“We don’t have to wait for someone to stumble or bumble into it, and go ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in this magical, ineffable place. Lightning struck.’ This was like, ‘How do we build a Tesla coil and make lightning strike on demand.’” – Jamie Wheal
Learn how to maximize your potential and tap into your whole mind. The Unbeatable Mind system is Mark Divine’s integrated developmental system, and you need to start learning how it works today. Sign up for the Unbeatable Mind online seminar at unbeatablemind.com/webinar on Thursday, January 17th.
Dr. Parsley’s sleep remedy was designed to help Navy SEALs to overcome some of the sleep challenges that they have as hard-charging individuals. Doc Parsley believes that proper sleep and recovery is absolutely essential to maintain our ability to perform at a high level. His sleep “cocktail” includes a number of supplements to provide our bodies with chemicals naturally produced by the brain to encourage sleep. Commander Divine is a huge fan and encourages members his tribe to try it out for themselves. Enter “unbeatablemind” at the checkout on www.docparsley.com to get 10% off.
Jamie Wheal (#jamiewheal) is an expert on the flow state, is the Executive Director of the Flow Genome Project and a leading expert on the neuro-physiology of human performance. He has also consulted with the military, Red Bull and professional sports teams, as well as Google and other companies. With Stephen Kotler, he co-authored the book “Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work.” Today he talks with Mark about achieving peak performance and flow state.
- Aikido is one of the best martial arts for both philosophy and enlightenment
- There is a difference between “symptomatic” – or “hacked” flow – and “causal” flow, which is a product of work
- Flow is a process of neurobiology and neurochemistry
Hear how Jamie and the Flow Genome Project are working to make the flow state clear and accessible for all of us, so that we can all find a way to work at our peak abilities.
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The podcast recently brought you an interview with one of the most accomplished neuroscientists in the world, Dr. Andrew Huberman of Stanford’s Huberman Labs. He joined Mark to discuss not only Qualia Mind but the entire field of nootropics in general.
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Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. This is Mark Divine. Thank you so much for joining me today.
I’ve got my good friend Jamie Wheal here from the Flow Genome project. We’re gonna have a very, very, very interesting conversation.
Before I introduce Jamie in a little more detail I’d like to let you know that we’ve completely revamped our world-class Unbeatable Mind online training. This is where it all started in 2012, and I’ve gone back and completely redone all of the training videos, all the practices, and rewritten the entire content. And that program is launching in January. So, check out the information on this page for a special offer from my team. It is awesome guys you’re not going to want to miss it.
And it can come packaged with our new three-day Unbeatable Mind academy experience. Which will be run in March and September of 2019. That will become our marquee event from here on out. You’re not gonna want to miss it. Thank you so much for your support.
Now I’ve got a lot of notes here on Jamie, but I’m gonna riff because I know Jamie: We’ve done a podcast in the past with your buddy Steve. You are the director of the Flow Genome project which we’re going to have to explain what it is – or you’re have to explain what that is. The author of an unbelievable book called “Stealing Fire.” love it. Highly recommend it to everybody.
And generally an all-around integrated, Unbeatable Mind type of guy. Who loves skiing. Who’s got an awesome family. Who’s fit. Who… Basically he’s the whole package. And I know you’re gonna tell me you’ve got some gaps and weaknesses. We all do. But…
So, I want to talk about you – like how you got your start. And your inspirations and also let’s talk about flow.
So, thanks for being here. Super-appreciate it.
Jamie: Yeah, stoked to be here Mark. Thanks.
Mark: Yeah. So, I always like to start out just generally… Like, where’d you come from like who is Jamie… Are you from this planet even…?
Jamie: Not the first time that’s been asked. Funnily enough, I mean our worlds – as different as they are – there’s a lot of overlap. So, my mother was South African and grew up in sort of old-school, merchant ivory, colonial south Africa.
Jamie: But British South African. My father’s family moved there after World War 2. So, that’s where they met. And then he went back and he was accepted to Cambridge University. And he applied to the royal naval flight school.
Mark: No kidding.
Jamie: And the royal naval flight school was a two percent acceptance rate…
Mark: Was he with the RAF?
Jamie: Royal navy. And he became the chief test pilot on all the sea carrier trials for the harrier.
Mark: Right on.
Jamie: And so, that was my growing up. Was somewhere between the Great Santini and Top Gun…
Mark: So, you grew up in Britain?
Jamie: Well, grew up in England and then I transferred here because as you may remember from way back in the day – in the early to mid-70s a lot of us marines were killing themselves trying to fly the harriers. So, we got transferred to Virginia Beach and…
Mark: So, was the harrier originally a British innovation?
Mark: Oh wow. Interesting. A contribution to modern military might.
Jamie: (laughing) within the last century. How about that?
Mark: How about that? That’s killer. I throw the SAS in that too, because they’re pretty badass.
Ok, so, yeah your dad came over to help teach the marines how to fly harriers.
Jamie: Yeah, and then he transferred to the US Naval test pilot school – Pax River – and was made an honorary member of Annapolis class of ’63 whatever… Would go up to all the football games.
Like being groomed to actually go to Annapolis, and do the US Naval thing.
Mark: No kidding.
Jamie: And I was in a bit of a pickle, because I’m like there’s only two positions in the US Navy I’d take. One would be a test pilot, and the other would be a SEAL. And this was obviously ’80, so it was way before everything blew up in insane ways.
