12. I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat

Last week we asked; What is Experience?

That article finished with a summary.

  • Things happen (EVENTS)

  • We form opinions about them (probably wrong)

  • Our opinions leave lasting impressions on us (EXPERIENCE)

  • Those experiences guide our actions through life

We established that understanding how we see and interpret the events in our lives is crucial to our well-being.

This week I want to explore that understanding more deeply.

Before we start I want to be clear that for now I’m focusing on the mental effects of an event. There may be physical effects as well, and they may or may not be linked to the mental impacts. But I’ll leave that for another day.

For now, let’s home in on what happens inside our heads.

Let’s suppose we’re walking down the street when suddenly someone comes running out of a doorway in front of us, jumps into a car parked just outside and speeds off. It’s an event, it happened seconds ago and there were lots of other people around.

Now, let’s ask them all what just happened. What will they say?

It’s anyone's guess.

Some will say they saw nothing.

Everyone else will have a different version of what happened.

Years of eye-witness research has concluded beyond doubt that memory doesn’t record events like a video camera. It creates stories based on those events. The stories are sometimes uncannily accurate, sometimes completely fictional, and often a mixture of the two; and they can change to suit the situation.

We’ll swear we saw black, someone else will swear they saw white.

In other words we can’t believe our eyes.

What we see is censored and controlled by our unconscious and there’s nothing we can do about it, at least not in the short term. 

It’s easy to assume we all see and hear the same things — We don’t. It’s vital we understand that because what we think we saw builds the foundation for what comes next and what thoughts we have about what happened.

Most of us have some degree of awareness when it comes to thought. We may assume everyone sees the same thing, but we know people don’t necessarily think as we do. We get evidence of that every day. We know what we like, and we know what we don’t. We know other folks will take the opposite view, but we tend to think ours is the right one. Thankfully, there are many who stay open-minded. A willingness to listen and gain understanding are a sign of good character. Unfortunately, there are some less accommodating. You’ll likely hear them before you see them. For them, the loudest voice wins.

As Greek philosopher Heraclitus said;

Dogs bark at what they cannot understand

Paradoxically these unfortunates are the ones most likely to be influenced by others. Their limited social group will help reinforce their views. Their reliance on biased social and mass media as sources of ‘facts’ leaves them open to behind the scene's manipulation. Donald Trump's election and the Brexit Vote are but two examples of that.

Nobody is perfect, no matter how open-minded and well-informed. We all have prejudices, biases and past conditioning that will subconsciously influence what we think. Again it’s a question of awareness. 

And we can’t do much about those influenced thoughts. We can’t stop them, and we can’t control them. Again we all know this is true. “I can’t stop thinking about…….” are words we’ve all used.

But that doesn’t mean we are completely powerless. What we can do is see thoughts for what they are; transient. Unless we hold on to them they will pass. Like our breathing; thoughts come in, thoughts go out. If you take a deep breath of some foul-smelling air do you then hold your breath? No! You breathe out hard. You should do the same with bad thoughts.

Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.

Mark Twain

And how do you tell good thoughts from bad? That’s simple; how do they make you feel?

Feelings look as if they are independent of thought, but they are not. Our thinking controls everything. Life would be nothing for us without it. Without thinking, we’d be numb, our experiences would mean nothing to us. Thought provides the fuel for our feelings. But it's a double-edged sword; how we feel makes our lives joyful and fulfilling or sad and meaningless.

Feelings leave us with memories — Those memories influence our thoughts — Our thoughts create our feelings.

It’s an infinite feedback loop, and the only one of those three elements we have any control over is thought.

We asked ‘What is Experience’. The answer — It’s what you think it is.

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.

Marcus Aurelius