Jiro Taylor is a surfer and performance coach based down in Manly, on the northern beaches of Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of Flowstate Adventure – a coaching and retreat business focused on the intersection of mind training, outdoor adventure and full potential living. Flowstate runs workshops, private coaching and adventure retreats designed to guide people toward re-connection with themselves and the natural world. Jiro spends most if his time exploring the coast of Australia, surfing and coaching clients to higher levels of performance.
Join us for a chat with Jiro about surfing, life, science and flow.
Feature image by Matt Hutton.
Hey Jiro, where are you at the moment?
Right now Im in bed in my van, somewhere in the middle of nowhere in country Victoria, Australia, about an hour away from where I start a meditation retreat tomorrow morning. I just drove 10 hours straight from Manly, where I live. The last few months I’ve been on a whirlwind adventure of learning and self-exploration.. and surfing.
Have you had any good waves lately?
Yeah I’ve had a lot of fun waves lately, as I was living in my van up around Byron Bay for a few weeks. There were no big swells but I scored a fun sessions at Tallows, broken head and Lennox point. I always have3 or 4 board in the van. This time I have a 5’4 Channel Islands sperm whale- the board Dane Reynolds shaped… my normal shortboard and the long board, which didn’t get much playtime. Lately I’ve been loving riding the thruster, even on days where I might usually take a fish or something fat. I guess when you get a board dialled, you want to ride it whatever the waves are doing.
Your business, Flowstate Adventure is pretty special. What was the inspiration behind the vision? Can you tell us about the journey so far?
Yeah I’ve been a surfer all of my adult life. Surfing and snowboarding has pretty much shaped large parts of my life- where I’ve lived, choices I have made, friends I have. I have also been into eastern philosophy and meditation for all that time, since I lived in Japan back in the day and was first introduced to Zen Buddhism. I always knew there was this connection between surfing and meditation, but I couldn’t articulate it until much later- but it was clear that both pursuits gave me space in my head and helped me feel more connected. A few years ago I started reading psychology books and came across the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He is pretty much the Daddy when it comes to flow state research. Flow, he defined as a state of optimal consciousness, in which people perform and feel their best. He “discovered” in the 1970’s that people immersed in activity, in a single-minded flow of action, performed at their peak, were more creative and were much more likely have happy and fulfilled lives. His discovery was more about putting into a scientific, testable, provable paradigm what Zen monks, Taoist philosophers and Indian Yogis have been banging on about for centuries. Reading about Flow led me on a flurry of research and discovery on neuroscience, anthropology, philosophy, quantum physics, the psychology of learning, emotional intelligence and happiness.
The reason why all of this was so particularly interesting to me was that I had just had the most stressful (but fun) few years of my life, in the corporate world in London and Hong Kong. I was wearing the suit, working in the skyscraper (the sky prison I called it) hanging out with successful, career driven people and living the high life. But it was all one dimensional and felt pretty shallow, so I quit to spend 7 months in Indonesia surfing and then 4 months snowboarding. After that I moved to Manly, Australia and surrounded myself with creative and awesome people and began really looking into flow and mindful living. I thought about the stark contrast between corporate life in a city compared to an adventurous life based on passions and connecting with nature. On one hand I saw a lot of wealthy but unfulfilled people often seeking happiness through job titles, bank balances and property portfolios. On the other hand, I spent time with people who created a life around their passions, people who lived to surf, who consciously had created a life of flow and were content, authentic humans.
Flowstate Adventure was set up just a few months ago as a platform to tie together the themes of outdoor adventure, and training the mind for optimal performance and self-awareness. I really am driven to make a difference in the world, but in a very simple and humble way: by encouraging more people to meditate and play outside. There is no doubt that we are living in a time of great change, and man do we need it. Einstein called the intuitive mind a sacred gift and the thinking mind it’s faithful servant. Its clear to see our society has it the wrong way around. I believe that flipping this around will pretty much sort the world out.
The journey so far has been amazing. We have only recently started up, but once you commit to a path, doors open, you meet people on similar paths and you have the most incredible conversations and synchronistic happenings. Flowstate Adventure has brought together all the things I’m passionate about in life: the search for wisdom, ancient philosophy, modern science, the journey to full potential, the desire to serve and help others, the love of adventure, surfing, snowboarding, free diving and limitless living.
