This post continues my thinking on the topic of a process-relational “bodymind practice” – an existential art or “technique of the self” building on Buddhist meditation practice reinterpreted and augmented through process-relational philosophy.
The previous posts utilized insights from C. S. Peirce and A. N. Whitehead to “triadize” the system of mindfulness meditation practice developed by Zen/Vipassana Buddhist teacher Shinzen Young, to arrive at a map of the human bodymind that looked something like this:
0. [pure activity]
1. OBSERVE: simply noticing what is occurring in one’s external-sensory-bodily and internal-mental fields; and categorizing what is observed (as is necessary or helpful) according to the three sensory modes of seeing (visual), hearing (auditory-verbal), and feeling (all other senses including touch, smell, taste, kinesthetic, et al.), and according to whether the objects noted are internal to the bodymind (in), external to it (out), or characterized by ambiguity or dynamic movement between the two (flow).
2. ACT: noticing how one is intentionally acting in the external-sensory-bodily and internal-mental fields; and categorizing what is observed/acted according to the same three sensory modes, this time labelled as showing (visual), sounding (auditory-verbal), and touching (all other senses including touch, smell, taste, kinesthetic, et al.), and according to whether the objects acted upon are internal to the bodymind (in), external to it (out), or characterized by ambiguity or dynamic movement between the two (flow).
3. REALIZE: noticing the result or realization of actions upon the external-sensory-bodily and internal mental fields; and categorizing what is observed/acted/accomplished according to the same three sensory modes, this time labelled as mapping (visual), speaking (as in “it speaks to me”; i.e., auditory-verbal), and moving (all other senses including touch, smell, taste, kinesthetic, et al.), and according to whether the locus of realization is internal to the bodymind (in), external to it (out), or characterized by ambiguity or dynamic movement between the two (flow).
The resultant map of possibilities, at its most basic, looked like this:
0. [unconscious baseline]
1. NOTE (see/hear/feel) IN — NOTE OUT — NOTE FLOW
2. ACT (show/sound/touch) IN — ACT OUT — ACT FLOW
3. REALIZE (map/speak/move) IN — REALIZE OUT — REALIZE FLOW
Or it could be depicted three-dimensionally, where the three axes that cross each other are these:
1. NOTE — ACT — REALIZE
2. SEE(/show/map) — HEAR(/sound/speak) — FEEL(/touch/move)
2. IN — OUT — FLOW
Rather than a set of individual options or “slots” into which observations or behaviors would be classified, this is understood to be a more flexible sort of tool — a “gameboard,” as Shinzen calls it, that one could use in various ways. For instance, one could focus on one or a few sets of options at a time (such as “hear in” or “touch flow” or “note out”). Or one could focus on dynamic relations or interdependent “constellations” connecting different modalities. For instance, one could focus on the ways that external sounds give rise to internal feelings, or on how bodily touch elicits both internal feelings and external impacts on someone else whom one is interacting with (such as during physical or sexual play). (See previous posts for more on all this.)
The choice of what to focus on can range from being fully predetermined for a given length of time — as is the case in fairly typical meditation practice — to being an open-ended, free-flowing form of mindfulness, akin to Vipassana “insight” meditation but applied to all mental, sensory, bodily, social, and interactive activities and phenomena. The goals of this practice, as with the mindfulness practice taught by Shinzen Young, are to develop attention; sensory, mental, and emotional clarity; and equanimity in the face of life’s exigencies.
At its most complete, then, this becomes a fully conscious mode of living. The goal here is not necessarily to bring everything that is un- or pre-conscious to consciousness. Rather, it is to serve as a kind of Foucauldian-Daoist “practice of the self” where consciously chosen aesthetic, ethical, and logical principles are established within one’s bodily and mental habits for living in the world.
The Quaker move
The primary insight I wish to incorporate from Quaker worship concerns a few of the terms that are integral to that practice: silence, inner (or inward) light, and the heart.
The first of these — the practice of silence, and of receptivity to the “voice of God” in that silence — is central to traditional Quaker practice and continues to be central to many Quaker communities today. The second is a reference to the “light of God within” — variously conceived by Quakers, since they are theologically diverse — that manifests or becomes accessible in the practice of silent worship. The third, while not theologically developed in the same way as the other two, is a frequently used term by which Quakers understand that place inside the self that is most receptive to the voice of God or “inner light.” (Here I would supplement the lack of literature on the “heart” to the abundance of Sufi writing on it, where the heart is conceived to be the central organ of the self or soul.)
Having begun Quaker practice some time ago (in part because it was so undefined and therefore accommodating, and because it offered community and, to our great relief, childcare (yes!)), I had struggled a little with the differences between the silent practice I was more familiar with, with its more systematic and theorized character, and the form provided by Quaker meetings.
