Our Experience is Endlessly Meaningful

When we are uncertain or unclear, many of us rely on our experience instead of trusting what someone else says or something we read in a book. All of us have heard people explain what they are doing or deciding by saying, “That’s my experience.”

By “experience,” I mean what is showing up in our awareness in this moment. It’s much more than just memory (as in, “experience shows that stock markets go up and down”). It’s important to keep these two different meanings of experience distinct.

Please take a moment right now and notice what your experience is. (One of the most amazing and overlooked aspects of being a person is that fresh unique experience is always present for us.) This little experiment would even be more powerful if you would jot down a few words that capture your immediate experience.

Okay, here’s a question that could shift your life: why did you say this was your experience and nothing else was? Some examples: what did you leave out in terms of what you were feeling in your body? What did you leave out in terms of what was in your visual field? What memories that were arising did you leave out? Can you see that you left a lot out?

How did you decide what to include? What to exclude? Were you aware of making such a decision? These questions point to the fact that experience isn’t a given; rather, it’s a construction or a selection from what’s in our awareness. Can you recognize that from doing the little experiment?

Once we know that we are constructing our experience, we can begin to question what we are paying attention to and what we are ignoring. At that point, our experience is no longer something solid and sure, but is rather something we can explore and investigate.

Let’s try that out. What are you experiencing right now? Take a moment and become aware of what’s there. Next, include more in your experience by paying more sensitive attention to your body experiences or to your emotional state or to what thoughts are streaming by.

Take a moment and let yourself settle into what you become aware of. And then, yet again, expand out your field to include even more subtle contents of your awareness.

How far could this go? I think there is no limit. Can you find one?

If our experience is endlessly deep, then our world is much more mysterious than we thought. And that means, among other things, that what we think/feel are our problems maybe aren’t that—aren’t problems—at all. Here’s what I mean.

When we look at problems closely, we can observe them as fences that we erect around part of our experience and say, “I don’t like this.” But what about the parts of our experience that are outside the fence? Could our problems dissolve by simply expanding our focus of awareness?

For example (and I’m using a very simple example here for illustrative purposes), next time you feel an unexpected pain in your body, expand your awareness and notice more about what you are not including: what else are you feeling in your body? And what does your body know about this “pain”? What emotions are there and where do they go as you follow them? What memories are arising and what net does that throw out into your wider life? What thoughts are there and how do those connect to other parts of your life?

Finally, what effect does your exploration have on your original experience, and what new meaning is there around your original experience of “pain”?

Knowing for ourselves that our experience is endlessly deep in content and limitless in its meaning gives us immense freedom: freedom to take new action, freedom to find fresh meaning with what’s going on so that we can stay with it even if it’s difficult and, most of all, freedom because we are not being constrained by anything.

What do you find for yourself? Please take up the practice of the quarter as a way to support your investigation. The book of the quarter, Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, gives many more examples of what I’m saying here and also provides a rigorous philosophical grounding for the depth of experience we can have and how we use it to create meaning. The book is totally accessible, well-written and generous. It’s by Eugene Gendlin, who also wrote the important book Focusing.

Take care of yourself.