eWhen I am proposed with the question of my purpose in life, I used to have certain answers, and these answers used to represent my perspective, values, and depth of self-reflection. Now, I am more convinced of the perspective that we are here to experience. What is experience? Who are we? What do we experience? This is what I’m going to reflect on in this post.
The Meaning of Experience
There are two sides of experience; the objective (outer) and the subjective (inner). The objective-outer experience might be a life situation, and the subjective-inner experience is a product of the consciousness of the experiencer, so to speak. I’d like to use the term ‘consciousness’ here to mean all that happens in the mind (and maybe outside of it); all knowledge, thinking, values, memories, emotions, and most importantly self-awareness. That consciousness is what gives the outer experience its effect and meaning.
Is Experience An Outer Happening Or An Inner Phenomenon?
Only 0.01% of things happen outside; the other 99.99% of our experiences happen inside of us. What makes us experience experiences is the sophisticated minds that we have. An incident happens outside, but we don’t experience that incident; we experience our own consciousness instead. We filter this outer happening through our core-beliefs, accumulative knowledge, past memories, feelings & impressions, and other variables that exist in our own minds, resulting in a unique individualized experience.
The percentage I mentioned is just randomly and intuitively chosen, it’s not a valid numeric value, yet the point is meant to be. This is important to notice because when the word experience is mentioned, most of us think of outer happenings, which is true to some extent*, but we neglect the bigger portion of experience, which is the inner happenings that are associated with the outer happening. This inner experience that happens through complicated processing is actually what makes our experiences the way they are. Two individuals having the same outer experience can have completely two contrasting inner experiences!
What Are We?
We are existential beings, we are the “inner” agent that intends, observes, and experiences the “outer” world. Ultimately, we are consciousness. This means our experiences should be measured by inner qualities before they’re measured by outer quantities. Our human civilization at the current era of science and technology has transformed humans to robot-like individuals, who seek outer happenings but lack the conscious experiencing of them.
Now when someone says he has had a long experience in something or tried numerous different things, they’re not necessarily rich experiences. He might have spent years in a certain career or a marriage relationship, or he might have tried too many different jobs or relationships, yet the inner richness of his experience should not be measured by the number of years or the quantity of happenings, but by the awareness and inner reflection he has had during those years. A new experience, hence, is not a new happening, but a new consciousness in the first place that is associated with a new outer happening.
We realize now that we do not experience life, or the world, or a new relationship, but we experience ourselves, our new consciousness under those different situations. We can have different levels of richness and depth through experiencing ourselves. It is said that a divine experience can last for slight moments, but its effect is so tremendous that it can transform your whole consciousness forever.
Breaking Down Levels of Experience
Levels that determine the depth of your experience can be divided into four levels: awareness of outer happenings, awareness of mind, awareness of emotion, and awareness of consciousness.
- Awareness of Outer Happenings
This is the lowest level. There is no much of an experience here. This level is the most “outer” layer of experience. Everyone knows whom he meets, whom he married, and what job he’s having. And that’s it. There is no much awareness of the self here. Any mediocre mind can be aware of the basic outer happenings in their lives. This is the level of robots—unaware machines. Too much thoughts, too much repressed emotions, no space for awareness, for experience.
- Awareness of Mind
In this level the individual goes a little bit deeper inside. This is a good portion of experience, where one has at least gotten closer to himself. The biggest barrier to transcend the first level is that one becomes too much occupied with his mind, his thoughts, and his self-talk, that he misses the deeper experience of the upper levels. That is why eastern philosophies urge people to calm their minds and live their moments. It’s because a fuller experience of life and consciousness is related more to high emotions which one cannot reach when he’s too much occupied in the busy-ness of mind.
When someone transcends the level of mind, a whole new world arises at his consciousness. The whole world is different. It’s truly a new consciousness. Now that the mind is sometimes silent, one can breath deeply, drink water attentively, drink the coffee, eat food slowly and tastefully, smell the breeze, and feel his body. There is much wider space for experience to happen. There is room now for relationships to get deeper through deeper communication and attention. There is room now for quality times of relaxation, hobbies, and even intellectual talks.
