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How Do We Experience?

February 21, 2012

 

Alan Cohen, LCSW

As you read this page, you are experiencing. You may be experiencing interest in what may unfold before you, or you may be experiencing skepticism about the value of what this person has to say. Or you may be experiencing your sore back. Or hunger… In all of these cases, there is a focus of interest or need that both draws your attention, and serves as a lens through which your experience is formed.

In this forming of awareness, the way you experience yourself and the way you experience the world is created. The external object of perception is not the primary shaper of experience, since the same object can be experienced very differently by different people. What creates the meaning of the experience are the attitudes, beliefs, needs, and world view of the perceiver. So, in the process of contacting the present moment, awareness is brought to some object of awareness (figure), which may be external (e.g. this blog entry) or internal (e.g. hunger) and is given meaning by the background (e.g. personal history, biases, cultural environment, zeitgeist, etc). Our emotions, then, are felt responses to the relationship between the figure and the background. So, a glass of water would have very different meaning, and would evoke a very different emotional response from a man struggling in the desert, than from a man sitting in a restaurant. And their response to the water (figure) would be a function of the degree of need or interest that the figure/ground relationship elicited. We are constantly forming such figures in relation to a (personal, environmental, cultural, economic, etc) background. As soon as that particular figure (object of awareness) passes, it is replaced by another. More likely, there are numerous figures occurring simultaneously, and “competing” for primary focus. This process allows us to address the dominant need of the moment, whether in relation to physical survival, emotional safety, pleasure, or whatever, and to thereby maximize the survival and growth of the person.

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