Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Flow verses detachment -- which is the better path to happiness?

Okay can someone square this circle for me?

1. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi -- the world expert on flow -- argues that we are at our happiest when we become fully immersed in what we are doing.
The line between the actor and the act blurs and, in some cases, disappears entirely.
--Eric Weiner in The Geography of Bliss, talking about flow.
2. Buddhists by contrast maintain that contentment is achieved through detachment -- observing rather than engaging.

It would seem to me then that flow and detachment are in some ways OPPOSITES of each other Yet each, in some way, is claiming to be the path to contentment. And it would seem to me that they can't both be correct.

If we dig down a little bit further, it would seem that evidence from the field of happiness research shows that flow indeed is the path to the greatest bliss. By contrast the practice of detachment, does not actually make claims to happiness at all (indeed Buddhists would encourage us to practice non-attachment to happiness as well as sadness). I think people just get confused about what Buddhism is really all about because endless American Buddhists -- parading about on the pages of the Huffington Post Living section and elsewhere -- conflate Buddhism with all sorts of feel-good new age thinking that may or may not have anything to do with actual Buddhism.



Caleb Mardini said...

The Dalai Lama himself has stated that the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness.

maha said...

You are incorrect that Buddhism encourages detachment, although that is a common misperception. The teaching that Buddhists should not "attach" is about crushing me-other, us-them dualities. You can't "attach" to something unless you perceive it as separate from yourself. It is more correct to say that Buddhist practice encourages "no separation," which is the opposite of "detachment." "Flow" is very much what Buddhist realize through meditation. Flow is very Buddhist, in other words.

RFK Action Front said...

Hi Caleb. Thanks for your comment. I don't know enough about the Dalai Lama's positions on things to be able to make a thoughtful reply.

Hi Maha. Your comment is brilliant. Thank you. I apparently have been going to the wrong damn meditation classes. Seriously. I've gone to countless meditation classes that have relentlessly preached detachment (and even detachment from detachment). And I'm like, 'I could have gotten that from Calvinism -- why on earth would I just repeat that madness with Buddhism.'

But then in 1 simple paragraph you cut through a lot of that. I just think a LOT of American Buddhists are just taking whatever they grew up with -- Calvinism, various new age spiritualities, and repackaging those values as Buddhist.

Can you please point me to books and links that are more in tune with your statements about Buddhism (and that can help steer me away from the detached Buddhism I've been experiencing)?

RFK Action Front