Dialogue: We Aren’t Our Memories and Experiences

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    Upstream, a male mallard, its green, florescent head glinting and almost glowing in the bright, late afternoon sunlight, stands in the middle of a washboard section of the stream, waiting.

    In a minute or two what he’s waiting for comes into view—a brown (and rather drab in contrast) female. Spring has officially begun!

    As they float downstream, they are aware of me sitting at the edge of the water, and the male is extra cautious, getting out of the creek to walk on the stones along the opposite bank. The female just hugs the edge of the current and floats down. She’s 20 meters ahead of the male by the time he reenters the creek.

    After a half hour’s passive observation of memories, associations, and emotions in the mirror of nature, thought yields, and the mind/brain spontaneously leaves the stream of content-consciousness.

    Later, I had this inquiry with a friend.

    I think we agree that insight is the key factor in self-understanding and radically changing human consciousness. We often have insights, but they don’t stick, or don’t make a difference in the basic patterns of our lives. Why?

    “Speaking for myself, I have all this stuff in my head that should be on paper, or deleted.”

    What do you mean?

    “I keep everything in my head like file cabinets—work related things, experiences, even childhood memories.”

    That sounds very burdensome; I write things down, so I can set them aside, and forget them. Do any extraneous or unnecessary memories interfere with direct perception and insight?

    “Yes, that seems to be so.”

    Then why do we accumulate memories?

    “Again, speaking for myself, I have this idea that if I hold onto all this data in my head, then sooner or later it will coalesce and make sense in terms of who I am and why I am the way I am.”

    That’s disturbing, and a striking insight in itself. Memories pile up over a lifetime, and impede the brain’s capacity for direct perception and insight. Is attachment to memory driving the accumulativeness?

    “Yes, I react with memory and association, rather than respond to what is.”

    Is there something even more fundamental behind it—our identity, which is based on the memories of our experiences? When I would visit my family after I moved away when I was a young man, my parents would get quite upset when I couldn’t remember insignificant events and acquaintances from childhood. But these memories weren’t important, so they were deleted.

    “How did you delete them?”

    I discovered that if you really observe a memory as it’s recurring, and it isn’t necessary for survival, it’s extinguished. So when some irrelevant memory would arise as I was doing something, I’d stop and watch it for a few seconds until it was extinguished.

    “I never did that. I held onto everything.”

    That’s amazing to me. Don’t you feel burdened by all the baloney?

    “Yes, but I thought I needed it.”

    Do you still feel that way?

    “No. I see that you can’t hang on to experiences and memories; past experiences aren’t important anyway.”

    I wonder if that insight will stick. Or is it a matter of continually awakening insights, and the state of insight? In any case, can you start deleting the files now? What is the right approach?

    “To look at these memories and see that they’re not important.”

    The brain is capable of direct perception as long as one lives. Right living is a negative movement (with the accent on the second syllable). If we energetically but passively watch thought, which is based on memory, the useless memories are deleted, and the mind/brain is refreshed.

    “Most people, including me to this point, fear that. We think we ARE our memories and experiences!”

    True, but that isn’t what it means to be a human being. Computers will soon have much more memory and processing capability than the human brain. So what are we, if not that?”

    “A being with senses, that is capable of experiencing and living new things.”

    Right, lifelong.

    “It’s the opposite of what I’ve believed and how I’ve operated. Negation, rather than accumulation, is the right direction. Then one isn’t burdened down with all these thoughts and memories of experiences and places and people.”

    That way of living has much deeper implications. We not only remain, or return to be like children as we mature all our lives, but the brain grows in the capacity to receive something beyond memory, thought, and knowledge.

    Martin LeFevre

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