Flow is a term used by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi to describe a state where you are totally immersed in the activity you are engaged in. He describes the mental state of flow as "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost." Flow, also known as Zone, is described as the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Csíkszentmihályi explains it with examples drawn from games like chess, athletics and activities like music and painting. This focused absorption is also the feature in deep meditation and also in ananya bhakthi, the one-pointed devotion to one’s chosen deity.
Bhakthi can be defined as reverential love for God and bhaktha as a person leading a dharmic life who has bhakthi. On the basis of Lord Krishna’s classification of bhakthi in Gita (7-16), we can classify bhakthas into four categories as Aartha bhakthas, Artharthi bhakthas, Jijnasu bhakthas and Jnani Bhakthas. Aartha bhakthas turn to God seriously only when then they are in distress or in trouble. Artharthi bhakthas regularly think of God but always with a plea for a favour, maybe it is fortune, position, fame etc. or for the redressal of some grievance, for themselves or for their loved ones. An Artharthi bhaktha is an Artha bhaktha as well but not the other way round. But both are only sakama bhakthas for whom God is only a means for a material goal.
Unlike these two the Jijnasu bhaktha, who is a seeker of spiritual Jnanam, has a spiritual goal and is a nishkama bhaktha for whom God Himself is the end goal and not any other material means. For a Jijnasu bhaktha, bhakthi is a sadhana to reach his spiritual goal of God-realization and so his bhakthi is called sadhna bhakthi as well. When he realizes that God, the Supreme Self called Paramatma, is in essence his own true Self, Athma, he blossoms into a Jnani bhaktha, and his bhakthi, Jnani bhakthi, is siddha bhakthi, i.e. bhakthi after achieving the goal of Realization and not bhakthi for achieving the goal of Realization. For such a bhaktha all his actions are for God only and the thought of God is always in his mind in the background in all his deeds, words and thoughts. His devotion is so intense that all thoughts, all words, and all deeds are given up unto the Lord, and there is no forgetfulness of God at any time in all his activities. This intensity is the hallmark of ananya bhakthi. When the sadhana bhakthi of a Jijnasu who has no material goal acquires this intensity his bhakthi also qualifies as ananya bhakthi.
According to Csíkszentmihályi, there are ten factors, many or all of which accompany the experience of flow. Those ten factors are:
1) Clear goals, while challenging, still attainable
2) Strong concentration and focused attention
3) The activity is intrinsically rewarding
4) Feeling of serenity; loss of feeling of self-consciousness
5) Timelessness; a distorted sense of time; feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time passing
6) Immediate feedback
7) Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between skill level and the challenge presented
8) Feelings of personal control over the situation and the outcome
9) Lack of awareness of physical needs
10) Complete focus on the activity itself.
In the ananya bhakthi of Jijnasu, we can see these factors present, when we leave out those factors pertaining to material goal. This ananya bhaktha has clear goals of God-realization, which he hopes to achieve not through his efforts alone but through his efforts blessed by God’s Grace. He has chitha ekagratha, which is focused attention of mind on the single subject, i.e.his Ishta devatha. He revels in the very act of bhakthi and is neither conscious of time nor of his own self, when he is immersed in acts of Bhakthi, be it singing, chanting or in satsang. He is totally oblivious of his physical needs and there is complete focus on the activities of devotion.
We can also define this concept of “Flow” and ananya bhakthi using computer terminology. Studies by psychologists have revealed that the amount of information the mind can attend to at any time is only limited to 126 bits. Some bits of this are taken up for the involuntary coding and decoding of vital information essential for the running the autonomic system of the body. Where all the available balance bits are taken up by what one is engaged in, the condition of flow occurs. Same way ananya bhakthi is the state where all the available balance bits are taken up by the act of devotion to God.
Talking of such bhakthas Lord Krishna says in Gita (10-10)
तेषां सततयुक्तानां भजतां प्रीतिपूरर्वकमम्।
ददामि बुद्धियोगं तं येन मामुपयान्ति ते॥
tesam satatayukthanam bhajatham preetipurvakam।
dadami buddhiyogam tam yena mamupayanthi te॥
For those who are always committed to me, seeking me with love, I bless them with the yoga of knowledge through which they reach Me.
He reinforces this assurance more emphatically by clearly spelling out His act of Grace in the next verse (10-11)
तेषामेवानुकम्पार्थम् अहमज्ञानजं तमः।
tesamevanukampartham ahamajnanajam tamah ।
nasayamyatmabhavastho jnanadeepena bhasvatha॥
For them alone I shower my Grace, destroying the darkness born of ignorance through shining the light of knowledge, dwelling in their heart
Any bhaktha when he acquires this “Flow” in his bhakthi and stays with it can reach the spiritual goal of God Realization, irrespective of his past as Lord Krishna assures in Gita 9-30, where he says that even a worst sinner when he turns a new leaf and worships Him with this “Flow” (indicated by the term अनन्यभाक्,ananyabhak), he must be considered as a noble person only.