The Primacy of Experience

I have now hosted over 100 episodes of Insights at the Edge, a free podcast series in which I interview Sounds True authors about their life and work. What I have found is that the part of the conversation that always interests me the most is when people talk about their own direct experience–their experience with difficult times, their “illumination” experience, their experience with intimate relationships (the good, the bad, the ugly). These are the moments when the conversation becomes the most real for me. I feel like saying to my guests, “Please don’t tell me what you think sounds like wonderful philosophy, tell me what you have seen with your own eyes, tell me what has surprised you, tell me what has disappointed you, tell me what has helped you feel most alive and free.”

Being in the spiritual education field, I have recently developed an allergy to people telling me that “life is like this” or “life is like that.” I am very interested in knowing what people have discovered for themselves, but am very disinterested (and yes, allergic) to people telling me how life is, period. Recently, I recorded with a Sounds True author who repeatedly used the phrase “in my experience” to talk about the discoveries he has made. I noticed how much I appreciated the spirit of this phrase, how there was a certain humility in his presentation, how he wasn’t speaking for all people, for all time, in all dimensions. He was speaking about what he had discovered in his own experience that might be helpful to others.

One of the questions I have been asking myself is, “Why have I developed this allergy to people telling me that the universe works, definitively and forever, like this or like that?” I recently discovered this quote from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche that I quite like: “Ambiguity is called a seed syllable when it becomes a starting point rather than a source of our problems.” To me, what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche means by “ambiguity being a seed syllable” is that each moment is unprecedented and fresh— we can be open in any moment to a new possibility. We don’t need to attach ourselves to some type of certainty (possibly a false certainty) as a way to feel at peace. We can be at peace with not-knowing.

After listening to hundreds of hours of Sounds True recordings and hearing all kinds of wise teachers contradict each other (and sometimes even contradict themselves), I am beginning to feel at home with ambiguity. I do not need a wisdom teacher to take away ambiguity because it is too destabilizing, because I can’t handle it. And I feel allergic to advertising that promises me that someone else’s theories will assuredly work just wonders for me, all the time and in all situations. What I am interested in is the personal process of discovery, and sharing notes and experiences with other spiritual journeyers. What I find is that when people talk to me from their own first-person experience, I relax. No one is preaching to me about “how it is.” Instead I am touching in with someone and for a moment seeing the world the way that they see it. And that makes my world bigger. I feel in those moments that I am connecting with another person, not being preached at (hallelujah!). And perhaps most importantly, I feel interested in diving deeper into my own experience, inspired by this person’s genuineness and vulnerability.

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28 Responses to “The Primacy of Experience”

  1. Vivienne Says: have no idea how valuable and life changing your interviews have been in my life.They have been passed on like wildfire.Thank.Thank you Bless you x

  2. John Arne Eidsmo Says:

    Thank you for your insight! You helped me realise that I more than anything want to be honest and true even though I might not be “right”.

  3. Dee Mancini Says:

    Yes, I agree with what you are saying. This also applies when you first meet someone, are they preaching or are they real in their conversation? I love to learn but my best lessons are from experience or others experiences.

  4. Donna Says:

    Tami, thank you for this insight. I can identify with these sentiments. It can be difficult for me at times to share my Spiritual thinking and at times confusion to someone who has exact views and certainity on everything. And, it is such a joy to share with someone who is willing to explore and is open to learning and sharing their own vulnerabilities and imperfections.

    i believe that your interviews allow us to hear the many voices and to learn much of what is happening in this time of transformation. You do great work!

  5. Steve LaGattuta Says:

    I have the same aversion or allergy to all people who claim to know the one right way regardless of what field they are in. As soon as I hear someone talk with absolute certainty my first thought is, I can’t trust this person.

  6. Z Says:

    How refreshing !!!

    I thought I was the only one who had allergic reactions to people who claimed to know .

  7. Antonia Says:

    Kept smiling all the time while reading this post – it felt as one of my own “dear diary” moments. Thank you for sharing. On that note – what helped me let go of the “allergy” was to always be aware that even when such people don’t say “in my own experience”, there opinions and behaviours ARE their own worlds and beliefs – I can choose to listen to it without attaching, taking in what resonates and ponder on it yet bearing in mind all that is their own experience or view on life no matter Who they may be (they may contradict themselves later yet it only may be a process or a result of change). I notice changes in myself, witness such in others and keep walking, reading and learning. Your site is full of wonderful materials for such journeys and I use this opportunity to thank you for sharing.

  8. Karah Fisher Madrone Says:

    Savoring this!
    Gratitude for your candor and the idea of ambiguity as a “seed syllable.” What a gorgeous, perspective-unfurling thought!
    By post’s end I’m tasting this liberation: seeing my own uncomfortably keen “preachiness-radar” as a gift– “an authenticity-radar.”
    Thank you.

  9. Barbara Ann O'Leary Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been feeling the same way. I find myself saying “in my awareness” often. I am really thrilled when people share what’s true for them at this time. I LOVE to know what’s unfolding in their awareness and in their experience. I like to return the favor.

    I find that so invigorating.

    Thanks for sharing what’s true for you, Tami.

  10. Renee Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I must admit I am a newcomer to this path and found myself a little shaken and even annoyed after reading a very definitive essay on spiritual awakening, which referred to the “erroneous'” practices of others.
    Your post reaffirms how much I delight in the opportunity to share, grow, experience and above all to keep an open mind and heart.

  11. Paul Darwish Says:

    Yes, Tami, your wisdom certainly resonates with my own experience, as captured in the following haiku I’ve written at different times over the past few years…

    When speaking of faith,
    better to use first person,
    and speak from the heart…
    (this one was inspired by Krista Tippet, who suggests exactly what you are saying here…)

    So, my finite friends:
    to your stories, I’ll listen;
    your theories, just laugh.

    As I listen I know:
    all we have are our stories;
    this is where Truth lives!

    Thank you for the wonderful and important work that you do!
    Paul in Cincinnati

  12. sharon Says:

    your Insights at the Edge have been a life line for me. I so need to hear that honesty and depth. I love the way you can invite the teacher to really open and share. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.

    One interviewee in particular – I just shake my head and am impressed at how you challenge their ‘facts’.

  13. maria Says:

    thanks for this beautiful piece. I used to feel the very same allergy toward the decreers, proclaimers, insisters, dogmatists, defenders of the faith, propounders of the one true pure way, etc. Now I am free of the allergy, remembering that at some stage of my journey that certainty was a useful and necessary stage. Don’t even feel certain about ambiguity any more…that lack of polarization makes things a bit lighter, easier, more amenable even to the once allergens…

  14. Rick Archer Says:

    Very nice Tami. I concur, although I too am sometimes guilty of investing too much certainty in my own speculations and beliefs. Your post serves as a gentle reminder to keep it fresh and real. Hope to meet you at the SAND conference in a few days.

  15. Leigh Says:

    I’ve been feeling this for so long, it was nice to see someone say it so well. Thanks. Someone once said to me “I don’t trust a teacher who doesn’t have a teacher” and I’ve always thought that also is a great indicator; usually it seems the ones who are still learning (and acknowledging the need to) are also the ones who can tell you their own experiences and their own limits.

  16. Beatriz Says:

    Thank you Tami. I find your writing inspiritng as I have a sense of inner recognition on your words and apporach to life. Your interviews are profound, and like a good meal- itis possible to keep savoring them over and over again. Thank you.

  17. Julie Says:

    Oh, WOW! I can so relate to that! Thank you for naming it, Tami, and with such kind but “centered” words.

    I found your blog while searching for a feedback section. I’m not that familiar with blogging, posting or even giving feedback to someone I don’t know, but I this case it’ s a must ;-):

    Thank you for your wonderful work with/ at sounds true. It’s really beyond words and a priceless gift you’re contributing!
    Although I’ m from Germany, I feel connected and being “included” listening to sounds true (interviews, cds…). The reason might just be that the biggest part of the people you work with don’t want to teach us, but value each and every person’s experience as equal.

  18. Lorraine Holloway-White Says:

    Hello Tami,

    I know exactly what you mean by that, but sadly not all people are as you and there are those who don’t like us to talk about our experiences as they say we are being egotistical when we ado so. My books are instructional and in a couple, especially the latest which is to help natural mediums, I was slated by someone for daring to use my experiences to help guide others and explain why certain things might be experienced by them during their natural development and to show what it might mean.
    I try to act with humility at all times, but must say that being told I was being egotistical for using my experiences (albeit by a few only) has somewhat put me off using them now and worried me that others might think the same. It is, therefore, lovely to see you encouraging us to do just this.
    I love what you’re doing and was pointed in your direction by Patricia Joy. I’d love to have submitted to you, but am in the UK.

  19. Nancy Froio Says:

    In my experience,the “allergy” you refer to is discernment.
    I have a distinction I would like to share and that is “Tree of Knowledge or Tree of Life.”
    That is a whole conversation. Nothing wrong with either, just different.