We’re big on flow – in fact I devoted a whole chapter to it in my book. Why do you think people have lost this quintessential element of human nature and how can we get it back?
The way you phrase your question is very interesting. The flow state is such a modern term that some people may think this is about gaining some new ability. But as you indicate, its actually about reclaiming powers that we all have to a degree, but are in danger of losing. Flow is a state that derives from attentional control and focus. It’s easy to imagine our primal ancestors using flow to become the best hunters and foragers they could possibly be. And because flow is an enjoyable state, they would have been motivated to hunt and forage more and more. Flow was a survival mechanism. My view is that much of modern life is the anti-flow. I’m not just talking about technology, 24/7 connection to social media, deadlines, and traffic. The structures our society has in place such as factory-like farms, schools and workplaces, our cultural preference for analysis, judgement and logic over intuition and gut feel has changed us as a species, in my opinion. Added to that you have modern technology, urban living and instant, the internet spreading ideas faster and wider than ever before in our history, as well a modern addiction to stimulus. I heard recently that Darwin’s “survival of the fittest thesis”, is incorrect. More accurate would be “survival of the most cooperative”. But you can see how Darwin’s thesis has probably suited corporations and contributed to shaping a modern cultural obsession for individualism over cooperation, a dog eat dog mentality and a mindset of scarcity and fear. Being a human in the developed world, means being conditioned to a huge extent by our culture, whether we like it or not.
I believe that secret to living a life of flow is the same as the Zen ethos of stripping away what is unnecessary. It is interesting to see a few sub-cultures at the moment all on similar themes. Paleo diets, minimalism, Zen living, Yoga, permaculture, organic produce, living off the land. What is the common theme here? A stripping away of what is not necessary, or what is harmful.
I think its fascinating to consider how indigenous people have been raised without this addiction to the thinking mind, with a completely different level of awareness. I read a book called Original Wisdom about the Sn’goi tribe who have been virtually untouched and live much like they did a thousand years ago. The anthropologist who wrote the book was amazed at their spontaneous joy and affection for each other and connection with each other and their natural habitat. The all had remarkable powers of intuition, powers of telepathy and lived in flow and harmony. It made perfect sense to me- they had not been swamped by the anti-flow, they were free of conditioning, free from the domination of the thinking mind, free as the animals they co-existed with.
So how do we get back this quintessential element of human nature? It’s learning how develop the quality of present moment awareness, and become less dominated by thought. Its a minute to minute, day to day practice of tiny and massive adjustments driven by mindful and aware living. Developing a daily meditation ritual is key. If you keep at it, eventually you reach a state where your subconscious mind is so much a part of your every day decision making existence that your perspective on life radically changes. You start to shift the balance back to what it might have been in more simple times. You empower your intuitive self. With Flowstate Adventure, a lot of what we teach is about how to remove the obstacles to flow.
So there are many ways to strengthen your access to your subconscious mind and widen awareness. On the ultra-scientific end of the spectrum you have things like neuro-feedback training (which is what bio-hackers and the Military special forces use to speed up learning), and on the traditional end of the spectrum you have meditation and mindful living. In between you have all kinds of options like spending time in nature, practicing things that require deep concentration and immersion, creating art and music, slack-lining, juggling, jam sessions, driving a new route home, brushing your teeth with your wrong hand, meditation through movement, Tai Chi, Yoga, Qi Gong, doing activities like surfing, snowboarding or mountain biking that require spontaneous and creative action. The choice is vast. Adventure sports however are a particularly amazing realm for exploring the subconscious and the flow state. There are certain triggers for achieving flow, and surfing hits pretty much all of them… so thats an awesome thing. Surfing can be an activity that gets you in flow. Flow can give you a glimpse of what is possible when accessing the subconscious. Training the mind through meditation can bring this flow into every day life, and in doing so will help you reclaim your primal powers of intuition, rapid thought, inner intelligence and creativity- and also give you some space in which you can grow and the wisdom to know what direction to head.