And then I met my dear woman who said, “You’re not going to go to the military or be a lawyer. You should go and be a teacher.
Mark: I could see that happening. Fortunately, I didn’t meet my wife until five years after I was a SEAL already so… But it pretty much ended my career.
Jamie: Yeah and my intention was to say “okay, now what can I do with mountaineering? With surf rescue? With wellness medicine? Can I take on all the things that I would have in the formalized military situation and learn to manage life-on-the-line situations just without someone pointing a gun.
Mark: Interesting. So, what got you into…? Was it just your dad’s lifestyle and his example that got you interested in the special ops kind of mindset? I know pilots and spec ops have a similar mindset – it’s slightly different, but there’s a lot of similarities.
And back in what you study now – accessing flow, and controlling stress and living life like in a really, really rarefied mental state.
Jamie: Yeah, I mean, I was a three-season athlete in college. Playing soccer and tennis and sailing. So, certainly competitive sports was…
Mark: I was soccer and tennis and swimming.
Mark: So, I had the “s” part. Not sailing.
Jamie: I like water sports and So, I always loved that and then started training with national tour leadership school and illness medicine institute and those guys have a very… Somewhere between Mckinsey and Specops they trained a lot of special operations community in technical skills. So, really kind of got a download of that form of best practice. How to go out there and do things on the sharp-end. And keep yourself and other people safe.
Mark: I imagine you went to college…
Mark: Even though you didn’t go to Annapolis, So, where was that?
Jamie: Yeah, I went to Saint Mary’s college in Maryland. That’s a tiny little liberal arts school on a beautiful, sort of historic, colonial campus. And that’s where I was windsurfing.
And then went to grad school in boulder. Because I saw “Jeremiah Johnson” that old Robert Redford movie…
Mark: It’s awesome…
Jamie: Inspired him to like buy Sundance.
Mark: He gets eaten by the bear, right?
Jamie: He almost does, right? And I was like “where the hell are those mountains? I’m going there next.”
And got into ski patrol, and got into big mountains and that kind of stuff. So, yeah, I just went to grad school where I knew I could still play outside.
Mark: Okay. So, you mentioned Jimmy Chin – who’s one of our friends and just absolutely beautifully insane human being. Yeah and I sat on the stage of the Unbeatable Mind summit couple years ago interviewing him about skiing off Everest.
Mark: Do you do that kind of stuff?
Jamie: Well we didn’t ski off…
Mark: Doesn’t have to be Everest, but if we ski off anything that’s pointy and sharp, I’m impressed.
Jamie: Yeah, we actually took the youngest group of Americans ever up to camp 3 on the north face of Everest – So, on the Tibetan side – and then had them actually do a two day meditation solo in these medieval caves facing it. And we were the only humans on the Tibetan side which I don’t think you can do that again – I think we just got incredibly, incredibly lucky…
Mark: That was before the Chinese clamped down.
Jamie: Yeah, yeah. It was just a fluke series of events that let it happen. And I’m forever grateful.
Mark: I’m officially jealous. That sounds really cool. Was it a snow cave or a real cave?
Jamie: They were actual caves that had been used since the middle ages by monks sitting there. And I remember…
Mark: Did you have to use like the Wim Hof breathing method to stay warm?
Jamie: Well we did do that. Actually, it was like Indiana Jones. There was this high altitude monastery – up at like 17,000 feet that had been so high up the Chinese had never found it.
Jamie: And it had hot springs. And it was crazy because…
Mark: How’d you find it? Just hiking by? “Oh, look at that.”
Jamie: Well we were with some amazing like PhD studies and Peace Corps folks that had deep roots and connections. And actually the Tibetan guy that we were with was actually undercover resistance. Tibetan resistance-slash-Yosemite climber and sponsored by marmot. So, he had all the ins.
But we get into these hot springs, and there were snakes coming out of the walls. It was like something out of fucking Indiana Jones. So, at 17,000 feet the only place the snakes could live in Tibet was in the thermals of the hot springs.
And we thought we were tripping.
Mark: Holy cow.
Jamie: “what on earth is going on here?” and it really was snakes.
Mark: What kind of snakes?
Jamie: Fortunately non-venomous. But it was the freakiest… One girl, she looked down and there was this thing coiled around her ankle. And she screamed bloody murder. And I was like, “I can’t. Blame you.”
Mark: (laughing) I would have screamed bloody murder.
Okay that’s fascinating. So, these hot caves, were they inside the monastery? Or did you have to go outside?
Jamie: No, there was a crazy, raging river and the river actually punched straight through the rock. And their story was that Milarepa, one of their realized badasses, had actually redirected the river. And it doesn’t follow like erosion – that’s not how shit happens. The river just goes straight through a mountain and comes out the other side.
And right beside it with these snake filled hot springs.
Yeah, so, lots of fun adventures. And skiing off things. I’m not big on walking back down things that I had to climb.
Mark: Yeah, that’s a pain.
Jamie: I’m a big fan of gravity. Whether it’s with wheels or slidy things.
Mark: I told jimmy I’d do it if I could have a parachute. Cause I’m okay parachuting off of things, but I’m not sure I trust myself to turn my skis downhill when it’s like a 90 degree slope.
