The following is excerpted from Living In Flow: The Science of Synchronicity by Sky Nelson-Isaacs, published by North Atlantic Books.
It’s late at night, and I’m in my bathing suit, headed to the hot tub. I am with a team of people who have come together at a rural retreat center to design a mobile phone app over the course of a weekend. A friend intercepts me in the middle of a courtyard to tell me the hot tub has an “out of order” sign on it, and I moan with disappointment. A complete stranger is standing nearby in the dark, presumably a guest from one of the other groups sharing the retreat center with us. He overhears our conversation about the hot tub and suggests I should come join his meeting. They are having social time and would enjoy the company. It’s an unexpected and unusual offer, so I am intrigued. I debate the situation internally a bit before deciding to do it. I change out of my bathing suit and head to the social hall.
I chat with a number of folks sitting in a loose circle, sharing information about my research into flow and synchronicity, and enjoying myself. At the end of the night, only a few of us are still awake, and I find myself talking to a man named Michael. From what others have told me, he is sort of the patriarch of this group. As we talk, he becomes interested in my research and tells me he has a background in physics. He mentions the possibility that I could come speak for a professional association he is part of. We finally head to our cabins for bed, and I find myself very glad for the redirection away from the hot tub and into a very interesting evening.
A month later my good friend Janet from the National Speakers Association calls me from out of the blue. It turns out she and Michael are both on the board of a professional consultants association, and they need a substitute speaker for the following month’s meeting. Earlier that week Michael had mentioned my name to her, to which she had replied, “You know Sky too?” It was a done deal.
A month after that I speak to their group, and it proves to be an important event on my own professional path. I make some meaningful new business contacts, I meet a professional designer who offers to help me enhance my slideshow, and I capture great footage of my talk. How was I to know that a broken hot tub would lead to these valuable developments in my career? In fact, I learned later that the hot tub had actually been fixed, but the “out of order” sign had been left in place by accident!
The LORRAX Process
My experience with the hot tub reflects a pattern I think we can cultivate. Jaworski encourages us to listen to the nature of things that are unfolding and then to “create dreams, visions, and stories that we sense at our center want to happen.”
To see this process more clearly, let’s break my experience down into the following steps: Listen, Open, Reflect, Release, Act, Repeat (X), or LORRAX. (See figure 4.) This cycle of steps can be useful in navigating quick, spontaneous decisions like the one where I decided to adapt to the broken hot tub and join the other group’s meeting. It can apply equally well to long-term decisions extending over many months. Synchronicities are meaningful events that seem to defy chance.
The LORRAX process optimizes our likelihood of noticing synchronicity when it pops up unexpectedly. When we follow it, we are more likely to get into flow.
The process starts with listening. In the story of the broken hot tub, I was standing in the cold (it was November!) and was quite disappointed to find out that the hot tub wasn’t working. When a random stranger spoke up about switching gears to come socialize with his group, my normal state of mind would be to ignore this information. Who is this person? What do they have to do with me? I might naturally disregard his comment as irrelevant. The first step to getting into flow is to listen for exactly this type of unexpected information. Useful guidance may come from all sorts of places, not just from places of authority (like the retreat organizers telling us the official social schedule) but also from the humblest of sources (like participants in other groups inviting me to join them). To be able to catch synchronicity and get into flow, we have to be able to notice the unexpected opportunities, the calls to a bigger life.
FIGURE 4. The LORRAX process helps us get into flow by fostering both the receptivity to listen to our circumstances and the assertiveness to take action.
But useful information, by its nature, often conflicts with the status quo. If we only listened to information that matched our expectations, we wouldn’t learn anything new. Hence, in order to catch an unexpected opportunity, we may need to open our minds to what the information tells us. Listening isn’t enough if we have automatic reactions that keep us from digesting new facts. When I received the invitation to socialize, I was standing in the cold in my bathing suit and a towel. The idea of changing back into my clothes and being extroverted was totally different from the relaxing experience I had expected to have. Instead, I wanted to go back to my room and quietly read a book. Yet I decided to remain open and think to myself, Maybe. So as I stood there in the courtyard in the cold, I had already performed two steps in the process: I’d listened to the invitation and opened to the possibility.
The next steps are to reflect on the situation and release expectations. While I changed my clothes, I was still undecided. I thought about how urgent the task of networking had become in my work. I knew from past experience that every opportunity to talk to people about my work was useful because it gave me practice at explaining what I was doing and sometimes even led to further opportunities. I also reflected on the absurdity of the situation. Why was the hot tub broken that particular night?
Why had the man directed his statement right at me and not at the other person I was with? It seemed almost like a setup. How could I not go see what might be there for me? By reflecting on these factors I became more clear that it was a good idea to follow the opportunity.
Yet I also had an attachment to what I wanted to do. I was still getting over the disappointment about the hot tub, and I just wanted to relax. In order to reflect with an open mind on the situation I had to release my attachment to what I wanted to do. While I did want to relax quietly in my room, even more than that I wanted to make new connections that would move my work forward. To follow that possibility, I had to let go of my momentary wish for comfort and surrender to the flow.
Finally I was ready to act. I put on my jacket and went to the social hall. Being a person of action is highly valued in today’s business environment, yet without the first three steps to inform our actions, we are likely to miss the potential for synchronicity. The first three steps allow us to see more clearly what the opportunity at hand is and what might be done to enhance it. This makes our choice of action more effective. If we don’t align with circumstances, we are just imposing our will onto the world and very likely causing problems in the process. The purpose of the LORRAX process is to bring a balance of both receptivity and assertiveness to our decision-making process, or what I think of as a balance of feminine and masculine or yin and yang approaches. It is a dance of aligning with circumstances at the same time as we bring circumstances into alignment with us. We can’t just listen, and we can’t just act. Both are required.
The X in LORRAX is a reminder that life is an endless cycle of these steps. We are always at some place in the cycle. At any time we might be faced with surprising or disappointing information, like a random invitation in a dark courtyard. Ann McMaster calls these specific moments that shake us up “lifeshocks.” The lifeshock may be an offhanded comment by a colleague that ruffles our feathers, or learning that our company is going through a major organizational change. It could be our spouse saying they need us to watch the kids on a night when we have a regular get-together with friends, or it could be our child telling us they were teased at school today. Lifeshocks such as these can pull us off our emotional center without us even knowing it. Half an hour later we may find ourselves wondering why our mood is suddenly in a funk.
By listening, opening, reflecting, releasing, acting, and repeating over and over again, I was eventually led to meeting Michael and then to a speaking engagement a few months down the road. Lifeshocks like this can often come in the form of obstacles, like the broken hot tub. Seeing obstacles from the right perspective and following the LORRAX process can help us get into the experience of flow. The transition from listening to opening to reflecting to acting may take place in a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month, or longer. We can go through the process many times a day for small issues, and we might also have instances where the cycle unfolds over many years.
The cosmos is responsive, and we can be responsive too. In the old paradigm, too often our leaders in business or politics are dead set on their perspectives, so their actions don’t get into sync with the situation as it unfolds. When we barrel through obstacles or rigidly hold onto a perspective, we may do unintended damage along the way. Flow allows us to navigate obstacles in a manner that has the most synergy with everyone involved.