On an episode of author Dave Asprey’s podcast Bulletproof Radio (Episode 109), author Steven Kotler described his struggle with Lyme disease which left him crippled for years, and how he used flow states to bring himself back from the brink.
It’s an incredible story and relates somewhat closely to my experience with flow’s effect on Meniere’s disease. Steven was out of options and his doctors were stumped.
The following is an excerpt from the podcast transcript:
I was going to kill myself because all I was going to be from that point on was a burden to my friends and my family. I was not a functioning human being at all. I was lucid for half an hour a day. At the worst point of it, a friend of mine shows up at the front door and says, “We’re going surfing.” I looked at him, I was like, “You’re out of your mind we’re going surfing. I can’t walk across the room. I can’t make it to my kitchen.” “We’re going surfing.”
She wouldn’t shut up and wouldn’t leave. Finally I was like, “You know what? I don’t care. We’ll go surfing today. What is the worst that could happen?” They literally had to walk me to the car. They put me into the car. This was in LA. We went to a place called Sunset Beach which is really like the wimpiest beginner wave in the entire world. It was summer so the waves were even smaller.
The tide was really low. It was a crap day. The waves were two feet high. They gave me a board the size of a Cadillac. The bigger the board, the easier it is to catch a wave. They literally had to walk me out to the break. People had to hold my arms and kind of carry me out to the break.
I got out there. I was at it for about 30 seconds when the wave came. It had been a really long time since I had surfed at that point. Muscle memory seemed to take over. I spun my board, paddled, and I popped up. I popped up into an entirely new dimension. I’m standing on my board and I’ve got near panoramic vision. Time has slowed down and most importantly, I feel great. I feel better than I’ve felt in three years. My muscles don’t hurt. I’m clear headed.
It was astounding, quasi-mystical. I caught four more waves that day. After that, I was so disassembled. They took me home. They put me into bed. People had to bring me food for 14 days. The 15th was the day that I could move again. I got back in my car and I went back to the ocean and I did it again.
Over the course of about six months, when the only thing I was doing differently was surfing, I went from 10% functionality up to about 80%. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. Worse, when I was surfing, I was having these quasi-mystical experiences in the waves. I’m a science guy. I don’t have mystical experiences. Lyme disease, as you know, is only fatal if it gets into your brain.
I was certain that the Lyme had gotten into my brain. Even though I was feeling better, I thought I was losing my mind, and that I was actually dying. It started me on a giant quest to figure out what the hell was going on with me. Very quickly, I realized a couple of things about flow states.
One, they jack up the immune system. All the neurochemicals released in flow amplify the immune system. More importantly, to a guy with a chronic autoimmune condition like Lyme is this; your nervous system is going crazy. Flow resets the nervous system back to zero. It calms it back down. It’s incredibly calm. All the normal stress chemicals in the brain, like cortisol and norepinephrine, get flushed out during a flow state. So the nervous system calms back down, which is why I came back to health.
Very quickly, I started to see the same things. Once I started to get these flow states while surfing, they started to show up when I was writing which was a big deal to me because I could work. I had bankrupted myself during that time to try to cure myself of Lyme. I couldn’t work. There was no way to make money, but suddenly I got into these flow states while writing.
Flow is more like neuroplasticity if anything. You train it. The more flow you have, the more flow you have. The flow I was getting while surfing was helping me get into more flow while writing. Suddenly I went from half an hour a day of writing to four hours a day. I suddenly had a career again and I could begin to fight my way back.
A Remarkable Transformation:
Kotler has since gone on to publish several New York Times bestselling books and continues to run the Flow Genome Project.
In my own experience with flow and its effect on my Meniere’s disease symptoms, I have had several similar occurrences. When I first discovered Kotler’s work, I had been suffering from constant brain fog, dizziness, and vertigo attacks for months. But I was finally starting to get a handle on my symptoms. I was also trying to come up with ideas for the product I mentioned in part 1 of this series.
During my incredible flow experience, my symptoms seemed to evaporate. When I woke up the next day, I no longer felt that lightning bolt of energy, but I didn’t feel bad either. I felt much better than usual, and it lasted for several days. Creativity, it seemed, was my dominant flow trigger. I will cover flow triggers extensively in part 3.
In my years with Meniere’s disease, I have never found anything as powerful as flow states for improving my health and happiness. But it’s not without a price.
Kotler’s research also found that it’s impossible to be in flow all the time. And that flow states can be addictive. Understanding this is an important part of having more flow in your life.
In part 3 of this series, I will teach you, in detail, how to have more flow experiences in your life, while remaining mindful of the possible downsides.