One way to understand this human life is to divide our experiences into two distinct ways of being in the world. The first we can call 'ordinary experience'. The second we can call 'essential experience'.

Ordinary experience is a mode where we are managing life according to our instincts, our specific constitution, our desires, our accumulated knowledge about how the world works, and our established habits. This way of being in the world is highly influenced by the learned social rules of early childhood, combined with our response to early traumatic experiences -- of which there are generally many more than we realize.

We could say that through our early childhood experiences and social conditioning, and with the help of our instincts and creative intelligence, each of us evolved an advanced computer program that now functions as our internal operating system. Our operating system provides a complete way of seeing life and managing life, with the purpose of surviving, avoiding pain, and finding some degree of safety, comfort, belonging and significance.

After this system has been created, we constantly write, copy and install new life-management programs, each designed for specific purposes. However, only those programs that are compatible with the basic operating system created in early childhood are allowed in. Programs that do not fit the system are automatically rejected, they are not allowed into the system.

Each one of us has a unique operating system and a unique set of programs running on it that make up our personality traits, our way of coping with life. These rarely change, even with great effort, as they are the way our system is designed to operate, and which have helped us survive life through childhood and up to now.

While each of us has a unique internal system, there are great similarities between the different systems. They are all created within the same kind of environment and meant to serve survival and comfort within that system. The individual operating systems and programs combine into larger, collective systems operating according to similar principles and priorities, creating social groups and cultures with clear, distinct characteristics.

This level of being in the world can function more or less well, depending on the functionality of the system. Individual and collective therapy or transformation at this level (including political and social change) means to de-bug, adapt or replace the installed programs, and to some degree tweak the operating system - which is much more difficult - to improve the functionality of the system.

This way of operating may work well for us at a certain level, but in its very nature it lacks depth, true love, authentic connection and a sense of real meaning and fulfillment. Its primary purpose is survival, not deeper connection, love, freedom, meaning or fulfillment. You may find consideration for each other as a program in the system, but little genuine love and compassion; you may find a lot of social interaction, but little depth of joy and connection, you may find uniqueness of personal styles, but seldom authentic, mature autonomy, and so on.

And these systems are generally filled with faults, bugs and distortions that cause major disruptions of the systems - individually and collectively. The distortions and faults cause chaos, rigidities, oppression, violence and inhumanness of all kinds. When the bugs, faults and distortions of the systems take full control, they can become completely dysfunctional and self-destructive, while totally unable to self-correct. On an individual level this shows up as, for example, depression and suicidal impulses, sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies, aggression and violence, greed and power abuse, and addictions of all kinds. On a collective level it shows up, for example, as racism, corruption, oppression, authoritarianism, conformity, and an inability to deal constructively with major collective challenges such as climate change, pandemics, conflict of interests, and social inequalities.

Essential experience is a total contrast to the ordinary mode of being and operating in the world. The word 'essence' points to the core of something, the most important part of something, the indivisible basic nature of something. In terms of human life, this means the dimension of Presence, or Essential Presence. When we are completely caught up by the life of ordinary experience, this dimension is non-existent to us. We cannot see it, feel it, sense it, or believe in it. And yet this dimension is always calling on us, beckoning us, drawing on us, because it is the essence of who we are, it is the source of real meaning and fulfillment, it is where life truly makes sense to us. To stay in ordinary experience we have to suppress the calling and pull of essential experience. And yet, in ordinary experience there is always a sense of something lacking, of something missing. There is a chronic sense of underlying stress and dissatisfaction, that life seems to never fully resolve. There is an eternal promise or hope for future fulfillment. As the years go by, we start to realize that this promise of the future never quite seems to arrive. Even my successes disappoint me, fail to deliver deeper satisfaction. At some point in life we may therefore find ourselves face to face with The Great Disillusionment: that even when I am lucky enough to achieve my dreams, they do not fulfill me, fail to provide the meaning my heart longs for.

