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Experience versus Knowing

| Nirmala | Awakening

Experience versus Knowing

Published on
30 November 2009

Someone used the contact form on here to send me the following question:

Q: I can't begin to thank you for your free ebook and writings.  Your message just sings so beautifully to me.  It answers the questions in the perfect order even before I can ask the questions.  Last week while reading your latest ebook, it was seen with incredible ease that the thoughts in my head were not who I am and now, I know as fact that only presence exists.  I can't even go to my mind without something coming up and keeping me in the moment.  Thoughts still arise, but very few "I" thoughts, and those dissipate in a split second.  I do have a question regarding "who I am".  I have of course investigated this and read about this.  I know as fact now that I am not my thoughts or body.  I know "intellectually" that I am Presence Awareness.  I say intellectually because I don't yet sense it as fact.  I wonder if part of me still sees it (Awareness) as an object of some sort?  I have felt/experinced glimpses of it in past - a complete feeling that everything was One and connected (air, people, trees, birds, etc), but that only felt like a passing experience.

Do you have any additional pointers I could read?

And here is my response:

A: This is a very good question, as many people have grasped the Oneness and their true nature as Awareness intellectually, but are concerned that it is not a common or ongoing experience for them, and so the sense of knowing still seems tenuous or vague. It also seems that there is often a gap between an intellectual knowing and a more grounded, whole being kind of knowing. And the bridge between these two is very simply repeated experiences of the bigger truth. We tend to only really know something that we have experienced a lot.

Everyone has different amounts of experience that is required for that knowing to be felt in an ongoing way. A simple example is asking how many times doing something it would take for you to really know that you now know how to perform some new skill like flying an airplane. If you piloted an airplane once for 2 minutes, would you feel that you know how to fly an airplane? Hopefully not! But if you had flown solo many times, then you would probably start to have an ongoing sense that you know how to fly an airplane.

So it does boil down to having lots of experiences of Oneness and Presence. That is what finally shifts someone's inner sense of knowing. At a certain point the sense of knowing shifts from being an intellectual knowing to a deeper knowing "in your bones". In the case of the knowing of Presence or Oneness, this shift can happen from several repeated experiences of Presence or very occasionally it can happen from one very strong or long lasting experience of the Oneness of Being. And of course everyone wants to have a single big experience that does the trick, but from my many conversations with people undergoing the shift, I have observed that it more often happens gradually or in a series of experiences.

There is one more point I would share with you. The important thing is the shift to a deep sense of inner knowing of the truth. The experiences of Oneness are wonderful and are of great service to this shift, but the experiences are not really that important in and of themselves. Like every other experience, the experience of Presence comes and goes. And any effort to get or keep these experiences will cause you to suffer pretty much in the same way as efforting to get or keep any other ordinary experience...

While it is profoundly delightful to directly experience the biggest truth of the Oneness of all Being, it is more liberating to simply and deeply know that this is the truth. That is what allows you to just relax and enjoy no matter what you are experiencing in the moment. For instance,  while it is wonderful to own and be able to use an automobile when you need one, imagine if you had to always experience your car 24 hours a day! That would not be liberation; that would be a strange kind of prison if you had to sit there and hold the steering wheel constantly. It is much more liberating to simply know you have a car, even if you cannot see it or touch it in this moment. And even if God forbid you went out to use your car and it was not there where you left it, you would still believe that your car exists and you would probably call the police. Most likely, at no point would you start to doubt the existence of the car itself.

Similarly, when someone feels that they need to have a constant experience of their true nature, it can be a source of struggle and suffering. In contrast when there is a deep knowing that Presence or Being is all there is, and that is who you are, it no longer matters if you are experiencing it in this moment or not. With enough experience, you can trust this deeper reality as much as you probably now trust the physical reality of objects like your car. So experiences of our true nature are necessary for this deeper knowing or trusting of the truth of Oneness, but those experiences do not have to be constant for this knowing and trust to become constant. The real point of spiritual experiences is for the experience to become irrelevant because the deeper sense of knowing is so constant.

You also asked about additional pointers to read, and this is the right way to ask this question. There are no techniques or processes that can directly cause you to have an experience of Oneness or Presence, and there is no exact formula for the shift to a deeper knowing and trust. However, spiritual practices and pointers can put you in a place of curiosity about and receptivity to the spontaneous arising of Presence. Just as you can not make an accident happen, but you can go hang out in the middle of an interstate highway and an accident will be more likely to happen, so reading spiritual pointers and doing spiritual practices can make it more likely for a spontaneous experience of Oneness or Presence to arise.

In that light, I would direct you to my book Living from the Heart which has several pointers and practices that are the spiritual equivalent of playing a baseball game out on the freeway. You can download the book for free on my free ebooks page.