Memory, and Irma Thomas
The premise of wisdom traditions, at their core, is that no story, however intricate or outlandish, can accurately contain the power, mystery, and possibilities of how, what, and why everything exists as it does. Ultimately, we must come to terms with being willing to be blind, to some extent, to the broader context of life, and must be focused on and open to life as it arises and unfolds within and around us. We are always present and participating in life, as long as we can remember to remember.
From the Bhagavad Gita 2.63
krodhād bhavati sammohaḥ
From anger comes delusion;
from delusion, the failure of memory;
from the failure of memory, the ruin of discrimination;
and from the ruin of discrimination the person perishes.
(To unpack this sloka quickly:
Anger arises out of being ruled by desires and personal preferences which stem from mis-identification with the I-sense. Delusion is incorrectly creating a story or narrative that reinforces the sense that the I is a separate entity, unchanging and unmoved, like some furniture of the universe. Memory here, refers to recognition or remembrance of wisdom teachings that the cosmic and limitless nature of existence briefly manifests itself as an individual, but also as all of existence itself. Discrimination, or discernment, is the capacity to recognize the difference between what is real and what is I or mind-based self-reinforcing stories of separateness.)
Memory is the lever upon which the balance of our ability to be present rests. Memory pulls our attention to the past, and floods us with what once was but is no longer present. Memory also pushes us to explore what has not yet come to pass, confusing our vision of what is passing in the present. Our memory is a gateway into our nature, because it simultaneously binds our lived experience with the entire unfolding and ongoing history of life and existence. It is through remembering the present that we become free to engage in this world with curiosity, enthusiasm, and wonder. Unfortunately, our memories are hijacked by so many distractions of relative insignificance juxtaposed with the cosmic context.
Modern life is hyper-focused on short term, consumable, and fleeting experiences. In the context of the upheaval of our time, it may be hard to discern what course of action might lead to maximum contentment and minimum suffering. Rarely, when we observe the flow of recorded human history, do we have examples of peaceful and prosperous periods of collective, and personal well being. Looking at the track record thus far, it might be said that the ordinary person would be lucky to have glimpses of joy and contentment in life. Or we might argue that their experience was hard won against a myriad of environmental and social conditions which worked tirelessly against their personal peace and satisfaction. Whatever story we tell ourselves about the past, it translates into our lived experience of the present, and therefore our imaginations about the future. However, none of the stories we tell ourselves about the nature of existence are accurate. We can only interpret what has, is, and will happen based on our perspective. Our perspective is extremely narrow when it is self-affirming, and clouded by a sense of separateness. Our modern culture of hyper-individualism, and competitiveness deeply reinforces notions of separateness.
Fortunately for us, we have a rich history of human beings who steeped themselves in practices of remembrance. When we reclaim our capacity to remember that our nature is interwoven into the nature of existence, which has no limits, boundaries, or edges, we remember that the stories we tell ourselves are not accurate. We can begin to embody life free from alienation, scarcity, and selfishness. We can be present with the abundant forms and varieties of life that surround as, and appreciate them as other expressions of the same cosmic creative forces. We can find ways to be creative, and collaborate in order to experience contentment and joy without violence. What is required for us to lead such a life? Perhaps it is patience, or perhaps it is remembering the title of Irma Thomas' "Time Is On My Side."