Jamie: Yeah, and those are… It’s that Samuel Johnson thing of like there’s nothing like the prospect of being hung in the morning to clear one’s mind. So, having immediate consequences and having strong bodily sensations, g-forces that kind of thing, and being in spectacular and dynamic environments. Whether its mountains or oceans. Those are three of the biggest flow triggers around.
Mark: Right. And I was just gonna say… So, that’s what probably got you in. Or so, it was your own experiences of accessing stillness and flow that got you interested in the whole subject to begin with probably.
Jamie: Or more backwards from that. I mean, you probably know Mark Twight as well, right? Jim jones… And how he trains… 300 and all the superheroes…
Mark: Did a great job training those guys man.
Jamie: He did. And most folks don’t know that actually his real claim to fame was he was one of the most progressive and aggressive mixed snow and ice climbers of the 80s and 90s.
Mark: Well he was out in Jackson with Rob Wolff… Those guys taught a lot of the climbers or kept them in shape.
Jamie: Yeah and he used to write in climbing magazine. And I’m at this was when I was an angry young man in college and grad school.
And he would always have this phrase. He would talk about how all mountaineers have it. And I would imagine probably some of the team guys do as well… Which is the idea of feeding the rat.
When you’re down in town on your fucking doing dishes and buying groceries, the rat just starts gnawing at you. You have to go and do the thing. You have to go and feed the rat. Mark: Yeah, the average SEAL has about two weeks before they got to get up and go. And jump into some nasty firefight.
Jamie: So, for me it was just finding ways to feed the rat. There was nothing pretty or Zen about it. I was an angry young man who was at war with the world. And the only place I found moments of quiet and calm were having thrashed myself to the brink of extinction. And then being grateful to come back home.
Mark: I love that about extreme sports, because it allows aggressive – like you said angry – I would say agitated young men and women who really can’t possibly sit in the yoga class or sit in meditation, you know? For all their good intentions – it’s a complete fail for them.
Mark: But you can find that same level of access to the surreal or the sublime through staring down the barrel of a gun for a SEAL, or staring down the face of a cliff in extreme sports.
Flow and Psychedelics
Mark: Fascinating. So, what was…? Before we get into like flow and theory and all that cause that… We don’t want to put anyone to sleep just yet. Not that we’re going to.
But what were some of the most interesting experiences you had besides Tibet? Like you got to write a book about that one. Just period. Or at least a chapter, come on.
Or take me there. We’d probably have to break a few laws – Chinese laws – and maybe sit in jail for a while.
But what were some of the most interesting things that you experienced in your career as an extreme athlete?
Jamie: Well, I mean, obviously compared to the likes of jimmy and the rest of the folks that are really at the top of this community, I would say I was just a sincere enthusiast.
Jamie: But that said – I mean honestly, the most profound experiences of my life have been combining beautiful, wild, natural places with psychedelics, and people I care about. And hiking into natural hot springs. Climbing some gorgeous peak and being up on the continental divide… Being in the middle of British Columbia in an old growth forest…
Mark: You wouldn’t necessarily combine the psychedelics with the extreme athletic part aside from being there…
Jamie: A hundred percent you can. In fact that’s basically… Psychedelics, big nature, sex and action sports are really the hat-trick of accelerated development. Now that said…
Mark: What if you did them all at the same time?
Jamie: You can. It starts being something a little bit like juggling flaming chainsaws on a unicycle, but it’s a shit-pile of fun if you can pull it off and stick the landings.
So, yeah, I mean my experience on that – and by the way for those of you playing along at home – huge caution. Don’t do stupid shit.
Mark: Right. Bottom-line. Read the fine print. Don’t do stupid shit.
Jamie: Read the fine print and if you are interested in combining highly embodied action sports, back off your max thresholds. So, start this museum dose – I max dosages – which is not quite micro-dosing, but not quite heroic dosing.
And then play within your zone of comfort. And if you do it right you can actually… There’s a whole underground community actually, of winged suiters, base jumpers, extreme skiers, all these things.
Mark: Are you saying a micro-dose of the sport? Or a micro dose of the…
Jamie: I would say don’t bother with a micro-dose unless you’re just interested in that. If really want to get the full-body sensation…
Mark: Yeah, don’t do that until you’ve mastered the physical act.
Jamie: Yeah. But then pick a meso-dose. Pick an IMAX dose and then engage your body. And allow that heightened kinesthetic awareness that tends to come with a psychedelic experience. And your connection to the natural environment that you’re in to really get full fucking Taoist on it. And experience the nature of the dots.
Mark: I have to ask you… Have you ever experienced the same thing you’ve experienced in a psychedelic experience without psychedelics?
Mark: Yeah so have I. I’ve had some incredibly trippy experiences that had nothing to do with drugs. Yeah cause I haven’t done drugs since… Forever.
Although ayahuasca nipping at my ear. The mother plant is calling to me. It’s probably the first time I said that publicly, but…
So, when I was in the SEALs, I was in Guam, and at the end of deployment. And been meditating every day. And doing our operations. And I was just and I’d had… Well I guess I wouldn’t call beer “psychedelic,” but I had a few beers.
And I was walking home and it’s just thick, thick jungle and walking back to my little cabin and I was just in this like incredibly open, receptive… I was in a flow state, for sure. Like really peaceful. I had this like radical opening as I was walking through the jungle. And it was only like maybe a few hundred yards, but I remember running my hand along this tree. It was like a rubber tree it’s like petting it, saying hi to it… Who knows what was going through my mind at the time…
Except not much. I was just purely open. And I felt and I’m 100% certain that the tree grasped my hand. I mean if I were to go back in time… I don’t know if I would have seen the leaf wrap around my hand, but I felt it. And I felt the tree say hello to me.
