Thursday Thort: Decoding experiential understanding

It’s a Thursday Thort!

I was reading a blog post written by Andy Puddicombe on the Headspace Blog and felt the need to share what he said about experiential understanding.

What? Stay with me, I’ll get there…

“The wisdom of uncertainty nonetheless highlights the importance of experiential understanding. To think about contentment is one thing; to be content is quite another. It is not enough to simply believe; we need to discover and find out for ourselves.” [Andy Puddicombe – Headspace Blog]

What Andy says here resonates so much with me. For me, part of learning about new ideas is to take it even further than Andy suggests.

I could watch hours and hours of Masterchef Australia. But that doesn’t make me a better cook, let alone a MasterChef. Watching, thinking or reading about something is not enough. I learn best by doing or from my own experience.

I need to find out for myself. 

As I’ve gotten older, it seems that I need to understand things on a visceral level before I can even begin to think about incorporating them into my everyday habits. Perhaps this is what Andy means by experiential understanding?

You know that feeling you get when music gets into your body and you just have to move?
Well, that’s the feeling I tend to get when I really, really understand something.

What exactly do I mean?
Let me share my ideas of what experiential learning is for me on my personal growth journey.


I want to know what the thing means by feeling it in my body. I want to embody its meaning.

I can give you a dictionary definition of mindfulness. Of authenticity. Of awareness. Of grace. Of joy.
But that they are meaningless buzzwords.
To me anyway.
Dictionary or written definitions don’t do it for me.

Yes, wow I get it now!

I’ve had many Aha moments this year.
Mostly, as I’ve battled to understand and make sense of concepts and buzzwords.
There have been long periods where what I am trying to understand is elusive.
The Aha moments come unexpectedly and after long, intentional effort on my part.

When I finally have a personally meaningful insight that is unique to me and my learning journey, I feel something shift inside me.
Flashes of understanding pulse through my body.
A solid feeling of “yes, wow, I get it now”.
An Aha moment.

Have you ever had that kind of feeling? That kind of knowing?

Light bulb


When something is elusive or slippery to get hold of, I step it up a notch. I’m a very practical person, I like to put things into practice. All through my doctoral studies, I found the best way to really understand something that I’d read was to do one of three things:

1) Draw it! I find mind maps and diagrams very sexy. Sad! But they help me to make connections between ideas, how things relate to each other, if they are the same thing or not.

2) Talk or write it though. Speak to others about my grapplings and learning. These days, this tends to happen by talking through it in my Morning Pages practice. (You can read more about that here)

3) Put it into practice. In my studies, this happened through working in my maths clubs. I read something, tried it in the clubs, reflected on if it worked or not, adapted it, tried it again. These days, it happens when I intentionally try something out in my day-to-day life.

More often than not, one of these approaches helps me deepen my understanding, but not always. Sometimes, I need to reflect on why I still don’t understand or cannot do [x].

And then try again.
Rinse and repeat.
Until I get it. 

I know this.
If I stick at it, it will eventually make sense to me.
It becomes part of who I am evolving into and part of my experience.
Eventually I “own it” (to use a popular phrase).
And best of all, by owning it, I inadvertently develop new habits and behaviour.
Which is what I want.

In simple terms, it means learning by doing and then thinking about the experience. So it’s about assimilating knowledge by trying something out. … It’s a very hands-on way of developing knowledge, so it builds confidence, strengths and a sense of purpose. []

Does this definition from match my own experience of this learning? I guess it does – they mention it is a hands-on apporach, it’s about trying things out and building confidence. Only now does the definition mean something to me… after I understand it experientially.

How would you define experiential understanding for your self?
How do you learn best, especially when it’s about personal growth and not academic learning?

4 thoughts on “Thursday Thort: Decoding experiential understanding

  1. shellypruittjohnson says:

    I love this post. I wrote my dissertation on education and the good society, and one of the philosophers I covered in it was Paulo Freire. He argues that true knowledge contains reflection and action and that it is a world-transformative process. So, I would say that experiential learning for me is the process of reflecting on a situation in order to solve a particular problem and then acting on my reflection in a way that changes myself and the world for the better. I tend to learn best by reading, writing, and discussion (all three of these together).

    Liked by 1 person

      • shellypruittjohnson says:

        Hi Deb: Thanks for your question. In my dissertation, the good society is the society that allows us to become fully human together. The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire was really influential in my dissertation, and this is his definition, more or less, of a good society.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Getting a life [1]

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