Information and Experiential Knowledge

Yoga is defined in the classical text of Patanjali as the “cessation of the turnings of thought”. One of the building blocks to reduce the number of spins on your thoughts is to ascertain the difference between the information that you have gathered and the knowledge that you have experienced and try and close that gap through integrating them.
Information does not need a definition in today’s world. Everyone is touched by more of it than they can hope to assimilate. Simply put, information is anything you have seen, read, heard, touched, smelt, tasted. Your mind has recorded with the assistance of all sense objects under its influence and filed it away for potential use later. Experiential knowledge is anything that you have consciously processed, understood, internalized and know when to use.
Let me take an example. I had heard that through a regulated diet and active lifestyle, one could live without medication. I had heard that the human body was intelligent enough to heal itself and that external medication is mostly not needed if I could listen to my body. This piece of information stayed with me for a while, for years, dormant and useless. Until one day when I decided I would give it a shot. I decided one day that I would experiment with this information by simply stopping taking medication in case of any illness, excepting unforeseen hospitalization. What followed was remarkable. In the initial days of converting information to knowledge, I struggled with doubt. When I was sick or down with fever, my mind would remind me of the local doctor that I used to visit. My body would refuse to move, confused at this new situation. Over the days of sickness, as the sickness came down, my mind would remind me less of the doctor and my body would eagerly want to get back to regular activity. Once I passed over the sickness, I would feel a sense of integration, a sense of understanding of my own body and mind that would make more confident of myself. As the bouts of sickness came and went, I simply start to ‘know’ that the phase would pass and that I would be back to normal. I even started devising methods to keep myself productive during times of sickness and started regaining regular health faster than each previous time. So much so that over the last five years, my body and mind had integrated this knowledge so well that I would effortlessly avoid doing activities that would cause sickness. In some cases, I would know that I needed to simply fast; in other cases, I would know that I needed to eat only specific foods; in other cases, I would know that I would need a home-made remedy; In even other cases, I would know that all I needed to do was turn off technology from my life for a while. I experienced lesser and lesser sickness. I haven’t met a doctor for a sickness in more than ten years. I don’t have a personal doctor or a family doctor.
I generally advice people around me to wait for their bodies to recover when they are not well as I am certain that medication is not required unless in specific complicated situations that need the aid of technology to diagnose and treat. In some cases, people with a deep habit of medication might need to take baby steps to wean away.
For me, personally, this is a case of moving from a piece of information in my mind to experiential knowledge in my entire being. Information was the starting point, but I had to cook it inside me with various parameters through a wide variety of situations to start integrating it into my being.
I will take another example to drive home the point. For most of us, remaining in good health is a priority. I am guessing most of us know that eating healthy is the most important part of remaining healthy. I have known several people who have advised me on what to eat, how to live, how to remain healthy – while they themselves have looked unhealthy, out-of-shape and tired. I have had to restrain my response and allow them to complete their banter. In such cases, I have noticed a clear distinction between information and experiential knowledge. The information you have has not been internally processed or understood. Hence you might say one thing but look completely the opposite. I have noticed time and again that the people who most often talk about food and eating healthy are the ones whose bellies you will see before you see them. This is an example of where information is partially cooked and has hence produced confusion rather than an experience of knowledge. For each strand of information that you have that you have not experienced, you will create confusion. The mind will not be able to decide the appropriate course of action when an event confronts it. It will simply take the route that it took the last time or the route that you are most used to, which in this case will be to continue to eat without heed.
In today’s world of information overload, it is relevant for each of us to ask ourselves how much information we have and how much experiential knowledge we have gained through our own internal processes. Yoga begins with this integration, with the integration of information into experiential knowledge. It is only our own internally processed experiential knowledge that turns our wheel. It is our own efforts that start us on our paths of yoga.
A first step towards integrating information would be take the information you have currently and putting it into action. If you have read that skipping a certain type of food leads to better health, start with that. In the end, it matters more that you create an experience in reality rather than spend years trying to verify the veracity of the information you are trying to pursue. The information itself will change to suit you. Your intelligence will lead you to your experiential knowledge.


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