That was a psychedelic experience. And I hadn’t touched any drugs in 20 years. Pretty cool.
So, what we thought what would you say was going on there?
Jamie: A brief bit of nature mysticism, right? I mean and a nice encounter with a living system. Which at least for a moment you dropped the boundaries of separate self and felt yourself to be a part of. And yeeha and amen.
Mark: Right. We would say hooyah in the SEALs.
Yeah, pretty interesting. I know a lot of SEALs have those experiences… Now, since we’re on it, I’ll tell you another one. A friend of mine was in Mazar Sharif… I don’t know if I said that right… Anyways there was – I told the story a few times but never on air – there was a big gun battle there. Because this CIA guy named Nicky Spain I think was his name had been captured. He was also dead, but we didn’t know it. And so, they sent in some Green Berets and the SEAL platoon… Or a couple SEALs were embedded with the Green Berets and they were going to go attack this prison that was basically overrun with Taliban. And they were holding this Nicky Spain guy.
And so anyways this massive firefight ensued. So, there must be like 30 or 40 Taliban and like probably seven or eight green berets and then this one SEAL. Maybe 2.
Anyways my SEAL friend – they got pinned down and my SEAL friend had an experience like I was having, like told you about like he was…
Jamie: In the midst of it?
Mark: In the midst of this firefight. And I want to talk about later how to induce these states, but he induced it. Of course, the intensity of the moment… The danger, the risk. Being out in the mountains of Afghanistan it’s like a nature experience – a little bit high-risk with people shooting at you – but still pretty cool.
And he had a breathing practice and a meditative practice like I did when I was in SEALs. And so, he was able to induce this incredible flow state where time just literally slowed down and he could see literally well before the enemy combatants would take a bead on him – he could see literally them… He can know that he was the target and he could see them moving their weapon up. And all this was happening like real fast in real time, but for him it was like he had hours almost… Or minutes just like a master or neo at the end of “the matrix,” just “here’s the bullet.”
And he was able to literally just single-handedly fight his way in. Taking out dozens of these Taliban. Dozens.
And then he got in and he found Nicky Spain. And the green berets were like “what in the hell is going on here?”
He even describes a dove fluttering up onto the battlefield just next to him, and then flying off.
Isn’t that wild? I mean, of course when he did this tour and when he first told the story to the SEALs leadership they’re like “holy shit,” you know what I mean? “This guy’s gone loony.” but the more he told it, and the more consistent it was, the more they said “oh, you got to go on tour.”
And so he went around and told everyone this story…
Jamie: And the school board validated it right?
Mark: That’s right. And this was many, many years ago. Because that was early in the Afghanistan campaign. So, it’s probably like 2004 or 5. I’m just guessing, maybe 6.
And his was a long line of stories that came out of that Iraq and Afghanistan. Which helped the military finally say “we got to start studying this. Again.”
Because they used to study it.
Jamie: Oh, for sure. They went deep in the 70s.
Mark: They went deep in the 70s with the Trojan horse project, with Stargate. With all these interesting things. Remote viewing.
Jamie: Yeah and I think DARPA has actually been doing that on precognition, right? They did a survey of Afghanistan and Iraqi deployments and when did somebody know there was a need to do these things? And start trying to reverse engineer that skillset.
But your buddy’s experience… I mean it sounds remarkably similar to Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido’s original epiphany. I think it was in World War 2. But he had that… He had breakdown bullet time, could see little pip flashes of white light before the bullets came. And he was basically just wandering through it all, completely ahead of unfolding linear time. And that was part of his turn to saying “hey, warriors for universal peace is the next progression. And what we might best do with these with these skills and with these experiences.”
Mark: Honor his contribution – aikido. I’ve studied aikido a bit and I’m actually toying with the idea of going back, because it’s such a profound martial art. I wouldn’t even call it a “martial art,” just an art. A world art.
Jamie: Yeah, yeah. I set it down for a little while in my kind of younger years cause I said “well shit man, this isn’t gonna work in the octagon.”
Mark: And to be fair it wouldn’t have worked for me as a SEAL. San Soo Kung Fu, that was good. SCARS.
Jamie: Like quick, close combat, blocky, get the job done.
But as far as form of neuro-kinesthetic programming… Just body movements that shift consciousness I think it’s unparalleled. Particularly with the depth of the embodied philosophy that uncorks it.
Simple but Not Easy
Mark: So, let’s try to kind of break down flow from your perspective, right? So, one of the things that… I’ll make a claim that we teach flow. We teach how to access flow. So, our big four skills which are breath control – working with the breath. Witnessing process – which is our form of clearing the mind, deeply concentrating, and then connecting with your higher sense of self. We call that the witness. That’s the second we don’t call that skill, we call it positivity, which was interesting a catch term for basically controlling your mind and emotions. And learning how to still them when you need to so you can radically focus. So, that’s the second skill.
The third is imagery. Using imagery in a future and past state right? To create a gravitational pull toward a future and to release an energetic…
Jamie: So, you like deliberately reformatting past memories as well as visualizing things to come.