Many people fail to understand that flow and mindfulness is not at all new-agey or fluffy. What are the benefits of pursuing this kind of lifestyle and acquiring this skill set (if you can call flow and mindfulness a skill set)?
This skill set is about as scientific as its gets. instead of talking about energy, crystals and unicorns we have concepts like neuroplasticity and the reticular activating system. Flow and mindfulness does put an interesting spin on some very esoteric subjects, such as meditation and concepts of the self, but amazingly all these things are being accepted and confirmed by the brightest minds in the scientific and medical communities.
Mindfulness meditation is clear, scientifically proven and effective. We live in a culture which is very thought focused. We are conditioned to judge, discriminate, label, analyse, rationalise and generally think… a lot. 90,000 thoughts a day, 90% the same thoughts as you had yesterday is what the experts are saying. Thought is powerful, if used the right way. But there is a deeper level of intelligence we have that does not come from the thinking mind. Mindfulness and flow both stem from this deeper level of intelligence- our intuitive self and our adventure retreats and workshops are designed to help people access this higher intelligence.
Mindfulness has been around for centuries. Buddha pretty much taught mindfulness. Vipassana meditation is mindfulness. The Gawler foundation, who I have trained with define it as “a style of meditation which involves the self-regulation of attention towards one’s moment-to-moment experience.” By training our mind to become aware of the totality of of present moment experience- the sensations, the feelings as well as the thoughts- we essentially re-wire our brain. Neuro-plasticity is a fairly new scientific discovery that overthrows the previous notion that our brains are fixed and unchanging. Mindfulness meditation is an extremely powerful way to alter the structure and functions of our brain to achieve greater awareness, memory, concentration intuition and many other things.
Flow and mindfulness have similarities but they are not the same. Flow is a state of concentrated awareness- the totality of our awareness is captured by our action-if we are surfing, we may be so intensely focused on the wave that we can not hear our friend hooting us from just meters away, we can not feel the sting of the reef cuts on our feet. We are acting from our subconscious but are so zoned in on the wave that our awareness is deep, but narrow. Mindfulness is a state of total awareness, of everything in our consciousness. We are aware of our thoughts, while being aware of the birds singing and our stomach growling. We are aware of our feelings, the sensations on our skin and the emotions within our body. We are aware of our awareness. Flow gives us a taste of of heightened awareness. It shows us the immense power when we access our subconscious and inner intelligence. Meditation takes it much further, into every corner of our existence. When I talk of inner intelligence I am literally talking about a intelligence within our bodies. Many ancient traditions talk of our heart being the source of our intelligence. Our culture’s mechanistic thought system reduced the heart to a pump and our stomach to a bag. From Yoga many are familiar with Chakra’s, which are energy centres located in our body. Total woo woo, fluffy rubbish to some, but modern science is now confirming that our minds are not located just inside our brains, but spread throughout our bodies. Our heart gives off a powerful magnetic field, much greater than our brains. We have millions of neurons in our stomach areas and heart areas, which explains why we feel gutted, why we get butterflies, why we feel nauseous when nervous, why we feel gratitude, sadness and joy in our hearts and not in our heads.. and why healing and growth can come through adjusting thought patterns and training our minds. Our culture talks about the placebo effect like its a quirky accident, but actually it is healing of the body through the mind, a concept that most Asian minds have little problem dealing with. So through meditation we learn to access this inner network and become more grounded, interconnected, intuitive and powerful beings.
The practical application of flow and mindfulness is immense. I see there being 3 levels. Firstly, these are states of optimal performance, creativity and fun, so you do things better and have a great time while you are at it.
Secondly, developing the qualities required to be mindful and to really experiment with flow means that you pick up a lot of self knowledge along the way. Flow and mindfulness comes about from heightened awareness of the present moment. Developing this sustained awareness means you become very aware of conditioned responses you make in life and can therefore choose whether you want to keep those responses or upgrade them to new responses that are more in line with your personal needs and values. Self-knowledge in this context means becoming acquainted with your essential nature, gaining the ability to see who you really are and therefore being able to create a life of meaning based on this reality. When you learn to separate yourself from the stream of thoughts that shape our conditioning, you raise your consciousness and start to see how so much of what we accept as truth and reality is bullshit. But there is a solid ground of truth though from which we can live our lives. And that is within us all. This is what people mean when they say they “connected” with themselves or found themselves. That breakthrough is about finding that solid ground of truth, and accessing our inner intelligence.
