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The third wondrous ability: gaining and looking up first-hand experiences
Which brings us to the third prodigious ability, which plays an essential role in the pursuit of awareness. This ability is of particular importance, because people often consciously strive for it. The third wondrous ability of man is to be able to gain first-hand experiences and also to be able to find or devise approaches that can lead to first-hand experiences. We see this reflected in our own lives and en masse around us. Just think of the aspirations of many to ‘see the world’ and thus travel as much as possible and gain their own personal experiences. But the principle is easiest to clarify with an example: experiencing snow instead of just reading about it. The first-hand experience is always much more intense than reading a description of snow. And if we have a question or hear or read about something that we find interesting, we can come up with plans to experience it first-hand.
The value of this ability lies in the fact that we cannot transfer first-hand experiences to other people, because for others it is always second-hand knowledge. Even though we experience something with friends or family members or as a larger group, every person experiences it just a little bit differently. It remains an impossibility to transfer my first-hand experience to someone else. At the most you can tell or write about it or make a video of it, but this is all ‘second-hand’ information and not the experience itself. The ability to gain first-hand experience and devising ways to gain first-hand experiences cannot be circumvented and it is indispensable if we really want to give something vital a place in our lives. That also explains why it is a goal for many people to experience things themselves.
But when it comes to questions about the meaning of life, this goal is proving more difficult to achieve than any other theme. How then can we come to an approach? Imagine submitting this matter to a psychologist. A psychologist will not quickly come up with comments such as:
Don’t think about it too much,
but rather ask questions such as:
How do you feel when it seems so impossible to achieve your own real experience with this theme?
What do you think is necessary to make progress with this issue in your own life?
If we approach a Taoist or a Zen teacher with the same question, neither will we hear:
Don’t get started; it’s too hard…
We rather expect to receive an advice that goes somewhat further than we can imagine ourselves and possibly a proposal for a first step of our own approach. These examples only serve to remind you that people often skip a few steps when they see an apparently too big question in front of them, or a question that makes them emotional and insecure. But if we start with some smaller and more obvious steps, if we take a moment for introspection, what is missing to be able to get to the next step?
Three prodigious abilities in conjunction with one other
It is now important to think back to the former prodigious ability, namely the intelligence to formulate profound and correct questions about life. Then why should we not be able as well to intelligently strive to deal with profound questions? What may be lacking is the courage to make a start? We can never erase the theme from our lives and indirect information is not an experience of our own. Sooner or later we have to learn to persist, in order to achieve an outcome concerning an issue in our lives. Why should we let anyone tell us to leave it?
Our humanity cannot be complete without our ‘wondrous’ abilities. Far more than being ‘too difficult’, they are part of what defines us as human beings. The advice to avoid paying attention to this – no matter how well-intentioned – cannot be the most understanding and loving advice. Our ‘abilities’ will not suddenly disappear and the questions will come from deep within and yet will always find their way back to our consciousness.
To get started, we must be brave, have the courage to open our hearts and rely on our ability to figure out the next step, or at least an approach. It is up to each of us to give it a try at least. If we can’t think of the next step right away, we can also be silent for a moment or wait and not push away our profound questions, but carry them with us in the background of our life, and then see what happens to them. Everything we experience ourselves, we can share with others. Even if it is indirect, speaking about it still can mean a lot. How else can we find out if there are people with similar or complementary experiences?
The value of each experience of our own, even if it is such a small one, becomes all the greater when we take courage, opening ourselves up to something we do not know yet and which is a sensitive subject for us. Ultimately it also leads us to what may be our most wonderful and valuable ability: sharing experiences and insights creates understanding and a sense of belonging. A connection, based on first-hand experiences and frank exchange between people. We all carry that longing for this connection within us, with an open end, nothing exclusive, nothing completely committed – but in hope and love moving forward on a path full of insights and, who knows, also wisdom…