Mark: Creating a new future memory. That hasn’t existed yet. So, that’s how we use visualization. Which opens portals to the future. And does all sorts of cool things.
And then the last is a radical task orientation on the immediate thing. And only that thing yeah that you need to do right now to lead you toward mission success.
All of these take a long time to train, but I’ve been training them with the SEAL candidates starting with the SEAL candidates back in ’07. And you may have heard, like 90% of the guys that I’ve been training have been getting through SEAL training. And making it look easy. And I say it’s because instead of talking about these skills, we’re training them.
And when you train them and they begin to work together as a unified whole, then all of a sudden it creates this experience that we call whole mind. Or integration.
And when you access whole mind or integration, then the experience is one of flow.
Now I’ve read “Stealing Fire” and so, I want to turn this back over to you. All of the other things you talk about – like the conditions, riding the edge, and skill and practice, nature, psychedelics, sex… All these things that create peak states are triggers.
But what we train is someone to be able to access it independently, consciously, and to stay in it.
Mark: And any time they fall out, they recognize it. And then they reactivate the skills and they go back in it. Which is really cool. I don’t know why I went off on that little soliloquy… It’s almost like I was teaching a course there for a moment.
Jamie: Well no I mean I think cause…
Mark: I guess I’m a trainer by heart.
Jamie: Yeah, there we go, right? It seems pretty much useless to learn anything if you’re not stoked to share it right?
So, my sense is a) I think what you’re doing is beautifully comprehensive and sort of deceptively complex.
Mark: For sure. It is deceptively complex.
Jamie: And a lot of people…
Mark: That’s why we say “it seems simple, but it’s not easy.”
Jamie: Yeah exactly. Yeah 100%. “This was all really simple.” fucking hard.
Mark: Takes a lifetime to do it well, right? With mastery.
Jamie: And what we’re talking about – like especially in the world of biohackers and stacks and tips and tricks and shortcuts – people are looking to how do I get “symptomatic flow?” how do I catch a contact high? The fleeting state experience?
Now what I hear you describing and certainly where we really choose to take our stand is in “causal flow.” what happens when you align your whole self in integrity and congruence such that flowy things happen to happen…
Mark: You just described the difference between people deeply committed to training mastery – like an aikido master or student who looks at it as a lifelong journey.
Versus someone who’s looking for a hack. Or a quick fix. Or like you said a “symptomatic” experience.
They really belong together in my humble opinion.
Jamie: Yeah, ideally you ladder up. You get better at stringing together the state experiences. And then rather than having your center of gravity return back to your waking state, hungry ghost, inner critic – blah blee blah – you then start spending more and more time in no-self. Allowing yourself to be lived by the moment. And then you only notice when you drop out of it. To your earlier points.
So, the awareness goes from “oh I’m in it. Oh shit now that just kicked me out of it. But I go chase it again.”
To “I’m actually in it and not thinking about it most of the time. And I only notice when I take a gut punch, or a shot to the kidneys. And I get doubled over.”
And then Bruce Lee’s idea. That idea we never fight from form. We don’t ever start with ideal conditions. We fight to form. And that becomes the game.
Mark: Right. So, I imagine though… What I love about symptomatic flow is let’s call it a peak experience, peak state… So, the more glimpses you have or experience you have of peak state, they actually act like sign posts or trail markers right?
And so, we can get back there more and more quickly. We know what conditions triggered it. And I imagine every human being’s a little bit different. Like what’s gonna trigger you for flow is going to be different than what triggers me. And that has a lot to do with brain structure and chemical makeup and life experiences and epigenetics and all that.
But sort of like what Ken Wilber says in his integral theory – a peak state doesn’t mean… It doesn’t change you… You have to get that stage of developmental shift where your center of gravity shifts to a new stage of development.
And you can almost claim that the higher stages of development – what he calls the teal level or integral levels – by their nature are… The people who attain that stage of development are in a permanent flow state.
Now the flow states will have different experiences depending upon their depth of let’s say meditation or engagement. But they’re in a permanent state of flow.
So, that’s instructive to me because in order to change a stage right there’s a lot of work involved, a lot of work. Both – like you mentioned shadow – clearing up shadow that’s why we do the work in Unbeatable Mind and that’s probably the thing that holds most people back. Like you can do all the work you want on transcendental… Trying to transform in a vertical level but if you got stuff holding you back in your shadow self it’s always gonna pull you back down.
Jamie: Yeah. 100%. And that can be at the level of like neurophysiology and just straight-up trauma in your system. Or it can be psychological hang-ups and hiccups…
Mark: Or a combination of them both.
Jamie: Yeah. And people who often choose to use rocket fuel indiscriminately. So, they go for the quick and easy state chasing are often trying to outrun…
Mark: Right that has been my only critique of both the extreme sports and the hacking world. Is that it’s too easy to skim the top of the hacks. And the fun. And not do the deep work.
And I don’t know how many of those folks are doing the deep work yet.
Jamie: I think there’s an entire generation of them. That were raised by baby boomers…
Mark: You and me both.
Jamie: Right and so, yeah, the skimming of the cream is an issue, especially these days where on the one hand ecstatic practices, things that get you out of yourself, are more open, available, cheap, democratized than ever.
And on the other hand they’re stripped out of all the lineage traditions. And all of the gates and the filters that used to be in place. Even the Instagram nature of extreme sports these days. And tow-in surfing.
