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© 2020 Everything Art Collective. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Health vs Experiencing Health



by Sinead Corrigan

How do your eyes feel right now as you read this?

Are they tired? Fresh? Heavy? Dry? Bright? Tearful?


It seems that we often perceive information itself without considering the state in which we are doing the perceiving from (physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.). This type of awareness might be considered something we learn from “reflection” (specifically, in this case, reflection on our physical level of energy/state of being). We can obtain this from repeated experience and observation [e.g. staring at a computer screen for hours makes them sore; after we notice this, we may decide to rest them every 20-30 minutes or so, instead of plowing through our work].


Contrast this with something explicitly designated and disseminated as knowledge from an outside party. For example, many of us are all told it is good for us to do well in school, learn what we are told, and one day contribute to some sort of job, discovery, creative project, and so forth. We are not often told – at least, by mass sources – to spend our time considering what our motivation for learning is, aside from the final product. Less attention is given to how we feel while we are completing something; instead we may be focus on how we will feel once it has been achieved or completed. We may have not been given the opportunity to pursue our childhood dreams because they were not “responsible”, and so forth, even though we very much enjoy(ed) doing them in any given moment. Is this lack of having some time to “listen to one’s self” {without feeling bad about it} a detriment to the way in which we come to know what is and is not “good” for us regarding our physical health as well as the health of our relationship to our livelihood?

In this article, let us consider the idea of “experiential knowledge” as a contribution to the choices we make regarding our mental and physical health, and how we choose to interject that healthy (or not) self into a working and learning-centered world. How can we learn to examine which of our chosen experiences are helpful for our long term (and moment by moment) physiological functioning, both within and outside the work place? (This includes our state of mind, which affects our physical health, during any of our work or activities). How can we learn to push ourselves in our work and studies, yet also listen to these physiological warning signs for when our body needs to take a break from “contributing” to the world and instead take it easy and reflect upon the work that has already been done?


Or perhaps, on the flip side, learning to listen to the impulse that asks us to “start working in the world” and offering our physical energy to a job, passion, or other external pursuit rather than simply indulging the sensation-based desires of our body all day, or even the wish to meditate and practice yoga all day. [Consider that although “indulging our senses” – or what some might call “partying all day”– and “practicing yoga all day” are two very different ways of engaging the senses, both are perhaps seeking to feel more and enjoy the moment, rather than striving to make “future moments” better and better.


The idea is that even though we may not seem to be “contributing” to society in these states, we may in fact be attempting to process the work we have done after it has become too overwhelming and we no longer wish to continue; we can perhaps no longer find joy, motivation, and presence in the work itself. Or perhaps that is not the work for us.] This “down time” can be a conscious or unconscious way of making future choices based on stepping into the present moment to see how we really feel, again rather than how we will feel once some external goal is achieved. So, as human beings we seem to need time to “be” with our self and to “be” with others. How can we better draw the line for self-care between those two ways of spending our time and mental/physical energy?

Let’s first start with a methodology for the development of this “experiential” knowing of our “health needs” regarding “societal participation”. Say we equate a conglomeration of experience + reflection with the notion of “wisdom”. There is an idea in various eastern philosophic traditions describing the development of wisdom in a threefold cultivation:

1) “Academic” wisdom or “Study” – this is the “candlelight of reassurance” that guides our way as we continue to make decisions about whether or not something is helpful to our health. For example, we may observe from our experience that sleeping a certain number of hours per night equates to a better mood, improved immune system, better digestion, and so forth. We then read biological and psychological studies that show this to be true, affirming that our perception and the actual measurement (or at least, the current standards for the measurements dictating “health”) are in line. Thus, we continue the habit with confidence (If they did not coincide, we might try changing our behavior, i.e. our sleeping habit OR if we feel there is a flaw in the study itself rather than our habit, we study deeper). This does not have to necessarily be an explicitly academic affirmation of a habit - it can perhaps be any kind of objective or observation-based means of examining what it is you are participating in. Think of it as the theory and logical background for the system as a whole. An example for me involves the practice of yoga. After many years of physical dedication, learning anatomy, physiology, and other beautifully deep and detailed studies confirm certain inner sensory experiences I seem to have, while also expanding my mind and making the poses I have done a million times even more interesting by considering the incredible minute activity taking place inside of my body!

2) “Contemplative” wisdom –this is a bit like an analysis of the information you have gleamed through your experience in comparison with what seems to be the over-all currently held theory of the whole. You can “check your experience” to see if you are moving closer to what past collective observation has offered.

3) “Meditative” wisdom – the word meditation can perhaps be replaced by other practices. It is an “inner focused”/self development skill that does not attempt to analyze or understand what is happening (thought there are certainly analytical-style meditations). Some might think of this as deeply paying attention to the taste and texture and temperature of the food you are eating, or feeling each little muscle moving in the exercise you are doing. Or perhaps for you a meditatve state involves playing music or even learning mathematics (while the later is of course an analytical affair, the point is that it is about concentration)


Considering these three means of “checking ourself” (before we wreck ourself…;) ), we can think of our development as stages of both active and passive change. We can go out, have experiences in the world, learn things, make mistakes, fail, succeed, love, get sick, feel great, and so forth. Then we can return to contemplative/meditative development, reviewing the results of our actions [in the way we feel, in the way we see the world, in how we see “the world” responding to our actions, in our ability or lack there of to relate to others, and so forth].


Do you ever wonder some days: Why am I spending all my time doing this (whatever “this” may be)? Do you ever feel like there is so much you want to do and seemingly never enough time to do it all (or at least not without feeling exhausted)? Where does such anxiousness come from? Why can we not be satisfied with our lives no matter how much or how little we did in a day?

To echo the initial idea of building self-trust and an “inner knowing”, perhaps it is an imbalance in the degree to which we value societies’ expectations and opinions that can deter us from listening to this method of “experiential knowing” that has not been emphasized by our culture or educational system. Our degree of participation/“contribution” may or may not be influencing how we perceive ourselves and thus how our emotions are affected (i.e. self worth). And this, ultimately, deeply impacts how we care for ourselves…our mental state, the choices we make with food, work environment, clothing, friendships, relationships, physical health, or any dimension of wellness.

May we take the time in our lives to consider that there are many forms of knowledge and ways of knowing. May we recognize that our ability to share our gifts with society comes from not only giving and working hard, but also from caring for and nurturing our health needs so that we may show up with energy, thoughtfulness, and refreshed enthusiasm. May we be less hard on ourselves and more patient in our development, on all fronts. May we find others who support our inquiry into this line between self-care and self-sacrifice.

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