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Photo by Elisha Terada on Unsplash

Flow… but not the kind you immediately think of

Here’s a mind bender that will put some much-needed awe back into your otherwise normal day: all of the reality we know — all that we can perceive, imagine or dream — if broken down to its constituent parts, is nothing more than energy.  Waves and particles, but mostly open space.   We all “know” this, of course.  But we rarely stop to think about it.

Everything from the desk you’re at to the computer you’re banging on to you yourself; waves, particles and open space.  But if that’s not enough, try to imagine the tune that all those particles and waves are dancing to.  Who — or what — in the hell is conducting this symphony?  And how!?

Here you have two choices.  A kind of “red pill / blue pill” option: you can close off to “all that fucking woo”; because the boss is a jack-off and these goddamn bills and traffic sucks… and Trump!

Or, you can completely open yourself to that question and realize the no one has ANY. FUCKING. CLUE. what holds all of this together.

Think about that over your first cup of Joe today.  What’s keeping the waves and particles that are “you” from just flying completely the fuck apart right now?  That thought alone makes me wanna go deadlift 500 lbs just for the hell of it.  Energy moving energy.  Waves and particle moving waves and particles.  Holy shit!

Constructal Theory

Constructal Theory (actually, a law) states that any and all living systems try to maximize the transportation of important things, such as fuel or water, from one place to another.  This act of moving raw material from one place to another, of maximizing the usefulness of that material, is known (in context of Constructal Theory) as flow.

The same principle holds for man-made designs as well.  That is, those creations we as consumers consider “high quality”; functional, durable, and stylish designs of all manner.   Automobile engines and cooling systems, for example.  UPS delivery logistics.  Computer code.  Skyscrapers and luxury liners.

Although there is correlation that we’ll discuss below, for now let’s not confuse this Constructal Theory “flow” with the heightened state of consciousness kind of “flow state” that we are more familiar with.  Constructal flow is more about life’s constant thwarting of the entropic forces of nature.

And yeah, I’m sure you can already see where this “flow thing” is ultimately going.  But let’s tap the breaks on that for just a moment and discuss the entropic thwarting kind of flow.

All living things have to successfully navigate the natural (overcome?) the entropic force of nature.  The fact is that sandcastles and beaver dams, for instance, don’t just arise from their own accord.  Something has to “will” them into being.  And then the question becomes, what is the common nature of that “will”?

I would argue that the act of creation is what broadly defines “consciousness”.   There are different planes, qualities and timelines of consciousness appropriate for different beings and stages of life.  However, all of life is in a symphony of either becoming or decaying;  nothing is settled — at least, not for long.  And so the act of opposing the force of entropy is, in my mind, as good a definition of consciousness as any.

The myths, odes, and religions that have anchored mankind in his bewildering cosmos since he first began to ask “who am I; who are we?” all have baked within them this idea of life being the counter of the entropic force of decay and destruction.  Hinduism, for example, recognizes the deities Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (that that maintains), and Shiva (the destroyer).  In fact, I’ve circled this topic prior, in: Of Shiva, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.


Dr. Adrian Bejan: How Cooling Laptops Led to Constructal Theory

Personal Development, 101

So what can we learn from constructal law to help improve our own lives?

Well, how about “When movement stops, life ends,” for starters.

No matter where we find ourselves, resting on our laurels sooner or later equals doom.  We have to keep evolving, always striving to innovate and redefine ourselves and our environment.

Or in the words of one of my formative coaches, Mike Robbins:

“Your either progressin’ or regressin’.  Ain’t nobody standin’ still.”

That’s west Texas football logic.  Without knowing it, coach Robbins had a firm grasp of Constructal Theory.

Systems that increase flow become more productive. So the more dynamic you become, the more prosperous you’ll be.  This doesn’t mean busy for the sake of being busy.  It means being laser-focused on those few things that will move the needle, consistently.   Remember, we are resisting the entropic forces (frenetic energy) that would conspire to tear down the sandcastle.

Inaction interrupts this flow. If no mediatory steps are taken, pressure builds, stagnation sets in, and the system eventually sputters and dies. The idea is to not let important problems go for too long. Keep things moving. Don’t wallow in sorrow or despair after suffering a setback.  Get thrown on your ass?  Get back on the horse as fast as possible.

Increasing flow is what sustains both organisms and man-made devices.  Stagnation kills them.

And, too, you’ll want to free yourself as much as you can. The freer you are, the more dynamic you’ll be.  Freedom and flow are not only good for design, they’re essential for one’s psychological health, too.

