Flow, Wander

In the last month, with my friend and colleague Quanita Roberson, I’ve been involved in hosting three deliberate Flow Games. Each was to support a different team of 5-6 people in their goals for doing well together. Each game was four hours in duration. Each game was about inviting and invoking a spirit of flow through inquiry and reflection. Wonderful people. Wonderful outcomes.

Flow and wander are cousins to me. First cousins. Direct. Not distant. Flow and wander are also deliberate operational strategies to me. They are both quite significantly utilitarian. They are for being smart together. They are for being wise together. They are for cultivating individual and collective capacity. Though, here’s the catch — if you start with attention on the specifics of a utilitarian outcome, you’re far less likely to find the gold that lays in the river, or on the path.

Why flow and wander are such essential approaches is found, I believe, in their connection with wholeness. We as humans living in the 21st century western world have been rigorously trained to break things into parts. We dissect, literally and figuratively, with desire to understand the parts. We analyze. We seek the quantitative over the qualitative. We seek reliable and repeatable measurement, discounting what can’t be noted in the explicit world. It’s impressive. But only holds its helpfulness when reconnected to an orientation and discipline of wholeness.

“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Yes, this is a truism, often spoken. But sadly, often forgotten in the day to day of human living, working in teams, learning in organizations, and deepening leadership. Too often, hyper vigilance and obsession with speed and efficiency strips us of the unique findings from the “slowing down to speed up” that flow and wander offer.

Flow and wander are a rather deliberate surrender to what arises. Inner and outer. Flow and wander are commitments to the form of intelligence only seen through intuition and associative investment. Individually and collectively entwined in unmistakeable dance. Flow and wander insist on integration of what we know in our heads, hearts, bellies, and spirits. Flow and wander bring us to relationship with life itself, which my teachers have been telling me for years, shift us from command, control, and dominance to kindness, consciousness, harmony, and power with rather than power over.

The rain is falling now. Half the sky is sunny and blue where I sit. Half is grayed, bursting forth with pitter and patter. The sound of falling rain against the backdrop of blue sky intrigues me, compelling me further to wonder, to the flow and wander that will be this day. Here might be the most significant aspect of today’s flow and wander — when I approach today this way (flow and wander as operational strategy), it feels like there is a bit more joy, a bit more magic, and a bit more harmony in living.

Joy, magic, harmony — very utilitarian. Life-giving rather than merely life-enduring. Wonderful outcomes.


A friend recently shared a Margaret Mead story that was told by physician and author Ira Byock.

Margaret Mead, anthropologist, was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones.

But no. Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.

A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts, Mead said.

Civilization grows from caring for each other. Yes. I like that part of the story and history. I would also suggest that caring for each other has many important nuances in today’s culture of groups, teams, and human beings learning to go together.

Caring for each other includes helping to develop imagination together. It includes some wonder. It includes some wander. It includes leaning in to multiple unknowns, not certain of where the paths will lead but compelled to move on.

Caring for each other includes truth telling that goes beyond merely feeling good. It includes saying things out loud to discern what one really believes. It includes counting on the people that we are with to be more that fact checkers, but also thoughtful listeners and thoughtful connectors.

Caring for each other includes following mystery. It includes not just surrendering to an unknown, but rather, commitment to an unknown. I would suggest that there is always more not seen than seen. We need each other to even entertain the experiments that take us beyond personal and collective edges.

Caring for each other includes interrupting patterns. It includes interrupting patterns of toxic devisiveness that pull people away from each others’ long term good at the expense of short term sensations of winning and superiority.

Thighbones. Thighbones healed. It’s the healing that indicates civilization, working together. Feels like time for some important healing in contemporary culture, no? Feels like time to claim and choose civilization.

Michael Dowd on CoVid, Climate, and Compassion

Michael Dowd is theologian and author. He has a lot of language and approach that I quite like about “ecology as theology.” He encourages connection. He preaches and advocates for restored relationship to nature, which eventually lands in “we are nature.”

One of the things that I like most in this 18 minute homily is that in reflecting on CoVid and “abrupt climate change” and other realities of the times, Michael points to a the underlaying emotional need — to come to more of a relationship with our own mortality. Under that, I’d suggest is developing more of a relationship with fear.

This to me is invitation to the deeper learning. So that we humans might grow ourselves with a bit more harmony, and kindness, and consciousness — for whatever the time that we may have living on this planet.

For inspiration.

Now and Then — Hermann Hesse

Where I live in Utah, it is the time of year when these lilies bloom. I think of them as Tiger Lilies. In my yard there is an interesting deep purple mixed with yellow. There is also another that blossoms as gold and red. Flowers still have a way of representing an abundance to me. Growth. Life. Beauty. They call out some of that energy in me.

I’m grateful to Shawna Lemay for her post that includes the Hermann Hesse poem that I’ve copied below. Hesse, was a German writer of the 20th century. I remember stumbling across an old, and quite warn copy of Siddhartha when I was in my early 30s. I read it and reread it, enjoying the awakening that it brought. And Shawna’s thoughtfulness in her posts and photos are often centering to me.

This morning, with lilies doing what lilies do in my yard, a part of me wanted to only post the last piece of Hesse’s poem. To focus only on the new flowers. To focus only on the beauty. Not on the desolate that is this human learning, and not on the exhausted that accompanies surrender and initiation.

Yet, it all goes together. Yes, coming to terms with this holism, and accepting it as it is, as continued journey — well this is what I suppose wise ones of every culture have been pointing us to for centuries.

So, thanks to Hermann Hesse, for not just the nudge to new blessing, but also for the witness that comes from the realness of broken wings.

Now and Then
by Hermann Hesse

Now and then everything feels wrong and desolate,
and sprawling in pain, weak and exhausted,
every effort reverts to grief,
every joy collapses with broken wings.
and our longing listens for distant summons,
aching to receive news filled with joy.

But we still miss bliss
fortunate fates elude from afar.
Now is the time to listen within, 
tend our inner garden mindfully
until new flowers, new blessings can blossom.