Supermind & Son

The following provides an updated diagram and some further notes pertaining to my three-part article “What A Bodymind Can Do.” The earlier parts can be read here: part 1, part 2, part 3.  (Please note that this version has corrected a minor error in the originally posted article, and added a bit more information at the end.)


“What A Bodymind Can Do” was an attempt to map the possibilities of human perception, action, and realization by synthesizing Shinzen Young’s systematization of mindfulness meditation practices (primarily Buddhist, but with reference to others) with a process-relational framework rooted in Whiteheadian process metaphysics and the triadic phenomenology of C. S. Peirce.

It included a diagrammatic “map” of those possibilities, which I am now providing an updated version of in this PDF (and see below).

The map is best visualized as a kind of Rubik’s Cube, with three rows, three columns, and three levels intersecting with each other to create nine domains, along with the relations between them.

The three sets of three terms classify the following strata.


1. Sensory modes (seeing, hearing, feeling)

Sensations and perceptions are grouped into three modalities in this system: the visual, the auditory, and the bodily-felt. The latter includes the tactile, olfactory, gustatory, kinesthetic, visceral, affective, and emotional; these are grouped into “felt-out” (the first four) and “felt-in” (the last three) based on whether the sensations refer to relata that are “internal” or “external” to the bodymind in question. (See #3 below for more on this.)

These three modalities can be conceived as developing somewhat autonomously over the course of human evolution, and as arising somewhat separately over the course of human ontogenesis: first we feel (in the womb), then we start to hear (the mother’s heartbeat and voice), finally we learn to see (especially once we emerge from the womb). [*See note at bottom.] But in practice, they all get quite blurred and interactive.

Distinguishing between the three is mainly a matter of convenience; it serves as a hook onto which mindfulness practitioners can hang their impressions, sensations, and perceptions as they observe them arising and passing. Sensory blurring and/or interaction occurs all the time in human experience, however, and it can be considered a form of cross-modal “flow” (described below).


2. Relational category (sensing, acting, realizing)

These are based in Peirce’s triad of categories: firsts (or firstness), seconds (or secondness), and thirds (or thirdness). Entire books have been written about Peirce’s categories, their relationship to logic, phenomenology, semiotics, and the categories developed by earlier philosophers, such as Kant and Hegel.

But for understanding my use of them here, it is enough to distinguish them on the basis of number of relata, as follows:

  • A first is something in and of itself. Perception of a first is perception of it simply as it is, without any further interaction with or interpretation of it. It is simple observation of something in its purity, insofar as this is possible.
  • A second is an actual, existential interaction with something. As an interaction, it is an action, with a conscious or unconscious intent.
  • A third involves the grasping of a second (an interaction) through some form of mediation (such as interpretation), thereby generating a semiotic relationship: a meaning or significance, a pattern, a habit, a regularity. It is a third in that it involves three elements: the relation between two firsts plus the third that (in whatever way) mediates, or relates to, that relationship.


3. Orientation (In, Out, Flow)

At their simplest, “In” and “Out” distinguish between whether the second — the object perceived in the case of perception, the object being acted upon in the case of action, and the object generated in the case of realization — is internal or external to the bodymind that serves as the point of reference.

Specifically, “In” and “Out” are distinguished differently according to level:

  • In sensing/noting (level 1, or firstness), they are distinguished according to their immediate source, i.e., whether the thing being perceived is external or internal to the self or subject.
  • In acting (secondness), they are distinguished according to their intended destination, i.e., whether the intended goal or object of an action is external or internal to oneself.
  • In realization (thirdness), they are distinguished according to their achieved direction, i.e., whether realization occurs within or outside oneself.  (The question of whether and how one can know that realization has in fact been achieved outside oneself — say, in a listener, a viewer, or an audience — is the kind of thing that we can speculate about and develop some approximate knowledge of, but which are unlikely to know with any finality. Within a Peircian framework, realization is always on the move toward a truth that is logically conceivable, but practically elusive.)

Distinguishing between “internal” and “external,” however, implies a dualistic ontology — a separation between subject and object, perceiver and perceived — that process-relational ontologies generally dispute or attempt to transcend in one way or another. Such a dualistic ontology corresponds to what Nagarjuna called “conventional truth” and Tiantai Three Truths doctrine affirmed as the “provisionality” of existent and impermanent things.

