Drop by drop we suck from the infinite pond of life experience, dumping experience after experience into our buckets. With the vast range of possibilities life offers, so often that bucket morphs into a bucket list that weighs us down with desire and expectation. But instead of the bucket we do have another choice, to slowly allow experiences into our life, absorbing them with mindfulness and turning each moment into an opportunity for transformation.
Robert Monroe, when relating his out-of-body experiences, talks about life as a form of addictiveness. We are here in this physical body with all these senses switched on, always on the lookout for yet more experiences. I need to live another life because I never gained fame. I didn’t have kids. I didn’t get to see the pyramids in Egypt. Whatever it is, we die with a debt. A debt in the physical world that requires the physical world to repay.
So we enter into a state of unfulfillment at death that Eastern religions refer to as reincarnation. We are stuck on the wheel of becoming, unable to cut the chain of causality, always wanting more and more, causing us to continue living in samsara.
From temporary experience to knowledge
Skydiving, near-death experiences and taking a shower are all experiences. Though the duration and the character of these experiences are all different, they all share one thing in common: they are temporary.
Some people are blessed with peak experiences like a near-death experience or talking to God or less extreme events like getting blissed out in worship or feeling a sense of Oneness with others that pique their interest in that which is greater than their limited physical selves. Events like these can provide us with an immensely transcendent learning experience that point us in the right direction (and give us a firm boot in the butt so we never look back!), but in the end they are all temporary experiences. It is up to us to embody that knowledge and know what we have experienced.
And this is where curiosity can trip us up. Curiosity gets us to probe. Just what was that experience all about? I’m not quite sure, but it was cool. I want more. From there it can easily tip the boat back into addictiveness. Like any powerful experience, how easy it is to get attached to those same experiences that opened the gateway to the beyond. After all, it seems to make sense—this is a good thing so go get some more. But it is just that… more experiences of a temporary nature that will come and go. If we let our experiences define us, we rob ourselves because there is so much more to life than experience itself.
You don’t take your possessions with you to your grave. You can take your memories with you, but when we get caught up in thinking about our memories we can easily get trapped in our past, not in the here and now.
Instead, when we actively embrace our experiences with gentle hands, turn them over and observe with thoughtful eyes and patient ears curious to know the true meaning of those experiences we turn them from objects to be had to embodied knowledge that can help us transcend our limited selves.
Getting from do to be
“One way to deprive yourself of an experience is indeed to expect it,” says Joseph Campbell. “Another is to have a name for it before you have the experience.” Yet a third is to number your experience. When we have a list with x number of things to accomplish it really puts things in perspective. Crossing off one thing out of 100 can render that experience only one percent relevant to us. And as we shove more and more into our buckets the contents get crowded, making it so easy to objectify our experiences and turn them into mere memories, a stale representation of a moment that has long passed.
Mindfulness is a way to get from doing to being that transforms experience, even the most mundane event, into an aspect of our being. Every moment of every day has transformative potential. If anything, the mundane is the best kind of experience to practice with. By turning our attention to the simple, everyday tasks like taking a shower or hanging clothes to dry rather than passively doing them just to get them done with our mind always on the next task or fixated on some distant memory, we train ourselves to live experiences rather than collect them. Every mundane task becomes an opportunity to experience. And by transforming every moment into an experience, the very idea of “experience” loses its relevance because everything is experience. We wear away experience into just simply being.
We needn’t let our bucket of desire weigh us down. But so often we do because we neither treasure the mundane nor make the most of the experiences we feel are special. Do we greedily snatch the gift, tear off the wrapping paper and toss it aside to go out roaming for more or do we gently embrace the gift that presents itself to us every moment of the day. Show gratitude for it. Slowly uncover it and spend time contemplating it and learning from it. From there we find that the gift really is in us, always available to tap into each and every moment of the day.
image: Katelin Todhunter-Gerberg (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND)