I can use it as a tool, but I do not have to think about it: I’m pure instinct. I know what I have to do and I’m going to. I’m in the zone, I’m in flow.
  • My body enters into survival mode: adrenaline kicks in, my heart rate increases, I start breathing faster and my body heats up because of the movement. I feel as if I have been transformed into a device designed to fight for my life, powerful, strong and committed, but not afraid.

Once I make it to the peak, mind remains empty, and the body continues in survival mode, ready to give bursts of energy with the next set of waves or hold my breath the time required under that wave.

The time my mind can stay on this state of highly depends on how my skills and the surf conditions match: the closer to a range where I have to stretch my skills a bit, the easier to get into it. It stays with me when I’m on a wave, paddling back to the peak and most of the time when I’m waiting for the next set.

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Flow mind state is combined sometimes with sparks of clarity, without any effort or intention. This always happen when waiting for the next set, in that moment I can’t hear or feel anything, as if my brain has switched several parts and has been drained from thoughts, to focus on the present. The sound of the waves breaking next to me disappears, I can’t hear a single droplet — I can’t remember hearing anything — as if I’m been freed from every single distraction to let an idea structure in the basement of my mind and run up the stairs.

Somehow my body and mind become one: I am not able to discern my limbs, torso or head, from my mind. I am not numb, but my body does not exist at that moment and my mind is attached to my body with such an intimate link that I can’t tell the difference between each part of myself.

My mind is empty, very calm as it is resting, and very slowly — with the same pace of mist rolling in the morning- an idea starts to take shape in the back of my head. I feel it like a tiny bonfire that has been just lit and wants to grow.

I just have to wait in silence, focused on the next set and let the spark start the fire, it will grow as has its own will, to become a well-defined idea or concept. The nature of this idea can be the solution to a theoretical problem I had been working in, an “aha” moment where I connect or cross-link several concepts, or a different point of view for a moral topic.

It is easier to reach this moments of clarity if I’m alone, or If everybody on the peak is in silence. When I’m just by myself the whole session it usually happens that I reach this state almost on the first minute, and spend the whole time in it, without making any effort. Indeed the most deep and meaningful ideas had come to me at spots I have been surfing for years, on sessions when I’ve been alone the entire time .

The simple act of waiting in silence after making the effort to reach the peak, seems to be the catalyst for this moments where an idea or solution is given to me.

Have you ever felt a clarity moment like this? If so, when?

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