By contrast, “flow” states (described in detail here), where the internal and external dichotomy is breached or suspended (as in cross-directional flow; more on that below), acknowledge nonduality, or what Nagarjuna called “ultimate truth” and Tiantai Three Truths doctrine referred to simply as “emptiness.”

According to the Three Truths doctrine, most systematically developed by 6th C. CE Chinese Buddhist philosopher Zhiyi (Chih-i), the “third” truth is “centrality” or “the Middle,” which equates the first two truths and affirms the contingency of all things as the reversible and accompanying precondition of their ultimate reality. Subject-object duality is thus not denied but realized in nondual flow, and vice versa. Philosopher Brook Ziporyn translates these Three Truths as Global Incoherence (Emptiness), Local Coherence (Provisional Positing), and Reversible As-ness (Centrality). All are statements of the same fact, dependent co-arising (pratītya-samutpāda).

Tiantai’s Three Truths doctrine is in certain respects the form of Buddhist ontology that is most resonant with Peirce’s triadic logical and metaphysical framework. In a Peircian sense, the creative “emptiness” out of which subject-object distinctions arise is their zeroness; the distinctions characterizing an individuation itself make up its qualitative firstness; the actuality of existential interactions manifest secondness; and their semiotic realization (as meaning, habit, pattern, law, etc.) is their thirdness.

The table indicates each of these from the perspective of a perceiving, acting, and/or realizing bodymind.


A Note on 3 Types of Flow

Shinzen Young’s characterization of “flow” is complex, but can be characterized into a few different types. I refer to these in the following categories:

  • Cross-modal flow: This refers to “flow” that crosses the sensory modalities of hearing (/sounding-speaking /conveying), seeing (/showing-displaying /mapping-diagramming), and feeling (/touching /moving), for instance in experiences that can be labelled “Hear-See Flow,” “Touch-Sound Flow, “See-Sound-Move Flow,” and so on. In themselves, these are not nondual flow states, except to the degree that they also are, or become, cross-directional or temporal/textural flow. But they can be a focus for mindfulness practice, and in that context it is useful to identify them as a form of “flow experience.”
  • Cross-directional flow, which refers to the blurring, movement between, or achieved unity of the internal (“In”) and external (“Out”). This is the primary form of flow depicted in the table. By definition, it is, or includes, nonduality.
  • Evental-processual (temporal, textural) flow: This category consists of flow states and experiences characterized by change over time (= temporal flow) or variability in the nature and sensation of (= textural flow): e.g., arising/passing (to which Shinzen designates the respective terms “Here!” and “Gone!”), vibratory, undulating, and so on.


Cubing the Threes

When these 3 dimensions intersect each other, the following set of possibilities is generated. In each category, I’ve included examples taken from “ordinary” experience, indicated by “O” (e.g., absorption in sensory experience, visualizing scenes in the mind’s eye, logical reasoning, etc.), and examples taken from mindfulness/meditation or spiritual practice, indicated by “M” (e.g., insight meditation, Karma Yoga, Tantra/deity ritual, “spirit possession,” Jnana-Yoga, and the “enlightened flow” of nondual Praxis).


 —– —– O: Free activityM: Nondual flow


O: Absorption in sensory activity, “pure” sensing

M: Sensory-absorptive meditation





O: Dream states, absorption in subjective/internal activity

M: Vipassana (insight) medit’n; “see-in, hear-in, feel-in”



O:  Intersubjective observation 

M: Nondual meditative awareness; “see/hear/feel flow”



O: Action in the world, doing (of any kind)

M: Active meditation, “spirit possession”; Karma Yoga, “good deeds”





O: Visualizing scenes in “mind’s eye” (e.g., while listening to a story or reading a poem or novel)

M: Visualization, metta, mantra meditation; Tantra, deity meditation; “focus-on-positive”



O: Action with the world, doing-with, social/collective action 

M: Nondual Tantra/deity ritual; nondual action (wu-wei)



O: Science, logical reasoning (about external world)

M: Integral science?




