The foundation of systemic phenomenological work


8 October 2020| Organizational Constellations, Other, Societal

Flow… cool or a prison?

Flow, what is that?

Most definitions describe it as a temporary state, which lasts a few hours or so. Something like: flow is about a state of conscience when you are completely absorbed in your activities. You can describe flow as perfect harmony. Often, when you do something in a flow, you are surprised when you check your phone or watch after a while and discover how much time has passed in the meantime.

You are super focused and can work productively for hours. Everything is going well. You have no sense of time and feel invincible. It is as if you just got your energy kick after exercising. When you have a very good flow.

Flow has also been described as “being fully immersed in a sense of energetic focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity”. Much more has been written about it, with concrete tools to understand more about this type of flow, and even with many tips to help activate that fine state of flow.

This kind of flow certainly falls into the “cool” category.

But I want to talk about a different kind of flow. The flow that you can sometimes feel in your life for a longer period of time, as if you are on the right track with how things are going at that moment in terms of relationships, family and/or work & income. With this kind of flow, it is not the case that all days are or should be perfect; you can have off-days and unproductive days, but on the whole, you do feel something that you could describe as being in flow. In general, things are going well for you. Of course there are things here and there that could be better or that would make you even more satisfied, but you have very little to complain about. That kind of flow is what I want to talk about today.

That kind of flow is what I am writing about in this article, from the perspective of the three survival mechanisms, and I want to share my experience with that this year. By the way: as far as I am concerned, this is systemic research in progress, so all your questions, doubts and additions are welcome.

Firstly, I want to briefly explain my starting point when it comes to the survival mechanisms and how they together can form a long-term experience of flow.

The unity or group conscience is a mechanism that allows us to act consciously. It is the domain of the will and the plans. It is the domain of setting goals, having ambitions and knowing what you want from life. Incidentally, this is also the domain of opinions and judgments, so from this conscience you would “judge” whether the flow is “cool” or “a prison”.

The system conscience is an unconscious mechanism that can be referred to as the domain of patterns, the “that’s how we do it here” domain. Often unconsciously, this mechanism has shaped us all, from our family history and from our youth, to be who we are. Whether we liked it or not, we learned all kinds of patterns that helped us get to where we are today. So this is also the domain of “this is what I am good at”. It is also the domain where we find unconscious promises and tasks. For example, doing the study program that your father or mother did not have access to, making sure that a child no longer has to suffer because you have seen children suffer too often in your environment, or because you were such a child yourself.

Hellinger called this evolutionary mechanism the Geist or Spirit mind; it is the domain of the greater whole, of life on earth, of the life that continues to develop without abandon. It is the domain of what life wants from you. Of your destination, your purpose, your path in life. People can sometimes feel that they are in the service of the next generations. As if they are being called upon by future potential in the here and now.

It is also the domain from where major events and wake-up calls can come your way, which are an immediate game changer. It confronts you with the fact that how things went so far, what you did up to now, or how you did it, is over or is passing. With the fact that something else may be expected of you in the future than what you give or do now.

And when you dare to face that, dare to acknowledge that, it will take you to a temporary no-man’s land. Where the old can increasingly be let go of and where the new can emerge. However, nobody tells you how long this will take to take shape. You are in the hands of the Not Knowing.

You can also ask yourself, for example, what the mechanism is where something like “my mission” comes from. Is it 1: the will/plans, 2: the system/systems that unconsciously put and keep me on that mission, or 3: future generations or something that feels like your life’s mission? Or is it the combination of all three…?

My guess is that when the ingredients in your life match with what you want and feel is important, with what you are good at and perhaps what is expected from your background and what your destination is, then THAT gives you the feeling of FLOW. That things are exactly right as they are (and again, that does not mean that you are cheerful and happy every day, but overall, you are well and you are in good shape).

I think it feels even more like flow when that interaction is active and not static. When you feel both that you can freely use your potential, and that you are just overreaching a bit, so that you grow and develop and it does not become monotonous.

Now, let me take you to my experience, to illustrate my point of “cool” or “prison”. If you had asked me how I was doing in February of this year (2020), the answer would have been something like: very good. I am very busy, but I am doing really great things and I am happy to do them. I learn and develop a lot. I also have enough time for my husband and children. And I’ve also learned to have some mindful moments for myself every day. I am happy to be able to exercise regularly. Actually, all is very well.

Oh, and the Bert Hellinger Institute is doing well too. Too well perhaps, 2020 is fully booked, but yes, you cannot complain about that as an entrepreneur ?

So: don’t change a thing, Bar, you’ve got it all!

And Then Came COVID. And after the first few weeks of “crisis management,” it just hit me, STOP. Those huge concrete blocks that are used to completely close off roads, they were put in front of me. It didn’t feel bad, I didn’t have to cry; it didn’t feel good, I wasn’t in the mood to laugh; I just didn’t know how I was doing. It turned out to be the start of a period of reflection. What does life really want from me?

Exploring what that resistance was related to, allowed me reach into the system conscience and clarify some of my deepest patterns.

And after regaining peace and solidity, all kinds of questions emerged from the personal conscience. How hard do I actually want to work? How much do I want to be available for my husband and our children? If I want to look back on a ‘good’ life later, what should it look like? Of all the activities that are part of ‘my work’, which ones make me shine the most? That led to a number of decisions such as working ‘part-time’, having the nanny come one day less per week, musing about playing golf with my husband or walking with a girlfriend on Fridays, etc.

And when I talked about this to my colleague Sandra, our office manager, I suddenly said: “To be honest, that beautiful flow from before COVID was a prison!”

And then she suddenly said: “The same was true for the BHI and for us at the office! We were really in a nice flow, we were all clear about our roles, about who was responsible for what. We worked hard and laughed hard. But I now realize that because of the constant growth and demand for certain training courses, we were guided in a certain direction which stopped us from doing other things that are important.”

So at an organizational level, flow (say a state of “effortless success”) can also be a prison…

And you may have experienced something similar as a result of the lockdown. The lockdown is one example of the evolutionary mechanism, which can have the effect of a wake-up call or game changer for you. Many other developments and events can have the effect of STOP, and bring about a period of reflection. Incidentally, the STOP can also come from your personal conscience. When you realize yourself that you no longer want things the way they are, or that your surroundings hold up a mirror to you. It doesn’t always have to be something “big” to start a period of reflection.

By the way, if you want to investigate your flow with regard to the three mechanisms, go to Bibi Schreuder’s online workshop on October 31, 2020.


Barbara Hoogenboom
October 2020

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People are constantly evolving. With each other, without each other. In families, in teams, in organizations. Systemic thinking makes us aware of the “why” of our being and doing. Organizational and family constellations create room for movement. The BHI provides courses, workshops and training programs in the field of systemic work, constellations, leadership and coaching. This is how we contribute to the development of people, organizations and society.

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