Commentary: The best solution to life’s challenges is to stop thinking and just swim
For 20 years, University of Chicago author, psychologist, and researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PhD, studied happiness and the psychology of optimal experience. He wanted to know what contributes to people feeling deep enjoyment for extended periods of time. His investigations revealed that what makes life genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow.
Through hundreds of interviews, he discovered that flow was experienced by those who became absorbed in whatever enjoyable activity they were participating in. Attitude, perception, belief, positive thinking, and the desire and tenacity to make life interesting and meaningful are integral ingredients of flow.
Csikszentmihalyi writes, “We all know individuals who can transform hopeless situations into challenges to be overcome, just through the force of their personalities. This ability to persevere despite obstacles and setbacks is the quality people most admire in others.”
When he was 11 years old, Louis Camuti had typhoid fever. His parents both worked and he had to take care of himself despite his sickly condition. Bedridden, it was the company of his cat, the purring and the warmth of its body, that helped him recover. It was this childhood experience that inspired Camuti to dedicate his life to the health and welfare of cats.
Simple activities can be experienced as flow. Things like reading, writing, playing, hiking, cooking, working, gardening, volunteering, dancing, swimming can become more fulfilling if we are immersed in what we are doing. But sometimes we let the mind get in the way, and we begin to think about unpleasant and upsetting things, and suddenly what was fun is now just a task.
Author and philosopher Alan Watts told a story about a fish that lived in the great ocean and one day he did something very dangerous, he began to think he was sinking. Even though he had been swimming in the expanse of water for his entire life, he was suddenly filled with fear at how wide and deep the ocean was. The more he thought about it, the deeper he sank.
In desperation, he screamed out to the ocean to help him to stop sinking. The ocean spoke, “The problem is in your mind. You believe you are in danger and you are unnecessarily making yourself afraid. Stop thinking and just swim!” Suddenly, the fish understood and he began to swim, like he had thousands of times before.
We don’t need to do something pioneering like Louis Camuti did to experience flow and deep fulfillment. The key is to let yourself be very present and to fully enjoy whatever you are doing.
Louis Camuti wrote, “Love of animals is a universal impulse, a common ground on which all of us may meet. By loving and understanding animals, perhaps we humans shall come to understand each other.”
Camuti’s was the first veterinarian in the United States to dedicate his practice to exclusively treat cats. He made thousands of house calls in New York City for over 60 years.
The Dr. Louis J. Camuti Memorial Fund at Cornell University of Veterinary Medicine, honors his pioneering commitment to the health and welfare of cats.
Upcoming event: Wednesday, April 18th, Alcantara Vineyard Fundraiser for the Verde Valley Humane Society. Wine, food, and music to raise money to build a new puppy play area and puppy kennels. Tickets are available at www.verdevalleyhumanesociety.org
John Tamiazzo, PhD, is the executive director of the Verde Valley Humane Society.