Desire is the memory of pleasure; fear is the memory of pain.
-- Nisargadutta Maharaj
There’s a great deal of concern in so-called developed countries about memory loss as populations age, yet in Awareness Practice we’re regularly encouraged to let go memory. In fact, in Awareness Practice memories have something of a bad reputation. We talk about “ego stories,” how our clinging to real or imagined traumas of the past are causing current suffering, and that we can let go the past in order to be present and release the future to be what it is, untainted by influences from the past.
With a little scrutiny it becomes clear pretty quickly that there’s a big difference between “remembering” to put on my clothes before I go outside, or which is the kitchen and which is the bathroom, and “remembering” that my mother didn’t love me properly as a child and that’s the reason I’m unhappy today. Yet the ego, that illusion of being a someone who is other than, separate from Life, happily conflates those two—constantly.
Imagine for a few moments—make a “sit back and get comfortable” guided imagery of this for yourself if you’d like—that you have no memory of anything that happened to you before this moment. You don’t know “who” you are. You don’t know what you like and dislike, what you do and don’t do, how you should and shouldn’t be. Nothing. “You” are a clean slate. You could be anything, do anything, go anywhere…. You don’t know. You don’t know anything!
The burning question is “What Now?”
Again, with a tiny bit of paying attention it will become obvious that all you have going for you is awareness. You’re going to have to pay attention and notice what you notice in thisherenow. It’s all you’ve got. Fortunately, for practitioners of awareness, that’s more than enough, that’s everything.
Now you’re going to face the ego-initiated pitfalls we all face moment by moment. The conversation is going to ramp up inside conditioned mind—making meaning, figuring stuff out, creating “connections” that don’t exist, assuming, guessing and believing the guesses are based in reality. You’re going to have to recognize the ego-driven urgency to “know” for what it is and have the courage not to fall for it. Ego will be desperate for you to do something. Ego is frantic in its efforts to distract you from the simple fact, your own direct experience, that there is absolutely nothing wrong.
When identified with ego it’s nearly impossible to imagine being in a place where you could be supremely happy even if you didn’t know the difference between the bathroom and the kitchen. Sure, you would very likely have someone there to assist with those decisions, but none of it will determine your happiness—unless you let it.
In the interim, we do know to put on our clothes before going outside and to make our tea in the kitchen and shower in the bathroom. Therefore, we can safely remove ego’s ability to have us assume that if we don’t remember every sad event, every disappointment, every trauma that ever happened to us as a sad and tragic event that we will somehow be diminished.
What will happen if we let go those old, tired stories of “who I am”? All we will lose is a whole bunch of weapons ego is using to cause us to suffer now. My mother didn’t love me as she should. Fine. I can love me now. In fact, my clarity about how a lack of love feels can inspire me to love everyone as I wish to be loved. Hard to count that as a loss.