- Awareness of Emotion
Although transcending the mind is a huge step of awareness, let’s not forget that even when the mind is still, there are barriers of another nature to a fuller experience, they are called emotions. Emotions are remains of blocked energy in the body. Even when you intentionally decide to not listen to your chaotic thoughts, emotions would still drag your attention to them and distract you from a fuller experience. An old love relationship will still distract you from the current relationship if you have remains of negative unresolved emotions.
Imagine your mind is empty and you’re free from past emotions. Imagine you’re free of thoughts and you feel lightness in your body. How can you experience life now? How efficient your mind will operate? How much details can you notice? How much things can you see, feel, and experience?
- Awareness of Consciousness
Transcending your thoughts is higher than transcending your life situations, and transcending your emotions is even higher than transcending thoughts. It’s the end of suffering, as Buddha says. This is the doorway of the highest level of awareness. The commonsensical idea that experience at its deepest is feelings (popular slogans like “Make the greatest experience out of this summer; enjoy it to the max.”) is still not totally true. One has to transcend even emotions in order to have a full experience.
Now when someone is free of thoughts, calm-minded, and also free of emotions, then life is experienced totally freshly and deeply. That is a high level of awareness that results in a deep level of experience. When one is aware of something, this something loses its control over him. When one is aware of his thoughts and mind-talk, he then can calm his mind down. When one is aware of his emotions and energy blocks, he then can break free from them. Nothing can disturb the deeper stillness and peace one has here. Peace is like a huge still lake, whereas emotions, thoughts and life situations are tiny ripples on the surface.
Awareness of consciousness means that you are aware of everything that happens in your consciousness in terms of external events, mind thoughts, as well as emotions and body sensations. In addition to that, you’d be aware of your relationship with the universe, you would understand your unity with the universe, your effect on it and on whoever resides in it. You would have an inner knowing of how this existence moves and operates, and how you can tune and synchronize with it. Don’t mistake awareness for thinking, you don’t think of all these things; you cannot! You’re just aware of them. When you’re aware, and only when you’re aware, going through life experiences can be very, very beneficial. Here you can gain wisdom. Here your soul touches the beauty of life.
Once you transcend your emotions you become very sensitive to whatever sucks your energy out. You’ll be more sensitive towards life. Don’t worry, this is a sign of aliveness. The more sensitive, the more deep and the more alive. But this is not to be confused with sensitivity as a result of thoughts or negative mind-talk or self-pity, it’s sensitivity towards whatever life brings in the moment. This is one of the deepest experiences of life. It might be the level of revelation, intuition, and deep understanding.
I wouldn’t say these levels are rigidly sequential in the sense of a man transcends one level to the upper, one by one. Generally speaking, your awareness in one area of life will affect all of the other areas, but you might have different experience levels across different areas life. One might be experienced in one area of life, career for example, and at the same time inexperienced in another area such as friendship or dating. To further clarify the idea, one might be be having a rich experience in his career, meaning, aware of himself, his expertise, strengths and weaknesses, his work relationships, his political energy in the workplace, his work-related values, and his outer happenings such as career promotions throughout the years. However, having a rich experience in the career area has nothing to do with another area such as dating, where he might be unaware of his energy towards girls, his self-sabotage emotions, his core-beliefs towards committed relationships, and his outer happenings such as his lack of a love relationship. Hence he might be suffering from a lack of a love relationship, and the solution is–you already figured out–more awareness in this area.
Should We Seek New “Experiences” Or New Consciousness?
Yes we should seek new experiences, that is, new outer life affairs, but we should focus more on self-awareness during those experiences, because that is what will make us evolve and prosper. And how do you know you evolved? You wouldn’t know unless you experience the other pole. When you experience yourself in failure as well as in success, only then you’d know by experience, and only then you’d mature and evolve into a newer consciousness.
Experience accompanied by awareness is the doorway to evolution of maturity, joy, and effectiveness in the world.
* Some say that everything only exist inside of our minds and nothing exist outside of it. This is a philosophical paradigm that assumes nothing exists if the observer is nonexistent. I am not sure but for now I won’t adopt this paradigm.