This continues from the previous post, where Shinzen Young’s model of core mindfulness practices was expanded into a system of classifying what a human bodymind can do. Here the model is deepened following the process-relational insights that are at the core of Shinzen’s system as well as of other (especially Mahayana and Vajrayana) Buddhist systems, and of the philosophies of A. N. Whitehead and, in some respects, of C. S. Peirce, Gilles Deleuze, and other process-relational thinkers. This part is followed by a concluding segment, found here.


Tweak #2: How a Bodymind Can Be Made to Flow

Here’s where things start to get really interesting. For most Buddhist (including Shinzen’s) and process-relational views, subjectivity and objectivity are not static conditions or “poles” holding up the universe. Rather, they are results — outcomes, however temporary and however ultimately insubstantial — of a less differentiated, more flowing activity, which Shinzen calls flow, and which metaphysical systems like Whitehead’s, Bergson’s, Peirce’s, and Deleuze’s attempt to analyze at a microscopic and/or rigorously conceptual level.

Let’s pause to consider what this term “flow” refers to. Shinzen defines it in part as a phenomenological category that is experienced in a variety of flavors — as expansion and contraction, undulation, vibration, tingliness, percolation, electricity, and so on — and in part as the experience of the ontological fact of impermanence, or anicca (in Pali). Flow is partnered with vanishing, for which Shinzen uses the notational label “Gone” (in the same way that he uses the terms “See,” “Feel,” “Talk,” and so on, as labels for observed activities).

So, on the one hand, “flow” is indicative of the fact that everything passes; on the other, of the ebullient energy of life, i.e. that things continue to arise. This corresponds with the ontology of percolating creativity described so carefully by Whitehead, which I’ve built on to posit that there is a circulatory undulation — a movement between the subjectivation and the objectivation that constitutes every moment or “actual occasion” — which gives rise to all form. If we can learn to pay attention to this movement as it arises, we can get a feel for its many flavors (vibration, expansion-contraction, and so on), and as a result the “subject” and the “object” begin to melt into the very act of becoming.

(Here’s an application of this to my cinematic/ecological ontology, in which what is real is considered to be the dynamic and interactive process by which subjectivity and objectivity — or subjectivation and objectivation — arise relationally in specific events or encounters making up the moment-to-moment self-constitution of an evolving universe. For some further thoughts on the differences between Whiteheadian and Buddhist notions of “flow,” see the “Afterword” in Part 3 of this series.)

When the arisings of subjects and objects come to crystallize around certain formations over time, getting habituated into “grooves” or “channels” dug into the socio-mental landscape through repetition, they come to take the form of (i.e., to look like, to geomorph/ biomorph/ anthropomorph/ etc. as) stable entities such as one’s “self” (seen from within), “the world” (seen from a situated subjective perspective), “selves like me,” “others unlike me,” and everything else that appears to exist, from any perspective.

Each social regime produced over the course of human history digs its channels a little differently, creating different kinds of individual and collective “selves,” in-groups and out-groups, and all manner of entities by which to populate its world. These are, incidentally, analogous to Latour‘s collectives, some of which “mobilize ancestors, lions, fixed stars, and the coagulated blood of sacrifice,” while others “mobilize genetics, zoology, cosmology and hæmatology” (We Have Never Been Modern, 1993, p. 106).

Modern western society has come to producing the kinds of selves and social units most of us inhabit (or think we inhabit) much of the time — rational, self-maximizing “individuals,” nuclear families, more or less sovereign nations, and so on — with a wide latitude for variation in the overall mix. These things aren’t social constructions; what they are is relational productions, made up of matter/mind stuff, i.e. of material and semiotic relations that are fully real in their effects, even if they are ultimately (as Buddhists insist) insubstantial, i.e. empty of self-subsistent being.

Critiquing one’s own social milieu is an important part of one’s liberation from circumstances (and is something this blog often engages in). The goal of mindfulness/meditation practices, however, is to bring oneself into greater contact and resonance with reality — which means to bring one out of the hardened categories we have put in reality’s place, and into the flowing percolation that constitutes both those categories and the category-making process itself, along with everything else.

We are making a leap of faith here: that there is a reality that is more ultimate, or more fundamental, than that which our particular society defines as reality. This isn’t the place to debate realism versus relativism, the existence of universals, and so on; but proceeding with this model requires that we allow for the basic process-relational intuition that the categories that organize our world are rooted in, and arise from, processes which ultimately elude categorization. To say anything about those processes, however, requires that we use words, and the word we will use here, following Shinzen’s approach, is the word Flow.

When we add this category of Flow — the rippling and percolating interactivity that constitutes and produces all things, which is also the elusive but tangible background hum of the universe — we get something that looks like the following.

(I have reversed “In” and “Out” to account for the fact that most first impressions are of the other, not of the self. Introspective retreats “inward” tend to follow immersion in the world. I am also using “Interpretation” interchangeably with “Realization,” though the former suggests more of a process, and the latter more of a result. I will discuss this difference a little later.)


Click here for PDF:



The short version of the chart in the PDF is this:

















(Nondual flow) 







Note/feel external states





Note/feel internal states








Note/feel flow states








Respond externally / Generate external states





Respond internally / Generate internal states










Respond in flow with internal/external world








Conceptualize external states






Conceptualize internal states









Conceptualize flow states





Here’s what all of this means.

(0) Free activity

This is simply the ongoing arising of phenomena without a “self” or “watcher” intervening or even witnessing. It precedes what a bodymind can do.

(1-i) Observation-OUT

This refers to the pure awareness of external phenomena, or of what goes on in the world, with all things being seen in their Wilberian Right-Quadrant (“exterior”) versions (UR being individual-exterior, LR being collective-exterior). It can also be the casual observation of behavior or a more hypnotic merging with the observed; or it can be the controlled merging of absorptive forms of sensorially-based meditation (such as Shinzen’s “see-out,” “hear-out,” and “feel-out”).

(1-ii) Observation-IN

This is the pure awareness of internal states and phenomena, or of what Wilber’s AQAL model puts into the Upper-Left Quadrant (UL). It can be done casually and without particular intention, as in the observation of dream or hallucinatory phenomena, or it can be done with meditative discipline, as in Vipassana (insight) meditation or Shinzen’s “see-in,” “hear-in,” and “feel-in.”

(1-iii) Observation-FLOW

This is the pure awareness of flow states, i.e., of the rippling-flowing arising of subject-object circulation as things arise and pass away. This kind of flow state can, and does, arise spontaneously. It is perhaps the most “natural” state of mind in some sense — a form of nondual flow where the observer and observed are more or less merged, both present and not clearly separated. This is where intersubjectivity — the relational field encompassing oneself and others — is experienced from within (or, technically, across the border separating “within” from “without”). In its meditative form, Observation-FLOW is nondual awareness of the present moment. It is Shinzen’s “see/hear/feel flow.”

(2-i) Intervention-OUT

This refers to the generation of external states by doing things “in the world.” This is normal action, which has any effect on the surrounding world. It includes speaking, moving, arguing, making love, building and destroying things, and all the rest. In its meditative or yogic forms, it includes all types of physical activities such as rituals and devotional actions performed for a particular spiritual or religious end, such as for the benefit of all beings, or oriented toward a deity. Its paradigm case is that of Karma-Yoga (action performed as yoga) and the performance of “good deeds.”

(2-ii) Intervention-IN

This is the generation of internal states. In normal circumstances, this is what we do when we visualize scenes in the “mind’s eye” while listening to a story or reading a novel, or when we train ourselves to learn a poem or a language. (To the extent that we are focusing on the meanings of words, they are being treated as mental objects rather than mere shapes seen on a page.) In its meditative or yogic forms, Intervention-IN includes all those traditional practices that involve the generation of imagery, sound, feeling, or mental and emotional activity, such as metta or “loving-kindness” meditation, mantra meditation, and various kinds of deity meditation. (Many, and perhaps most, of these qualify under Shinzen’s “focus-on-the-positive” rubric.)

