The Experimental Approach to Life

Hello, everyone, and happy day to you!

I know I put something out the other day that hinted at a large event that has happened in my personal life, and which implied that I would share some detail around that, with a window into some process level stuff I’ve been investigating. I’m also aware that I did not do that yesterday, when I said I would. This being the day after yesterday, obviously I could correct my broken promise today, but today is also Thursday, which means we have our meditation and discussion group this evening. And so I hope you will forgive me if I delay yet one more day and write something today that will set up our topic for group tonight, with a sincere promise that I will tell you what’s going on tomorrow.

I am yet also aware, just so you know, of the perfect insignificance of my life in the scheme of things, and also of the clear fact that no one will be as interested in the content of my life as I am. It will be fun for me to share a few things with you, however, and it may be that you find them to be of some little interest. If not, then I will need to ask for your patience until I get back to the usual spiritual stuff.

Today I would like to talk with you about what I like to call “the experimental approach to life”. This is something that I recommend to everyone I talk with, and which I endeavor to practice in my own life as well. What is the experimental approach to life? It is the approach to life in which we take nothing personally, in which we take nothing seriously, and in which we do things just to see what happens, and in order to increase our awareness and our wisdom over time.

What do I mean when I recommend that we not take life personally? Well, of course in order to take life personally there needs to be a person. Right? And from the point of view of Buddhist philosophy, there isn’t one. There is no “person”, taught the Buddha, who is having experience. Experience happens, but it does not happen to someone who is outside of that experience. We tend to assume that we are a “somebody” who is having experience, but, technically speaking, this is not the case. It’s only the case that experience is happening in awareness. We are awareness, or you might say consciousness, in our essence, and so it’s easy to assume that the awareness that is happening is “my” awareness, but it isn’t. Awareness does not require an agent, a someone to perceive it. Awareness is just awareness, and there is no person having it.

The advantage to seeing experience in this way is that we don’t have to get all wigged out and bent out of shape when things happen that “somebody” within conditioned mind doesn’t like. Somebodys love to get frustrated and upset about things, and so on, because that’s how they get to be a somebody, but when there is no somebody there isn’t anybody to get frustrated or upset. Isn’t that good? Understanding this reality, we’re able to step back and look at experience as it unfolds with disinterest, with curiosity, and with equanimity, as if it’s happening to another person–not in such a way that we are disassociated, but in such a way that we are fully connected with authentic nature, which is beyond identity. That’s where the peace and freedom the teachings offer comes from.

What do I mean when I suggest to others or exhort myself to avoid taking life seriously? Well, if there is nobody having experience then there are no real consequences, in an ultimate sense. If there is nobody here, then who might experience consequences? On a more relative level everything has consequences, of course, and at the very least if something happens that is difficult from a certain point of view there will be pain. So if nothing else, in other words, there will be pain. That pain does not happen to awareness, however. That pain happens within awareness. Everything other than pain is just the transitory and circumstantial stuff of life, which passes and is quickly forgotten. Even if one has had a life-changing event in the content of their life, such as the one I’m going to describe tomorrow, it’s just something that arises and passes away from the broadest point of view. As I like to say, I’m going to be really dead really soon, and so why get so worked up about all the stuff going on? I do need to hold the pain that’s happening, if there is pain that’s happening, in compassionate awareness, just because that’s the best way to handle it. The same goes with joy and happiness. These things also need to be held in compassionate awareness, without taking them seriously. We get to fully enjoy whatever joy and happiness we feel, and we have the privilege, and it is a privilege, to experience the pain that happens in the ordinary course of life, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything serious about them. Everything on the level of form, to say it in a different way, is ever changing and ultimately unreal.

The thing it is good to take seriously, I would say, is our practice–not because there actually is anything ultimate and non-transitory in our practice, either, but only because whenever we become confused and begin to believe we are a person having experience, and start taking life seriously, then we suffer, and that’s just not something that’s any good. If we can remember to let go into the awareness that lies beyond individuality and beyond the world of form, then we can be truly happy on this Earth, and the sort of happiness we will have is the sort that is independent of everything.

If we can cease to identify as a person having experience, and cease to take everything so darned seriously, then a wonderful thing occurs: we get to just try stuff out and see what happens. Imagine living in this way! From this point of view, why do I do what I do? Because I want to see what happens. That’s all. Why do I want to see what happens? Because it is in our interaction with Life as it unfolds through everything we experience that we come to understand the nature of the cosmos, and we learn what true wisdom is. If we are unable to experiment because we need things to go a certain way, and if we need things to go a certain way because we are somebody who’s taking everything personally and seriously, then we will not learn anything about the cosmic order. Instead, everything will reinforce what we already believe. But if we can just try stuff out without any agenda and see what follows, then we can become spiritual scientists, you might say, and we can experiment with everything we perceive. That’s where the learning happens, and that’s the way we can align ourselves with Life as it unfolds.

Just something to consider as you go about your life today and for all your remaining days, if you feel so moved. I do feel so moved, myself, and I will endeavor to put this teaching at the center of my practice, as I have attempted to do these past many years. In fact, I think I could say that this teaching is at the center of the change that has happened in my life circumstances recently–which I will tell you about, I hope, tomorrow.

Take care, friends! And be well!

In peace,