If you look at the themes that are trending now, you’ll notice a move toward freedom and flow.  Decentralization of all things from money to farms to schools and communities.  The minimalist movement.  Digital nomadism.  The gig economy has been poo-pooed by traditional, conglomerate interests.  But is more freedom really so bad for the individual?

Constructal Law and strength / body comp training

You can no more out-train a shitty diet than you can biohack your way to swole.  Mother Nature is not that easily outmaneuvered, though man, in his infinite hubris, continues to think he can pull off that trick.

Training is a simple game of return on investment.  No different than any other endeavor or field of study you can think of.  That some are “genetically gifted” and others “hardgainers” is a simple Bell distribution with extreme outliers on either end of that distribution.

Champion athletes (and physiques) are selected from those at the genetic extreme who also put in the dedicated long hours of hard work.

And at the other end of the extreme, NO amount of dedicated hard work will allow the genetically “deficient” to reach a level of proficiency, much less that of a champion.  That’s just the hard reality of life.
Not everyone gets a medal.

That said though, everybody can – no matter their genetic hand – be made into a better version of their prior selves if they so choose.  I’ve never seen anyone not become a better physical (and mental, emotional, etc.) version of themselves after putting in the work.

In real life, everyone can strive for and attain a level of self satisfaction and confidence, though not everyone is guaranteed a podium finish, no matter the amount of effort invested.

Deception of the “deserved”

This podcast from my good friends at IHMC with exercise physiologist Keith Baar is spectacular.

Spectacular, that is, until we get about 45 minutes in, and Dr. Baar begins to opine on how “established” athletes should train.

I encourage you to listen to that portion of the podcast (actually, listen to the whole thing!) but especially though that section as it pertains to the idea of flow that we’re discussing here.

What Baar describes here is training to maintain, to “not to get hurt”.

Now, while I agree that everyone should train in a smart fashion, weighing risk vs outcome, nobody – not even the established athlete – can take their foot off the gas, rest on their laurels, and hope to remain competitive.  That’s just not realistic.

As the sage coach Robbins said: You’re either progressin’ or regressin’.  Ain’t no one standin’ still.

Now, some sports (and some positions within sports) lean much more heavily on technical skill as opposed to raw athletic ability. And, as such, the training for such positions can naturally be of a lesser risk-to-reward ratio and still position the athlete to remain competitive among his peers.  How much does a championship golfer need to power clean?  Does a championship golfer even need to power clean?  You get the idea.

But what about a starting collegiate running back?  What about a starting professional running back?  Unlike professors, athletes do not gain tenure.  There’s always a hungry backup on your heels, more than ready to step into your position should you slip.  Not to mention the opposing team that’s training night and day to defeat you. That’s the reality of competitive sports.

Competition, like nature, does not give a skinny rat’s ass for anyone’s notion of tenure, of what’s deserved.  Success comes to the most competent and the best suited.  Those with the best combination of strength, adaptability, skill, wisdom and yes, luck. Mother Nature could give a shit about what you or others think you “deserve”.

So when it comes to training athletes — those clawing their way to the top, and those already at the top of the mountain — I have to give the nod to Westside’s Louie Simmons.  Because there are ways to avoid the injuries Baar speaks of while continuing to improve.  It’s called conjugate training.  And it’s what forms the basis of what I call my wave and weave training, the form of conjugate training that I personally employ.

Both of these systems are designed, by constantly varying intensity and methods, to work with the body’s natural flow and rhythm to produce continual improvement.

Because I may no longer have the next up-and-coming strong safety nipping at my heels, but I am in a tug-o’-war with age. Training simply to maintain just ain’t gonna get it done.  At least not by my standards.

That other kind of flow: the Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi kind

So if it is the pull of all conscious systems to evolve toward the most efficient means of transferring energy and resources from one place to another in an effort to thwart the natural entropic force of nature (or Shiva nature, as it were), then it would make sense that we — as individual parts of the great “consciousness” would be compelled to act accordingly.

As above, so below.

Those flow states then are simply those moments when we are acting in our true natures.  When our actions are in alignment with the “great consciousness”.  Feel free to put whatever religious or spiritual spin on “great consciousness” that you like.

What we know widely as the “flow state” is the natural state of in-tune beings operating as they should within the environment.

Another story for another time perhaps, but we as humans are unique in that we have freedom of choice woven into our consciousness.  That is, we are not compelled by the nature of our form and place to act in accordance with our form and place.   A jaguar for instance just is, and lives a life of flow without choice — at least, choice as we know it — in the matter.

This is why all great creation myths contain an “out of Eden” story.  Because along with human consciousness comes free will, the ability to choose.  And the ability to self-reflect.

Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world –


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