And every asshat with a jet ski can get a go-pro shot of them towing into jaws these days. And they have no business being there.
Mark: And a lot of people are dying aren’t they?
Mark: My friend Andy Stumpf… We did a talk about wingsuit flying, and Michael- who’s here in our audience – one of my teammates is a wingsuit flyer. And how much time he spends in preparation. He did a world-record jump. I think he flew 17 and a half miles or something in a wingsuit.
But like 95% preparation and 5% the jump. And the preparation is mental, and physical, and strategic, and tactical and you know what I mean? Timing, and place, and weather, and route. I mean it’s unbelievable detail.
And people are just thinking “wow that looks cool. I think I’ll go do that.” and like 20 or so were dying a month last time I heard this stat. I don’t know if it’s accurate or true anymore but…
Jamie: Yeah and so, there’s a peak near aspen that’s very famous and photogenic. And a lot of people have been taking selfies and YouTube shots. And 15 people died in may alone just falling off the goddamn thing cause it’s a knife-edge ridge.
Mark: Yosemite happening now too.
Mark: It’s tragic. A couple went up and took a selfie and they were gone. Poof.
Jamie: Yeah and so, that kind of feedback loop where we get to skip the apprenticeship and try and skim the cream. And go for the glory shot.
And that’s happening not just in extreme sports, but it’s also happening in ayahuasca tourism, it’s happening in spiritual development. There’s a lot of people who feel like they can do the equivalent of going to rei and buy a puffy north face jacket and hang out their shingle as a Himalayan guide.
Mark: That’s really interesting you said that, because I have a friend – I use the term with a small “f” who’s like “hey, you know I’ve done a number of Ayahuascas.” and he’s micro-dosing, and he’s doing like all the time. Has become his main practice.
I’m like “okay.”
He goes “I’ll take you on a journey.”
Mark: I’m like “no you won’t.” like, if I ever do it it’s gonna be with a shaman or a master. It’s playing with fire.
But there’s a lot of that going on. Especially where I live. Encinitas,
Southern California is kind of the epicenter it seems of – or probably a few places – maybe aspen maybe out in Wyoming, Jackson…
Jamie: It just feels like the humility of true apprenticeship – whether it’s big mountains or a big oceans – like the watermen… They know the pecking order. And they give respect to the ones who have come before them. And there is a thinning out process where the young and foolish get weeded…
Mark: Don’t go to pass go and don’t collect your $200…
Jamie: Yeah. And they may burn bright briefly but not for long.
Mark: It’s the same the SEALs. It’s just highly structured in the SEALs. 2,000 people put their hand up say, “Yeah, I want to be a SEAL,” because they saw the video games and the movies.
And about… Actually it’s many more than that. So, roughly 1,200 show up at SEAL training every year. And about 185 get through SEAL training and go to a SEAL team. And by the time they deploy that under 185 is down to about 165. And then at the end of the first deployment those who were like “I just wanted to say I was a navy SEAL,” they’re gone. And so, that takes it down probably to about another hundred.
After let’s say four years… So, four years you go from four or five thousand people to a hundred who actually make it into their second deployment. And that’s about when the seasoned vets say “okay, we’ll accept you as a teammate.”
The young guys walking through all this, they got the trident, but they don’t know what they’re doing yet. Dangerous.
Flow Genome Project
So, all that’s very interesting. But really need to talk about the Flow Genome project and how is it that… It seems kind of audacious to try to come up with a genome for what is flow.
So, are you approaching it from a biological/neurological point of view or spiritual or chemical or what…? Or all of the above? You’re looking at all angles?
Jamie: Yeah, I mean funnily enough, everything but the spiritual. And it’s not because we don’t recognize that domain of experience. And it’s not because we haven’t found it central.
Mark: You want to be accepted by the business world.
Jamie: It’s not even that. It’s the idea that… We kind of have a commitment that’s very practical… Which is we remain content neutral. We will give you the instructions and the evidence to conduct reasonable experiments
Mark: And you make whatever meaning you want out of it…
Jamie: Go and see for yourself. And then when you come back… And n equals one you’re your own experiment. So, honor your own serenity. Don’t take anybody’s word, least of all ours. Go gather your own data.
Now when you come back with that data we’ll help you unpack it. Now you’ve got your own, but we haven’t tainted your experiment.
So, said simply, it’s just let the mystery, stay the mystery. Because when you… I mean my experiences of the more people… It’s like jimmy right? I mean that the badder ass the adventure athlete, the humbler they are in the bar. I’m sure that’s true with the team guys too, right?
There’s nothing left to prove because you’ve faced kali more than once and that will take the edges off any of her sons. And so, that’s our experiment… The genome idea is somewhere between the human genome… Actually mapping DNA sequences, which we also do… But also kind of like the Pandora music station, like the music genome. What is the kind of just the essential building blocks?
So, we look at it from everything from the neuroanatomy – what parts of the brain turn on and off and neuro-electricity. What’s firing at what frequencies where. Neuro-chemistry – which hormones and chemicals are going through our bodies and brains. What’s happening with our heart? What’s happening with our posture? What’s happening with our psychology…? Our maps and meaning-making?
So, what is the entire stack that leads us into those interesting terrain. And because we now know that, we don’t have to wait for someone to accidentally stumble or bumble into it and go “oh my gosh. I’m in this magical, ineffable place. Lightning struck.” this was like how do we build a tesla coil and make lightning strike on demand.
