swan landing on waterI got a sweet little shock when I looked up the etymology of experience and experiment, wondering how they could feel so different while being nearly the same word. Their shared history is adding rich new sensations of fearlessness to daily existence (even to the past and the future, as well as the Now).

First, the two exper words: ‘Experience’ sounds passive, even when flavored by the Buddha’s remark that experience is not what happens: it’s the effect of *capacity* for experience – sensitivity, insight, flexibility, openness. It also sounds over-and-done-with, but it’s the still-humming subtle engine of our perceptions and interpretations. Conversely, a person actively conducts an ‘experiment’ and chooses which factors to focus on or change, though it’s hard to be aware of every factor affecting the outcome, much less control all of them.

Where does fearlessness come in? The per root means ‘to try’. The little shock I got in the etymology was noticing that fear derives from the same per root too, meaning opening up to the unknown. Combined with the ex- (out of), experience and experiment are about trying out unknown phenomena and/or sensations (the usual roots of fear). [The philosophy that all phenomena are *only* sensations is too weighty for this post. So is the philosophy that life is the soul gathering experience through experimentation – however appealing, relaxing, and potentially true that idea may be; e.g., the spiritual swan arriving into the earth plane. But the Yoda philosophy fits (“Do or do not. There is no try.”): motion itself is the doing, the showing up, the experience, the experiment.]

So there’s a tremulous feeling about experience and experimenting – literally akin to fear. They all open our vulnerable selves to the unknown: experience and experiment are what happen when we’re open to new sensations, accidentally or deliberately. Simply being alive can be scary (if one is paying attention), which is why the great spiritual icons all say “Fear not.”

Feeling the liveliness of every instant that way, by unraveling this and other words we use every day, is what Wordals (word portals) are all about – reflecting the joys of editing, as well as writing while listening for the inner voice, and the strange freedom of knowing that whatever words I use, each reader will create a new meaning, a new moment of reality in the act of reading.

This is much more than an intellectual exercise. The immediate intent is to discover personal wisdom, with the larger intent that it ripple out in empathy, for the blessing of all. As Thich Nhat Hanh expressed it:

“The more you understand, the more you love; the more you love, the more you understand. They are two sides of one reality. The mind of love and the mind of understanding are the same.”


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 Photo credit:

Juho Soininen via stockxchange