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Changes of season are often

when columnist Cristina Peterson experiences the seeming elasticity of time in what’s known as “flow state.”

Clouds shroud the mountains and then descend to the east, cloaking the High Desert in a welcomed overcast sky.

Humidity increases until the collection of moisture drops as the first Fall rain; real rain giving the ground it’s only soaking in months, tamping down summer’s dust. Rabbitbrush glows golden, and the fragrance of sage fills the air, the land refreshed by the long-awaited showers.

After so many hot, dry days, the shift in weather feels stark. Autumn appears near, but the sun still radiates heat between the storms.

In the alpine, the wind carries the clouds in and out of the peaks.

Precipitation vacillates between liquid and frozen states, needling into exposed skin unaccustomed to the cold after months of warmth. Snow dusts the details of rocky terrain, accentuating the sheer relief of steep slopes. This suddenly makes winter feel near, and summer like a distant memory, despite spending many days longing for this weather to arrive.

The seasons become condensed and the year feels short.

The perplexing elasticity of time becomes apparent in these moments.

Time also expands and contracts during spans of worry or moments of bliss. I experience this phenomenon in life and on adventures in the outdoors. In conditions that bring on a lot of discomfort or at extreme exhaustion, minutes might feel like hours, but when I’m feeling good, time goes by in a snap.

I experience this most profoundly in the flow state, which has been described as when focus becomes singular, time becomes distorted, often passing quickly without notice, and an activity feels effortless.

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Some of my most memorable times in the outdoors have been during these shifts in weather conditions either because I was challenged to persevere despite discomfort or because I was performing at a peak.

The precipitation in Central Oregon renews the firmness in the tread of trails, making it easier to move over the ground. There’s extra energy in my step that I can put toward going farther and faster. The cooler temperatures allow me to work harder while running or executing climbing moves before feeling depleted or overheated. When I recall moments of being in the flow state, it is often during these seasonal transitions. Maybe it’s from enjoying the fitness built over the summer months or the excitement of winter thawing into spring that allows me to be “in the zone” and makes time feel irrelevant for me.

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Three Sisters Wilderness appears gray during a September storm.

Finding this state of mind can lead to optimal performance physically and mentally. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi began research on this topic decades ago in the 1970s and others have continued to explore this state of being since then. The Flow Research Collective has many resources online. Additionally, positive psychology has incorporated research about the flow state in journals and online websites.

External variables certainly contribute to reaching the flow state and being completely absorbed in the present moment. But there are also methods that when practiced can help anyone achieve flow more easily whether it’s while running, climbing, skiing, writing, reading or knitting. Flow state can be felt indoors or out, while doing work or being engaged in hobbies. Like most things in life, achieving the flow state won’t just happen without practice or committing some attention to the task.

Suggestions for reaching flow state include focusing attention by removing distractions, identifying a clear goal for the session or activity, and engaging in activities where the challenge matches or is just slightly higher than the current skill level.

Marking time is a human construct after all. People measure things in order to better understand them. But sometimes the measurements don’t align with how we perceive time, whether it’s from moment to moment or from one season to the next.

Recalling time in the past gives it a different dimension. Reflect back on how the previous few months felt, fast, slow, or a combination depending on both internal and external conditions. Overall, the quality of time or experience matters more than the summation of minutes or seconds. As the weather shifts, take advantage of the sunshine, be prepared for the storms, refine your focus and find the flow state.

Time may fall away, but the experiences will be memorable.

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Outdoors writer Cristina Peterson

is an avid climber and trail runner.

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