Saturday, 25 April 2015

Memory: The Power of Not Only Now

The following appeared on my facebook feed last Sunday evening. It was one of those wow! moments! It seemed to encapsulate near perfectly some of the thoughts that have been forming in my soul of late.

“Memory” by David Whyte

"Memory is not just a then, recalled in a now, the past is never just the past, memory is a pulse passing through all created life, a wave form, a then continually becoming other thens, all the while creating a continual but almost untouchable now. But the guru’s urge to live only in the now misunderstands the multilayered inheritance of existence, where all epochs live and breathe in parallels. Whether it be the epochal moment initiated by the appearance of the first hydrogen atoms in the universe or a first glimpse of adulthood perceived in adolescence, memory passes through an individual human life like a building musical waveform, constantly maturing, increasingly virtuosic, often volatile, sometimes overpowering. Every human life holds the power of this immense inherited pulse, holds and then supercharges it, according to the way we inhabit our identities in the untouchable now. Memory is an invitation to the source of our life, to a fuller participation in the now, to a future about to happen, but ultimately to a frontier identity that holds them all at once. Memory makes the now fully inhabitable."

It's been singing in my soul all week...

A couple of weeks ago, actually it was Easter Saturday, I discovered I had a whole day off. My appointments were cancelled and I announced on “Facebook” that I had a fully open day and wondered if anyone had any suggestions about how I ought to spend it. Many suggestions came my way. One friend suggested I ought to get some sea air in my lungs and I thought to myself, what a grand idea. Anyhow I went to bed that night and thought to myself I will see what the morning brings.

I was awoken very early by a phone call from a dear old friend who said “Why don’t we go to the seaside”, to which I answered yes. How could I refuse? So off we went to Crosby, a favourite place and not just because of the name. I love it because I enjoy joining all those other Anthony Gormley figures staring out to sea. I love staring out into the ocean, opening myself fully to the experience and the great power and mystery of the sea. I stared and I took pictures as I waked along Crosby Beach. I had been instructed to take pictures of my day by another friend. I guess it’s the modern way, you have to take pictures of your day and post them on facebook for the world to see. No pictures, no experience it seems.

It was a day when I was totally in the moment and experienced all that was occurring I felt every drop of life. That said it was also a day filled with memories. I have experienced an awful lot of life with the friend I shared the day with, every emotion really. From the most gut wrenching despair to the most beautiful loved filled hope. I also felt and almost relived my whole life as I walked on that beach. Childhood memories came flooding back. I remembered family holidays, particularly in Scarborough. I remembered the unbridled joy and the sadness of those times.

As a child I would often go wandering off alone. Actually this continued into adulthood. Well one year I wandered off on Scarborough Beach and it seems I got completely lost, not that I realised it at the time, I had wandered off into another place in my mind. The family had to go of searching for me, eventually they found me. I was totally oblivious to being lost and to the fact that I had filled them all with worry and panic. The story of my life really, or at least it used to be. These days when I wander it is not by mistake and these days when I wander I don’t really get lost.

Memories are snapshots of life, whether we physically take pictures or not. It always fascinates me how these memories take shape and form and often reshape as time goes by; it amazes me how these memories seemingly re-incarnate as time goes by. We should not fear our memories, they are precious in so many ways, it is these very memories that make the present moment truly come alive. I have discovered that sometimes you can lose some of the true richness of the moment by becoming purely engrossed in it. That might sound like a counter intuitive thing, but I think not.

I remember in my early days of ministry exploring the “Power of Now” and the idea that life is to be found in the present moment and how the great traditions had taught this for millennia, that there was nothing new in the new age. I remember that after the service a member came to speak and they spoke passionately about the importance of memory and all those memories that she carried with her into her life and how they enrich her daily experience of life. I remember at the time feeling defensive about this, which I did not need to be. What she said has stayed with me and has been forming in my soul ever since. I now see that in many ways to truly experience the richness of the present you have allow the memory of all time to flood into it.

By the way please do not get me wrong, my current truth is no way a rejection of the power of the present moment, quite the opposite actually. What it is really about is bringing the present moment alive by enriching it with our whole selves. It’s a kind of active experience of the present moment. It’s about opening our whole selves up to the present moment and not just passively experiencing what is there. It’s about wholly living in the moment and then carrying that snapshot of the moment into the future. It’s about truly living on the threshold of life. The truth is of course that this is how we are always living, on the threshold of something, as one moment ends another begins.

