Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Experience is an excellent teacher...

We often hear that experience is an excellent teacher.... If this is so, then as students we must be actively engaged if we are to get the most out of our education.

I think of experience as a path of stones. The direction it travels is determined by what we each have chosen for ourselves through our choices in each and every moment. The experiences are stones that mark our journey. As we walk forward we place our foot onto the next stone unconsciously noticing that it feels, looks or somehow seems to be familiar. Our conscious self reacts to this new experience with the familiarity of a past experience.

This automated reaction is a basic survival skill. We were taught as children that fire burns, hurts... But as we grew our experiences showed us the dual nature of many of our experiences. Fire- yes it burns, but is also warms our bodies and lights our way. If we are walking our path unaware and we encounter stones of experience that remind us of pain and hurt, we may over react before we have even a moment to truly see what this new experience holds. We may just miss an opportunity.

Today, look for those moments when the stones you are crossing seem familiar, bring forward the experience and compare it to the present moment. Is your fear based on this moment or is it coming from a past experience? Is that past experience still your truth in this moment? Are the emotions you now feel of the here and now or are they simply shadows of the past blocking out the light in this moment?

When I was a child, I was attacked by a large dog, a Doberman. For many years afterward I would become engulfed in fear when encountering Dobermans. None were excluded, my fear was for all Dobermans; all shapes, sizes, and colors. Whether leashed, muzzled, or running free; I was scared. When told the dog was kind and loving, I would still be frightened to the point of shaking. The kindest of the dogs would see my fear, and they in turn would become weary and nervous. I now can imagine the dog would be thinking, "My goodness, what is going to happen!? Look at her she is so afraid! Something bad is going to happen!!!" And of course the dog would react to my reaction, causing just what I feared- uncontrollable, anxious, Dobermans. My reaction to the moment, based on a past experience, recreated that experience time and time again. Once I was able to detach from the fear of the past, I was finally able to move forward and enjoy a moment or two of genuine appreciation in the moment, even with a Doberman sitting beside me.

My story illustrates how many times we incorrectly place the emotional response on one aspect of our experience, and thus create an assumption about certain "ALL" will be this way. We also hold unwanted emotion on the experience, whether it be fear or anger. Of course in the story I should act with caution, but not fear. And I should be wary, but not just of Dobermans. I should be aware and ready to act when encountering a large dog, unleashed and displaying aggression. I need be on alert if I ever find myself in a similar circumstance. By placing the Doberman as my "monster" and letting fear direct my actions, I lost the value of the experience. I was unable to apply the true lesson.

We do this imprint reaction in many many ways.... How many of us have said, "My spouse, they know which buttons to push!" "My mother, Every time I talk to her, she ...!!" or "At my work everyday is the same thing! Day in day out! Those people will never change..."

Realizing that we are seeing our moments through the fog of "past experiences", WE can change our impressions of our current moments. Wipe the slate clean, let the old emotions and reactions fall away. Do not lose the past lesson- it was important. But do not let it color your present moment.

Fire burns, yes, but when we are aware or our actions, and give proper respect, a candle flame can light up a dark room.