"We do not learn by experience, but by our capacity for experience." -- The Buddha
Here is one of the great truths of life that many of us are missing in the constant search for something new -- is that experience alone too often leaves us empty. Instead, it is our attention, curiosity and opening that we bring to our life experiences that make them the powerful source of transformation that they are. This truth also explains why so many of us live such ridiculously distracted lives that often only detract from our immediate experience, keeping us at arm's length from the insight and depth that our experience can offer us. We are born with the tools to cultivate and wake up our capacity for experience, which shifts our perspective on ourselves, our relationships and brings meaning to our life. Like most things in life, it is all about the questions we ask -- here are the three simple questions to grow your capacity.
Where is my attention?
The other day in the gym I realized that I was moving through my squatting and lifting practice without the slightest idea how many I had just done or how many I had left. I floated off somewhere, completely out of my body while lifting 25 pounds. It woke me up, this heavy lifting without my attention. Does my body earn the same rewards when I am only half there? I don't think so. The same is true in our relationships. I can't count the number of times when I am out at a restaurant, a park, or in a store watching people together who are totally fixated on their mobile devices. I would say phone, but most people don't even call each other anymore. We are lost in a digital connecting game that keeps us from feeling the people we are standing next to. The most valuable and immediate experience of love we have with other people happens in the moment of our full attention. Children demonstrate this with every waking moment of their lives. It brings tears to my eyes now when I remember how my toddlers would take their tiny hands and turn my face to look at them full on. The most intense and transformative experiences we have is in the true 3D of relating. Consider your attention as the golden powerful currency of your life energy that it is, and don't be fooled by all the techno gadgetry into believing that there is a shortcut for real experience. There isn't.
What don't I know?
We prefer to know than not know. We want certitude. We are committed to being right in ways that close the door to what we don't and can't know about a given situation. This is especially true about relating to other people. Our tendency is to take the bits of information we have and draw a conclusion about who someone is or how some exchange will end up. More often than not, what is at least equally true, if not more true is that we are missing something. There is always more that we don't know, and keeping your mind open to this space is a way to stay present to the people and experiences you are living. Lately, my business is taking some significant leaps, and I am inviting in new people that will soon change the face of what I have been doing. It's exciting and unnerving, but it becomes almost unmanageable when I get into the space of believing that I am supposed to know what to do at any given moment in time. There is an uneasy balance, although one that rights itself the longer you can hold and become comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing. It provides spaciousness in the moment for your experience to reveal itself in its own time. This space of holding your attention on the unknown is fully awake, and although it feels edgy sometimes, it is also full of possibility. Try not knowing more often and see what opens up in front of you.
Can I risk my heart?
This is the juncture that often gums up the works in our capacity for our life experience. We like to believe that we can show up for life's experiences through our incessant mental chatter of figuring it out. In truth, our capacity for life is intrinsically linked to the heart. Coming to trust our visceral experience of life has less to do without a thinking mechanism, except in so far as it serves as a technique to keep us one foot out the door. Risking your heart to your daily life experience with the characters that come and go reflects the highest level of mastery in cultivating your capacity for life. Having the courage to let things be as they are and viewing our situation through our heart's intelligence is how our lives become a work of art. Tragically, for too many people it only takes one heartbreaking experience for us to decide that it is too dangerous to let life come in so deeply. Whole worlds close down for us with that decision. As soon as we stop trusting our capacity to open our hearts to the people near us, there is a distance and guardedness that infiltrates every encounter. The intimacy we crave is locked at the door to our hearts. We mistake our own decision to close down, and then our experiences start looking like everyone else is to blame. It's a slippery slope that leads to a dark hole where all we can do is to distract ourselves from the emptiness of our daily experience.
At each experience, ask a real question and answer them truly. It will not only cultivate your capacity for life, but it will create for you a life worthy of your love.
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