This one has been kicking around in my mind for a long time: What is experience?
Experience: Table of Contents
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Somewhere and somewhen about 1987, I did five hits of acid (yes, I was in college when these things are done, and yes, it is part of studying altered states, so just grow up). The whole trip peaked with me completely focused on the question: “what am I?”
I cannot even begin to express in words the sheer intensity of focus, desire, anxiety, and just sheer raw intensity upon which my mind was focused on this question. My mind raced. It raced and raced, and spun and spun and went round and round, faster and faster, through picture after insight after concept after profound realization of all the definitions and ideas I had learned, and some I realized right then, about what being human means.
My mind spun and spun and spun until it ripped open. Or burst, or exploded; in some literal sense. It’s hard to say exactly what happened, seeing as there is no worthwhile concept or definition in Western thinking of what the mind really is. And I say this being, even at that time, a student of occultism, mysticism, science, philosophy and just plain intellectual stuff.
The intense wonderment and amazement at the very mystery of my own existence culminated in a stark insight that today is one of the floor boards of my mind: it is impossible to know what I am because knowing is something that happens in the mind, and, my mind is only a subset of whatever I am. Whatever I am is greater than what my mind is because my mind is inside of me. That is, any idea I had about what I am was just that: an idea. As such, it was just some thought inside of me. It was just an echo, a reflection. Just an echo. Just an echo of experience, inside my experience. I didn’t even know what “me” meant anymore, or what “I” means, or “you”. I still don’t either.
All of a sudden, I understood fully why Zen masters just point at stuff and don’t say anything.
In the culmination of all this, I had a really bizarre insight, a vision if you will, of all the philosophers up and down history: Socrates, Plato, Kant, Leibniz (yes, my hero Leibniz), Swedenborg, Blavatsky, Leadbeater, Krishnamurti, Alan Watts, Carl Jung, and so many others whose ideas had influenced me. I saw in a flash what a total bunch of fucking idiots they were for thinking that we could capture in words and ideas what we are. I saw how all their words, their unceasing prattle, were just a bunch of noise and hot air being blown around.
The observant Reader hopefully is catching a very deep irony here.
And so I realized that there is no definition of what we are. Period. None. Thinking that we can capture what we are as words and ideas is like trying to pour the ocean into a cup. Sorry, there is no cup big enough. Same with the mind. It’s just too small, too limited in how it works to somehow encompass our…what is a good word?…our experience.
That is what I realized back then. There is only experience. Inside of our experience, as a part of our experience, one of the things we experience is called mind. It’s not the only thing we experience. I, like everyone else, experience this whole complex, truly undefinable thing we call “our life”. And no words, no ideas, are capable of capturing my very experience. As if somehow I can string together words and ideas and literally re-create my very being and experience. It is an absurdity, like the idea of one hand clapping.
Another way to say this is that ideas are always inside of the mind. They do not leave the mind. I am sitting here right now looking at my computer monitor, looking out my window at the trees. Those things exist independent on any idea in my mind. As such, I have no idea what they really are, only what I think they are. My ideas are not “out there”, outside of my mind; they are not sitting there next to the computer or the trees.
So, when we have some idea about what we are, or what the meaning of life is, or whatever, it is just some picture or set of words that elicit a meaning in the mind. The mind is always inside of itself. It is like a dictionary where words are defined only in terms of other words. A closed system. It is like a hamster running on one of those wheels. It goes very fast and it goes nowhere. That is the nature of thinking in general. That night I saw myself going round and round and round in my mind. And that was all I was doing.
So, from that moment on, experience became the main catch word for me. I didn’t know what it meant (and still don’t). But the word “experience” became like a sign post, a symbol that points to my life itself.
With this grand insight, everything changed in my experience. I saw how, before my explosion, I had the delusion that my ideas were somehow superior to my experience. That the words and ideas I spouted were somehow, in some sense, better, more real, than my actual life. Now I know it doesn’t matter what I think or believe: tomorrow I could die, and I still have to eat, sleep and shit everyday.
The fact that I called this way of thinking a “delusion” clearly indicates the change I underwent. I lost the expectation that everything can be defined, that everything can be understood. In fact, I came to the realization that, really, nothing can be defined. Nothing can truly be understood. I called this “The Realm of No Definitions”, and it is the condition of our being.
I came to see ideas as mere decorations. Not much different from decorations on a Christmas tree, or how one might decorate their house. But it was more than that. Ideas are not just mere decorations. They can have practical utility too. But seeing this practical utility, and how to utilize ideas for practical purposes took on a purely aesthetic quality. It was art, pure and simple. One could surround themselves with beautiful, useful ideas and this is like making a good piece of art. It is the art of living one’s life. The art of decorating life with beautiful, interesting, helpful, and useful ideas.
Or, as you see in the world around you, most people are unaware completely of this level of thinking and are nothing but slaves of the ideas in their minds. These people are in no position to be artistic with their ideas and their mind. No, they are just a bunch of deluded gumbas, who think the world is this or that, and act in accord to how the ideas drive them, making them just a bunch of automatons.
But they only seem like automatons. They are not automatons. They are simply dishonest, or afraid, or ignorant, or some mixture thereof. The ideas are just the surface, and under the surface are strange emotional twists and unfulfilled desires. And there is stuff below that too. The hidden aspects of the mind go very deep, once one gets up the courage to peer down there (or is stupid enough to take 5 hits of acid and get violently thrown down there).
The apparent automaton thing is true of people that believe in a specific religion, or people that believe in science, or people that believe in some social cause, or some specific philosophy, or are liberal, or conservative. Whatever. The list of shit people believe is endless. All compassion aside, one and all they are just a bunch of self-deluded idiots because they don’t see how they are letting ideas run their experience, instead of putting ideas in their rightful place as just another element in their experience; an echo, a reflection, a decoration.
People worry about the clothes they wear, but they don’t worry about the ideas they use to decorate their lives. Idiots, one and all.
So, given that this is the main way I have looked at the world for the past 30 years, you can imagine my shock, surprise, and chagrin to read this from the great Swami Krishnananda:
“When the ultimate cause of a particular experience is discovered, it will be found that the cause lies in the recognition of the Self in the not-Self. This was the definition of avidya given by Patanjali”
“Avidya” is the yoga word for “ignorance”. Not just ignorance that can be erased by learning some information. No, avidya is a type of ignorance for which there is no translation in English. It is a cosmic ignorance. It is a wrongness of such epic proportions that it creates universes, life, and consciousness as we know it.
Avidya creates our experience…
To be continued….