A reconciliation between the two only really came when a Friend (as Quakers call themselves) used the words “silence” and “the heart” in a spoken ministry voiced during worship. Rather suddenly, it dawned on me that silence was precisely what was behind and beyond the things I was observing in my meditation, in “noting (or observation) practice”; that the heart was an appropriate term for that which is behind or underlying my actions, in “action practice”; and that there was something beyond the flow of realization as well, in “realization practice.” And that each of these could be characterized rather singularly in terms that any Buddhist would understand.
The terms I arrived at for these three things (paired with their opposites) are these:
1. Void: Emptiness (feel) – Silence (hear) — Darkness (see)
This is the Emptiness behind and beyond all appearance. It is that which does not appear, that which withdraws from appearance, and that from which appearances arise and to which they return. It is like dark matter, the ocean of being, appearance in its zero state, its essential purity. It is the Great S ilence, the Great Darkness, and the Great Emptiness.
2. Heart: Tremor (touch) — Murmur (sound) — Flicker (show)
This is the Tenderness behind and beyond all action, the rippling from which action arises and to which it returns. It is unbounded feeling, the ocean of becoming, the zero state of relationality. It is the radiant flicker of light at the origin of sight/showing, the tremulous murmur of sound at the origin of hearing/sounding/speaking, the palpitating tremor of flesh at the origin of feeling/touching.
3. Mystery: Immovable (move) — Unspeakable (speak) — Unknowable (map)
This is the “cloud of unknowing” (to use a historic term) behind and beyond understanding. It is that which remains unknown, the shadowy presence that withdraws from realization, from which all realization arises and to which it returns, realization in its zero state, the realization that is non-realization. It is the mystery of the immovable, the unspeakable, and the invisible and utterly unknowable.
These can in turn become focal points for one’s bodymindfulness practice, as follows.
1. While noting (observation) practice typically pays attention to what is going on, it ultimately involves paying attention to the background from which “what is going on” arises and to which it returns, that is, to the silence, the darkness, the emptiness, the void.
2. While action practice typically pays attention to what one is doing (in interaction with others), it ultimately involves paying attention to the background from which “what one is doing” arises and to which it returns, that is, to the flicker, murmur, and tremor of heartfulness within and out of which all relations unfold.
3. And while realization practice typically pays attention to “what is realizing” from one’s actions (or from intersubjective activity), it ultimately involves paying attention to the background from which “what is realizing” arises and to which it returns, that is, to the mystery that is unknowable (and invisible), unspeakable, and immovable.
Things start to sound very zen-like and paradoxical at the point that one makes these three shifts. This is because they pertain to context, or to that dark absence that surrounds what is emerging into presence. This is not another triad by which to “triadize” the others. Rather, it is more like the obverse, the reverse side of the Note–Act–Realize triad, such that these become Note/Silence — Act/Heart — Realize/Mystery.
(I should note here in passing that while there are several triads in this system, the only genuinely Peircian triad is the one that serves as the overarching framework: Noting/Firstness, Acting/Secondness, and Realizing/Thirdness. The triad of seeing-hearing-feeling is an “artificial triad,” as it is a condensation of several sensory modalities into three, for practical purposes. And the triad In-Out-Flow is really an active dyad, a dyad that deconstructs itself dialectically.)
The new triad (Emptiness-Heart-Mystery), then, is the “shadow side” of the original triad (Noting-Acting-Realizing). Together they make up an active, dialectical dyad.
A few new practices emerge out of this new triad that could be categorized as follows. These are just preliminary sketches and require more development.
1) “Shadow triad“ practice: Here one’s attention follows the triadic “shadows” alone (singly or together) — emptiness, heart, mystery. But this is difficult without the practice of the appearances, actions, and realizations. It may get easier as one develops a better “feel” for the three shadowy categories. I suspect that this resonates rather well with Quaker practice, as it would for any form of apophatic mysticism.
2) “Gap“ practice: Here one’s attention is focused on the “jumps” across the gaps between zeroness, firstness (noting), secondness (action), and thirdness (realization). Each of the “shadow” categories fills in one of the gaps: emptiness comes before the observation of appearances; heart comes between appearances and the arising of action; and mystery comes between action and the arising of insight or realization.
3) “Reversal“ or “outline“ practice: This practice works exactly like the regular practice of the triadic gameboard — follow whatever you are following (appearances, actions, realizations, etc.) — with the difference that instead of noting their positive value — for instance, “hear-in” when one notes internal talk, “sound-out” when one notes the sound one is making, and so on — the focus is on the negative background around that positivity: i.e., the silence surrounding a sound, the indistinct tremor surrounding one’s touch of something, the unspeakable mystery surrounding one’s understanding of what someone else just said, and so on.
More will need to be said about each of these terms and practices. And all of this is very much in progress. But it’s enough to work with for a while (and maybe a lifetime).
Comments are welcome.
(Note to self: Work out how this all relates to Dzogchen, with its triad of emptiness in essence, unconfinement in capacity, and cognizance in nature. I believe it is very close to it.)