The State of Flow

Leo Jenkins State of Flow Afghanistan Combat Veteran Professional Vagabond

By Leo Jenkins

My early twenties were spent conducting multiple deployments to Afghanistan and to Iraq, serving as a special operations Ranger medic. I spent my time in service assigned to 3rd Ranger Battalion. Some time ago, I was diagnosed with severe post traumatic stress, a direct result of my experiences at war. It took over seven years to be secure enough to admit that fact to myself, let alone write about it.

I hid from the designation with shame. It made me feel weak.

Day in and day out I ran from those demons. I made every effort to drown them with alcohol. Chasing a handful of pills with an entire bottle of whiskey before recklessly driving my motorcycle 100 miles an hour through the city streets was a common occurrence in the months and years after I left the military.

Leo Jenkins State Of Flow US Army Ranger Shoothouse Training If you are unfamiliar as to the role which Rangers play in combat, you can think of them like the Army’s SWAT team. Conducting over one hundred direct action raids in a single three month deployment was not unheard of during the height of the Global War on Terrorism. At the time, I was blissfully unaware of what was occurring to my mind and body psychologically as well as physiologically. On a regular basis our platoon of battle hardened men in their early twenties approached the front door of a terrorist’s home, made as violent an entry as needed and flowed seamlessly from room to room, through smoke and gunfire in search of our high value target.

Leo Jenkins State of Flow US Army Ranger Medic SOFMEDPeople often ask if I was frightened in those moments. I can say with certainty that I was not. The skill to perform the task at hand had been earned through countless hours of diligent practice. There was a clear and concise objective and we possessed the ability to execute at the level necessary to achieve each mission in an almost serene fashion. This was my first personal repetitive exposure to:

 The State of Flow.

Flow, originally named by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is the operational mental state of a person performing an activity, being completely immersed in the feeling of energized focus, maintaining full involvement and absorption in the task at hand. The components include;

1.  Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
2.  Merging of action and awareness
3.  A loss of reflective self-consciousness
4.  A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
5.  A distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered
6.  Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding.

For years, my hard drive has been packed full of lasting traumatic memories, seared deep while in a state of flow. When I drift to sleep at night, I see the mangled dead faces of my past. Every time I awake in the night I feel the sweat of my youth pouring from the pores of my present. I still use caffeine and alcohol to numb a cluster of memories my mind can not differentiate between yesterday and a decade old.

Leo Jenkins State of Flow US Army Ranger Air Assault Fastrope

There is, however, a moment  when I become the essence of who I could have been. The person I strive daily to be. Buoyant salt water bobs me like a cork. On a good day, my hair is still dry as I sit in serenity. The abyss at my feet and my head in the heavens. Floating on an emerald sea, dashed with diamonds.

Leo Jenkins about to Enter the State of Flow US Army Ranger Surfing

I wait. I sit. In patience, with acceptance, and a soft spoken serenity.

For me, this is where the state of flow returns.

The Black Hawk hovers in a similar symphony of an approaching wave. This is what makes me feel alive. The smell of mesopotamia mingles with zinc and salt. The intensity of a memory achieved in a traumatic state of flow is in amalgam with a new memory in a similar state, this time a positive one.

The peak approaches and I’m in position. The countdown in my head is in unforgettable tone of a senior team leader. Burning… five….four….three…two… BOOM! My toes tickle wax. There is no world. There are no hardship. There are no taxes or burdens.. It’s simple here.  In the state of flow.

Leo Jenkins State Of Flow US Army Ranger Getting down with Mother Nature

There is no pain, no hate, no conscious thought, just action. Just nature flexing and you at her whim.

Perhaps every one of those beautiful moments spent in the oceanic state of flow connect with and erase the heavy grey my mind carries. I’m not sure yet. I do know that in nearly a decade since I have left war, it has never left me. Yet somehow, when I am emerged in this state, when I am blessed to feel the heartbeat of the ocean and be carried toward the shore on its pulse I am nothing but the moment. I exist as I have envied for years; simple, unburdened and pure. I exist in a perfect state of flow. Perhaps this is the starting point of my healing. Replacing one traumatic memory established in a state of flow with another, one that is as pure and natural as a human can experience.

Surfing is my State of Flow. Surfing, not the psychotropic drugs the VA pushed on me, nor the copious amounts of whiskey I used to drink, is my therapy.

Tell me... what is your “State of Flow?”
Is it working?

Leo Jenkins Leo Jenkins is a professional wanderer.  Combat Vet, SOF Medic, and author of On Assimilation and Lest We Forget.  

Follow him on Instagram @Leo_Jenkins


  • Valentin Fletes

    Leo, come surf to Hawaii bro, I’ll host you. This short artistic piece of art resonated well with me. RLTW!!!

  • Paul Zyskowski

    Mountain Biking is my flow….

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