‘The Horizon’, Part 3, Chapter 17: about primary and secondary experience, negative experience as private property, and why we don’t want to leave it to the ‘experts’
“The brain is a storage shed. You put experience in there and it waits for you.”Ann Patchett
Human experience is a baffling phenomenon. We think we know it. We even think we know it better than anything else. And yet, our private experience might be the greatest unsolved mystery of humankind.
The French philosopher Maurice Merleau Ponty pointed out that “the world which is revealed to us by our senses and in everyday life, seems at first sight to be the one we know best of all. For we need neither to measure nor to calculate in order to gain access to this world and it would seem that we can fathom it simply by opening our eyes and getting on with our lives. Yet this is a delusion.” (from The World of Perception)
In three big commercial areas humans are apparently working towards improving our experience. Neuroscience, the self-help-, and the pharmaceutical industry raise hopes to eliminate our suffering, or at least alleviate it.
Meanwhile other big commercial areas are dedicated to the aggravation of our experience. The military industry thrives on wars and destruction. Producers of film and fiction continuously have to make up stories that send shudders down our spines. That’s profitable. And the media hold us under their spell through violence and tragedies.
To balance it out, the travel -, spiritual -, and entertainment industries offer uplifting experiences for a month, a weekend, or a couple of hours. In other words, human experience is a commodity. It is good for our economy.
As consumers we are willing to pay for 2nd hand experience in which we can participate at a safe distance. When we have negative 1st hand experiences, we are willing to pay some ‘expert’ to help us get rid of them.
From the stories shared in parts 1 and 2 of this book we have learned that our personal negative experience is intimately connected with our dormant potential.
We have met people who experienced intense suffering and discovered that a personal treasure was hidden somewhere beneath the trauma. They managed to transform their negative experience into a genuine gift.
Could this principle apply to everyone? Could it apply to you and me?
In part 2 we discovered that all unprocessed negative experience remain within human Consciousness. They don’t ‘disappear by themselves’. They have nowhere else to go.
It is as the novelist Ann Patchett writes in her book State of Wonder: “The brain is a storage shed. You put experience in there and it waits for you. Don’t worry. You’ll find it in time.”
All our negative experience can be traced back to infancy and early childhood, perhaps even to events that happened in previous generations. We can ‘inherit’ negative experiences from our ancestors or their relatives.
We have also inherited a hostile attitude towards our personal negative experiences. We don’t like to talk about them. We blame others for them. Parents, politicians, teachers, any figures of authority are popular scapegoats.
We compensate for our negative experience with distractions, entertainment, retail therapy etc. Or we use them as a ‘secret weapon’ to manipulate others, feeling entitled to compensation because ‘life has been unfair’ to us.
“Your negative experience is your private property.”VB
In the Solo System we view individual human Consciousness as a microcosm, inhabited by millions of creatures. All personal negative experiences are regarded as immature. Most of them are our inner infants and children.
Their behaviour can seem erratic, disturbing, even destructive or dangerous sometimes. This is because they are stuck in an immature phase. They want to grow up, become more independent and unfold their potential, but they don’t have the means to do so by themselves.
We resist our negative experiences. We have been told they would get worse if we gave them any attention. We should neglect them, leave them alone, and hopefully they would die out…
It’s true, the wrong kind of attention can make them worse. With the right kind of attention, however, an immature negative experience can be transformed. It can be supported and nurtured in its development, and it simply grows out of being immature and negative.
Side note: The word ‘experience’ can mean many different things. We have to distinguish between 1st hand and 2nd hand experience — or primary and secondary experience.
Primary experience affects us 1st hand. We have been at the ‘live event’ so to speak.
Secondary experience is produced as a result of watching others, it tends to be a paler copy of the 1st hand one. Secondary experience can be manipulated more easily.
Primary experience goes deeper. As a source of information about ourselves, primary experience is more reliable. But what is it trying to tell us? That’s not necessarily clear.
