Flow, Leela and Eastern Religion


The Los Angeles Times recently featured Leela, a new videogame from Deepak Chopra that, according to the game’s product page, “combines ancient relaxation and mediation techniques with technology to bring focus, energy and balance to your life.” The point of the game is “chakra-based meditation. Through seven mediations and movements, Leela helps you focus and connect with specific areas of the body to relax and enter into your personal flow state.”

Chopra’s videogame is the latest in a recent spate of applications – particularly for the iPhone – making available Eastern meditative techniques through modern technology.

What makes Chopra’s game unique (beyond its being developed for a gaming console) is the explicit linking of the game’s goals to flow, a psychological concept created by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi which describes the energized and focused mental state a person can enter when engaged in an activity with clear goals and in which the participant is confident of success.

The Flow Concept is an increasingly important part of positive psychology (or, as Time magazine calls it, “the new science of happiness”), which researchers investigate ways to increase and enhance people’s enjoyment of daily life, engagement in life activities, and association with others. Incorporating the Flow Concept into the workplace has become “the Holy Grail“ for many employers, who want their employees’ primary satisfaction in life to come from their contribution to their companies.

The general psychological principles stated in the Flow Concept are sound: everyone has experienced the old cliche that “time flies when you’re having fun,” and our work is more enjoyable when we can “get into” our activities rather than simply grinding out the time until the end of the workday. The Christian understanding of vocation affirms the value of work, and the pleasure we can experience when fulfilling our calling.

The Flow Concept itself, however, is linked to a very different spiritual understanding of the Eastern religions. Csikszentmihalyi, in explaining applied positive psychology, writes that “the Eightfold Path of Buddhism formulates one of the most influential prescriptions for how an individual can create a good life by mastering attention.” Other specialists in happiness research see “an obvious link between flow and the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, or the kind of attention involved in meditation and yoga. Indeed, Csikszentmihalyi argues that Hatha Yoga in particular is one of the best models to describe what happens when psychic energy is flowing along a single channel of consciousness.”

The growing popularity of the Flow Concept with workplace psychologists and efficiency experts spotlights the need for spiritual discernment in all aspects of our lives. While relatively few people are likely to change their religious perspective due to Deepak Chopra’s new videogame – even with Chopra cloaking his Hindu theories with psychological terminology – it is much easier to a person to find that a seemingly neutral theory like Flow has been the stepping-stone to Eastern religious thought. The Flow Concept, even more than Chopra’s Leela, represents the mainstream absorption of Eastern spiritual concepts into daily Western life.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with developing habits and disciplines to increase our productivity and enhance the enjoyment we experience in our activities. At the same time, however, Christians’ lives are rooted in Christ and flow from our relationship with him; our enjoyment is therefore a gift from God, rather than the result of the Eastern understanding of experiencing oneness through our work – or our videogaming.