What does coffee taste like?
How does the sun feel on your skin?
What’s it like to ride a motorcycle?
There are whole libraries written about these and other experiences trying to tell you what things are actually like without you have to experience them. Thousands or even millions of bloggers trying to tell you how awesome life is. But there is a problem there. Although it’s fascinating to read about other people’s experiences, or even to watch (hyper)realistic fiction on TV so you can join in the feelings, it’s not the same. Watching (or reading about) successful people and how they made it -while amusing- gets you nowhere. Time is spent living through other people and every once in a while you’ll hear “I wish I could do that” or “I wish that happened to me”.
You can never truly and accurately convey an experience.
A long time ago while training as a therapist a few people with disabilities were asked to help us understand things. Among them was a woman, blind from birth. One of the most intriguing questions asked was “If you dream, what do you dream about” Have you ever thought of it? Of course someone who lost their sight during life could still be able to dream images, but what if you’ve never had those images in the first place. The answer made sense: She dreamt conversation, sounds, smells and touch. All the other senses were there. She would feel the sun on her face, smell fresh spring air and heard birds sing.
Later on another question came to mine, but that later was many years later.
“How do you know when you are dreaming and when you are awake?”
Welcome to the matrix
It’s the classic “blue pill or red pill” here. How do you know that what is in front of you is reality. To cut that one short you will never know for sure that what you believe you experience is reality. This blog, religion, your body, it might all be a figment of your imagination.
Another thought that came up was how could you explain that woman what the sun looked like or what the color red was. In this example most people would easily understand that you can’t possibly convey that experience to the other, simply because there is no reference.
That blind woman could not argue with you that an apple is red or the sun golden. She had no reference, she never experienced it.
Now on to other examples, the most important being a religious experience. Can you tell someone what you experienced if they never experienced it and so have no reference? You can’t, you simply can’t… and still, there are so many out there who try constantly to convey that experience. Don’t they know you can’t pass experience on?
Enlightenment is in the eye of the beholder
You can’t argue about experience… ever. If someone experiences something a certain way, that’s their experience and you will never share that experience. If you believe it’s the same dive deeper.
This is Zen at it’s core. Every experience is unique, nothing is ever the same. Sure, you can refuse to dive deeper and claim that the experience is the same, but that would be superficial and almost an insult to your knowledge. Especially after reading this blogpost.
Deep down on some level everything is unique. Just because you haven’t had a religious experience involving an Aztec God doesn’t mean he isn’t there. Just because you’ve never had a near death experience doesn’t make the claim less legitimate.
- Experiences of all kinds are unique and personal
- You can’t convey an experience on it’s deepest level
- Nobody knows the truth, however you might experience it
- You will (probably) never know if your experience is the truth
It’s the experience of this truth that Zen Buddhists try to reach. They call it Satori or “Gaining insight”. That is, experiencing the truth through an intuitive knowing, a direct experience. But as soon as they logically try to capture it, it’s gone. As soon as you apply a filter you kill the truth. You can’t share it in any way. In the end, all you can do is invite other people to share an experience with you in real life, it’s the closest you’ll ever get.
What experience would you like to share?