For a moment, let’s look at negative primary experience and our relationship with it. Imagine your negative primary experience is a child, and it needs your attention.
Let’s call this inner creature NePrimEx (from Negative Primary Experience). When NePrimEx wants your attention it always makes you uncomfortable. It never feels good. It tears at your nerves and plays the whole spectrum of your negative emotions: fear, irritation, frustration, sadness, annoyance, anger, overwhelm etc.
You had plans for something better, so you say to your NePrimEx, “Go away! Not now!!!”
This is what NePrimExes hear all the time. They watch us give our love and attention to their favoured cousins, the PoSecExes (Positive Secondary Experiences), while they are always, always sent into the darkest corners of the inner world.
What do you think they do in there? Do you really believe they just fizzle out?
No, they hang out with likeminded creatures and support each other. They keep watching you, waiting patiently for a convenient moment. And when such a moment comes, they jump out and shout: “My turn now! My turn!!”
Our negative experiences hold the key to our dormant potential. They contain information we don’t yet understand. They form a personal bridge to the unknown.
They want to tell us something about aspects of ourselves which we need to develop. When we help our NePrimExes grow up, then they don’t need to shout at us any more.
Your negative experience is your private property. It is your personal creative substance, ready to be transformed. You can instantly stimulate the transformation of any negative 1st hand experience by changing your relationship with it.
“Do not despise your inner world.”Martha Nussbaum
If some experts came along and offered, “I’m a specialist for the removal of negative experiences. Leave them to me. I can get rid of them for you once and for all.”
What would you say?
Of course we would love to ‘get rid of’ all negative experiences of mankind. But our NePrimExes can’t be disposed of like waste products. They are products of our own Consciousness. They are our offspring. The more we neglect them, the more eager they become to reproduce.
But they are also our greatest treasure. The philosopher Martha Nussbaum says, “Do not despise your inner world. That is the first and most general piece of advice I would offer. Our emotional life maps our incompleteness … Often, too, this lack of a rich inner life catapults them into depression in later life.”
In other words, our 1st hand negative experiences point towards regions of the inner world we haven’t yet entered. Behind them lies an area of virgin territory.
The negative experience, usually accompanied by negative emotions, signals that there are rich inner resources under the surface. This can be frustrating and annoying, since nothing is more annoying and frustrating than the knowledge of some hidden wealth without the faintest clue how to access it.
If there were no treasures under the barren and dark surface, then the atmosphere in this region wouldn’t be so depressing. You wouldn’t feel any pain in this area of your life.
“What is the remedy of these ills?” Martha Nussbaum asks, and immediately gives the answer, “A kind of self-love that does not shrink from the needy and incomplete parts of the self, but accepts those with interest and curiosity, and tries to develop a language with which to talk about needs and feelings.… In that way, you will not be alone with an empty self; you will have a newly rich life with yourself, and enhanced possibilities of real communication with others.” (Martha Nussbaum in Take My Advice)
Human babies need a lot of love, attention, and care so they can develop into strong and healthy adults. The same principle seems to apply to those unruly NePrimExes in our inner world. With some regular loving care and attention they can grow into surprisingly attractive creatures.
This doesn’t seem too difficult. It isn’t hard to understand in theory.
But there is a catch, and it is a tough one. NePrimExes are very sensitive creatures. Since they are part of our Consciousness they instantly pick up any emotional resistance or resentment.
You can’t cheat them. They only respond to pure authenticity. But how can you love something you actually hate — how can you develop genuine love, without faking it?
“Whenever we go deep enough toward the core, we find that the core is good.”Roberto Assagioli
We have to learn to accept our negative 1st hand experiences unconditionally. This is perhaps our greatest challenge. It takes practice.
We can approach our negative experiences in small cautious steps. After centuries of hostilities between NePrimExes and their human parents it is a good idea to start by building trust.
In the beginning we can’t honestly say we love our own suffering. We can’t jump from hatred and rejection to an attitude of parental love all of a sudden. But we can start by becoming aware of these dreaded immature inner creatures.
