Moving From Thinking To Experiencing

I can feel myself slipping.

By this I mean, that I am starting to lose my (perceived) foothold on who I am, what I am doing and what everything is.  Since I can remember, I have prided myself on my ability to understand what is going on.  This is just a general way of saying that I over analyze everything. From relationships to situations to thoughts to beliefs.  I’m almost 100% T(hinking) in Myers Briggs. While I’m far from an expert for what is happening in the world.  I have always felt that I know exactly what is going on inside of me.  I do X because of Y.  I think A because of B.  I believe C because of D.  Everything can be explained.

But like I said, I’m slipping.  Things are happening where I can’t explain them.  I’m feeling things I can’t explain and are illogical.  Things have happened to me where words cannot articulate to anyone else what those things are.  This is uncharted territory for me.  I don’t feel scared about it or worried.  I actually am excited.  For the first time I feel like I’m growing as a person in ways that isn’t just knowing more things.  I am starting to see the other side, or rather I’m starting to experience the other side.

First, there is relationships.

Finding myself back in a place in my life where I am starting new relationships again has brought with it a bunch of advice.  One piece of such advice was “you think too much, just go with it, and have a good time.”  After hearing that, I realized, that I have no idea how to do that when I’m starting something new.  I am on high alert.  Analyzing, over-thinking, plotting, planning and I don’t know how to just sit and be.  I do this fine with people that I know and trust and am comfortable around.  But to do it with someone new?  I don’t know if I’m capable of it.  It frustrates me knowing that it’s so difficult for me to be present at a time where I should be.

I realize that I am unable to experience a situation fully because I am thinking so much.  I think this is why we bond with each other when we do things together, when we share experiences together, not just when we talk to one another.  You can have someone answer a bunch of questions about themselves.  Their likes and dislikes, their areas of interests, the stories that define them.  Or you could go skiing together, or play a board game, or go to a concert.  This is a different way to know someone and build a connection with them.  No amount of information or knowledge of the other person can do what a shared experience does.  A good friend said this to me last year that I thought really succinctly identified my problem and what I’m trying to get at here:

My main point is this: I have noticed [from personal experiences] that with conflict in intimate relationships we can often become fixated on analysis – to a fault. A rational mind like you and me can find comfort in analysis because it helps us understand and can lead us to logical conclusions. But sometimes I think this can be overkill and it inhibits us from making connections on other levels.

Ultimately, I don’t think analysis and mutual agreement on relational dynamics is what will re-build a relationship. What will re-build the relationship is simply being together in ways other than analysis – because it is in those other ways that your trust and love will be rebuilt.  What am I talking about? I’m talking about other ways of being together, like… cooking, playing games, sex, waking the dog, etc. These are always the ways good relationships get built, not by putting the relationship itself under a microscope.

Groups.

The larger a group is, the more mindful of everything I am doing.  If I’m at a concert, the last thing I am ever going to do is get caught up in the mood and movements of the crowd.  I stand at the back, I observe, I enjoy, but I don’t participate.  Sometimes I look on the group envious that so many people can just lose themselves to the music and the experience they are having.  I don’t trust groups.  And when I’m not in a place that I can trust, I put up a lot of walls and I go into hyper-analytical mode.  I find that I am missing out on experiences because I’m too closed off in these situations. Why can’t I let go?

Drugs and alcohol.

I am not a regular drug user.  I’ve smoked marijuana a handful of times in my life.  I do own a brewery, so I tend to drink often though rarely enough that causes me to feel it.  However, in the couple experiences that I have had with both marijuana or being drunk, it really is the closest example I can give to what I’m trying to explain in this post.  Those experiences are other-worldly.  I try to track what is going on in my brain sometimes by writing things down, and it just never works.  I can never translate the experience that I am having into words.  There are many stories of psychedelic drugs causing profound mystical experiences for people and because of my experiences this does not surprise me at all.  It’s like my thinking side gets turned off entirely and I can enter into experiential mode unhindered.  You see things differently, that really is the only way I can explain it.  While drugs and alcohol have given me experiences I could not have otherwise had, when I’m not under their influence, my logical brain is way too strongly limiting my use for this to be a normal or regular way to have experiences without the hindrance of my analyzing.

There is fiction.

