Recently, while playing the piano, it struck me that sometimes (okay, rarely) it feels like I’m suddenly taking flight. I’ll be playing a difficult piece, technically. I know all the notes, but my fingers still have to play them accurately. There’s so much to think about – dynamics, fingering, evenness of striking the keys, emotion – and yet it’s the very effort that gets in the way of playing it well, let alone transcendently.
Taking flight is that point where the effort falls away and everything just becomes easy and free and beautiful. Not by coincidence, that’s when it sounds the best. Usually, as soon as I become aware of the state, it evaporates, like mist in the morning. It’s shy, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny or inquiry or rational thought. A simple, “Hey, this feels great!” is enough to blow it out.
I’ve had this same feeling in spin class. We’ll be sprinting and my muscles are killing me, I can barely catch my breath, it all feels really hard, and then suddenly there’s way more capacity, I’m tingling and feeling really aligned, like I could do this all day long if necessary. Heck, I want to do it all day long, as long as the feeling lasts.
This state, that most of us have accessed however briefly in some way or another – in sports or meditation or a flow state when working – this is something that we all have the capacity for. Different pursuits – playing an instrument, working out – are a form of cross training to show us the huge amount of capacity beyond the barrier. Maybe that’s what pilots feel when they’ve climbed up above the clouds and all you have there is the blue dome of the sky and clouds stretching out like a sea of whipped cream below. That feeling of expansiveness and unbounded possibility.
Experiencing this freedom nurtures our creativity and joy. I’ve read that depression is unexpressed anger, rage, sorrow, or grief. Based on my own history of not allowing myself the time for creative pursuits that feel good, I’m thinking depression could also stem from unexpressed joy.
Thomas Berry makes the point that the human species came along very late in the evolution game because we need the incredible beauty and diversity of the world to give us solace. In the same way, we need these taking flight experiences to get us through the challenges of daily life. We need a storehouse of the joy that comes from doing creative things or whatever it is that makes us feel good. These practices actually help us not just get through the day, but to thrive.