Experience and the Individual

July 31, 2015

A few weeks ago, we posted a blog about the idea of experience as it relates to ego and sport. To further that idea, today we hope to investigate experience from a different perspective. Namely, how can one gain meaningful experience? In order to investigate this question, we have focused on a few recent experiments that offer a nice bridge between theory and reality. As we wander the globe, feel free to play Led Zeppelin's “California” as background music.

“No one knows America like Daniel Seddiqui”, or so says his website: . After graduating college, Daniel Seddiqui had trouble finding a decent paying job. And so, after struggling through a few hourly jobs, he decided to travel from state to state, trying out different jobs. From this endeavor, he did not immediately gain money, but instead, he gained something far greater: experience and connection. We often think that life's path is somewhat prescribed for us: school, job, family, etc. But the experiment offered by 'living the map' proves that all prescriptions are a human construct. Seddiqui decided to create a narrative that better suited him. In other words, invention and creation are vital aspects of the human mind, and therefore, of human experience and progress.

Seddiqui's travel is similar to Elizabeth Gilbert's journey in Eat, Pray, Love. Gilbert, on a whim that stemmed from necessity, also jumped into a year long travel trip. Much like Seddiqui, Gilbert did not know what she was going to find, or even what she sought. However, after many miles, lots of good food, some blunders and colorful interactions with lovely locals, she discovered herself. She found a center. The travel sustained her intellectually, spiritually and, ultimately, monetarily. The lessons learned on this journey would have been unattainable if she had not removed herself from her previous situation. She needed actual, physical, spacial separation in order to understand the painful experiences and relationships in her life. This space created room for self-awareness. Many people claim that running from a problem is a bad idea. However, in Gilbert's case, she could not find herself amongst the complexity of the problems themselves. She was not running, but seeking. Hence, travel for her was a necessary experience. She writes of heartache, “This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.” It is an important point to realize that self-understanding also leads to empathy. Therefore, her experience offered a wholesome focus on self and, therefore, greater understanding in general.

The iconic novel of experience is, of course, On the Road by Jack Kerouac. It is a novel of listlessness, of travel, of curiosity, drugs, love and error. The book reveals the path of friends as they travel in hopeful pursuit of something greater than themselves, but available only through themselves. Kerouac writes, “As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, 'Pass here and go on, you're on the road to heaven.'” Perhaps, then, experience offers a path to heaven.

Obviously, these experiments exemplify the era in which they were created. However, they do more than merely define and discuss a single generation. Instead, they use the individual self as a focal point from which to study and understand the world. They selflessly illustrate their own struggles in a way that offers insight, empathy and connection. They teach of experience through a specific lens. Readers are more than viewers; they become community and participants, for there would be no journey without community.

Experience can be temporal, mystical, out-of-body or solitary. Mortimer Adler writes, “Without experience the mind would remain empty, but experience itself does not fill the intellect with ideas.” The question is, then, from where do we gain valuable experience? It is possible that the value of each experience depends entirely upon the person involved. Experience may be something different to each person, and rightly so. The amount of intricacy involved in making something worthwhile depends solely upon an individual's receptive capability. In other words, at any one time, an individual (and by extension, an individual's experience) is affected by mood, memory, emotion, nature, ego, responsibility, education, etc. For this reason, it is easy to understand why a single experience might become vitally important to some and not others.

In the Advancement of Learning, Francis Bacon notes the lack of experience involved in education. He writes: “[A]mongst so many great foundations of colleges in Europe, I find strange that they are all dedicated to professions, and that none are left free to arts and sciences at large. For if men judge that learning should be referred to action, they judge well: but in this they fall into the error described in the ancient fable, in which the other parts of the body did suppose the stomach had been idle, because it neither performed the office of motion, as the limbs do, nor of sense, as the head doth: but yet notwithstanding it is the stomach that digesteth and distributeth to all the rest. So if any man think philosophy and universality to be idle studies, he doth not consider that all professions are from thence served and supplied. And this I take to be a great cause that hath hindered the progression of learning, because these fundamental knowledges have been studied but in passage. For if you will have a tree bear more fruit than it hath used to do, it is not anything you can do to the boughs, but it is the stirring of the earth and putting new mould about the roots that must work it.” Experience is vital to human existence, education, connection, development and growth. It is personal, yet also universal. It can be both painful and elevating. Experience involves perception, thought, memory and fact. It is, above all, developed by a curious intellect. The path of experience is a mystery to be solved by each individual as they gain experience. It seems, therefore, that we will always wonder at what is next, just as the Led Zeppelin song “California” states: “I wonder how tomorrow could ever follow today?”

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