As some of you know, 2017 is my year where I’m trying to embrace works of fiction.  A number of my friends had read My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and the way they talked about it baffled me.  They talked about getting captured into this world, changing their beliefs on gender, needing time to just let the story sink in and all sorts of other descriptions that I didn’t understand how a story about two young Italian girls would create such meaningful moments for them.  Other friends talked about how reading fiction was a safe place for them, the characters gave them peace and a world to escape to and felt it was a salvation of sorts growing up.

As I dive into more and more fiction, I am starting to understand this world a bit more.  Of course, I’ve basically only enjoyed and read non-fiction since I was a teenager.  Just give me facts and teach me what I need to know, save the experiences for the movies (which is one legitimate way I have always experienced stories).  However, I am finally starting to learn what fiction is capable of in being a formative part of my life in ways that non-fiction never could achieve.  It’s not meant to translate the facts of a story into my brain so I know a few names and actions that specific characters took.  It’s meant to capture me into an experience that can influence and shape who I am.

This is why I am having an easier time understanding why entire religions are based on narratives and why myths are so formational to humans.  The stories that we experience have a significant impact on who we are.

Playing sports.

I’ve always loved playing sports, and have rarely enjoyed watching sports.  I have also rarely enjoyed physical activity that didn’t require ongoing interaction with others within the activity (running, biking, weights, tennis).  I’ve realized that sports have always been one of the few experiences that I completely lose myself within them and it’s the most rejuvenating and healthy thing I can do.  I’m not thinking about anything and I’m more present playing hockey or volleyball than any other time in my life.  If I go for a bike ride or a run, I spend all my time thinking, if I’m playing hockey, I am forced to be present in the moment.

Death and suffering.

This has been a weird one for me over the last year and a half.  My mother died and it was the most experiential and analytical time of my life all combined into one.  I was analyzing my own emotions faster than I was having them.  Because it sort of spiraled me into this unavoidable experience, I was overwhelmed by the power of the uncontrollable situation and what it could do to me.  In some ways, I am grateful that I can be so calm and controlled and thoughtful through really difficult situations.  In other ways, I recognize how walled off I am to actually experiencing suffering and reality.  For the most part I would have thought this was a good thing.  But other situations have made me realize that I am much less able to connect with others’ suffering and reality because I cannot experience my own.  So I am learning to mourn, and sit in suffering, and sit in the fullness of misery in order that I may journey with those close to me when it is their turn.

Science on your loved one.

I was speaking to a chemical engineer the other day.  He was expressing his confusion and exasperation in being a scientist and working on specific water projects with other scientists that were also Indigenous.  Here he was, analyzing the exact same data next to a scholarly peer and finding himself confused to a point of frustration that they could not relate.  It wasn’t that they read the data differently or even disagreed with what needed to happen.  It’s that the Indigenous scientists talked about the water differently, and talked about meaningfulness and sacredness and all sorts of other words that western scientists wouldn’t use.

I realized in listening to him share this story, that an Indigenous scientist is experiencing and studying water entirely different than a western scientists is.  When an Indigenous scientist studies water, they take great care, and have great compassion and are filled with respect for what they are doing.  The only way a western scientist could relate would be if they were studying their wives.  One scientist may look at a wife and see protons, and cells, and neurons, and body parts,  The scientist whose wife is being studied will be aware of all the chemicals and cells and body parts but will approach the subject entirely differently.  It is the experience that the scientist has with the subject of the study that will shape how they approach the study and what everything means.

What kinds of things in our life do we approach void of experience and relationship?  We have a lot to learn.

I share these stories because experience has become a new kind of knowledge for me.  It’s sort of like a waking up to the world around me and I can see differently than I could before, and no book or fact could have given me the lens that I have because of these experiences.  I would have discarded experience as a illegitimate way to gain knowledge and grow in understanding, but now I am seeing that it is as crucial as analyzing and logic, if not more.  The world is not made of just facts, but of experiences as well.

In a brilliant interview with Carlo Rovelli, professor of physics at Aix-Marseille University, he talks about the differences between things and the interaction of things

We do understand the world better not in terms of things, but in terms of interaction between things, and how things interact with one another, even in biology….I’m not a thing; I’m a net of interactions with the world around me, with the people who know me, who love me. It’s a more powerful way of trying to grasp reality by focusing on what interacts with what and how. And somehow, the objects are just the nodes of interactions. They’re not primary thing; they’re secondary thing, I think.”

I think experiences are the interactions of things and I’m growing to be much more fascinated from experiences rather than character traits of things.  By entering into the interactions with things we are learning much more deeply about the world then we would be by studying them from afar.

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