And so, that was the real premise. Just demystifying these otherwise mythologized peak states and saying “hey man. This is this is human birthright. And it’s not rocket science. And you can go paint-by-numbers have them.”
Mark: If you want to explain it away as Christ consciousness flowing through you, have at it. I’m just saying that everyone gets to do what they want from their spiritual context, but you don’t want to touch that. Because you want it to be practical, repeatable…
Jamie until I put down my nets and go and become a fisher of men, yeah. I’m holding off on that one as long as possible.
Four Parts of Flow
Mark: So, what have you discovered to be the most interesting aspects…? Let’s talk about what flow is – the flow experience – and then what external and internal things you can stack to trigger or to tap into a flow state.
Jamie: Sure so, there’s a bunch of different non-ordinary state scales, and rubrics, and things that different researchers and different wisdom traditions have come up with. In “Stealing Fire” we just tried to boil it down. Because anything more than a handful of things, no one remembers.
So, the idea is that flow states are those places where you experience selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness, and richness. And the selflessness is just usually that that inner voice. I think your number two maybe where you said “positivity.” like how do you get to the witness?
Jamie: It’s the absence of the chattering. That fucker. He goes away.
So, that’s the selflessness part. And we just tend to be super-absorbed in the thing at hand.
The timelessness is minutes seem like hours, hours seem like minutes. But it’s definitely not rational linear clock time.
Effortlessness tends to be “this fulfills me in ways I didn’t know I could be fulfilled. And I cannot wait to do it again.”
Mark: And it seemed easy or looked easy to the outsider, observer.
Jamie: Yeah, there was a there was a degree of ease, and or precision, and or elevation of skillset that I don’t normally have access to.
Mark: Yeah, the term shibumi comes to mind. “Effortless perfection.” it’s a Japanese term that happens in mastery.
Jamie: Yeah. I mean basically… If you’re looking to track this back through history it’s the monastic traditions and the martial traditions are the folks that went deepest on this stuff.
And the final one is richness, which tends to be heightened information, and inspiration because you’re often connecting a lot of dots.
So, a working definition, particularly – and this is one we actually first floated with DEVGRU out at Virginia Beach, but it was the idea of… Because they didn’t want… I knew they wouldn’t want a fluffy definition of flow. So, we’re like “look, it’s basically extreme situational awareness. Plus hyper-ergonomics. So, you’re paying… You’re hyper-aware, as your buddy was, noticing who’s taking a bead on him – that whole thing. So, rather than being tunnel focused, you’re a high bandwidth. And therefore your frame rate and your decision-making is through the roof. And then the hyper ergonomics is just the alignment, the efficiency between intention and action is very nearly perfect, with very little voltage drop.
So, it’s like Bruce Lee’s one-inch punch. It’s that kind of idea. So, for me that’s a very pragmatic, kind of concrete description of what feels like.
Mark: The second piece can only come through training, right? And so, there’s really no hack for hyper-ergonomic alignment, I don’t think.
Jamie: No, I mean you might get lucky and do the napoleon dynamite on the dance floor. But you’re probably not gonna be able to repeat that. And again – I mean not sound like grumpy old man and “get those kids off our lawn” right?
But fucking millennials man. I mean like there’s the lack of discipline. And the willingness to skim the cream. And the emphasis on social media validation over ditch-digging. And over humble long term path to mastery.
Mark: You probably connect this dot in the book but the repetition and training that leads to that hyper-state of what you call it ergonomic alignment?
Jamie: Just hyper-ergonomics.
Mark: What a cool term. Fancy. I like that. Make’s you sound smart all of a sudden.
Jamie: “I’m just sitting the shit out of my Herman Miller chair, man. Just look at me.”
Mark: Anyways the repetition and training – like for us learning how to shoot or parachute jump, and then putting all these diverse skills together. That’s what leads over time to the ability to have a hyper-state of awareness, because you don’t have to think anymore. Yeah you don’t have to get into that rationale “hey, what step comes next.”
It’s like back to your dad… To be a test pilot you gotta not think about 99% of what you’ve learned when things go wrong.
Jamie: Yeah, it’s like that old Archilochus quote “you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to your training.”
Jamie: And get that shit in like annexed in your body. In long-term muscle memory. Such that cognition doesn’t shit the bed in the high stakes.
Mark: Right. Now you’ve studied what happens in the brain from a neurotransmitter standpoint. Are you suggesting that different neurotransmitters are triggered for different types of flow state or differ activities?
Jamie: I mean, I wish we were that far along. To get to that kind of… My assumption, if I jump ahead to what do I imagine researchers will be figuring out five to ten years from now?
It will be that there’s no such thing as flow unilaterally. That was a messy, sloppy term for a whole bunch of things, right?
Mark: Right. I’m kind of agreeing with you right now. It’s a fun term.
Jamie: It’s a fun but fuzzy term.
Mark: It’s like meditation or even leadership.
Jamie: The more you look at it, the squishier the edges get. And that it’s probably more like a heat map and that there will be different combinations for different genetic, epigenetic, environmental and sort of objectives. And so, those will all be unique.
But we will see… There is a general zip code. And in general it’s in the opposite direction of high waking beta-wave neuroelectric activity. Generally away from hyper-focused prefrontal cortical activities – So, our kind of executive function or waking self. It’s generally not involving – now this is actually interesting. Now I’m gonna have to really slow down, because it does involve cortisol. It does involve norepinephrine.