O:  Psychology, Cartesian introspection 

M: Analytical medit’n, Jnana-Yoga




O: Integral, process-relational ontology 

M:Nondual free activity, enlightened flow, Praxis, “complete experience”



Each of the terms used above is a technical term. “See,” “Hear,” and “Feel” are described above. “Show” (or “Display”), “Sound (and/or “Speak”), and “Touch” are the action variations of the first three. And “Map” (or “Diagram), “Convey” (or “Communicate”), and “Move” are the realization variations of “See,” “Hear,” and “Feel,” respectively.

For the more complete presentation of the above table, see here.

I’d love to hear comments on this categorization from anyone who practices any of these forms of meditation or spiritual activity, or from others familiar with Peirce, Whitehead, and/or Buddhism.

A final note: This map is intended to be used. Some possible uses are these:

  • as a classification of types of experience, and of types of meditative and spiritual experience in particular;
  • as suggesting the relations between these different types of experience;
  • as a map for the territory that could be traversed during insight or “open monitoring” styles of meditation, both in traditional “sitting” practice and during active participation in everyday life;
  • as suggesting what a complete system of human developmental education might include;
  • and as a mandala-like object of contemplation that would help one habituate one’s thinking into a triadic, process-relational style. (I won’t argue here for the benefits of that, but if you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’re at least familiar with some of the arguments that could be made on its behalf.)

I should add that the map tells us nothing about the things encountered in life — the others, which might range (for humans) from other people to ants and elephants to dream semblances to stars. It is a phenomenological map, a way of orienting oneself from the inside of experience, not an ontology or description of the actual nature of experience, or of the universe or the things that make it up. Go elsewhere for that.

And for those interested in exploring some of the more recent research on mindfulness/meditation techniques and how they affect their practitioners, see this 2013 special issue of Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience (at least the editorial, which should be open-access, and the Tang & Posner “Tools of the trade” chapter), this 2010 chapter by Braboszcz, Hahusseau, and Delorme, and the classic 2007 article by Lutz, Dunne, and Davidson, “Meditation and the neuroscience of consciousness,” which can be found in a few different versions online (do a Google Scholar search for the title).

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*Note: Now that I am re-reading this, I realize that I originally had ordered these differently. In this version, I wrote,

first we learn to feel with our bodies, then we start to see things (once our eyes learn to focus on them) and “image” the world and its relationships through imaginal fantasy, and finally we learn the words and the linguistic-discursive constructs that come to shape both our subjectivity and our world for us. And over time the three kinds of elements (distilled, for simplicity’s and usability’s sake, from Buddhism’s “five aggregates”) become densely entangled and knotted into emotionally-laden force-fields.

The relative ordering of “see” versus “hear” depends on whether or not by “hear” we are emphasizing language (what Shinzen calls “talk”). Language skills, obviously, develop well after we learn to distinguish things by seeing. But distinguishing sounds comes before sight. So “hear” really is a 2-stage process.

Shinzen’s point (the argument about the order was his) did refer to language, but with the “triadification” of the system to include “action” and “realization,” it may make sense to include a greater emphasis on sound itself and the distinguishing of things by listening to sounds in general. Thus my compound term “sound/speak” in the “action” register (level 2).

On the other hand, for the infant in the womb (i.e., in ontogenesis) — and arguably in the evolution of our senses (phylogenesis) — distinguishing sounds evolves as part of the repertoire of feeling — kinesthesia, tactility/hapticity, etc.  So it could be treated as an element of “Feel” (/Touch/Move) until that time when it becomes distinctly linked to verbal and linguistic experience. Thus,

(1) Feel –> (2) See (after birth) –> (3) Hear/Talk (developing from 4-6 months to 3+ years)

The Lacanian jump begins with stage 3, with the shift from the Imaginary to the Symbolic. Up until that time, we are 2-modal creatures, feeling (in a fairly holistic, diffuse, and undifferentiated way) and seeing (which facilitates socialization and prepares us for the “mirror stage”), but not participating in language.



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Related posts:

  1. Quaking the subject
  2. What a bodymind can do – Part 2
  3. What a bodymind can do – Part 1
  4. What a bodymind can do – Part 3
  5. subjectivity, impermanence, & dark flow