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EBS68: The Meaning of Experience

Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #68

Delivered by Eric Butterworth on September 5, 1975

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“Why, oh why, am I plagued with this problem?” “What is the meaning of the challenges in my life?” “Why does everything happen to me?” Have you ever asked yourself questions like these? I’m sure you have.

“On earth the broken arc; in heaven the perfect round,” said Robert Browning. His message is that we can’t understand life or its experiences until we realize that there is simply more to life than that which begins with birth and ends with death. There is more to man than a physical body and a mechanical brain.

Finding the effect of experience is complex because the soul will not sit still for analysis. Many philosophers, psychologists and scientists, who accept the world as somewhat mechanistic, refuse to accept the reality of the soul of man. To them, man is born by chance and scurries through life like a scared rabbit, driven here and there by the winds of change until he finally bows out of life through death. All this is but a brief moment of harried, purposeless existence, and soon it is over.

Of course, not all scientists subscribe to this theory. Sir Oliver Lodge, for one, pictures the soul as an interior creative power in, but beyond, all that is. “Life,” he says, “is a rudiment of mind. And mind is the conscious part of life.” Lodge explains that the scientific denial of a mind separate from the brain is based on the fact that the mind ceases its activity when the brain is impaired. But he points out that a close examination of the brain is no more likely to reveal thought than a close examination of the strings of the piano is likely to reveal the nature of music. Music must use some instrument. If the instrument is injured, music cannot express itself perfectly. The mind, too, needs an instrument. But just as Wagner’s operas transcend any instruments used for their production, the mind transcends the brain.

When we realize that man is more than a physical entity or personality moving through a precarious life experience, we see that far more important than the things that happen to man or around man, are the things that happen within him.

There are specific laws of cause and effect that hold true in the experiences of life. Nothing just happens; there is a reason for all things. If it were possible for unpleasant experiences to come into our lives without cause, then we would be living under a universal law of caprice and chaos and injustice. Most of us reject that idea; we tend to believe that there is a more just system. The scriptures answer this dilemma, “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” This leads us to believe that experience comes not by caprice, but by consciousness—as the result of thought.

This is a demanding, difficult notion. It’s hard to see that our heartaches and suffering could have been produced by some previous thought. Often we fool ourselves on mental attitudes. We may congratulate ourselves on being kind and loving and just, while at the same time we are boiling inside with harsh mental criticism. The best example is the “good Christian” who loves everyone in general but hates quite a few people in particular. Negative thinking is a subtle thing. We slip in our appraisal of our mental character if we delight in the mistakes or inferiority of others, for this attitude only brings on undesirable experiences to us in like kind.

The greatest cause of unpleasant experiences comes out of the sub-conscious. Because it’s hard to evaluate this phase of mind, we actually need unpleasant experiences to help as a cleansing process. How we react to this kind of experience is a barometer which reveals our sub-conscious attitudes. It is primarily through our resistance of experience that it becomes hazardous. We should learn to bless all experience and give thanks for the overcoming opportunity it presents. Then we open the way for freedom and for the grace of God, by which the end may become a beginning, and the loss may become a gain. If Isaac Newton, for instance, had been angry when the apple struck him on the head, he would not have seen the good in the experience...he would not have formulated his theory of gravity. Experiences do not have identity of themselves. They are not naturally labeled bad or good or tragedies or opportunities. We label them by our reaction to them. The nature of experience is in how we see it.

The only complete catastrophe in life is the catastrophe from which we learn nothing. We name the experience by our first reaction to it. We may say, “Oh, isn’t this awful!” Or we say, “I’ll never get over this.” When we declare it that way, we set up a pattern of vibrations in consciousness. The experience itself is not what matters. Appearances come and go and change. How the experience is met is what matters. Regardless of the loss or the pain or the inharmony. “Is not life more than food and the body more than raiment? It is the Spirit that giveth life; the flesh profiteth nothing.” So said Jesus.

The best way to view an experience is as an opportunity for growth, for soul development. We can always open ourselves to the inner good if we declare and decree that, “All things work together for good.” Then we can be sure to find the good in all.

There are at least two ways to look at any experience.

A certain man lost his job, as did several of his associates when their plant laid off hundreds of workers. The others blamed their “bad” experience on politics, on the system, on favoritism, etc. But this man had another approach. He set to work to find something in the situation he could use to his advantage. He had long wanted to have enough time to study a specialized branch of his work so that he could become an expert in the fijld. “Now,” he said, “I have the one thing that has always kept me from working on the speciality: time. I may have to return to the job very soon, so I must take full advantage of this opportunity.”

He worked as laboriously and faithfully as he had at his job, and it was not long before an opportunity arose to test his skill in the speciality. He did one project in the area, then another similar call came. Almost before he knew what had happened, he was in great demand, and was earning far more than his previous salary provided.

Even the person whose experience results from a negative cause can turn this into a blessing if he accepts the outworking and meets it in the spirit of love, non-resistance and humility. Most would call this person “lucky”. But luck is no more than positive thinking. Every unlucky person has bad mental habits.

One final, important point: Experiences do not necessarily create an “experienced” person. To some people they are merely “incidents” that come up along the road. They teach no lessons, reveal no better ways to handle one’s life and affairs, The seniority of a teacher who had been with his institution for 20 years was overlooked, and he was passed over for promotion. Demanding an explanation, he was told, “My friend, in reality you have not had 20 years of experience. You have had one year’s experience 20 times over.” The lesson is that you do not necessarily grow through a thing just because you go through it.

Let us remember that life is much greater than the physical or material. Man is a living soul in the process of growth and development. Let us know that every experience, regardless of its cause, comes as an opportunity for growth and enrichment. Let us look for, and insist on finding, the good in every experience and thus transform it into the potential blessing that it inherently is.

© 1975, by Eric Butterworth

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