In the beginning was the word. After that came the concept and then, piece by piece, we began amassing knowledge of the world.
But what came before the word? Before our minds began to conceptualise? It can only have been the experience, alive and present in the moment. The word was only ever meant to be a reference point, a useful tool in describing experience, our own innate knowledge. But somewhere along the line we have crowned it King.
My point is that, when I consider how so many in our society regard issues of science, health and disease, it seems that concepts have come to have more value than experience and, as a result, our approach has become stagnant. To put it another way, we have forgotten how to listen to our own bodies and hearts.
A few weeks ago I saw someone who told me she felt bad every time she ate dairy but, as the tests had come back negative for a food intolerance, she continued to eat it. I asked her why she placed more value on a test than the experience of her own body. She seemed surprised. I have seen many people change their diet because of something they read even though they don’t feel good on it, take up strenuous exercise even though their joints are hurting, drink wine every weekend even though it plays havoc with their digestion etc. We have let our minds totally take over and have become slaves to knowledge as it appears in theory rather than as it appears in our living awareness.
Right now herbal education in the UK is becoming increasingly more research driven in an attempt to keep up with the scientific model of healthcare, a model which is at best disempowering and at worst highly exploitative. And at what cost? If a doctor/ herbalist/ person in a white coat with the letters BSc after their name tells us we should do something we just do it, even if the wisdom of own body says ‘stop’?
Our experience is alive because we are in the awareness of it at the present moment. With our minds firmly in control of the reins however, the concept – already a dead thing- has gained supremacy over what we are actually experiencing. I bumped into a friend last week on my way home and we started discussing a certain journalist who is notoriously anti-natural medicine. She said, “he’s got three degrees in science, he knows what he’s talking about.” I must say, this did little to change my mind. Let’s face it, I could have three degrees in theology but does that mean I know God?
What I mean by this is that studying doesn’t necessarily lead you to a deeper understanding of the thing itself, which can only be gained by experience. Study is very useful of course and is something many of us, myself included, enjoy and get much benefit from, but it is also dangerous because it can lead to a certain arrogance and the assumption that we know things, and that we know them better than you do. All we really know is that concepts and theories are changing and becoming outdated all the time but unlike experience, which is lived in the awareness of change, theory encourages us to hold onto something and cement it in our minds as ‘true’ or ‘untrue’. Experience is ever fresh, ever changing, always in the present, and as such, there can be nothing to hang onto.
One last example. Recently, another friend sent me an article written by a neuroscientist about how meditation had been proven to be effective – never mind that meditators have known this for centuries upon centuries through direct experience. The scientist went on to say that Buddhism was, in someways, acceptable to science because of the teaching of ‘no self’ as science has never managed to find something that could be called the self. Reading this guy’s description of no self made me laugh because it was so clear he had very rigid ideas about himself, despite the fact that science told him otherwise. Whilst he knew about this idea of ‘no self’ had had absolutely no experience of it. Contrast this with a great meditation master whose direct experience of selflessness is like a beacon shining from their very being and you can be left in no doubt that it is the experience which liberates, not the concept. The article is here if you have the inclination to read it.
So anyway, if you’re still with me by now, what I’m really getting at here is that we must learn to trust ourselves again. We can do so within a framework of study and knowledge but with mind as servant to experience rather than as the Grand Ringmaster, forever running the show.
“You do not possess intelligence, nor do you possess ignorance, nor do you possess a mixture of these two. You are yourself intelligence. An intelligence that never ceases and never strays. ” Avadhuta Gita