The third benefit is self-mastery. This is the really exciting part to some people, because this is where you can see how to upgrade yourself, mentally and physically. Numerous studies have proven the benefits of meditation and mindfulness on mental and physical health. Training for flow and mindfulness will also dramatically increase your emotional intelligence (EQ). Daniel Goleman is a psychologist who did groundbreaking research into emotional intelligence and found that EQ drives 80% of our success in life, and IQ only 20%. Creativity, drive, tenacity, will-power, the ability to read people and situations- these are all part of what makes up your emotional intelligence. And unlike IQ, your EQ can be exponentially increased through the type of training we offer. Neuroplasticity means we can train our brains, much as we train our muscles. So acquiring the skill set of flow and mindfulness will help you become a higher performing human being, with beefed up powers of intuition, creativity and EQ.
Three books you’d recommend people read?
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the seminal book on the subject of flow
Meditation: An In Depth Guide, by Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson covers everything to know on mindfulness meditation
Original Wisdom by Robert Wolff explores the powerful and primal Sn’goi people he researched in the jungle of Malaysia, who lived in a perpetual state of flow, guided by their intuition.
Also, I would urge people to watch the documentary, The Connection. this is an amazing film exploring the journey modern science has been on from total denial to gradual acceptance, that our minds and bodies are connected, and that we can use our minds to heal ourselves. The next 20 years are going to be mind-blowing as the brightest minds and cutting edge science intersects with spirituality
What can people expect from your Maldives retreat in 2015?
This is going to be an epic adventure, where we surf as much as possible, and explore the art of freediving, as well as yoga and meditation.
Freediving is one of the more amazing things I’ve done. I’m no expert, but I still managed to triple my breath hold with a few days training. That gave me a serious confidence boost in heavier waves. So =there is an obvious application of free dive training to surfing, in the ability to hold breath, stay calm and be comfortable under water. But less obvious is the way in which free diving builds strength of mind and the quality of awareness. There is a reason why meditators from all over the world use the breath as a tool of awareness, and also why most elite freedivers meditate and practice Yoga.. Breath is life, breath is everything. Breath happens in the present moment. Freediving is the aquatic art of achieving all you can on a single breath- It requires Yoda (or Buddha) like abilities of mind-strength to master. I have utmost respect for accomplished freedivers, because they continually confront what holds them back, face fears and transcend them through strength of mind. But on a lighter note, its also just so cool to develop skills that allow you to spend more time underwater, exploring your inner mermaid/merman and seeing some amazing sea-life. So this trip will give an intro into free diving, and I have signed up the legend who trained me in the Gili islands. But first and foremost this is a surf adventure, and when the waves are pumping, we will be on them, pushing performance, getting in flow and having fun.
In a nutshell, if you fancy exploring this paradise archipelago on the best, most kitted out boat in the area. Hanging out with inspiring people. Surfing amazing, tropical reef breaks. Discovering the immense power of freedive training and discovering ways to powerfully increase awareness, mind-control and flow…. then come along.
It’s pretty inspirational creating places and situations for people to discover and uncover deeper realities and find their flow states. Any words of motivation for others trying to create something new or pursue their passion, whether it’s a business, art or something in between.?
I hadn’t thought about it like that yet, but in terms of motivation I have said to several mates already- once you commit to something that is aligned to your passions, cool things happen. So my word of advice would be to spend quality time visioning the dream, make sure its big and bold , and then commit. Also, what I am doing with Flowstate is very much an open source project- I welcome anyone with an interest in consciousness expansion to get involved. So if you are a teacher, surfer, writer, artist, adventurer of any kind and you have an interest in the mind, self-knowledge and adventure, get in touch.. lets do something cool together or just chat about something interesting.
How can people find out more and connect with you?