Living always slightly outside of the experience

Many can recognise themselves in the sensation of living slightly away from their own life.

It’s as if we live in the narration of our lives, in the IDEA of ourselves more than the actual living.

There is a difference between observing a situation and being immersed in it. Sometimes it seems difficult to separate the two whereas in other moments it is painfully clear to us.

Take the example of watching the sunset. I believe many have disconnected from the actual feeling of the beauty that a sunset is that they don’t even realise how outside they are. They might be talking about it and taking photos or videos but what that means is that they are not immersed in it.

In a love relationship this can be very painful. We can be checking all the boxes, it might look like the ideal script of a movie yet we feel a strange loneliness while being with the other person. This usually leads to us reasoning that it is not the right person and then we get up and leave.

I believe that it is actually a defense mechanism that is so deeply rooted in us, in the collective, that we don’t see it. But I will get back to the explanation of this in a bit.

Because I believe that we see the repercussions of this slightly living outside of the experience in different ways and with different shapes. But it always brings back a subtle feeling of emptiness.

I think it started to clear up for me when I listened to Kenneth Folk, a well known meditation and mindfulness teacher talking about what mindfulness actually is. He said, which I believe to be very true, that we spend decades often not really entering the experience of mindfulness but more in a “half-assed” way narrating to ourselves what we believe it to be. And something that can seem so small, so obvious, translates into something much vaster the way ripples on the surface on a lake does.

Because we can pretend to be mindful and narrate to ourselves the child’s game “I spy with my little eye” but none of that is an actual proof of us being mindful. It is indeed a proof that our sensory organs are working but it’s still an activity of the mind telling a story. And when we are telling the story of the experience, it’s like that photo we take of the sunset. We are slightly outside of the moment. There is something much more juicy happening if we are fully absorbed but we are missing that because we are trying to do it right.

I think it’s what I usually feel as people being “inauthentic” when they are describing in a “I spy” manner, things that really needs to be felt. Here is an example of that.

A couple of years ago I was giving a meditation class once a week at a gym. I remember specifically a conversation between two of the practitioners, one being completely novice to meditation and the other having the perspective of “controlling what you are doing”. Maybe, you can imagine how it would go. One person asking advice and the other explaining things in such a way that it seemed unattainable, cryptic and very esoteric. I usually feel that the simpler you are in your description of something, the more at ease you are with it. In other words, the less certain you are of having grasped a concept, the more you try to define it.

Naturally, the novice gave up quite fast on his meditation, feeling discouraged by the task before even trying.

There is also the frequent questions of “what techniques to use?” And you will sometimes see a whole menu of propositions from teachers.

Don’t get me wrong : I know that depending on the tradition you have chosen to study, you will approach your practice in one way or another. But it’s not so much the people coming from this or that tradition that will state their “system” in the menu, but more a “a la carte” of guided experiences.

It’s like drawing a picture of a sandwich when you are hungry. It’s a little less satisfying than the real thing. Or, of course, writing a love letter to the one you desire. It can be very detailed on all the ways you love them, love the reflections of the sun in their hair, the smell of their neck….it will never really be the same as if they were there.

I do not proclaim to be enlightened, yet I can most definitely state that I have experienced glimpses of such a state. And the fast food principles doesn’t really work to make it profitable.

But beyond the idea of commercialising meditation is the unfortunate fact that we all live a little on side of ourselves. We are so rushed to have it all. To make it happen, to optimise our experience that we do the complete opposite to it. So I would want to claim that the more we try to “hack” our ways into enlightenment, the more we disconnect from the realness of the experience and therefore of the complete absorption (Samadhi). I feel like we do this to any of the spiritual practices from the past and we justify it with the fact that it has always evolved with the times. But at what point is the pourcentage on real meat so low that we can’t call it a meatloaf anymore?

This is where I want to come back to my earlier statement about the defence mechanism dissociation. Our defence mechanisms are strategies from our unconscious to protect us against danger, aka pain. We could also call it a trauma response. We disconnect from our feelings basically, when they are not comfortable. And we then disconnect from both happy and unhappy feeling states because we cannot pick and chose, once we start this dissociation, it will simply keep us away from truly feeling anything for real. This is how addictions happen and it’s also a root cause to many diseases we see in the world today. It is very much the root to boredom or even depression, leading all the way to thoughts of and even acting out in rage and taking one’s life.

Learning how to step back into the experience is therefore a matter of mental health. I wish for all of us to stop trying to achieve so much and instead trying to simply relax. We are so addicted to the thinking mind and I believe the repercussion of shame is to be more caught up in what you think than what you are then lies underneath this obsessive focus on thoughts. Shame is a deeply rooted negative emotion that kills most of our will to live because it is telling us that we are bad. That we are not enough, just as we are. So we make it our goal in life to convince the thoughts in our head that we live up to some imaginary standard. As a result, we believe we need to “be good at” things like meditation, breathing and moving our bodies. There needs to be a result so we define it over and over with new ideas in order to feel as if we’re mastering it. Hence the tendency to dissociate from the experience because we are coming from a place of “the narrator” since we have become so accustomed to it.

If you are one of those who feel that meditation therefore just seems to difficult to try, I have created a couple of videos, short ones, with some simple and straight to the point instructions on the subject. They will be available on my YouTube channel shortly. You can subscribe to be notified if you wish.

Hi, I’m Charlotte (Yogi Cha). I’m a yoga teacher with a degree in clinical psychology. I’ve always had a deep curiosity toward eastern and western approaches to understanding the mind, and the ming/body union. You’ll find me in the lovely Canggu Bali, nestled amongst coconuts, palm trees and sunshine 🥥🌴🌞