(2-iii) Intervention-FLOW

This is the realm of intersubjective action, that is, action that emerges and is carried out collectively, characterized by blurred boundaries between oneself and others — for instance, by “emotional contagion” and some degree of shared awareness. People catch a flavor of it in special kinds of events — often in the sorts of revolutionary events that I have blogged about here before (as in Egypt, Tehran, the events of May-June ’68 in France, and so on) — which is why those events leave such a strong imprint on their most involved participants. In its meditative form, Intervention-FLOW is nondual action or what the Daoists call “wu-wei,” action that effectively “does itself,” effortlessly, with one’s own “self” being merged with and in the action. It is what the phrase “going with the flow” is intended to mean. It is an important part of what many of the more this-wordly spiritual systems (such as Daoism, Tantrism, Mahayana Buddhism, and many forms of Paganism) aim for.

(3-i) Interpretation-OUT

This is the conceptualization or active understanding of external states in the observable world (i.e., of Wilber’s Lower-Right quadrant). This is what all types of science, at their best, aim to accomplish.

(3-ii) Interpretation-IN

The same as above, but with internal states. It is what psychology ideally constitutes: the attempt to make sense of the workings of individual internal or mental states (Wilber’s Upper-Left quadrant), as well as generalizations about mental activity (which can include Wilber’s Upper-Right and Lower-Left quadrants).

(3-iii) Interpretation-FLOW

Finally, this in its “normal” variant consists specifically of the sorts of things that process-relational and integral forms of theory aim to do: to make sense of the process-relational, nondual nature of all things. In its meditative or yogic variant, this becomes the free, unobstructed flow of subjectivation/objectivation (perceiving/being-perceived, doing/being-done-to, understanding/being-understood), arising and passing in the continuous percolation of one moment after another. We can think of this as “meditative” or “nondual Praxis,” or as “enlightened Thirdness” (which encompasses secondness and firstness).

If the latter sounds like the “free activity” that characterizes the zero-level (Zeroness, i.e., preceding Firstness), that’s because it is very much the same — it is a return to free, unobstructed activity — but with continuity of awareness added. That continuity of awareness, according to Dzogchen and related traditions of Buddhism, is everpresent but obscured to start with. The difference here is that now “I”, the “self,” has also opened up to that recognition, which means it is no longer an obstruction to the flow of recognition (clear awareness, effortless action, understanding). The arising of the self has become part of the arising of world that is being observed, acted (and acted upon), and interpreted (understood).

It may seem appropriate to distinguish this final activity of Meditative Praxis or Enlightened Realization-Flow by granting it a further “level” — a “fourthness” — since it both  encompasses and expands upon the previous three levels. It is a synthesis of Observation, Action, and Interpretation, mediated over time into an ongoing recursive Praxis.

I will not do this since, according to Peirce’s triadic phenomenology, any term beyond a Third is merely a Third of a Third. Thirds do not exclude first and seconds; on the contrary, they include and transcend them. Interpretation in this sense always includes some form of Observation and Action. For that reason, it may be more appropriate to use the term “Realization,” or “Mediation” or “Fullness,” rather than “Interpretation.” It is what Shinzen Young calls a “complete experience,” and is equivalent to “enlightenment” insofar as the latter is thought of not as a permanent state but, rather, as a quality of experience attainable in the here and now.

Beyond that, we are assured, is Absolutely Nothing.



For the concluding part of this three-part article, please click here.


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Related posts:

  1. What a bodymind can do – Part 1
  2. “What a bodymind can do” update
  3. What a bodymind can do – Part 3
  4. Quaking the subject
  5. subjectivity, impermanence, & dark flow
  6. Wilber’s post-metaphysical turn