Friday, March 30, 2007

The Fragility Of Memory

I wrote the following in my personal journal, but I felt I should share it here, as the subject matter is important:

It's been a good year or two since I watched the movie Memento, but I bought it recently and watched it again tonight. Without a doubt, it's one of the best movies made - a slow film (i.e. no real action), but such an intriguing film, so well-crafted and acted, and it leaves you with lots to think about.

The idea of having no short-term memory is terrifying. Think about it - you'd never know who you are, and you'd never be able to create a new life for yourself, because you simply wouldn't remember it. In esoteric terms, this is why so many people fear Unity with God, because they fear losing their identity, their self, their essence, their being, to this amalgamation of Spirit - losing "Me" to "the All".

As human beings, identity is such an intrinsic and important subject for us, and it is one of the key things you'll find in Gnostic teaching: Who are we? Do we even know who we really are? What if this is just a dream, a fabrication of someone else's mind, of our own mind, a new life we just created because we cannot truly remember the one we had before? If we think about it in terms of reincarnation, of being stuck in the cycle of samsara, these questions are actually more valid than we might care to admit. Short-term memory in the case of a single human life might be something like 5 or 30 minutes - but what is short-term memory in the case of the life of the soul? How many lives has a soul lived? Would 100 years of one life even make up 5 minutes of the 24 hours of the soul? Is this really just part of the equation, one little number in a galaxy of numbers? We get so caught up in our existence here and now that we fail to remember who we were before, who we will be in the tomorrow of our soul. This might make some people wonder: What's the point? Is it really worth it?

But let's face it, it's a safety valve, like all types of memory disorders. If I fail to remember my childhood, part of that is because it's safer for my consciousness to survive without those memories. If I have a severe accident and trauma (like the main character in Memento), I lose my memory so I can survive and live a life not plagued by the memories of events I simply cannot take. And if I die and am reborn in a new body, I lose the memory of my old life because the human mind (in its undeveloped and untapped form) simply cannot take the concept of multiple lives - it starts to mix it all up, remembering people here and now who actually lived several hundred years ago. Losing those memories is a safety valve, to help us cope with the sheer volume of information that the soul can process (in its infinite and transcendent form), but the human mind cannot.

One of the things that Plato teaches (and Philip K. Dick, the Gnostic science-fiction writer, firmly latches onto) is the concept of anamnesis: remembrance, or the removal of amnesis. Effectively, we know everything - we simply have to remember it. And it makes sense. We have this Divine Spark in us, part of the True Source and Origin of All, and this is accessed through our Gnosis of ourselves (Gnothi Seauton - "Know Thyself"), because when we come to know ourself, our True Self, we begin to remember - we begin to awake from the belief that this is all there is, that this is the extent of life, that we merely exist as ecological beings as part of some coincidence of nature. And I know those beliefs aren't true, because I remember more than that, and what I do remember is liberating.

But what is it like to suddenly remember things that you never knew before, things you have forgotten? In many cases, it is strongly advised that past life regression not be attempted, as it opens a new "can of worms" that most of us just simply would not be able to deal with. I mean, let's face it, if you found out you were a murderer in one life, chances are that it will affect you in some negative way, depending on your emotional and spiritual maturity. On the spiritual ladder, many of us do begin to remember our past lives, some more than others. Often times they have no real use to us - I can waste 5 minutes of my current life, and my soul can waste an entire life of its eternal existence. Other lives are more important. Some of them hold missing keys. But these lives are really not what matters - it's your eternal life, the one that puts all the pieces together, that ultimate and transcendent self, that is the final gatekeeper, the one who is the key and is the lock and is the door you must past through - to find You.

But again, I have to ask: what is it like to suddenly remember things you forgot? I suppose it depends on the memory. Sometimes I'll remember the name of a film or a song or something simple like that, and it will just all of a sudden "ring a bell", whereas I couldn't remember it before. I'm sure many of you are familiar with that feeling when you're trying to get the name of a song (or similar), and it's at the tip of your tongue (or, more correctly, at the edge of your mind), seemingly toying with you, dangling just out of reach, an elusive phantom. And then there are other things, things you've buried, things that are only unearthed when something triggers it. You might have had an accident in a car, so your muscle memory kicks in when you come near a car, showering you with fear and anxiety. And what if you got in? Depending on how strong your mental barriers are, being in the car might trigger the memory into surfacing. Or it might not.

Many people live without their memories, or, at least, live without memories that are often considered important - such as childhood. In truth, we can say that everyone lives without their memories - that everyone thinks they're living when they're really just in a cosmic coma, waiting for the weather to change. And it will change.

I guess part of the reason of this topic is that I am beginning (well, this is a process that has been happening over a period of many months) to remember some things I haven't remembered before - both in a physical and spiritual sense. Without a doubt, this is not a thing to be considered lightly, and I would advise caution if someone were considering regression of lost memories or unremembered past lives - even remembering that there is more to this world than meets the eye can be a terrifying experience ("ignorance is bliss"), but ultimately it's a door that many of us will have to unlock.


Anonymous said...

Awesome post. I've always been a big fan of the concept of anamnesis. But my memory is pretty crappy;)

~The Shepherd of Arcadia

Dean Wilson said...

Thanks - anamnesis is one of the key concepts or "truths" that I hold, and, indeed, I had this belief long before I knew there was a word for it or that Plato had written anything on the topic - I guess I "remembered" it from somewhere ;)