As we enter the dimension of essential experience, we discover the real source of fulfillment, of satisfaction, of meaning, of authentic connection. There is an ahhh of relief and an aha! of discovery. There is a sense of coming home to myself and to the way life is supposed to be. The qualities that I have been trying to access for years, for a lifetime, through external means, through effort and hard work, are suddenly directly available without any external source providing them. They are fulfilled from the inside of my own being. I discover that I am that which I have always been looking for in life, consciously or unconsciously. I am the love, peace, value, freedom, spaciousness, strength, meaning, connection, joy, and so on, that I have spent so much thinking and effort on trying to achieve. And when I am these qualities, in this moment, I realize that they exist independently of external circumstances. Instead of external circumstances being the source of fulfillment, the source is within my own being, my own nature. I then realize that I can offer and express these qualities in the world, through my human living, moment by moment, right where I am. I become an expression and provider of joy, love, meaning, connection and fulfillment in the world, instead of a seeker of those qualities. The basic nature of life, the basic experience of life shifts from a sense of lack and effort, to a sense of celebration, mystery, joy, flow, surrender and contribution.

We realize, when we enter the domain of essential experience, that I am free of the operating system, I am free of the programs operating in the system. I am something that comes before and goes beyond these programs. And I do not have to get rid of or change the programs to have this freedom, the freedom from the system exists irrespective of the presence of the program. From the essential dimension, we gain a deeper understanding, respect and compassion for the advanced system for survival and social belonging that our operating system and installed programs provides -- our coping mechanisms, our personality traits, our habits, our ordinary experience and ways of being in the world.

And further, from this dimension, I see clearly how I can best support and contribute to individual and social change, I see and accept the inherent limitations of what I can accomplish, and I understand that without also contributing to an individual and collective shift to the essential dimension, any change that is accomplished will have limited impact.

The pathless path to essential experience. The dimension of essential experience is not something we 'achieve'. Effort, goal and achievement belong to the dimension of ordinary experience. The dimension of essential experience is something that is already here. It something we wake up to, something we relax into. This dimension is already here, it is already me, but it is generally overlooked. I can access it only when I stop my ordinary goal-oriented thinking and doing.

The 'pathless path' that opens the door to essential experience is a specific form of effortless awareness and experiencing. It is available not through doing, but through awareness and an inner recognition and understanding from the heart.

It can be described like this: I stop my thinking and doing. I notice and allow my experience as it is in this moment. I fully let myself experience my experiences. I include the infinite spaciousness that is always part of this moment.

Try it and see! You may have the experience of an immediate, radical shift, where the dimension of essential experience opens up, effortlessly.

Remember this is not a doing, not an effort, not a goal-oriented activity. It is a form of awareness, a form of curious and compassionate investigation of the present moment.

For most of us this shift, when and if it happens, is temporary rather than permanent. Often we can only access it in specific, supportive environments. And after opening to this dimension we easily get triggered back into ordinary experience. This is an intrinsic part of the dance between our two modes of being in the world.

We may also have the experience of just dipping our toes into the essential dimension, with the rest of us still firmly established in the ordinary dimension.

After having opened to the essential dimension, our experience of being back in the ordinary dimension can become even more painful, even more frustrating, even more intolerable than before.

These difficulties are intrinsic to the path of opening to the essential dimension, and some of the reasons we often prefer, unconsciously, to stay in our ordinary mode of being in the world. While the shift itself is essentially effortless and easy, the path to making a more significant and sustained shift is generally very challenging. It is a journey that requires a great deal of commitment, motivation, determination and courage. Many obstacles and difficult emotions will surface. We may feel that our problems are increasing, not decreasing. But these obstacles were already there before, within ourselves, controlling our life, without our awareness. Our pains, hurts, suffering and obstacles are simply becoming consciously available. Through this awareness and the deeper understanding that follows, transformation can take place.

The forces of self-protection and avoidance that are inherent in our ordinary, survival-focused way of being in the world go very deep. The challenges we will face when we get motivated to open deeply to the essential dimension are also great. For most of us, therefore, we cannot go far on this journey without good guidance, good support, supportive teachers, supportive teachings, supportive practices and supportive friends on the path.

** I welcome any comments you have on this post. How was the impact in you from reading it?

Kåre Landfald

30 July 2020

www.zen-coaching.com