    For me, if what is being said is not from direct connection, from source…there is a different sound. And we can sense the difference as our soul craves the more rarified vibration.

    I appreciate the disclamer “in my experience” as this gives me the space me to track my experience alongside the speakers without the filter “is this the truth.”
    I relax my listening: I receive the message. Ahhh.
    Again, the difference being- one’s experience and the Truth.

  20. Anne Says:

    Amen! One reason I love Ken Wilber is his emphasis on experience. I love listening to your interviews because I know you’ll invariably ask “but how do you know? how does that show up in your experience?” You have a fantastic knack for asking just what I want to know. That’s why I’ve listened to at least 90 of the 100…so far.

    Not entirely separately, I wanted to express a negative reaction to one of your interviewees (a fairly rare occurance, but consistent with this one). Every time I listen to the Carolyn Myss interviews I feel angry – belittled and, frankly, yelled at. I know she has incredible knowledge about healing but her condescension to the audience is palpable and entirely off-putting. And talk about someone saying “This is the way it is.” I try to stick it out but usually turn it off. Why is she so angry?? Of course I look at my reaction as yet another freakin’ growth opportunity (for me to examine my stuff), but feel it was worth raising nonetheless. Spiritual teachers aren’t exempt from plain ole humility. I found her takedown of “arrogant people” just astounding. Whew. Glad to get that off my chest. Thanks Tami for your ongoing service to all of us – greatly appreciated.

  21. Linda Says:

    Dear Tami, please know how much you are appreciated. Sounds True is of tremendous benefit to so many. Certainly I am speaking for myself as well. It is a resource I am grateful for every day. I thank you for being a teacher, though I suspect you are too humble to agree. Your great skill as an interviewer and a thinker also helps clarify the views of other teachers, as many of them need the structure of your intelligent dialogue. From my heart, thank you for your great service to others.

  22. Clara Says:

    It doesn’t bother me when gurus conflict. I find the nugget of truth that applies to me and I run with it.

  23. JP Says:

    I like the point about being at peace with not knowing. It’s like in Tai Chi where you’re supposed to move in such a way that your next step is never fully known until you actually make it.

  24. Ann Porter Says:

    I have enjoyed your podcasts in listening to very interesting people. As others have said, you are an elegant interviewer. I like how very deep you actually go with your questions in probing their theory. There are times when I feel myself cring when the speaker speaks about something that rattles my common sense, but I have tried to stay with the discussion and follow my experience in experiencing what’s being said. From this experiencing of my mind’s disturbance of my “so-called” common sense, I am usually surprised by what may show up for me. For instance, I may find myself investigating what I believe and try to make sense of it as I see it. Dig deeper within myself. Locate my own internal authority for what makes sense for me. All in all your interviews are great disturbances for my mind as I continue to discover my own internal authority for how I figure out my sense of being as it matters to my day-to-day existence. In this way, if I can make sense for myself, then I hope my consciousness will expand large enough to make sense for others who most likely will differ from how I make sense of existence. Does that make sense? Ha!!

  25. Mindie Kniss Says:

    And this is what makes your interviews so good… so authentic.
    Thank you for this!

  26. ann wheeler Says:

    Aloha Tami,

    Your passion and focus is an abundant blessing to humanity! Mahalo nui loa!

    I have a special request that you get a copy of “The Call of Sedona journey of the heart”
    by author and humanitarian Ilchi Lee or go to his website or
    I encourage you to become a vision partner with him and help earth citizens recover our humanity! The vortex energy in Sedona is going to play a very big role in helping us
    save ourselves, our planet, and recover our humanity! The material civilization as we know
    it is coming to its limits and a spiritual civilization is being born! Please become a host for others
    to receive this invauable information the world has been yearning for. I appreciate any and all
    efforts you can contribute to this awakening of our true nature within divinity.

    Come to Sedona and feel the heart of the Earth Sedona Mago retreat center

    Sending Radiant, Peace, Love and Life Particles to the Sounds True Family and future partners!

    Ann Wheeler

  27. Anonymous Says:

    I had a friend once who used to go on and on about how she hated dogmas. She happened to belong to a church that called itself the church of absolute monism. On day I said to her, “Sita, I think that you are a born again monist.”

    In any case, I am enjoying your music.


  28. Mary Latela Says:

    Tami, there is so much about “Sounds True” which is wonderful, but my favorite refreshment spot is “One Good Moment.” Every Friday, when the post appears I am filled with wonder …. what will that moment bring … I am never disappointed.
    Thanks for your dedication to all things great and small…
    for a moment can change a person deeply!

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