“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what man does with what happens to him.” –Aldous Huxley
In a world where people go to greater lengths avoiding what they fear than obtaining what they desire, it behooves us to wonder against certainty and wander against complacency. One way to assume a more heroic posture toward life is to perceive the tool of our money as a means to experiential ends as opposed to material ends. A crucial aspect of the wondering/wandering experience is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough so that we can be astonished by our experiences. This usually requires breaking away from what we’re used to and stretching comfort zones to the point that growth happens. In most cases this means travel, but art can also be a vehicle toward vulnerable astonishment. The key: Instead of aiming for possession, aim for experience. Instead of trying to possess Truth; let yourself be possessed by it.
Collect Stories, Not Toys
“Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.” –Henry David Thoreau
Experiences are imperfect means to an improved end in the same way that the journey is the thing, not the destination. The human psyche seems to have a built-in need for the expression of stories. Stories, real or imaginative, reveal to us the order of the cosmos and our place within it. The more stories we acquire, the more refined our understanding of our place within the cosmos tends to be; the less stories we acquire, the less refined our understanding of our place within the cosmos tends to be. This is because the more ideas we have, the less likely that single idea will be allowed to tyrannize our experience of things. A story’s success depends upon our being present and receptive to it. Like Kathryn Schulz said, “If stories only succeed when we consent to suspend disbelief, relationships require of us something similar: the ability to let go of our own worldview long enough to be intrigued and moved by someone else’s.”
The problem is we live in a world where “toys” are pushed upon us by corporate advertising propaganda, which inadvertently sustains our worldviews to the point that we’re rarely ever able to suspend our beliefs long enough to be intrigued by other worldviews. The typical worldview is predicated upon the notion that we’re born to consume, and to ceaselessly waste and discard natural recourses, other species, gadgets, toys, and even each other.
But if we are free tell (and to listen to) other stories, we can flip the tables. Stories have the power to demolish all the sacred cows and false gods we tend to worship—unlimited growth, consumerism, and hyper-individuality. Even people who look at the world through a shattered lens create a story that makes sense to them, even if it’s contradictory to a story told to them by those seeing the world through a clearer lens. Those who can see clearer ought to share their stories with those who aren’t seeing so clearly, because those who aren’t seeing so clearly tend to be hung up on only one or two stories. Like Bill Plotkin said, “One of the most healing and empowering things we can do in this life is to tell our stories, really tell our stories. And one of the greatest gifts we can give is to really hear and embrace those stories, to resonate right down to our bones like tuning forks and to share that resonance with the storyteller.”
Gather Memories, Not Material Possessions
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” –Leonardo da Vinci
There is growing evidence that people value experiential purchase over material purchase. This is because the happiness gained from having an experience makes people less likely to measure the value of their experiences by comparing them to those of others, whereas people tend to compare their possessions with the possessions of others. Our experiences are our independent reflection of a greater interdependence. They put us right in the thick of life; to the extent that even a “bad” vacation is looked fondly upon in hindsight. It’s precisely the fleetingness of life that makes experience more profound that possession. Our I-Phones, IKEA couches with blue-green stripe patterns, and flashy red Ferraris, they become mere background noise to the awesome music of our adventurous experiences. Like William James said, “The best use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.” I-phones break. Couches tear. Cars fall apart. Memories are the truer wealth. As Henry David Thoreau said, “A man is rich in proportion to the things he can let alone.”
The memories gained from living a life of travel and adventure is priceless. No amount of material possession compares to the adventure of the open road (new horizons, exotic foods). In fact, the material possession that prevents an adventurer from adventure is nothing more than a flashy prison. Genuine travelers have no destination; just as a genuine spiritual person seeks not enlightenment. The journey is truly the thing. The journey is the freedom. Getting hung-up on destinations is akin to getting hung-up on possessions, or perfection, or enlightenment. All are pseudo-prisons. Money used to facilitate the journey, is money well spent: a monetary lock pick, so to speak. Like James P. Carse said, “Genuine travel has no destination. Travelers do not go somewhere, but constantly discover that they are somewhere else… Nature does not change; it has no inside or outside. It is therefore not possible to travel through it. All travel is therefore change within the traveler, and it is for that reason that travelers are always somewhere else. To travel is to grow.”
Think Behavioral Economics Rather Than Monetary Economics
“Isolation leads to psychopathology. Isolated from the rest of nature, isolated from each other by walls of fear, isolated from our own bodies, and isolated most of all from our own horrifying experience, is it any wonder that we are all crazy?” –Derrick Jensen
Ask yourself: are you living from programming or from purpose. In a hyperreal world where the majority of people are isolated individuals so hung up on their egos that they can’t see the interconnected interdependence of all things, it’s a very important question to ask. It can be argued that you are living from programming if you’re spending money on things rather than on experiences, and you are living from purpose if you’re spending your money on experiences rather than things. Can it be that simple? Well, yes and no. We must be careful not to turn our reality into a bureaucracy. There’s no reason why we cannot have our cake and eat it too, in this case. There is no reason why we cannot still buy things as long as buying experiences remains primary. Even better: as long as the things we buy are tools to enhancing the quality of our experiences. Carl Jung had this to say on the subject, “I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life. They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success of money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking. Such people are usually confined within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning. If they are enabled to develop into more spacious personalities, the neurosis generally disappears.”
Let us broaden our spiritual horizons. Let us seize the new dawn on the new beach of our soul’s compass. Let us adventurously crush out. Let us set our teeth firmly into the pulp of experience. Let us open our hearts and keep our soul’s hand fast upon the helm as we sail away into the waves of a new way of being a human being in the world. Let us peer with the thousand-fold eyes of the human condition upon the awesome magnanimity of the world. Like Marcel Proust said, “The only true voyage would be not to travel through a hundred different lands with the same pair of eyes, but to see the same land through a hundred different pairs of eyes.” Indeed. Human economics need not be a boring bureaucracy burdening the soul of mankind; it can just as well become a dynamic philosophy of higher experience that stretches the constricting creature-comfort zone that contains the human spirit. Like Jack Kerouac wrote, “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing the lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain!”
Read more articles from Gary ‘Z’ McGee.
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.
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