Experience and Expression

In an earlier blog post, we looked at a pair of seemingly opposite, yet complementary aspects to the benefits of yoga. In this post, allow me to share my thoughts on another such pair of benefits, namely, elevating the quality of how we experience life and how we express ourselves in life.

The word “experience” is used in different ways, but here let us consider the following definition: the process of perceiving events and how we allow ourselves to be as we perceive them. For example, two people can encounter almost-identical events, yet they can experience them very differently. How one chooses to experience a challenging project at work can be different for different people. Some people may use the project as an opportunity to be in a space of creativity and enthusiasm, while others may use the same situation to be in a place of stress and frustration. Even the same person may experience similar events in different ways at different times in life.

Whereas experience is how we allow the outside (events, people, places) to affect (choose) our state of being, expression is how we use our actions, speech and thoughts to affect the outside. The 3 modes namely actions, speech and thoughts are not the only ways of expression; in fact our mere presence is a form of expression; our state of being can communicate (radiate) much more powerfully!

Although experience and expression depict seemingly opposite flow of energy, they are intimately related. For example, our best outputs be it artistic expressions or scientific contributions emerge when we are are experiencing a state of harmony, and not when we are stressed. As an Electrical Engineer, I like to think of it in the following way — our mind is an antenna that acts as both transmitter and receiver. We use the antenna as a receiver when we experiencing signals/stimulus from outside; we use the same antenna as a transmitter when we express signals/stimulus to the outside.

A remarkable property of antennas is captured by the reciprocity theorem, which says that the antenna characteristics are essentially the same for transmitting and receiving electromagnetic energy. (If you are eager for little more technical insights, see this, this and this!)

Viewed from this perspective, our state of being (experience) and the quality of our expressions (thoughts/words/actions/presence) are intimately related. As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar point out – a person who is happy and in harmony with themselves can never intend or cause harm on others. On the other hand, someone who inflicts harm and misery to others cannot do so without experiencing distress; one can express actions that perpetrate misery only when they are experiencing a similar vibration inside. In Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s words — inside every culprit is a victim crying for help.

One cannot uplift another without being in harmony within. When we perform our actions from a space of negative energy (fear, worry, stress, anxiety), it is unlikely that our actions bring sustained peace. We all have had this experience in our lives. For instance, we regret most of the words & actions we express when we are in anger. On the other hand, when we find ways to appreciate and uplift others, there is no way we can remain in a negative space inside; the actions are bound to uplift our own being. Indeed, this is the basis of Karma Yoga – uplifting oneself by uplifting others.

Based on this wisdom, we recognize the value of maintaining the purity of our inner space. This is exactly what we achieve in the practice of yoga: we tune the “antenna” – namely the instruments of the mind and body so that we experience and express harmony. Not only do we feel wonderful after the practice of yoga, we also benefit the others by offering them the best version of our self!