Memories and the Corners of Your Mind
Consider the idea of memory. Most people casually assume that their memories – particularly those intensely re-lived – are connected out there – in a world that has been experienced. But that world is gone forever – it no longer exists, if it ever actually did – and memories are only imperfect recollections of occurrences from a single perspective. (Modern historians recognized this when they redefined ‘history’ – no longer a recounting of ‘what actually happened’, history is now a collection of remembrances – some reliable and others less so – to be sifted through in search of … well, probably whatever it is that the searcher set out to find!!)
Imperfect memories are the residual images – the detritus – of a past which we carry through our lives. We tend to see those accumulated memories as part of us – as a component of a more complex whole. But a famous guru’s formulation – “I poked my finger into my eye which disturbed my mind” – clearly demonstrates a problem which cannot be avoided. If it is my finger and my eye and my mind, what or who is left?
Memories, like all such things, are masks and echoes of masks. Are they my memories or part of the self that I am – without a possessor? The distinction has tremendous implications. The very act of creating a mask – and memories as possessions are a mask – is an overt attempt at suicide of the self – with the mask as a funeral shroud to cover the corpse which is being denied.
If my memories are me, then how irrelevant is the mere possessor of them? The assumption of my memories, my feelings, my pain, my shame, my guilt, my joy is an attempt to empty the self of meaning until it can be cleanly assassinated. The problem being, of course, that the bastard won’t die so easily and the self grins at us from behind the shroud – threatening ever to reveal the secret of who we are and what we have tried to do. It is the self – not the masks – that is enduring.
Off-key mutterings are the common currencies of misdirected or inauthentic self reflection. (Here I am using the term ‘misdirection’ as magicians use it – a diversion from the real that results in a false impression of what has occurred or what is – by the use of misdirection, slight of hand is transformed into magic! ) Mostly when we think or talk about ourselves we deploy parts of these visions of a fragmented self. Such a strategy prevents us from reaching any kind of enlightenment. We opt for these constructions because we have decided to avoid self knowledge. (I refuse to accept the proposition that these decisions are unconscious – for, if they are, then there is something behind the self – of which the self is unaware and cannot access – and this is a rabbit hole that only Alice could survive!) The reinforcement of opting out over and over again – taking the ‘easy way out’ – allows us to construct a life stratagem with the apparent goal of making it all the way to the grave without ever meeting our self.
Another Dangerous Experiment
Here is a useful exercise which might help you understand what I’m getting at. There must be someone in your life that you would rather not be in regular contact with. Let’s assume for purposes here that this person offends you to such an extent that you would actually cross the street if you saw them coming towards you. Now reflect on how that situation came to be. Perhaps it was a remark or an odor or simply their appearance that set you off – or maybe it’s the sound of their voice that you can’t stand. In any case, you now avoid if at all possible coming in contact with them.
Now think about what you really know about this person – how well you really know them. What should come to mind is that your attitude towards them is based on a limited understanding of whom or what kind of a person they really are. You can’t be bothered with details that might contradict your impression. In life we do this all the time. Under the pressure of living, we’re reaching conclusions about people, situations, experiences and ourselves based upon very limited knowledge. And so we purposely mutter off-key as a form of avoidance and convenience.
What If It Is You?
But, underlying this apparent reaction to another is a far more insidious implication. What if the other is your very own self? If you have created the mask – the virtual ‘self’ – it must abhor, indeed avoid contact with and all reference to, the self that brought it into existence. Like anti-matter encountering matter, these two – the real and the virtual – can come into direct contact only to disintegrate the virtual in this world and/or the real in the virtual world. The virtual ‘self’ – the mask – must avoid the self at all cost because contact inherently implies infanticide – the parent will destroy the creation of its self-deception.
I hope you will admit that there is a difference between dying never having met a particular person again and dying never having met your self. (Of course, having met yourself implies, in Zen Buddhist terms, discarding the illusions of the world as you have created it in favor of the world as it is – and your self as you have created it in favor of the self that is – but more of that another day.) There’s something unfortunately comforting in the former and something deeply tragic in the latter.
So what do you do once you become determined to dispose of the illusions of the virtual and greet your self as yourself? How is it possible to dispose of all those schizophrenic echoes of willful misdirection? (Roses are red, violets are blue, I’m schizophrenic and so am I!) How does a pluralistic personality return to being unitary self? How do you eliminate all those virtual distances and multiple masks that have encrusted it for so long? How do you manage to cut through all of the noise that has crept into a harmony that should be so sublime? Maybe you re-tune the instrument!