Shinzen talks about the dynamic aspect of phenomena called “flow” (aniccha) and speaks to some questions that people asked him during this particular group process. Filmed Jan. 2010 at the Mary and Joseph Retreat Center in Rancho Palos Verdes, C.A.

When we speak of flow it is very important to realize that it is not something separate from ordinary experience. There is not some special world of flowing energy into which we withdraw until we are forced, as it were, to come back out into the clunky and lumpy world of the everyday. On the contrary, flow is just the regular, ordinary world, experienced with radical fullness. In the science of enlightenment, complete experience is the name of the game. Many people who encounter energy/flow don’t realize this, and so they fall into the belief that the World is one thing and the Spirit quite another. This creates a frustrating dichotomy between Spirit and Matter, an unbridgeable gap between God and the World. This is a very common misconception, and in a way it is easy to see how people could fall into it.

Spirit is ordinary life experienced with deep concentration, clarity, and equanimity. Put another way, God is what the world feels like when it’s experienced “to the root.”

When people experience flow in any of its flavors—expansion, contraction, undulation, vibration, bubbles, electricity, kundalini, and so forth—there is a tendency to want to focus only on that, to see that as the “good stuff,” the goal of meditation. But the goal of the practice is something deeper and more subtle. The goal of practice is to gain the Insight, i.e., to know that spirit energy is simply what happens to ordinary experience when it is greeted with extraordinary awareness. And conversely, to know that the materiality of objects, the somethingness of the self, and the rigidity of the space that embeds these, are simply what happens to the flow of spirit when it encounters the nebulosity and
viscosity of uncultivated consciousness. Drawing upon a metaphor from Einstein: “Matter is frozen energy.”

For this Insight to arise, we have to go through the following sequence over and over again, not just once or twice:

1. An ordinary, solid sensory event arises.

2. We greet it with clarity and equanimity.

3. As a result (after minutes or months) it breaks up into flow and energy.

But to do this over and over, we must be willing to look at those parts of our experience that are still solid and separate. That means that we must be enthusiastic about the prospect of focusing on what is solid and opaque and not only on what is fluid and transparent. So when you start to experience flow and energy, if you only want to experience that, and are not equally interested in watching ordinary, solid sensory experience, then your spiritual path will be self-limiting. You will dissolve to a certain degree into the flow, but be unable to go any deeper, because your spiritual reactor has run out of fuel.

E = mc2. The source of further spiritual energy (E) is the remaining mass (m) of ordinary, opaque, solidified sensory arisings.

So the true goal of meditation is achieved through a dialectical process that alternates between dissolving into flowing nothingness and detecting subtler and subtler instances of solidified somethingness.

Correlating spirit energy with ordinary experience is very important. We must watch how an ordinary experience becomes waves of impermanence over and over—a hundred times, a thousand times, a hundred thousand times—before we will really believe that every ordinary experience is by nature extraordinary. We must do this with tremendous patience, equanimity, and openness. Eventually it sinks in that every experience we have is impermanent. Ultimately, we come to realize that in essence there is no sensory experience at all—there is only vibrating vacuity. When experience flows unimpeded, the oneness of spirit arises. When experience gets blocked or congealed, the multiplicity of matter arises. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with the world of multiplicity and materially, as long as it is not the only world you’re familiar with.

Being clear about this allows us to enter into Non-dual Awareness. As you go about ordinary activities during the day, emptiness and form shade into and out of each other smoothly and continuously. Even in the most complex, intense or mundane situations, your connection to the Source is never completely severed.

See video: Flow. Shinzen Young