What's the best song you have ever heard?
I was recently on a flight back from Melbourne to Perth and I was flicking through the movies available on the QANTAS in flight entertainment system.
Now it is never easy for me to pick a movie or something to watch. I very rarely watch anything at all that doesn’t have some form of learning, true story or documentary aspect to it. Weird I know, but I can’t recall the last time I actually watched a movie that was “junk”.
After flicking aimlessly for minute, I was about to give up and switch back to writing and I found Gurrumul.
It leapt out at me and I really wanted to watch it.
At first I had no clue who Gurrumul was but as the documentary film started I realised I had heard the name before and even heard the music. He was a former member of Yothu Yindi and had been well known in Australian music.
What was about this Aboriginal man that fascinated so many, including me?
The Telegraph summed it up perfectly:
“For anybody who expects aboriginal music to be a carnival of ethnic costumes, didgeridoos and body-painting, Gurrumul might initially seem like an anti-climax. He wears black jeans, a black leather jacket and thick-soled black shoes. Blind from birth, he sits in front of the microphone, impassive and expressionless, until double-bass player Michael Hohnen quietly counts the band in.
Gurrumul deftly plucks some introductory chords on his acoustic guitar – it's conventionally strung as a right-handed instrument, but he plays it left-handed – and starts singing.”
It's the voice that does it. It radiates a yearning, plaintive quality, gentle but somehow dangerously feral. It seems to have blown in across oceans and deserts, over thousands of years. And, in a way, it has because Gurrumul's songs – almost all of them in the native languages of his Yolngu clan – tap into the ancient song cycles he has been steeped in since he was born on Elcho Island off the coast of Australia's Northern Territory.
Rather than the normal pop topics of sex, drugs and shopping, the 38-year-old sings about clouds, wildlife and shared ancestral memories.
I was hooked and you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I watched the documentary about his career unfold.
Legendary American music producer Quincy Jones praised the singer for "one of the most unusual and emotional and musical voices that I've ever heard". It wasn't just Jones – Sting, Elton John and Australian musicians Peter Garrett and Paul Kelly all count themselves among the singer's admirers. In garnering fans like these, Gurrumul sold out venues all over the world, won awards and confounded critics with his wide-ranging success.
One must wonder, how does a blind indigenous man, from the isolated Elcho Island, in Arnhem Land off the coast of the Northern Territory come to be one of the biggest names ever in Australian music history?
How does a man with no sight learn the guitar?
How does he then share this gift with the world in a language unbeknown to most?
With everything up against him his whole life he managed to defy all obstacles and become an inspiration for aboriginal people all over Australia.
As I watched Gurrumul play, write, record and talk about music one thing was so clear, each time he started playing, he was in flow. Music was like lifeblood for Gurrumul and he performed with spirit and soul every time. He reached a state of eternal bliss and his music was coming straight from his soul.
This demonstrates, that when we really live with our true purpose we can get into flow and influence everybody else around us. Gurrumul may never know the powerful impact he had on people all over the world. He sadly passed away aged 46 from organ failure, as a result of Hepatitis B he had been affected by since a young age.
After Mr. Yunupingu’s death, to honor a cultural taboo among Aborigines from northern Australia, many supporters and much of the Australian news media have refrained from publishing photos of his face or using his given names, referring to him instead as Dr. G. Yunupingu.
“In this day of too much noise, Dr. G. Yunupingu showed us that music is a powerful force for reconciliation,”
Mark Grose, managing director of Skinnyfish Music, said at a news conference.
“One of the greatest achievements any of us can have is to touch the hearts of others. And this is what Dr. G. Yunupingu did over and over and over again.”
The inspiring story of Gurrumul made me realise that we can not choose the hand we are dealt in live, we can not control what we don’t have but how we appreciate what we do have and this is the seed of happiness in life.
If a blind man, from a remote Indigenous community with Hepatitis B and barely any spoken English can become an international best selling musician.
What is your excuse for not fulfilling your potential?
During the documentary you can witness how Gurrumul reaches the state of “flow” on so many occasions. Mainly when music is involved. Nonetheless, being able to achieve this state of flow requires a number of factors to align.
We spoke about this in our last post “Energy flows where attention goes”, Gurrumul was very rarely distracted by anything or anyone when he was playing music, he had a true passion for his craft and was always challenged to get better or master his music. He seemed to be in a higher state of being whenever he was around music.
As flow researcher and pioneer Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi exclaims in his research, this flow experience is a state of full engagement, control, concentration and action awareness, occurring during an activity perceived as highly self-rewarding and characterised by clear goals, unambiguous feedback, distortion of time perception, loss of self-consciousness and a balance between challenges and skills required to best perform it. These characteristics of flow are also the nine dimensions this experience is composed of.
Every time Gurrumul played music each of these nine dimensions came together and this is why when he plays music or sings, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and like he is speaking to your soul as you watch and listen. Even without understanding the language used you can feel the power of the story being told.
