The Seven Elements of Experience

We’re very sure of ourselves and our interpretations of reality considering that we’re naked ground monkeys. We can’t see infrared with the naked eye, or hear 25 kHz with the unaided ear.

No matter what we do, we’re never going to experience totality to its maximum. It’s beyond our senses. But, we can experience totality as it is to us. A single moment where all the elements of experience are present and accounted for.

Complete enlightenment is a complete experience. It’s a normal, everyday moment experienced to the fullest extent possible to us. Most (or all) of our lives, we only experience bits and pieces of the present moment rather than the whole thing.

From those pieces, we form views based on incomplete information—including views that influence the way we go about our lives, like the view of who we are.

Let’s try something. If you like, relax for a few moments using whatever technique you usually use to relax. Now, look around at everything solid. Instead of thinking of each solid thing as something particular, like a phone, just think of it as being a solid.

The ground or floor, or ground floor. The trees or walls or buildings. Just be mindful of solidity. Now, turn it around and include your body. Your skin, hair, nails, bones, and organs. All solids.

Alright, let’s do liquids now. The water, coffee, pop, juice, or tea that’s inevitably nearby. Maybe a drip in the sink, or the contents of the toilet bowl as you read this after sitting on the throne. Maybe a river, ocean, or stream. Liquid. Bring it all together as one thing, one property. Turn it around and include your saliva, tears, blood, urine, and all your other juices.

Cool. You can see where this is going. Gas. The air at your nostrils, the wind or a breeze cast by a fan. The air in your lungs.

Finally: energy. The kinetic and mechanical forces at work behind the things moving around you. The light from the sun, lamp, or your computer or phone screen. The electro-chemical energy rocketing through your brain. The things you ate now leaving your body as heat. Collect it as a single perception: energy.

Rest with all of this for a moment. Only four things in all of existence. Everything else is a perceptual abstraction of these four. Just rest with this.

This is where things get freaky, because there are two things missing from your experience even though the things we’ve listed seem to cover everything. What’s missing? Solid, liquid, gas, and energy. No, it’s not anything un-observable to us like plasma. They’re always present and directly observable.

The first one is space. There’s space everywhere and in everything, and there’s a version of it for all the senses. To the eyes, it’s the absence of form. To the ears, it’s silence. To the body it’s the absence of touch, temperature, orientation or proximity. To the nose, odorlessness. To the mind, the gaps between thoughts. To the heart, the peace between wantings.

Space is important—without it, there’d be no room for anything. The space inside a cup is part of that cup, it helps to make that cup a cup. Without space, there’d be nowhere for solids, liquids, gases, and energy to dwell. Concentrate on the spaces around you, the space between these words and letters. The space in your mouth, between your fingers and in your organs.

It’s everywhere, unmoving. Universal. It’s been part of each moment of our lives since before we were born, yet we’re rarely aware of it. Being mindful of the pauses, gaps, and spaces encountered in day-to-day life was an important part of my practice.

You can start simple if you need to. Only focusing on one space at a time. For me, it was the space in a empty coffee cup  and the space between the rails of a, well, railing on the front stoop of my house. Going for a walk, I noticed the space inside an old barn that’s been around for ages. The barn has been around for ages, I mean, the space has been around forever.

When we change the way we think about space, we change the way we perceive it. I have to think of it as a thing, in the same league as solids and liquids. Over time, we can focus on several spaces at once, joining them together as one just like the other elements of experience.

Now we’re at the sixth element of experience, and this one might take awhile to work with: awareness. Wherever we are, there it is. There’s no us to ourselves without it. There are no others, no world, no life and no death to us without it since, when we’re in a deep sleep, all those things disappear.

Without awareness, there’s no experience of solid, liquid, gas, energy, or space. Just like space, awareness doesn’t have a form or fixed location. And, like space, it doesn’t seem to move. Focused attention moves, but this quality of just being aware, of wakefulness or watchfulness, seems like it’s already there.

We spend most of our lives being aware of people, places, and things, but we’re not usually aware of being aware, aware of awareness. Instead of seeing a word and being aware that we’re seeing it, we tend to just see it and take the awareness of seeing it for granted.

Just like the other elements of experience, awareness goes both ways. We’re aware of the environment around us and aware of our inner thoughts and feelings. There’s no separation.

Whether inside or outside the body, solids are solids, liquids are liquids, gases are gases, energy is energy, space is space, and awareness is awareness.

These six elements make up all of our experiences throughout our lives. If even one of them was missing, we wouldn’t be alive to experience anything. They depend on each other, and our perception of being individuals arises from their interdependence. That means they’re all one. There is only ever one thing, and that’s what we call Suchness, the One Taste, or the way things are. Totality, empty of stagnancy and isolation, yet also without a second thing and utterly changeless.

The only thing that seems to be missing from totality is me. Because whether as divided abstractions, collected elements, or as a unified whole, there’s nothing in particular that I can point to and say, “That thing right there is me.” So this identity I cling to as self-evident and self-existing, I can’t find it anywhere. That’s because it’s an abstraction of the elements of experience, dependent on grasping, distraction, and forgetfulness.

Wholeness is full of everything except for division, division is illusory. But it’s full of the absence of that division. Non-separation is as real as this dream can get. Non-separation is the seventh element of experience. It’s nibbana.

But, there’s an old question: When we return the many to the one, what does that one return to?

Cool shit.

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