Posts Tagged ‘experience’

The presence of experience

October 9, 2013

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


the presence of transcendence

June 26, 2011

I’ve been working on this blog about transcendence for about a month now. It is a slow process because I am in the process of practicing transcendence to get over myself, and I’ve got a lot of history being myself. The question is: can I be all of who I am and still find joy in my being even when I am limited, even when my circumstances are less than perfect? Can I maintain my presence within my boundaries no matter who or what is tugging me away from my true presence? Can I transcend the fact that I don’t have a clear handle on transcendence and write about it anyway?

It is a moment by moment decision with countless opportunities. I find that if I wait to write about transcendence until I have transcended my life completely, most of us will be a little bit dead.

The word transcendence is tossed around all over enlightenment literature. We are told to transcend this or that. We read about transcendent experiences. Transcendence generally means to go beyond something — beyond an experience, beyond our own states of being. Some definitions are particular in their nuances. One definition describes transcendence as surpassing others, being preeminent or supreme (think “God”). Another says that transcendence lies beyond the ordinary range of perception. Yet another describes transcendence as being above and independent of the material universe. Transcendence is also the state of excelling or surpassing or going beyond the usual limits.

I listen to these definitions carefully as I encounter moments of transcendent opportunity. The general meaning of transcendence – to go beyond something – fits best with how my life is unfolding right now. I define transcendence in terms of choosing how I want to interpret and experience the moments of my life.

I cannot abandon my history. All that I have experienced has brought me to this moment and will follow me into the next moments. I cannot change my experiences, but I can change my perception of those experiences. Much of my life is cued by what has happened in the past and what might happen in the future. If I want to have a different experience than the one I am having right now, it is up to me to transcend my preconceived ideas and ways of being. It may not necessarily change the situation, but it brings more of who I truly am into action.

Stay tuned.

©2011 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of unknowing

October 26, 2010

Can a thing once known ever be unknown?

Can a truth once known ever be forgotten?

What if all of your history disappeared?

Who would you be without your memory?

Time magazine had an article in their October 11, 2010 issue about a woman who suffered brain damage in the hippocampi of her brain (,9171,2022652,00.html) as the result of herpes encephalitis. As a result, she is now an amnesiac who has procedural memory (she remembers how to drive a car) and semantic memory (she remembers facts that she had previously learned) but she has very little access to episodic memory: only rarely can she remember the sensations associated with an experience – what it looked liked, sounded like, and felt like.

She does not remember the faces of people in her life, although she can remember their names.

The article is very short and focuses mostly on the device created by Microsoft to help her retain day-to-day memories. If I could, I would like to talk to her about what she remembers about who she is.

If we are the product of our experiences, what happens to our identity when we lose the memory of those experiences? From our experiences in life, we make decisions about how we are going to be in the world.

Some people hold themselves back from fully experiencing life the lives they want because of what happened OR did not happen in our lives. Perhaps we suffered a trauma. Perhaps our parents were not quite the role models we would have opted for. We come to believe that we are shaped by our experiences. We become adults who attach meaning to those memories. These memories dictate who we believe ourselves to be and how we trust ourselves.

What if those memories disappeared and you could invent new ones? Who would you be then? Can you imagine how you would be in the world?

If you can imagine it, you can be it.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

In the presence of others

October 23, 2010

We can never know the true experience of life for another. We cannot climb inside their skin, see through their eyes, think their thoughts, or feel their emotions. We can only imagine what their experience would be like for us had we lived it.

At my class the other night, we had an exercise where one person behaved as a client in therapy while the rest of the class worked on being present with that person using our feelings and responding to that person from our hearts.

It was a real eye opener to me to see how I (and others) defaulted to our analytic thinking and responded from our heads, not our hearts.

Responding to someone from a feeling place requires work and practice. It also requires a willingness to develop a way to be in touch with one’s own feelings while listening to another person’s story and, at the same time, get in touch with how the other person is feeling, and know which is which. It requires empathy for what the other person is experiencing. We must have enough life experience and a few mishaps along the way to truly empathize and identify with the pain of another’s experience. The important caveat was to be fully in another’s presence without falling into their pain and dwelling in the misery.

I focus on pain because I don’t know too many people who sign up for psychotherapy when everything in their lives is grand and wonderful . . . much less pay to share that information with me. Truth is the number that I actually know is . . . um . . . zero.

Among all of us, there was a tendency to diagnose and define the pain. We could identify it. We could exchange a sentence or two about how that must be for the client in the chair. Then, we wanted to fix it.

It was a clear lesson in how to get out of our heads and out of our own ways. In the presence of others, there is no fixing to be done. We must acknowledge and accept. We must reflect that we understand. We must respect that their eternal presence was and is fully capable of dealing with life and knows what they need. We must honor the wisdom that brought that person to our presence. We are a presence for others to come and rest their stories. If we let our presences connect and speak with each other, they will find a healing path together.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of boundaries

April 27, 2010

Boundaries provide the structure — an outline — of existence. For any given situation and encounter, boundaries flex and bend, expand and contract, open and close. Each person has a different concept of what constitutes a boundary. The universe has constructed its own very-necessary-to-our-survival boundaries (check out the semi-permeable membranes of cells).

I absolutely cannot climb inside another person’s experience nor can they climb inside mine. I can empathize and imagine, but I cannot be in their experience. That boundary is invisibly absolute. Yet, I in the next breath I might breathe in the oxygen they just exhaled — the air we inhale has about 16% oxygen, but our bodies only need about 3% of that, so we exhale about 13%. I might inhale some of the air that was just in that person’s lungs.

Whatever behavior we witness in another, no one can know exactly what is going on inside that person in that moment. We cannot see through their eyes, know their thoughts, or perceive their reality. We can only judge by their behavior how and where to create our personal boundaries. My boundary will be made of concrete and be miles deep if someone threatens me. With those who I love and trust, my boundary is softly transparent, and I am revealed.

When I am engaged in my eternal presence, I realize that behind the behavior of any person is someone who wants to be loved and accepted no matter what superficial personality they portray. Because I cannot know their experience, I must accept that person is doing the best they can, and I must respect whatever boundary they have cloaked themselves with.

All boundaries that exist are different and require judgment, inquiry, examination, knowing which ones we can change, acceptance of those we cannot change, and (as the old Native People prayer goes) the wisdom to know the difference.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass