Play, Shoot

Finding Flow

April 25, 2014

There is a moment during the very best mountain bike rides when, if you’re lucky, everything goes silent.

The trail narrows and so does your focus. Rocks and roots are coming at you fast. Maybe you’re trying to keep up with your friends or clear an obstacle. Shift now, brake here. Whatever you do, don’t go over that cliff there.

There’s a lot going on and you’re taking it all in but you you are thinking about absolutely none of it.

Call it zen. Call it flow. Call it being in the groove. If you love to ride or climb or ski you’ve felt it. It’s the sharpening of the focus, the quiet amidst the chaos.

I’ve spent years chasing that feeling in some of the most beautiful places on earth. I didn’t expect to find it in a box I picked up at Costco.

Several years ago I was spinning a bit. We were considering having a baby (a process that would end up taking far longer than anticipated) and I was coming to terms with the the inevitable hiatus from some of the things that made me me. My husband commented that I had always liked photography and maybe I should give that a try. A couple hours later picked I up my first DSLR.

That weekend a very big, very high profile, bike race was happening in our town. I flipped through the manual, charged my battery to at least halfway, and headed off to the races. I planted myself in the beer garden amidst the drunk and screaming fans and the incessant clang of cowbells. I picked up the camera, put my eye to the viewfinder, and started snapping. Hours passed. I had no idea what I was doing. It didn’t matter. I was flirting with flow.

The thing about flow is that you don’t realize it’s happening until it’s over. And why would you? The whole point is that in that moment you’re not thinking. You’re doing. You are turning pedals. You are framing shots and pressing buttons. You are stringing words together and hoping they make sense. And after the hours have melted away and you have come back to reality you are thinking about how to find that feeling again. You are a junkie and you need a fix.

I thought about all of this a few days ago after I somehow wasted an entire afternoon shooting the chickens in the lightbox. We live with a rambunctious toddler and two dogs that bark at every opportunity. Our house is rarely quiet but as soon as the camera is pressed to my face I’d never know otherwise. The world outside can be rocking and reeling but in the viewfinder life is always still and silent.

It makes me wonder when else this happens? I know writing can be like that. I assume knitting and painting can get you there too. Maybe it’s the thread that ties all these things together. Maybe mountain biking and cake decorating have more in common than we ever thought.

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