You can let your despair, anger, frustration, or helplessness know that you are noticing, and you are willing to give it some attention.
We have to remind ourselves again and again that our private and very personal negative experiences represent aspects of ourselves which are not yet lived, not yet part of our life, misunderstood, condemned and denied their existence.
We can begin by taking responsibility for our own 1st hand experiences rather than trying to evade them. You can let them know that you would like to sponsor them.
Unprocessed negative experiences are draining. They use your life energy no matter whether you give them attention or not.
Integrated negative primary experiences are energising. They boost your life energy without any further effort or attention. The negative experience which initially takes on an ugly and off-putting appearance is transformed into something attractive and valuable.
In his book Synthesis the Italian psychologist Roberto Assagioli wrote, “Whenever we go deep enough toward the core of a sub-personality, we find that the core — which is some basic urge, or need — is good. For practical purposes, this can be considered an absolute.”
A so-called ‘sub-personality’ can express itself as a negative 1st hand experience.
“No matter how many layers of distortion may surround it, the basic need, the basic motivation, is a good one,” Roberto Assagioli continues, “and if it becomes twisted, it was because of not being able to express itself directly. The real core — not what the sub-personality wants, but what it needs — is good. A basic purpose … is to discover this central urge or need, to make it conscious, and to find acceptable ways in which it can be satisfied and fulfilled. And, provided we have sufficient understanding and skill, it can be satisfied — if not fully, at least enough to maintain the process of growth.”
“If we reject the experience, we reject ourselves and we initiate the process of defending ourselves against ourselves.”Margaret Newman
Part 3 of this book is dedicated to 8 Paths leading to the ‘real core’ of a negative experience. They serve to stimulate the process of growth, referred to by Roberto Assagioli, and to maintain it.
These are the 8 Paths of Responsibility. As experiencers we can let them guide us through the inner world of our experiences, without losing our way in it. The Paths follow a particular sequence, which supports the development of a loving attitude towards personal negative experiences.
Because of our ingrained love-hate relationship with negative experience we need a strong motivation to do this kind of inner work. Here are 4 main motivations for practicing the Paths of Responsibility:
1 — You want to move beyond meeting a specific type of negative event.
In holistic medicine symptoms are understood as efforts of the organism to heal itself. In accordance with this view any negative event, and the associated personal experience, can be regarded as an effort of our Consciousness to develop towards health and wholeness. You want to use personal negative experiences as springboards to promote your inner growth.
2 — You want to become the expert of your own Consciousness.
You understand that all so-called ‘experts’ on human Consciousness are only sharing their own personal experience. This is per definition extremely limited. You are curious to find out more about your own Consciousness via your personal experience.
3 — You want to activate your dormant potential.
You know there is a mysterious connection between your unique dormant potential and your personal negative experience. You want to experience this connection under your own skin.
4 — You want to learn from your experiences and develop personal wisdom.
You have a hunch that your negative experiences contain a deeper knowledge, which is positive, true, and wise. You want to develop this wisdom in yourself and be guided by it in your life.
There are ‘negative motivations’ too. The main one would be that it is ‘bad for you’ if you don’t deal with your negative stuff. Margaret Newman puts this more eloquently in her book Health as Expanding Consciousness:
She encourages us to “accept the experience as our experience regardless of how contrary it is to what we might have wished would happen. If we reject the experience, we reject ourselves and we initiate the process of defending ourselves against ourselves and the stress-related physical changes occur. When we let go of personal control, life is de-stressed.”
“The discrimination against aspects of ourselves is a fertile soil for self-destructive tendencies.”VB
Even the strongest motivation is easier to maintain, if we are aware of the difficulties and risks we might encounter when we commit ourselves to doing our inner work. Here are 4 common challenges that present themselves when we try to process negative primary experiences:
1 — Meeting with resistance against personal negative experience.
