Friday, December 9, 2011

Memory Sticks

How fun it is to play with language and to see all the subtleties that can be discovered if we just pay a little bit of attention. We are so accustomed to viewing things from only one angle, but if we are able to come at things in a slightly different way, no telling how many diverse meanings can be found!

The other day I went out to the store to buy a memory stick for my computer, and while I was standing there looking at the advertising display, I had one of those odd little insights that comes now and again from out of the blue.

I have long known “memory sticks” to be data storage devices, but for some reason, in a moment of deflected attention, I saw the phrase in a completely new way. It was such a sudden and unexpected twist on a common phrase that I had to smile to myself. In that moment “memory stick” did not refer to data storage but to how our memory stays with us. We have a thought or experience, we then remember it as part of the flow of our lives, and then the memory sticks—-it stays with us and is held by the mind.

At one level, yes of course, it is great that we have this ability that is so painfully lacking in people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. We can remember what occurred when we went to the store to buy the memory stick because the memory stuck, and we can remember many of the experiences we have had over the course of our lives because those memories stuck as well.

We have these memories that remain in our minds, and that is all well and good, but then usually something less useful happens: we apply judgments to those memories. We call some good and some bad and others are judged to be merely neutral.

From these judgments we often derive conclusions about ourselves and our overall experience: “Oh, yeah, so many of my relationships have failed. So, the next one should fail too. I have messed up so badly so many times; I am just a person who messes up,” or, “I have undergone so much, and I know that life is sad and unfair,” or conversely “That was so great for me, and it needs to happen again or something is wrong.” You get the picture: a past memory can be stuck in us so firmly that it shapes and influences our present experience. Now, surely that is one disadvantage of memory sticking.

But there is another way. What if we let the data flow on by without grabbing it or categorizing it? What a different life we would have: we would still have the gift of memory, but it would not be a held memory that clouds the perspective. From a vantage of childlike wonder we would see everything without prejudice and with wide open eyes. We would be free in a most fundamental way, because each moment of life would be filled with effortlessness and ease. Our intentions and actions would be unbiased and our way forward undistracted.

I am so very honored to be able to say that I have met people who demonstrate this choice. I know for sure that what I have described is not merely theoretical but is the actual lived expression of amazing people.

For all intents and purposes, these people look the same as the rest of us; they dress like us, speak like us and have normal human experiences like us, but what sets them apart is the choice that they make. It is a simple choice, one that all of us can make: to not get stuck in memories or anywhere else. Because of their clarity and simplicity, they may actually have prodigious powers of recall and can remember specific details of events long past, but they are not bound by any of it.

I know from my own experience what a joy it is to be in the presence of someone in whom memory is not stuck. Each moment is rich and profound for them, unfettered by confusion. When they see anyone or anything, they see only the shining essence. They are totally present and fully engaged with life in all its many manifestations. They bathe in a love that is ever present, and they willingly share that love with all the world. They are not distracted by any of the labels conjured up by memory. When they speak, it is with an authority that no position could provide.

Now, while I have described a type of person that is not yet often seen in the world, the freedom of choice to not be stuck in memory is available to all of us, with none excluded, and more and more it WILL be the choice that is made. For short moments, many times, over and over again, we can rely on our own native intelligence, acquiring experiences and memories as we move through life, but not allowing ourselves to be limited by any of them.

In this way, that memory stick in our pocket can carry a reminder of a way of life that will take us beyond memory.

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