Solid, Liquid, Gas

“When we begin practice, the self and the world seem to be material. Space is rigid, objects are solid, there is a carnality to the body and a somethingness to self. As we bring more mindfulness to experience, there is an overall trend for things to become more fluid”
– Shinzen Young

Buddhist teacher Shinzen Young refers to Three Fundamental States of Experience: Solid, Liquid and Gas. It’s sort of a metaphor and sort of not. Because it turns out that just as the material world can go through fundamental state changes – can have its particles rearranged to move from, say, ice to water to vapor (and back) – so can you. Or at least, so can the sensory experience of you. Concentration, clarity and equanimity are like catalysts – when you introduce them into the human sensorium, our experience of body, mind and world gets looser. More malleable. You find yourself hardening and contracting and reacting much less – you literally start to go with the flow. From solid to liquid, and then – if you’re real diligent – to gas. Poof – I done gone disappeared, mammy! No worries – you’ll be back. As Shinzen once told me, “Hey Student Number 267 or whatever your name is – don’t get too uppity, the small self always come back.”

alchemy-manAnd why would you want to melt and flow? Because solidity – hardness – is brittle. Eventually life will beat the shit out of you and leave you smashed on the riverbank while cute redneck urchins steal your wallet and jewels. I don’t care how tough you are – nature will take you where it wants to go whether you like it or not. Far more dignified to go the Huck Finn route. Find yourself a nice raft, put your feet up, and puff on a corncob pipe as the scenery floats by. Work smart! Let nature do the pushing and pulling and directing. And then, from this soft and easy-going perch, you make brisk excursions into effective action. You choose your battles wisely, with a smoothness and fluidity that is responsive to the actual situation at hand.  Like a soapy river bandit, all slippery and hooting with friendly plans and a big bang of reverse-looting for the child’un! Look at me telling you what to do. Do the experiment yourself. Better yet, join me sometime and we can do it together.

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