It is easy to dryly describe something, but really hard to impart actual knowledge. You can describe something in terms of shape, size, weight, texture, but those are facts, not real knowledge. For example, if I say “5 pounds”, that is an accurate description of weight, but it doesn’t give you true knowledge. If I say “a bag of sugar”, that might connect with knowledge you already have. While “5 pounds” is sterile, “a bag of sugar” may bring you the memory of the real heft of 5 pounds, the feeling of the bag of sugar in your hand, the crunchy, sandy feel of sugar that has leaked between the many thin paper layers of the bag, and the dusty feel of the bag itself, covered in the pulverized powder of sugar that has escaped.
And there is more. There is the sound and the smell of the places and times you handled a bag of sugar, like the store aisle and your kitchen counter, and it goes on and on. I could never describe it enough to give you this knowledge if you don’t already have it, because you have to experience the bag of sugar for yourself to really know it. Without that experience, all these descriptions are still just that, dry descriptions that, with some imagination, can be built into a partial, and inevitably, flawed understanding of what a bag of sugar is.
So, if describing something as fundamentally simple and mundane as a bag of sugar is so difficult, imagine trying to describe a complex spiritual experience, an epiphany, a moment when through meditation, trauma or pharmacology, you touch the divine, you inexplicably experience the ineffable.
Telling the Story Diminishes the Experience
We usually begin to describe things in terms of shared experience, which if you are describing a truly new experience that your listener does not share, leads to analogies, metaphors and similes. In fact, as soon as we begin trying to tell the story of a profound experience, I think we risk diminishing it. If we are not very careful, our experience will cease to be what it truly was in our own memories, over shadowed and eventually replaced by the shallow story we tell to describe it.
I rarely tell stories of my experiences, because they can only be a faint shadow of the actual experience. More often I share some of the fall out from my own experiences, how I apply the things I Know, even if I can’t share the actual “knowing”. If something I write resonates with something you Know, or even triggers a new experience for you, then I think that is very cool. But the most important point? It is your experience, not mine, that really matters in your life.
The featured image for this post is millions of distant galaxies seen in a tiny dark spot in our sky by the Hubble space telescope. Turns out infinity is really big.