I love the way that David Whyte almost perfectly encapsulates this in the reading on “Memory”, I shared earlier. The piece ends with the following “Memory is an invitation to the source of our life, to a fuller participation in the now, to a future about to happen, but ultimately to a frontier identity that holds them all at once. Memory makes the now fully inhabitable.” It’s not just about living in the moment, but about bringing the moment to life.

Now of course this is fine in theory but what if our lives are filled with painful memories. What if when we sit our minds are just filled with pain from our pasts? It is said that the very reason that people cannot inhabit the present is because it is polluted by painful thoughts and memories from the past and projected fears about the future and that the key to freedom from this is to let go of them and therefore live fully in the present.

Now I am not sure that the proponents of the power of the present moment are actually making such claims; I do not believe that they are claiming that we need to reject the past and future in order to live in the present moment. Instead what the likes of Ekhart Tolle are suggesting, correctly in my view, is that much of our suffering is created from wrong thinking and that the key to being relieved from this self-created suffering is to change our thinking. How is this achieved? Well I believe it begins by truly coming to terms with who we are and by fully engaging with our past present and future. It is not achieved by running from our past and becoming a false slave to the moment, for we all of us carry our pasts with us. By attempting to run from it we allow it to have a false power over us.

I learnt, purely from experience, that to be fully alive in the present I must first of all be alive in my past. I need to come to terms with all that I am and all that I have been as well as all that those I have shared my life with have been too, for none of us live singular isolated lives. This can be scary by the way. It is important to tread carefully when you do and it’s also important to not do so alone. A trusted friend and or guide can help here and spiritual practise is vital here too…prayer has held me through so many frightening encounters in the wilds of my memory. I never go there alone, God is ever present, always with me.

There are so many seams of richness waiting to be mined in our memories, that we can bring into our present moment and can come alive in our lives. Not just for our good either, but also for the good of all. We should not fear them. We should not feel shame about our scars either, we do not need to cover them up and hide them away; we should bring them into the open, into the present and proudly bare them as evidence of life lived well.

This brings to mind a story I once heard about the soldiers who survived the battle of Agincourt. How each year, on the anniversary of the battle would stand up on their tip toes and proudly bare their scars for all to see. Scars of battle, scars of a life fully lived that they brought into that moment and in so doing became fully alive in it; scars they were unafraid of, that they were not haunted by.

There are lessons in all of our lives; lessons waiting to come alive in the golden present; lessons that we can pass on to others too. I am great believer in living in the present, but by this I mean really living in the present. I have learnt, and I hope to God I never forget this, that to truly be alive in the present we have to open our whole selves to our past, our present and our future. We have to let the floodgates open and allow the tide both in and out.

This came to me as I stood and stared out to sea on Crosby Beach; this came to me as I stood as a living breathing example of one those Anthony Gormley statues. That said it came to me in an ever slightly different way. I do not want to adopt their stance. I want to stand and face the sea in another way. I want to stand with my arms out stretch to the world, like one of those Agincourt survivors, unafraid to show my scars and live fully present in this moment. To bring every memory to life. To be fully alive on threshold of everything.

So my message, in this “Golden Moment”, is to see our memories as an invitation to the source of our lives; to bring our memories fully alive, so that they enable us to fully participate in the now; to understand that it is memory that makes the now fully inhabitable. For it is not just about living in the moment, but about bringing the moment to life.

This is the power of memory; this is the power of not only now.

“Spiritual History” by Mark Belletini

Let my body remember.
Let my hands and feet remember.
Let my breath remember those who came before me, those who have come before us.
Didn’t Muhammad wait quietly in his cave?
And didn’t Jesus sigh silently by the blue lake?
And Guan Yin, didn’t she sit in silence thinking that what to do before doing it?
And what was Siddhartha the Buddha doing anyway under that tree if not sitting quietly?
And Susan B. Anthony, didn’t she push back from her desk, and take a breath now and then?
And Florence Nightingale, didn’t she put down her nurse’s hat and think silently about what to write in her essay on mysticism before she actually wrote it?
And Sophia Fahs, didn’t she stop telling stories sometimes and just sit there?
And didn’t Black Elk just notice the sunlight glancing on his chair sometimes?
And Starhawk, does she only talk and write, or does she too keep silence?
Let us remember them all with our bodies.
Let us remember them with the silence they too knew.

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