You won’t understand the profound impact his music has on you until you listen for yourself. His voice is angelic and as described by many of his followers it is like he is telling the story of generations of his people. He represents all of his family and aboriginal culture.
This isn’t and won’t be the first or last time we speak about flow, after all it is Flow Friday!
How can you achieve a state of flow in your life?
The Mindset Manouevre Workshop is the first hands on experience that will educate, engage and empower teachers to work towards experiencing a state of flow in your career. As we mentioned, there are a number of factors that need to align for you to experience flow. Are you aware of a time you have experienced flow in your life before...
Most recognisable is when you were a child, consumed in a sandpit, colouring book, making a treehouse or riding your bike and all of a sudden your parents call out for you to come inside. You had been out there for hours in your own little world experiencing a state of flow. Time stopped still and you were in the moment fully immersed in whatever you were doing.
Why do we speak about flow so much?
Well firstly, today is our day dedicated specifically to flow, secondly flow is one of the powerful tools that helps you fight off stress and burnout.
We want teachers to experience less burnout and stress, getting into flow and loving your profession is a part of our universal mission of being happy and teaching well. Happier and healthier teachers means better relationships and outcomes for students.
When you are in flow, you are present, mindful, passionate, engaged and creative. Being in a state of flow while you teach is going to create the most inspirational, safe, open, honest and positive learning environment for your students. When the students win, we all win!
Imagine having your whole class in flow at once, full immersed in what they were doing as you fill their malleable minds with positivity and knowledge.
Wouldn’t that be the dream? It is possible.
Where do you start with flow for teachers?
Gurrumul used music to find flow, or perhaps he used flow to figure out music? We may never know the answer to that question, but what we do know is music can substantially increase your ability to get into flow.
Now think of a time when you were involved in singing or playing an instrument, or simply listening to music. You will probably remember that time seemed to stop or to accelerate; you were totally concentrated on the music; everything flowed easily and you felt a sense of joy and fulfillment.
Even though not all the above-mentioned conditions are always experienced by all people in every circumstance, when some of them occur, we experience a feeling similar to happiness.
The paradigm of positive psychology emphasises the role well-being plays in human life, the feelings above are considered crucial elements to promoting well-being both in terms of life satisfaction, presence of positive moods and self- actualisation (knowing oneself).
This identifies how listening to your favourite tracks may really improve your well being. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi himself introduced the idea that music and flow are strictly linked, mainly because music can sustain people’s intrinsic motivation, which is one of the main features of flow experience.
How does being in flow make us feel better?
Author of the book “The Rise of Superman,”- Steven Kotler, credits increased performance to a mix of five neurochemicals the brain releases during this state: norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin.
“Motivationally, these five chemicals are the biggest rewards the brain can produce, and flow is one of the only times the brain produces all five simultaneously. This makes the state one of the most pleasurable, meaningful and — literally — addictive experiences available.”
In the flow state, you exhibit increased brain function. It’s easier for you to process data and it leads to deeper thinking, which is vital in the midst of information overload.
Using this information and exploring flow further will significantly improve your teaching and well-being. By getting into flow you can not only switch off from the daily stresses of teaching, you can use this time to become more creative and rediscover some past times that could help you to relax.
After watching Gurrumul and further determining the powerful effects of flow. We would like to share with SMILE Teachers, our 6 steps to getting into flow for teachers:
1- Mindfulness and music
Use your favourite music and when you wake up in the morning or you are first in your classroom put it on. Even if it means getting in a little earlier and having 15 minutes to just jam, sing and set up your room for the day listening to ABBA. This electromagnetic activity will help increase your brain function for the day. If you are already meditating then this is even better.
2. Know your purpose
One absolute requirement for the flow state of mind is a clear sense of purpose. You need to feel an authentic connection to the meaning behind your work to devote yourself to fulfilling it in the moment. Not sure how? Visit our recent blog post "A mysterious word with purpose".
4. Limit external distractions
Turn your phone off or leave it in your bag. “Flow follows focus” is a simple phrase to keep in your back pocket. To get into flow, you need deep focus. That’s why distractions are also the biggest hurdles to creating the flow state in the modern workplace.
5. Screw multitasking and chunk tasks
Instead of peppering your work day with one-off administrative or reactive tasks, chunk responsibilities together by topic. When you’re responding to emails, just respond to emails. When you’re talking to a student, really talk to the student. When you’re laminating, be laminating.
6- Enjoy the ride.
Flow doesn’t just happen because you want it to. Life is a beautiful and miraculous thing in itself. Be grateful for your life as it is. Don’t feel that this state of being called flow is a necessity that you need to survive. It will find you at the right time and you will appreciate it even more. Just enjoy the process.
Finding flow is there for all of us. It can profoundly increase your happiness and well being, which leads to better teaching and smiling faces. That’s why we are all working together to be happy and teach well.
Joining us at our Mindset Manouvere Workshop in Perth and online on October 5th will help you better understand flow by learning how your mindset can be managed to suit any situation. Being on our Teachers Retreat in Bali will certainly have you feeling in flow as you rest, relax and rejuvenate in paradise.