Chapter 4: Experience… What Is It?

It is not enough that you improve the quality of your communication with the world outside. In fact, it is even more important that you improve the quality of your communication with yourself. What you tell the world and what the world tells you make a small difference to you. However, what you keep telling yourself makes all the difference to you.

Pointing to Aldous Huxley’s quote, “Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you,” Suj, Avyakta’s wife, sought clarification from him.
It is so heartening when your spouse can also be your intellectual companion. People go through intellectual loneliness. They wish to share their comprehensions and contemplations of life, but don’t find people interested in such intellectual contemplations. There is a different depth and quality to the relationships when husband and wife, parents and children, friends, siblings, colleagues not only discuss the day-to-day issues, but also enquire into the deeper and higher issues of life. When we think together, when we agree to disagree, when we understand that beyond my way and your way there can be a third way, the possibilities are limitless. Suj and Avyakta enjoyed their moments of intellectual exploration. In the intellectual sense, one plus one is always greater than two.

“What does Huxley imply when he says experience is what you do with what happens to you?” enquired Suj.

“I tell you I will be home by eight, but land up at nine. This is just an event of a husband ending up being late by an hour. You process that as ‘I have taken you for granted’ and ‘I no more have respect for you’. Your mind questions, ‘Will he do this if it was a meeting with his Chairman?’ and it also concludes ‘It is time to tell him that I am not a doormat’. And the event is just that I landed up an hour late. But the interpretation of the event by your mind is that I don’t respect you and I have taken you for granted. That isn’t necessarily the reality. It is only your perception of reality. It is your interpretation of reality. That’s what Huxley meant when he said ‘it is what you do with what happens to you’,” retorted Avyakta.

Suj poked Avyakta with her index finger and said with a smile, “You simply can’t explain anything without making a dig at me. Hey, don’t talk as if you are some angel of a man! When I give you a feedback with a genuine intent to help you to improve, you interpret it as ‘I am finding fault with you all the time’ and you get agitated. I said the same things in the initial months of our marriage, and you used to say, ‘I am so lucky to have you in my life. You always help me to improve’. I say the same things to you now. But, then I was an angel and now I am a devil.” Of course, by the last sentence, the smile on Suj’s face had already vanished.

In the presence of love, events are interpreted differently. When ego pops its head, events are interpreted differently. If it is a stranger, the event is interpreted differently. If it is a relative then the interpretation is different. If it is men from that community, then the interpretation is different. If they are from that linguistic background, then there is a different generalisation for them.

Like the icons on a desktop, we hold icons for every person in our head. Some icons represent good people, some wonderful people, some not so good, some we cannot even stand, some the worst kind, and so on… These icons serve as the spectacles through which we perceive people and accordingly interpret what they do and what they do not do. When she is a good person in our head, then even a wrong from her is nullified and accepted. When he is a bad person in our head, then even a right from him is negated and overlooked. Essentially, whether they are good or bad in our head is completely different from the actual reality. That’s why, the same person is perceived as a devil by one and an angel by another. WhatGandhi is in your head and what Gandhi was in Godse’s head are independent of what Gandhi actually was. What you see in Christ is not what Pilate saw in him. How true! The person need not change; when the icon we hold for the person in our head changes, it changes the relationship completely, positively or negatively.

“Let us not bring in our personal emotions into this discussion and tarnish the whole enquiry,” clarified Avyakta. “What you are asking is important. Aldous Huxley has revealed a great insight.”

Suj walked into her open-kitchen and started preparing tea. Avyakta followed. There were two things he couldn’t resist in life – Suj and her tea. Avyakta sat on the kitchen counter. He continued,“So, what happens to us is an event. How we process, perceive and interpret that event becomes our experience. So, the same event becomes a different experience for different people, depending on how they process, perceive and interpret it. Beingpushed out of the train at Pietermaritzburg railway station in South Africa was an event. Gandhi could have gone into depression. However, the way he chose to process, perceive and interpret that event turned out to be a turning point, not only for him but also for a great nation.” Avyakta added with laughter, “The whole British empire must be cursing that one white man… if only he had allowed Gandhi to continue to travel in the first-class compartment!”

Suj intervened, “It is even more evident in the context of all these understandings that more than the problem, it is my reaction to the problem that hurts me more. More than the calamity, it is my fear of the calamity that hurts me more. More than your actions, it is how I process, perceive and interpret your action that has a bearing on the relationship; it also has a bearing on my peace of mind. The way I see the problem is the problem. The way I see the problem can also be my solution. If I see it as a failure, it is a failure. Instead, if I see failure as a mere outcome with a feedback, I can improve with every experience. Success has its share of lessons and so do failures. In fact, what failures can teach, success cannot; and what success can teach, failures cannot. Good times, bad times or filtering times are all matters of perceptions. I can choose to perceive any event the way I want. So, progress and stagnation are just the result and effect of how I choose to process the events of my life.” She then snapped, “Thank your stars Avyakta, in spite of you, our relationship has progressed because I have interpreted all your actions as your expressions of love, irrespective of what your intent might have been.”

The tea was ready. Sipping his tea, Avyakta explained, “In the context of love, sarcasm induces humour. In the context of ego, sarcasm induces hurt. This is what they should have meant when they said ‘It is Maya… just an illusion’. After all, we are not dealing with reality, but only with perceived reality. We are actually not facing situations, but our interpretation of the situations. It is not what you are, but it is what I think of you that has a bearing on my relationship with you. So, even God needn’t be a reality. As long as I can hold an icon of devotion, surrender and faith for that perceived reality, it works in my favour.”

Avyakta concluded, “So, it is not enough that you improve the quality of your communication with the world outside. In fact, it is even more important that you improve the quality of your communication with yourself. What you tell the world and what the world tells you make a small difference to you. However, what you keep telling yourself makes all the difference to you. What happens to you is not in your control. But, how you process what happens to you is completely in your control. you control your whole life. And in controlling that, So, if everything about your life has to change, all you have to do is to change the icons you hold in your head and also control what you take into your head.”

Suj remarked, “Events are God’s responsibility. Experiences are man’s responsibility.”

How true… we share the same world, and yet, we experience our own worlds. Two men saw through the prison bars. One saw the mud. The other saw the stars.

Avyakta and Suj embraced each other. What this embrace meant to each of them will ever remain a secret to the other. Who will ever know how they perceived it?

What happens to us is an event. How we process, perceive and interpret that event becomes our experience. Being pushed out of the train at Pietermaritzburg railway station in South Africa was an event. Gandhi could have gone into depression. However, the way he chose to process, perceive and interpret that event became a turning point, not only for him but also for a great nation.


Your life is your responsibility

On the road, it is never the question of whose mistake; but, it is the question of whose life! On the road, if you want to be alive YOU have to make the adjustments. The responsibility of ‘not hitting’ and ‘not being hit’, both are yours and yours alone. Blaming makes no sense. Similarly, in the road called life, in dealing with the traffic called relationships, it is not the question of whose mistake, but it is the question of whose life. In relationships too, if you want happiness, YOU have to make the adjustments. Here too, blaming makes no sense. Your life is your responsibility.

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