It does involve stress hormones. There’s an arousal stage. It actually involves… At least some of our research most recently is showing it’s also involving not cardiac coherence. So, cardiac coherence goes down.
Because basically you’re juicing to do the thing. So, it’s different than meditative states.
Mark: Yeah. This is where the training comes in. The SEAL has to get juiced to go jump out of the airplane.
But at the same time he’s controlling the effects of the neurotransmitters from that stress response. And inducing the brainwave patterns for the flow to occur with the heightened state of arousal. Which is mind-numbing to think about. If you can unpack that from yeah a physical…
Jamie: Yeah, and I think the best analogy I’ve come across – and this showed up in some of our – in fact Mike Gervais whose performance psych for Seattle Seahawks and he also did the project Stratos jump with Randy Walsh and the Red Bull guys right?
So, they were doing some fascinating studies on cardiac coherence and realizing well what’s the winning combo for an elite athlete? And what they realized is there wasn’t winning combo. It was more like the best humans – as far as peak performers – are actually more like a well-tuned downhill mountain bike shock.
So, you want lots of travel to take big hits on your fork – or you think about a motorcycle if you’re not familiar with bikes right? So, you want lots of travel that can take a big hit.
But you also want good dampening and rebound so that it doesn’t become a pogo stick and buck you off on the back.
So, you want range, and you want the ability to take in energy and dissipate energy while maintaining traction. And so it’s a dynamic thing in both directions. With the outcome of do your wheels stay on the ground? Can you steer the thing through it all?
And that to me feels like one of the more helpful metaphors for it. To think it through.
Mark: Man, this is fascinating. So, we only have a few minutes left, because we’re at a time crunch at the Unbeatable Mind summit here in Carlsbad. But from a listener standpoint who’s like “oh this is all very interesting philosophy and theory, Jamie. What can you tell me like right now, when I shall stop driving my car or while I’m driving my car…? How can I be better at flow?”
Jamie: Sure, well people ask us that more than once and we typically say “if you want more flow, forget about flow. And learn to struggle more gracefully, and recover more deeply.”
So, basically struggle gracefully… In basketball it’s the pick-and-roll you come across a six foot seven guy in the paint, you don’t go through him, you go around him.
Reach for the brass ring, but do it gracefully. Don’t do it recklessly.
Jamie: Yes. Right. And don’t give up, because it’s through the clouds, not beneath the clouds that the sun shines.
So, learn to struggle more gracefully. And then also learn to recover more deeply. And that means sleep, rest, movement, hydration. It also means in this day and age – leave your phone in the kitchen. Don’t take it to your bedroom. Don’t be online on the plane. Read a book. Simple things that just let our nervous systems recover and get back to zero. Because from zero…
Mark: Train our brain to be in an alpha-state. Where it’s comfortable there. As opposed to uncomfortable. Like “oh my god. I got to pick up my phone. There’s something dinging me.” Jamie: Exactly and then don’t fetishize someplace you’re not. Like a flow state. Like open your eyes. Look around. Be kind. Enjoy. Smell the flowers. All the basics.
Mark: Could actually make the argument that flow is our normal state that we’ve kind of forgotten. We’ve gotten away from. We’re disconnected from it. We’ve fallen from it.
So, awakening can be essentially coming back to your true self. Now that might sound kind of metaphysical, but that’s been my experience. Waking is very much of a biological, psychological, neurological experience. Right?
And when you wake up and start getting out of that little monkey mind – that little bastard you call him. I think you called him an asshole or something like that. But I agree with you. He’s a real bugger.
But once you get out of that, and you can then at will engage the thinker, but disengage and be a witness then it’s like coming home. It’s the experience that I’ve had. And that’s flow, I think. That’s one definition for me.
Jamie: Yeah. 100%
Mark: Coming home and being whole again.
Jamie: Yeah that’s a mighty fine thing.
Mark: Nice. This has been a real pleasure and an honor, Jamie. Thank you so much. Look forward to many more and hearing your speech here at the Unbeatable Mind summit. And we really appreciate you being here.
Jamie: For sure, man.
Mark: And I look forward to skiing with you out at Powder Mountain.
Jamie: Let’s get some turns in.
Mark: Let’s do that. Thanks sir.
Oh, silly me… So, jay where can listeners find out more about Flow Genome and the work you’re doing?
Jamie: Yeah, you’re welcome just check out flowgenomeproject.com is our website. We’re on Facebook under flowgenome. And if you want to check out “Stealing Fire” if nothing else there’s 15,000 words of endnotes and resources. And find that shit on Amazon.
Mark: Okay. “Stealing Fire” is a great book. Highly recommend it. And I can’t wait to see the flow dojo. I’ve been reading about that. So, maybe a wanderlust, I’ll see the flow dojo and you can take me for a spin.
Jamie: For sure.
Mark: I’ll do some aikido hanging upside down or something. I don’t even know what you’re gonna do, but it sounds awesome.
Jamie: Dogs and cats, living together.
Mark: Thanks very much, again.
All right folks. thank you so much for joining us that was Jamie Wheal coming at you from the Unbeatable Mind summit here in Carlsbad. Don’t forget to check out the new Unbeatable Mind online, so you can begin to train to access flow on-demand.
See you next time.
This is Mark Divine.
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