We have been hearing from quantum physics over the recent past about the fluid nature of apparent reality, and how we invest facts and experience with meaning which colors the facts and the experience, becomes inseparable from them, and makes them into something more than they were by themselves, before we became involved with them. We cannot experience a purely meaningless experience, an experience which means nothing to us. It doesn’t register. It won’t compute. Which is to say that we experience all experience in light of previous experience—which is how we assign meaning.
There is no experience apart from interpretation and evaluation, which is biased by virtue of previous experience. Our perception is skewed by past encounters with something similar. Prior experience positions us to receive the world—to perceive the world—as we do. Our expectations color our reality. Whatever we think about the present moment has more to do with previous moments than with this one, has more to do with where we have been than where we are. So, Mark Twain can observe that “a cat once burned will never again sit on a hot stove—or a cold one.”
This means that the work is to stand aside. The work is to get ourselves out of the way, to the extent that can be done, in order to see what is happening now, with as few filters—with as few memories and associations—as possible coming between us and the action. The work is to become increasingly aware of where we have been, and how that has impacted us, and how that is influencing where we are, and our response to it. The work is to pay attention, and to make an emotional and physical response to our environment that might be quite different from the way we have been accustomed to respond.
The work is to appreciate the close connection, the identification, between thinking and feeling—between a thought about our environment or an experience, and an emotional response or reaction to our environment or experience. Think of thoughts as feelings put into words; verbalized feelings; articulated feelings; feelings all dressed up so as to be socially acceptable, perhaps—or, hidden away, buried, beneath layers of rational discourse. At the base, our thoughts about something are inseparable from the feelings we feel about the thing—a thought/feeling, or a feeling/thought.
We can think up a feeling. We can feel our way into thoughts which feed the feeling and spin us out into crazy land. You can whisper a sweet nothing in my ear and arouse me sexually (Well, some of you can), and I can imagine you whispering a sweet nothing in my ear and arouse myself sexually. My brain can’t tell the difference between the actual whisper and the imagined whisper. It’s all the same to my brain. It doesn’t matter to my brain. My brain signals the same response to either stimulus.
We can trick our brain. Our brain can trick itself. What’s real? Our brain can’t tell. Doesn’t care. That being the case, we might pay attention to what we spend our time telling ourselves. What do we spend our time imagining? What scenarios are always being played out in our heads? What emotional responses, reactions, are we always triggering in our brains? How are we setting ourselves up to respond to our environment based on the steady internal conversation that we are always having with ourselves, with our brain? What are we saying to ourselves? What would happen if we said something else instead? What would happen if we simply tuned in and became steadily aware of the things we are telling ourselves and the feelings we are generating thereby?
Closely related to the question about what are we always saying to ourselves is the one about what train of associations are we always riding. Things like “this” always remind us of what? Our present experience is always taking us back to what? To when? To where? What is the prior experience that colors all other experience? What is the past experience (or the experiences) that had such an emotional impact on us that all other experience is experienced in light of that experience? The present moment is always reminding us of what moment? We make decisions today in light of what in our past? What are we trying to escape? What can’t we get away from? What are we constantly playing out? What are we dutifully obeying, carefully observing, eternally fulfilling with our lives? Who are we living to please? What experience is the Rosetta Stone by which we interpret all other experience? What experience is the Prime Integer by which all other experience is calculated, figured, understood? To what are we bound? How shall we set ourselves free?
The freedom we seek is the freedom to be here now. It is the freedom to respond to this moment based upon the needs of this moment and our ability to meet those needs with the gifts that came with us from the womb (Our original nature, “the face that was ours before we were born”). What is the moment asking of us? How free are we to meet the moment on the moment’s terms, without the interference of all (or any) of the other moments crashing in upon this one? To be free, we have to be emotionally neutral. To do that, we can’t have much of an opinion about the way things are. To see we can’t be blinded by fear, desire or duty. And this gets us into the matter of motive.
What are we up to? What are we about? What are we after? What do we want? Toward what are we living? What are we serving with our lives? If we are living to get something we don’t have, or to get away from something we do have, or to keep away from something we had once (or once had us) and barely escaped, well, you can see how that’s going to impact things.
It all comes down to “What’s important?” It all comes down to “Who are we? What are we about? What do we think is worth our life?” If we were to live to be true to ourselves, to be aligned with that which is deepest, best, and truest about us, while serving that which is truly important, what would we be doing that we are not doing? How would we be living? What’s keeping us from doing that? What’s keeping us from doing that, at least, on the weekends? Once a month? Twice a year? What are we afraid of? What are we bound to? What is so important that it prevents us from doing what is truly important? Do you see how the wonderful old Biblical themes of Bondage and Freedom, Guilt and Forgiveness, Sacrifice and Redemption, Paradise Lost and Regained, Death and Resurrection, and the like, play themselves out in our lives?
It all comes down to working room. How are we going to put enough distance between ourselves and our emotional bondage to the experience of our lives in order to free ourselves to respond to what is happening now solely on the basis of what is happening now? How do we think ourselves into feeling differently about our lives? Into responding differently to our lives? How do we feel our way into thinking differently?
We cannot be free from what we will not face. Remember three requirements for the spiritual journey: Wake up! Grow up! Square up to how things are and how things also are and how we wish they were and how they truly need to be! Get up and do what needs to be done! All four requirements place upon us the burden of facing up to the truth of our lives and bearing the pain of realization. We have to experience our experience to be free of the emotional impact of that experience.
Experience and the emotional response to experience, which colors experience, and propels us into the downward, or upward, depending on your point of view, spiral of emotional experience creating more emotional experience based on the prior, or primary, emotional experience, are the foundational factors of life. We will never separate them into neat little categories of “experience” and “emotional response to experience.” They are one thing. And, they make our lives what they are.
If our lives are going to be different, that difference is going to be the result of our paying attention to—of our being aware of—our experience and of our emotional response to our experience. We have only awareness to work with—awareness of our perspective and perception. Awareness moderates emotional response. Awareness frees us—forces us—to think about what we are feeling, to explore the connection between thought and feeling, to wonder about motive and intention and the part they play in our emotional reaction to experience, and offers the possibility of deciding to respond to our experience in a way that is different from our normal, natural, tendency and inclination.
We can be as free as we are able to be in living the life that is waiting to be lived. The price of that freedom is taking the time to pay attention to the life that is being lived. We stand on the threshold between two worlds—the one that has been and the one that will be—and decide how one will impact the other, and what we will do, here and now, in each moment that comes along.