Understanding our experience

When an experience occurs that we do not understand and have nothing to compare it to, we humans slip into a state of survival and change. There are a number of reasons why we can not interpret the experience and many stories we can create to explain the experience. Our need to survive often leaves us vulnerable and looking for help from experts, which can de-localise our power and understanding.

An experience, in this case, can be something such as having an extreme mood (happy, sad, grief, etc), an odd perception (all the humans seem to be carrying demons on their backs, have turned into animals, the earth is actually attracted to us, not us to it, I am being of light and I must light up the dark etc), a survival of extreme pain and fear (persecution, rape, torture, bullying etc) or a physical difficulty (heat attack, diagnosis of terminal disease, kidney failure, vitamin/mineral deficiency/over load etc). Of course, there are so many more experiences that are beyond our prior expectation that we can have that it is impossible to list them all, or even to categorise them.

I am going to deviate the conversation just a little to discuss how we humans process ideas. When I receive a new idea (from someone/book/thought experiment etc), I link it to knowledge that I have via either similarity or contradiction. For example, that new thing is like this other thing, except for this and that. Or it fits between this knowledge I have and that knowledge I have. We create bridges in our knowledge with comparisons.

You can think of our knowledge pool as a jigsaw puzzle. We have pieces that fit together and create areas of knowing and areas of not. We bridge slowly into these ares of not knowing by building pieces of comparison to what we do know, piece by piece into the vacant areas. Often we are afraid of these areas because we feel blind and are not sure of what we know in these areas. We may avoid doing things so we don’t have to populate the blank spots in our knowledge with pieces of jigsaw puzzle that we are unsure of. What if we don’t like the picture of the world that is created with these new pieces?

Experiences expand our world by giving us knowledge, memories, ideas and so on to store. They change our world and our perception of it by increasing the understanding and stories we attribute to events. In effect, knowledge is the story pool we can use to explain how events link together.

What happens when an event happens, or knowledge is gained, that we can not link to any other? It isn’t like anything, and it isn’t opposite to anything, or the existence of this knowledge contradicts a large part of the puzzle we thought was sound. At this point we either become lost, or we reject the knew experience or we are forced to reject prior experiences to accept the new one.

Imagine how much of your thought process can be distracted by this amazing recreation of your knowledge pool. While this is going on, who is paying the bills, cleaning the house, cooking meals, looking after the kids, looking after the parents and so on? Also, how is your internal reorganisation being treated by those who care and love you?

There are two factors I have raised here – survival of self and survival in society.

First of all, we will often be forced to choose between reorganising our internal knowledge pool and surviving. If I have to do basic life things to keep surviving and I don’t have the personal resources to spend time in working my knew experience into my knowledge jigsaw puzzle, then I may put the experience off and find some cheap and nasty coping mechanism such that I keep eating, keep my shelter and survive the day, the hour and the minute. Yet sometimes the experience can be so profound that it destabalises your efforts to maintain your life and you must address the experience over and above maintaining that status quo. For example, what if a conclusion you draw from the experience is that those who you thought were protecting and nurturing you have some very sinister and life threatening outcome in store for you? What if you are right? Your survival right now looks more like you have to run away from food, shelter and support. I appreciate to the reader that this may seem fantastic, but there are enough people who realise they are the child in a sexual molestation ring that running away is a very good thing to do. You can’t just assume that your new insight is wrong and bad for you.

The second point I make is the effect your experience has on others. In the year 2000, I decided to change my life path considerably. Many people who socially interacted with me did not like the new me and some actively tried to intervene to bring back the old me. My change was relatively minor – I stopped being a prat and became a nice person. Many of my friends and associates had huge difficulties understanding where I was coming from, why I was acting differently and were quite worried about me. Imagine what they would say if my realisation was more profound than “I have become the person I didn’t want to be”. By profound, I mean life changing.

When we have experienced something extreme, we often find that our social supporters are scared, resist change and often do not understand what is happening to us. Quite frankly, the average Joe is not educated enough or trained in the right areas to know how to help friends who are experiencing a profound life experience. When we do not have the personal resources to process the experience, we outsource – that is, we turn to processionals.

Professionals are trained to minimise risk, categorise behaviour and to treat the categorised behaviour. Behaviour is seen as “abnormal” and put on a spectrum of “no need to act” and “treat”. This is a part of containment, risk management, stabilisation and reputation protection. There are some excellent reasons why this system is in place and some fantastic instances of where it is exactly the right thing to do. It can also quite help people.

When it doesn’t, it is very difficult for the person going through a profound experience to muster up the free personal resources to object to the mis-treatment. By mis-treatment, I do not refer to abuse as such, but a treatment regime that is misapplied. The person often has enough troubles surviving the experience and finding resources to process the change let alone argue against an authoritative professional who is well educated in the diagnosis of difference and oddity.

I would like to see professionals trained more in helping people understand their experience and filling in those blank spots in their knowledge jigsaw such that they can go back to running their lives independently of the professional system. I would like professionals to be trained in ways of retaining maximum personal power rather than de-localised power.I would like to see humanity and dignity returned to the system.

I appreciate that I got a bit ranty towards the end their. My apologies!