What does it feel like when you want to remember something, and it’s foggy, distant, hidden, or lost? There is a feeling associated with trying to recreate a moment by connecting a series of images. There is tension and constriction, like when you furrow your eyes in concentration or brace for a turn as a passenger in a car. The feeling of trying to remember, however, is internal in the thought space. It’s no less clinging or intentional than trying to catch a ball or jump a fence. But it’s more intimate, closer to home, overlooked, and routine. It’s what it feels like to be you.
This tension of connecting scenes in a story, filling in the missing pieces, and ensuring continuity is what it feels like to hold ourself together. On a physical level, we do this as a protection mechanism. We ball up to protect our vital organs when the attack is imminent or pull back from danger when there is an escape route. Once free of the crisis, we can relax and let go. Often there is a rush of adrenaline followed by a release of endorphins and dopamine and a bunch of other feel-good chemicals.
When we are trying to hold ourself together as a story, we have a similar experience. We constrict, concentrate, and expend considerable energy to ward off the existential threat. To not remember a piece of our story is to reveal an incongruity, a gap. If the story is interrupted, our identity is in question. But when the puzzle pieces fit and the recall is complete, we are whole again, out of danger and ourself again. The same feel-good chemicals are released as a reward for a job well done.
This cycle repeats so often we are completely numb to its power. Like our addictions, what was too much is now just enough. Our maintenance dose is our sense of self.
The sense of self is thought stuff, and thoughts, when seen clearly from awareness, will evaporate. When looked for, the person can’t be found. We are an empty center. The feeling of an empty center can be freedom, but it can also be a free fall for the thinking mind. Discovering our emptiness is liberating, but it can bring forth the monsters in the closet, an imagined solid self, all our mistakes as proof, a verifiable world of shame and disappointment. Many have called this the dark night of the soul, but its substance is no more real than the thoughts of the self. Terrifying, maybe but real, no way.
The reason we practice mindfulness and meditate and chant mantras and free chakras is so we can be aware we are awareness. As awareness, everything appears within awareness. Everything is known in awareness and from awareness. The first hint of a desire to remember is known in awareness. The arising of the sense of self can be seen. When it is seen, like every other movement of thought, like the examined closet, it no longer has the power of delusion.
The desire to remember is natural and a tool of survival. It isn’t bad or good, only just is. But when we can see the desire to remember (re-member) our self, as a series of stories with an imagined solid center, we break the cycle, and freedom is restored. Try it for yourself. As a technique, look for your head, see your headlessness and then look from spaciousness at what appears in spaciousness. Look for your thoughts like you would scan the ocean horizon for land or the desert for the oasis and see them as the mirage they are. Your mind may jump in and re-mind you that without a place to land or an oasis to drink, you are doomed, but even that is just a thought.