Anatomy of an experience


Only the completely happy think that they are in the correct place.

~ The Right Attitude to Rain, Alexander McCall Smith

In our Creating Happiness seminar with Landmark, we’re asked to do one thing: to experience our experience. Our experience includes our thoughts, emotions, body sensations and attitude about whatever it is we’re involved in.

While it sounds easy or stupid or pointless, it’s actually difficult and confronting. As the seminar asserts, “human beings lack distinctions for experiencing.”

In this week’s homework we’re asked to experience the state of disempowerment and the state of empowerment.

Experiencing the state of disempowerment is not a fun time and it’s no wonder we don’t normally want to be with ourselves. I just want to run away or shut down or go to sleep whenever I’m about to experience that experience in the ordinary course of life. Anything not to experience it! Yet it’s a common, even the most common experience for me, as an average human being. No wonder I go through life largely sleep-walking.

So last Saturday night I’d decided I was going to a concert by a man I heard on the radio called C W Stoneking. From remote Australia, he plays Blues songs on his guitar that are influenced by artists from the American south.

I’d never heard him before and I hadn’t been to a concert for a long time, especially not by myself, but the songs were fun and I wanted to get out and do something new. So I bought a ticket and Saturday night rolled around and then I saw he didn’t come on till 9:30pm. Now normally I could be thinking about going to bed by then and I contemplated just giving the whole thing up.

“No,” I told myself, “we’re doing this.”

Next, I go to get in my car and the heavens opened with torrential rain. “Damn, now I’ll be slogging through the rain with my half-broken umbrella.”

“No,” I told myself, “we’re doing this.”

Then I get to the Arts Centre where I’d planned to park my car. “Car Park Full,” it said. “Ah, another sign,” I thought, “a sign I should go home.”

“No,” I told myself, “we’re doing this.”

Eventually, I found a car spot, walked down dark streets in the pouring rain and finally got to the Forum Theatre.

The place was packed, everyone was standing and C W Stoneking was in full flight. I looked around. There were plenty of people there alone, plenty in groups, and after five minutes I started to relax and enjoy the music and  atmosphere. For the next hour or two I had a good time, which is not to say I didn’t think about going home or “poor me, being here alone” or “what are you doing here, a 50-something woman?” or “my feet are hurting” or “I wish that man would keep his head still and not block my view” or “OK, I’m going after this next song definitely.” All that rubbish kept up its endless conversation.

The concert ended and I went outside. The rain had eased up a bit, and I started walking back to my car on the other side of the city. It was around midnight and everywhere I looked there were couples and groups heading home or heading on to the next place. I was just getting geared up to have yet another “poor me” party in my head – “what are you doing? A 50-something woman alone on a Saturday night, walking through the city at midnight?” – and then I caught myself.

Hang on a minute, this is crazy. You’ve just been to a great concert. You’ve had a good time. You did what you said you were going to do despite the temptations not to do it. You are absolutely free. You can do what you want. How great is that? Hey, maybe I’ll go home and watch movies till 4am. How brilliant!

And all of a sudden, it was brilliant. All of a sudden, there was nowhere I’d rather be than walking through a city at midnight with homeward drifting couples, the world at my feet, in complete freedom. How fortunate I was! How happy! This, this, was happiness. Me, suddenly, at the source of my experience. Me at the source of my life.


Image: Illusion by Joseph Jastrow (1863-1944)


13 thoughts on “Anatomy of an experience

  1. Getting out of our head and into our heart, suddenly to see –
    Great post, love that you persevered, and whatever the outcome, you were at the centre of your own universe, gratitude surrounding you.


  2. The only way to get to that brilliant place is to be aware enough to notice all the chatter. Then, an only then, do you have a choice: stay with the negative self-talk or break away from it. Realizing you have that choice is one of the most empowering feelings I know of.


    • So right. We can’t create happiness or any state until we get present to the chatter (and all the stuff that goes along with it, the body sensations, the emotions, attitude, etc).

      The seminar makes the brilliant point that it also applies to the experiences we classify as “positive”. I’m going to use the philosophical language we use in the seminar. Sounds odd but it gives me something and it may give others something too. So long as we don’t fully experience our experience, we’re stuck with our experience; ie, non-experiencing our experience keeps it around. So when we have a “positive” experience, we mostly don’t experience that either, and it then stays around in the form of an expectation. So next time in that context we’re expecting a similar positive experience (and often are disappointed). The more fully we experience our experience, “positive” or “negative”, the more fully we complete on it.


      • I understand. We notice what we define as “negative” more readily than we notice what we define as positive. Really, it’s all just experience–in the moment, happening to us. We put labels on it and start building a story around it, That’s when the trouble (expectations) begin!


  3. so great!! thanks for sharing your experience with the seminar. our seminar on integrity wraps in a couple of weeks. i’m assisting at the forum in december, then starting SELP in january. sometimes i feel landmarked-out but it really keeps me on track and provides the structure for creating the life and world that i want. not just for me but those i love. inspiring post! <3 aleya


    • Well said, about having a structure for creating the life and world you want for yourself and others.

      Yeh, the landmarked-out thing. It happens. I felt it too before SELP. Still do from time to time. Want to go home and shut the door and go back to having a life where I don’t ask anything of myself. I can’t wait to hear your experience of assisting at the forum. It’s taught me so much. I’m going to be assisting on a forum for teens at the beg of Dec. It’s the first time I’ve done that one. It’s a huge commitment: 9 hours of assisting beforehand and then the full 3 days from 6am till finish (everyone who assists has to do the full 3 days so the kids have a stable group of people around them). Everyone has told me to bring big supplies of tissues because it’s so moving.


  4. **And all of a sudden, it was brilliant. All of a sudden, there was nowhere I’d rather be than walking through a city at midnight with homeward drifting couples, the world at my feet, in complete freedom**

    I swear, this is dialogue from Sex & the City.

    FAAAAAABULOUS. xxxxxxxxx


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