We all have a strong resistance against dealing with personal negative experience. Here are 2 good reasons for this resistance
first reason: Going deeper into the negative experience is painful. Facing the pain seems to make it worse, and nobody can tell us what the outcome will be. This is very scary
second reason: The personal negative experience seems overwhelming. It feels like ‘opening Pandora’s Jar’.
2 — Changing habitual ways of relating to the world is hard.
The habitual ways in which we relate to the world are like addictions. We have been used to them since childhood. This has been our survival strategy, and we have become highly dependent on our dysfunctional ways of being. They seem so normal to us that we don’t even notice them.
3 — Staying with the process instead of focussing on the goal.
We live in a goal oriented culture. When turning our attention towards a negative experience, with the promise of transformation, we want to see results. Growth, however is a process. We have to learn to stay with the process.
4 — It takes time.
This challenge is intimately connected with challenge No 3. We feel under great pressure to accomplish great things. There is never enough time to do all the things we want to do. The occupation with inner work seems like a waste of time.
Paradoxically, the more time you invest in yourself, the more time you seem to gain. As you process, transform and integrate negative experiences, the structure of your Consciousness changes too.
In the following 8 chapters we’ll take a closer look at the 4 motivations and 4 challenges. They are part of the rhythm of working with negative 1st hand experience.
Each chapter introduces one of the 8 Paths of Responsibility. Each Path shows a different biosophical sequence, and all are designed as practices to transform negative everyday experience into personal wisdom.
Using a NePrimEx as a starting point the Paths guide the experiencer through the inner world and towards a deeper understanding of the immature aspect.
It should go without saying that this practice is experiential, i.e. the experiencer has to do the practice while the experience is active and burning. It doesn’t work as a ‘theoretical exercise’, done from a safe distance.
The primary purpose is not the elimination of negative experiences but the nurturing of and care for immature aspects towards maturity.
The regular practice of these inner workouts can help to reduce personal negative experience considerably. However, relief from the inner tension and emotional stress which typically accompany a NePrimEx has to happen spontaneously in the process.
The desired outcome cannot be manipulated. Autonomous improvement is the only valid indicator that the experiencer is on the right track.
In this way we can end the vicious cycle of repression and inner conflict. We must literally grow out of the deeply rooted discrimination against aspects of ourselves. This is the fertile soil of our self-destructive tendencies, and we can transform it.
Here is a brief overview of the 8 Paths of Responsibility
1 — The Path of Mirrors
This Path is designed to stimulate self-reflection. It is suitable when you experience adversity in the outer world and have an internal reaction to it.
The Path of the Mirrors is ruled by the Body.
2 — The Path of Arrows
This Path is designed to stimulate self-determination. It is suitable when you experience lack or scarcity and find it difficult to get what you want.
The Path of the Arrows is ruled by the Will.
3 — The Path of Scales
This Path is designed to stimulate self-compassion. It is suitable when you experience a disturbance of your emotional balance.
The Path of the Scales is ruled by the Instinct.
4 — The Path of Crystals
This Path is designed to stimulate self-discovery. It is suitable when you are faced with a challenge.
The Path of the Crystals is ruled by the Inspiration.
5 — The Path of Talismans
This Path is designed to stimulate self-protection. It is suitable when you experience being stuck in a dysfunctional pattern due to a personal taboo.
The Path of the Talismans is ruled by the Intuition.
6 — The Path of Masks
This Path is designed to stimulate self-projection. It is suitable when you experience someone as threatening, or flawed due to your own blind spots.
The Path of the Masks is ruled by the Imagination.
7 — The Path of Flames
This Path is designed to stimulate self-recognition. It is suitable when you are suffering from an experience of loss.
The Path of the Flames is ruled by the Soul.
8 — The Path of Prisms
This Path is designed to stimulate coherence. It is suitable for change of any kind, no matter whether it is desired or enters life unsolicited.
The Path of the Prisms is ruled by the Intellect.
© Veronika Bond, 2017
This article is a draft of chapter 17 of The Horizon, volume 2 of The Solo System.
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