No matter how many times I do something, there is always the faintest sense that I am doing it for the first time.
I went to Cedar Point to ride roller coasters recently. I am a huge fan of thrill rides and have ridden many of them in the past. Despite this, I got as nervous on the first incline as I was on my first roller coaster ride back in middle school. In an instant, thoughts flashed through my mind of not knowing what would happen once we reached the top, of wondering if I would black out from fear, and of doubting the teenaged operators’ ability to properly check that my harness was buckled.
Despite my experience, an echo of the fear of doing something for the first time was still present.
This happens elsewhere in my life too. I was going for a day hike recently and I had a momentary glimmer of feeling ill prepared for the activity despite years of hiking. Almost every time I step on stage to perform music, I feel for a second like I have never done it before even though I have been playing for more than half of my life.
This happens, I think, because in a way, we are doing things for the first time. No matter how much experience I have doing something, each time will be just slightly different. Even if it is a roller coaster that follows an identical track, there is an infinity of factors that can change like the wind, the other people sitting near me, and my own mindset.
On the surface, it seems like experience should prepare us to be able to predict the outcome of a situation. But there is a bit of old stage fright advice that rings true: “You don’t stop feeling nervous, you just get better at being nervous.”
Experience just allows us to cope with the feelings we are having. It lets us be present in the event and not freak out. It gives us the skills to recognize the boundaries of a situation so that we feel grounded. But for every boundary, there is an infinity of chaos underneath it – a wealth of contingency which we cannot foresee. And when it inevitably bubbles up, experience gives us the ability to ride the wave rather than be drowned.
It can seem as though repetition can wrest the excitement from an activity. But experience actually enables us to tap into the immanence of a situation to greater degrees.
Experience lets us ride the wave.