The presence of experience

You cannot create experience. You must undergo it. Albert Camus

Before humans could write and read we learned through witnessing and listening. As witnesses, we saw what others experienced, and (hopefully) we learned vicariously. When we witnessed someone become ill from eating the strange red berries, we were not likely to eat those berries. We listened (again hopefully) when our parents and elders passed along knowledge and wisdom with the spoken word: don’t poke the sleeping tiger.

The written word expands our worlds. All the red berries have warning labels and the sleeping tigers have awakened. If we want to know about Subject X, the most expedient method is to look it up on the Internet. Sometimes, we can watch a film or talk to a subject expert, but the cheapest and quickest way to learn anything is to read. The written word saved my sanity as a child. Books were my lifeline to the world beyond the one I was confined to then, and I wanted to experience all of it.

The short 90 or so years that I will be on this planet will not satisfy my desire for discovery, and I am nearly two-thirds of the way to my expiration date. As I weed my way through what I am willing to experience, death has become my azimuth. Years ago, some therapists told me that this was a problem so I “worked” on it, but now, I find that it has served me well. Keeping my eye on death causes me to embrace my eternal presence – the part of me that will continue when my body no longer exists. Who I become now I take with me into eternity. What I experience helps me evolve into who I become.

Countless words exist of people’s tales detailing their journeys of how they became who they are. There are hundreds of methods and paths to self-discovery. I’ve read the books and blogs of people who appear to have blazed the trails to enlightenment and ultimate universal connection. I’ve prayed their prayers. I’ve practiced their meditations. I’ve repeated their mantras.

Yes, I’ve grown. I’ve become. I’ve discovered. I’ve experienced. But, I’ve not achieved the measure of conscious embodiment their words have described. I’ve failed to mirror their success and wonder why.

In my efforts to master the experience of Centering Prayer, I read Thomas Keating’s book Manifesting God. If you read his book, you can’t but help but hear Keating’s voice and feel his experience with God. In a moment of clarity, some small still voice inside me said: “these words describe how it is for him, but not necessarily how it is for you.” Keating can only describe his process, not mine. He cannot live my experience any more than I can live his.

Words and books cannot create my experience. Living creates experience.

The experience I seek is to be fully alive as my true self in this life.

Only my presence can create that experience.

©2013 by Barbara L. Kass

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9 Responses to “The presence of experience”

  1. Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Barbara – Zing! Your words: ” Keeping my eye on death causes me to embrace my eternal presence — the part of me that will continue when my body no longer exists” resonate strongly as they point at my internal compass. Wonderful post — thank you!

  2. jeffstroud Says:

    I have ask these same questions: of journey and even my experience which was not about death per se but about the death of who I was and who I desire to become. Your words here speak those questions I asked.

    ” Words and books cannot create my experience. Living creates experience.
    The experience I seek is to be fully alive as my true self in this life.
    Only my presence can create that experience.”

    Once while reading works of Barbara Marx Hubbard, her describing her inward journey, offering a practice. I realized that it was her journey, her experience. I had to have my own.

    The stories are maps, the journey is our own, how and what do experience is up to each of us…

    Wonderfully !

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Jeff – the ultimate existential struggle: the death of self and birth of who we are. Sometimes, I feel as if I am still struggling to become a person that I am “supposed” to be and I think that is the fallacy we find in all of the books. It is a lesson I am learning as a counselor as well: the client knows how to heal himself or herself. I am just a guide and cheering section.

  3. Kathy Says:

    It’s so hard when our mind compares us with others. We’re our own unique selves; who is to say about another’s journey or perception of it? Like you, I am concentrating on living, on experience. Staying open to what reveals itself now. Beautiful essay, Barbara.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Kathy – it is interesting that I do not trust the words of too many people as I witness their struggle against the elements of life very similar to mine. Who is say they are wiser than I? The difference is that they have found their “way” and I am still working to discover mine.

  4. Loquamur Says:

    Tomorrow is my annual reminder–even if there were no other–that I’ve completed another year, now solidly in my 60s, when just the other day I turned thirty! Death approacheth. Upon death, you and I will relate to others much as we do now, but with additional perspective that we now ourselves normally conceal from our view.

    We’re piloting our way through this world “under the hood” as it were, or in the total visual obscuration of “instrument flight conditions.” When the veil is lifted and the clouds dissipate, we’ll see we were flying all along, loving and supporting and being supported, but the view will improve dramatically. Dontcha think?

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Gosh, I hope so, David. If I get to the other side and find more of the same nonsense, I might just go ballistic. It only makes sense that I came here to experience the challenges that I have so that I can use them to become more of who I truly am. That there is loving support behind all of this is evident to me. I’ve witnessed being held in a cradled existence and have the feeling that an angel “has my back” throughout my life.

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