In today’s world, experience seems to be what sells and grabs our attention. We seek a certain type of experience, the better experience, with food, events, and in making decisions. Although this may have negative connotation to it, like with tools and technology, for example, it depends on the approach one has with it and how one uses it; as mentioned last week about time - use it as a tool, and it will no longer use you. If the decision is a short term pleasurable experience it may a folly desire, especially if it’s familiar, but a novel, memorable experience can go a long way and enhance one’s life and purpose.
What’s the healthy mindset and approach toward having experiences?
Experience is very important. When it comes to learning something, experience is what creates a distinction between reading (passive) and studying (active). Without an experience of something intellectual, meaning the process of birthing emotion from intellect, the particular subject would be all in the head. Experience is what enriches circuitry in the brain. When you can learn something and meditate on it, allowing it to settle into you, which is beyond mere contemplation, an emotion will arise and it will make sense intellectually and emotionally.
In chassidic terminology there are ten attributes or sefirot in which G-d expresses Himself. The word sefirah is related to the verb lesaper, which means to “express” or “communicate.“ Three of the sefirot are intellectual and seven are emotional. Focusing on the intellectual attributes, there are chochmah (wisdom), bina (understanding), and da'at (knowledge). Once the wisdom or information (chochmah) is processed or understood (bina), it can give birth to knowledge (da'at). Da'at comes about through experience. For example, you may know how to do a push-up and even understand the mechanics well, but until you get down and perform it, you don’t know it, meaning it has not become emotionally understood. The same applies across the board. This was a pretty simple example which can be easily understood. What about the areas in our life where we know what to do and how to do it, but we just don’t do it? Often we know how to live healthily, eat well, break a habit, etc, but it just doesn’t happen! Something is restricting the flow of chochmah to bina to da'at.
Depending on the particular limitation, it takes sitting in the discomfort - of not taking action - to have the information make its way past the brain stem and into the body as an experience. And the end product of an experience is an emotion. Once the information is emotionally understood, you know it (da'at). Furthermore, the Hebrew word for reasoning, ta'am, also means to taste. Taste is when food or drink is absorbed hinting that there’s an experience to ingesting something whether actual food or intellectual food - food for thought.
Thus, we can determine that experience is not a problem. In fact, it is necessary to really understand subject matter. Experience is a means to an end. It helps us expand our thinking by enriching the connections in our brain. It may not need to be said, but it doesn’t apply to obvious things that don’t require experience to be understood i.e touching a hot stove or taking a dangerous drug.
Experience as an end goal is a problem. If the goal is to have an experience and the emotion is brings it won’t last. As mentioned by Rabbi Rome on my podcast, "to be able to have spiritual experiences is awesome and everybody wants them. And we should strive for them… However, that is never the goal. As soon as it becomes the goal, [you] are in Egypt.” The word for Egypt in Hebrew is mitzrayim which comes from the word for limitation, meitzar. Thus, having a experience as the goal will be a limitation in our life.
Transcending experience must mean getting beyond the familiar experience as an end. Rather, experiences are for the purpose of fulfilling man’s purpose on this world: to create a dwelling for G-d in this world.
What’s the intention you have in pursuing the experience you desire? Keep asking the why behind what you’re deciding and it’ll guide you.
Is this decision you’re contemplating expansive to your soul or restrictive (familiar)? Sometimes choosing a new experience will benefit your soul, brain, and body.