Attachment to Experiences

Dr. Charles Tart


Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 4, Part 13 of 18 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

Student: I was thinking about something. I guess it actually ties in all the stuff we’ve been talking about in states of being, and I have an interesting problem along these lines. I remember you mentioned that when you started reading Gurdjieff, that you had a process of waking up that was brief, and then afterwards you went around talking about it for a long time, but you weren’t really awake.

CTT: That’s right.

Student: I had something like that, I guess. I mean, I’ve been having little sort of mini-satoris recently, but in the morning, on Saturday, the very early morning – I had a very strong sort of mystical union experience. And afterwards, I’m now feeling as though I should be able to constantly involve everything within my self-concept and feel at peace with it. I realize that the expectation is overlapping that of my actual experience, and so it’s causing some sort of dissonance.

CTT: I think the Tibetan Buddhists have a nice attitude toward this. They say about all experiences – whether they’re wonderful, mystical experiences or not – they’re just experiences. The Tibetan term for these nice experiences is nyams. If they happen and they’re nice, that’s nice. Now get on with the real work of whatever it is we’re doing in life.

And that’s a way of advising non-attachment to particular experiences. I think I warned you when I first talked to you about sensing, looking, and listening – if I didn’t, I should have – that sometimes, by the time you find your arms and legs and then begin sensing, looking, and listening, sometimes it’s going to be very nice. You’re really going to feel like, “Wow, I’m here.”

That’s great — but don’t hold onto it. Don’t hold onto it in the sense of, “From now on, when you do the procedure, you want to recreate that particular feeling.” Because then you’re no longer opening yourself to the now, while based in your body. You’re trying to recreate a particular feeling. Getting caught up in trying to recreate particular feelings is where we’re stuck in the first place.

We’re going around trying to make things nice all the time, and a lot of that is done by basically cutting ourselves off from actual reality and filling it in with fantasy of one sort or another. Like making our vision of the whole world appear smooth, even though really there’s only a little section in the center of our vision that we see in any detail. We need to not do that, okay?

Student: It’s been my experience, though, that –

CTT: Oh, and if you catch yourself doing it, that’s all right. Just go back to sensing, looking, and listening. Guilt is optional.


I’m sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to get that in.

Student: I mean, I can see the value in not holding onto experiences. But at the same time, one of the things we’re here to study is peak experiences. And it’s been my experience that after a peak experience, you learn more from that experience in retrospect by reliving it. So how do you hold onto the fruits of the experience and get more out of reflecting on this experience without holding onto the experience?

CTT: You experiment. You experiment and find out what works for you. Okay? I mean, you want to avoid the extreme on the one hand of, “My precious experience. No one must question my precious experience.…” – I’m grasping my ring.


The Gollum complex is coming out! My precious!

[reference to character Gollum in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series]


You don’t want to grab like that and put so much sacredness and depth on it that basically everything that might threaten it in any way becomes the enemy. Okay? That’s way in the wrong direction. Nor, on the other hand, do you want to just forget it.

So while the Tibetan approach of regarding it as “just experience” is a way of not getting overly attached, you do have a chance to learn from it. And I say a chance, because there will be some unusual experiences that you’ll have, and they’ll really clarify things for you. They’ll move you around a little in life where you’ll be able to see things in a different way from that point on. And there will be other unusual experiences you have where probably the main thing you learn from it is, “Gosh, it’s strange. I don’t know what the hell that meant!”

So you experiment in between somewhere of how to learn from an experience without glomming onto it too much. And it is very individual how you do that.

So for example, I find – and some people find – there’s some experiences where you don’t want to tell people about it because something is still happening as a result of that experience. If you tell people about it, you kind of use up the energy and end the process prematurely.

But then there may be a time when it’s fine. You can talk about the process. It’s done. And others where you don’t need to hold things like that in the first place, and others where you really need to share it because you need other people’s perspectives on it to help you work with it more effectively. It’s very individual.

A very good dissertation topic for someone would be to start making a wide scale collection of how do people hold sacred experiences in ways that let them continue to work their magic, and how do they do it in ways that screw up. Ways to try and ways that you should generally avoid.

I love suggesting dissertation topics.


Like you guys don’t have enough to do!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *