Forget about all the concepts about your life experience for a second. Let’s just talk about your actual experience. Are you happy with your experience?
I have observed that most people don’t ask themselves that question. Most are caught up in the concepts about their experience in order to justify or rationalize it. Concepts can make decision making very difficult. They can add unnecessary complexity and confusion to what is ultimately a simple decision: do we like our experience?
Experience is the ultimate teacher, but we allow concepts- usually others’ concepts at that- to cloud its teachings, which then causes us to experience suffering without the ability to relieve that suffering ourselves. I was having this discussion with my brother and my wife earlier this week. It started off about my family’s culture- I am East Indian, living in Canada- and how Indian culture can cause suffering for many people. It started with us talking about people we know who have had unpleasant experiences in their arranged marriages to their cousins and how they find it difficult to change their life experience because of pressure from our culture and the couple’s family. The family itself is rigid in its concepts of what it expects of the couple because of its attachment to the concepts of culture. In my culture it is normal and quite common to have arranged marriages to cousins. In fact, at one point my parents had a chat with me about arranging my marriage to a cousin or to another girl I didn’t know, but I squashed that idea right away. It just didn’t feel right. Instead, I married the love of my life, who- to my parents’ initial horror- is Mexican. I chose to stray from my culture by marrying my wife because I enjoyed the experience of being with her more than I enjoyed the idea of experiencing an arranged marriage to someone I barely knew. I am happy I listened to my experience rather than the mere words and concepts of my parents and my culture. My wife and I share a relationship that is beyond what I could have ever hoped for, and yet I would have thrown it away if I had listened to words and concepts like so many others. Moreover, because my wife and I chose our own experience of marriage, we hold the key to creating solutions to any problems that may arise in our marriage. We are not bound to customs and others’ opinions about what our experience of marriage should be about.
The discussion with my brother and my wife then led into other areas of East Indian culture in which concepts cloud experience, such as when poor families in India kill their infant daughters because they cannot afford to pay the dowry at their daughter’s future arranged marriage. It never occurs to the families that the concept of dowry and arranged marriages are made up and that they can improve the actual experience of their lives by letting go of those old ideas. Instead, they are hopelessly bound to a culture created by others. Until they take back the power to create their own culture and their own experience they will not experience the relief that comes with the ability to create their own solutions in life.
In the West, we are shocked by how people such as those in India can be so blind to what they are doing because of the weight of tradition, but we are not that different. In our end of the world we create and perpetuate systems that destroy the environment, which has the potential to turn into an experience of slow suicide. We commit this slow suicide because we say we want the concept of economic growth, even if that economic growth causes suffering to ourselves and others. Our concept of economic growth clouds our actual experience of destroying the very system that sustains us. Some of us may say that it is not us destroying the environment but rather that it is giant corporations doing the majority of the polluting, but we must ask ourselves how corporations came to be in the first place. Corporations are just concepts, just as arranged marriage and dowry are concepts. They can all be changed in order to create a more pleasurable experience for all of us, if we choose to do so. The fact that we didn’t pay attention to our experience as corporations grew larger and more destructive, and instead chose to listen to the concepts we were told by those very same corporations is what has created this increasingly negative experience now.
Yet there is nothing “wrong” with our experience now. I don’t want people to think of a concept of “positive” experience and think they must strive to create it. There is no authority figure out there dictating what we choose to experience. This isn’t about letting go of one concept and attaching to another; this time the concept of “positive” experience. Everything is chosen by us, including what we say is positive and negative, just because we say so. If we like the experience of destroying the planet, we will (continue to) do so. If we like the experience of going into debt to banks in order to simply live our lives we will continue to do so. If we like the experience of living in ignorance of our experience and suffering the consequences of that ignorance, we will continue to do so. If we like the experience of going back to living off the land in small colonies we will do so. There is nothing “wrong” with any of it. Life is meaningless. Life is where we get to play out whatever type of experience we desire to play out. We are the infinite awareness in which all experiences happen, just because they can. There is no need to justify our experience. There is no need to rationalize it. There are no expectations for us to meet. It’s up to us. Just pay attention to the experience itself and ask yourself: do I like this? Or don’t pay attention to it, and ask yourself if you enjoy the experience of living in ignorance. If not, create the experience of changing your experience in whatever way you find enjoyable. Do it because you enjoy it, not because it is the “right” thing to do.
So if you like the experience of treating others and yourself with respect, choose it. If you like the experience of being creative, choose it and be creative in whatever way you desire to be. If you enjoy the experience of exploration, explore. If you enjoy being fearless, be fearless. Choose the experience you enjoy and seek to change the rest. But seek to change it in an enjoyable way. There is no point in being miserable because you have chosen to change your experience. Be happy with your choice because ultimately it is you who is responsible for your choices and for coming up with the reasons for your choices. That is the joy of living your life. Take back the power to create your experience rather than being attached to the concepts of what your experience must be like. Start being a creative being rather than a reactive one because at this point, all our lives depend on our ability to be creative.