Changing content or not?

This is a topic that has come up in conversation a few times recently… usually when I describe a pattern I notice in own experience, and the other saying something along the lines of “don’t try to change the content of experience”. It is good advice, but also a little too general and simplistic.

When I notice what is already more true for me about what is experienced, the content of experience does change… almost as an unintended side-effect.

An emotion of sadness comes up. I bring attention to it in an heartfelt way, and the character of the experience changes to a tender sweetness. (I see that the initial experience of sadness came from resistance to the experience, when when there was a more wholehearted allowing of it, the content of the experience reveals itself as different flavors of bliss.)

An emotion of irritability comes up. I bring attention to what is really there, and see that all there is is a sensation and a story about the sensation, which together make up the gestalt of irritability. By seeing this, in real time, the gestalt falls into its components, and there is simply a sensation recognized as sensation, and a story recognized as just a story. Again, the content of experience inevitably changes due to a more clear and differentiated seeing of what was already there.

An emotion of anger comes up. I identify the story behind it (she should be more careful), inquire into it (is it true, what happens when I believe it?, what happens without the story?, what are the truths in its turnarounds?), and again see in a more clear and differentiated way what is already more true for me. This invites the attachment to the story to fall away, and along with it the pattern of reactivity giving rise to the emotion. Again, the content inevitably changes simply from seeing what is already more true.

Of course, it does matter what the motivation behind it is… Do I explore experiences to see what is more true for me, or to change it? If I do it out of curiosity, to see what is revealed when I explore it, then a change of content is just a side-effect, and not really that important apart from something else to notice. If I do it to change content, I have an image of the outcome, and possibly also of how the process itself should look, which makes it a less sincere, genuine and open-ended investigation.

In that sense, the advice is a good one. But it is also important to allow the content itself to change on its own, as a consequence of whatever investigation we engage in.

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