Updated 5 February 2019
One of the interesting side-effects of Stage Three has been my re-evaluation of the concept of time once it is observed outside a self-based reality.
Our misinterpretation of time has as its basis the belief that it is linear, in other words we think time is a continuum formed on one side by our past, as created by our memories with their attached metadata, and on the other our thought projections of an imagined future. I have always visualised time as like an invisible line, with the past on the left and the future on the right of where I am now. I wonder if this imagery is universal?
At the ‘centrepoint’ of this timeline, where the past and future meet, is the now moment, which in reality is the only point we ever truly exist but rarely recognise. Past and future are of course only a play of the mind as neither have a reality in the now moment. As I have described in The Silent Mind chapter, it is only when historical memories fade and future projections and thought in general become ‘like clouds in the sky’ that the reality of our existence at a point on the birth to death movie reel becomes both unsupported and increasingly irrelevant.
We all know that the past and the future are imaginings of the mind played out in the present moment. There is no dispute about these aspects to our self-experienced lives. So what gives these thought created illusions the power they have over us, the decisions we make and the emotions we feel in the ‘right now’ moment? The answer to these questions is that it is the mind’s in-built, automatic energising of most thoughts to give them as much reality as possible, to recreate the past as a complete package of experience and fuel the desires and fears of the future. In essence the mind given free reign will power-up those ‘It was as if I was really there’ past recalls and ‘what if’ projections imaginings of the future. This is an aspect of our lives that we take as normal, and accept as an essential part of who we are. It is only when we try to stop the intrusion of the mind through disciplines like meditation, that we come to realise just how powerful this force is and how hard it is to slow down or to stop its never ending desire to overwhelm us with data.
Why does the mind play this role of movie projectionist filling our life with absorbing images and their attached emotional playmates? It is because all of this provides energy and security to the self, the ego, the me, those aspects that we think is the essence of who we are. Remove this power from those memories and the associated projections that go with them and a new way of seeing and living emerges by default.
So, to go back and expand on the theory and recap on some points I have made previously in this book but now apply to a ‘time’ perspective.
Firstly let’s explore the concept of the past, which is brought to life through the play of memory, fooling us into thinking that we have left the present moment. All memories create a disconnect at some level with the actual experience of the now moment and retrieve and re-energise a historical point on our personal timeline. When we think about a situation in our past we can imagine a ‘me‘ being there, a central solid entity of ‘Tony’ for example, around which the stored perceptions of that moment are pulled out of the data banks and brought to life on the screen of our imagination. The images in themselves are powerless but it is the attached metadata of emotions that gives these pictures so much influence in the now. The conjoined twins of image and emotions are what energises these illusions and suddenly we find that we have somehow time-travelled to a date-stamp in the past even though our physical reality sits in the now.
It is this ability to delve into energised memory that makes us think that our existence is in continual movement, that we are a separate entity moving (from left to right – past to future) on our timeline. When we recall an event say four years ago this memory provides evidence supporting the illusion of a timeline where a ‘me’ exists stretching back from now to a point four years ago. Once that happens in our mind we create a ‘bridge’ from then to now and the past becomes a reality and is incorporated into who we think we are and how we live in the present.
So, memory is central to the delusion of self because in order to experience the past there has to be a ‘me‘ to recall the events and a connection to the body to feel the emotions those memories generate. As I discovered in Stage 3 that once the metadata of memories were wiped from my ‘hard-drive’, it became almost impossible to recall the images that previously this metadata pointed me to. With no conscious ability to access memory I found that the whole ‘left side’ of the timeline, those ‘bridges’ that connect events to create a continuum, faded and by default I have become centred in what was the middle point – the now moment.
I would like to further breakdown this concept of memory in a more theoretical way, which makes sense for me if no one else! I need to do this because I am not a describing a descent into a state of dementia. There are aspects of memory that don’t fade, otherwise we couldn’t function effectively in life. I can still find my home, remember my wife’s name, my PIN number and drive a car, all of which have useful day to day applications 🙂
I will probably cover some of the same things I have before using different words so stick with me as there is enough new stuff to make the brief read worthwhile. Also, as this following section comprises some aspects I wrote last year, I didn’t want to discard my previous efforts 🙂
I view memory as having three distinct aspects. The first is what I call historical memory and this is very much a central part of the self based on the recall of images of events, places, people and situations we have stored as real in the mind. There is a strong link between the self and historical memory because a fading of the latter results in a fading of self.
The second is what I previously referred to as emotional memory, but now prefer to call metadata. This latter term is better suited to its descriptive task as it not only incorporates the recollection of the feelings and emotions we attached to these historical events but all other related data that was created and stored at that moment in time. Historical memory and metadata usually combine their influences (the conjoined twins) in the process of recall, but not always. For example, maybe you can remember a situation in the past as an image but not how you felt about that moment when it happened or alternatively you might have a vague emotion relating to an event you are currently experiencing, which relates to something from the past, but not clearly recall what the context was that caused this response. Take a fear of heights as an example. This might relate to a childhood event that has been lost to conscious memory but still generates a response in the now. The fear still exists but the original cause that led to that phobia doesn’t.
The third leg of memory is practical memory, which is vital for our continued physical maintenance once we move out of a self-based existence and I will discuss that shortly.
So, historical, metadata and practical memory visually comprise the ‘left hand’ side of our timeline of existence. The right hand side is given life by our mental ability to become immersed in the future through our imaginings of what a time yet to come will look like. These fantasies have an equal power to divert our attention from the present and take us to a whole self-created world complete with its own set of metadata. If you think about an upcoming job interview you will most likely not only create a projection of the circumstances of that event but also the attached emotions of confidence and excitement or fear and nervousness, which will be felt as a physiological response in the now.
The future can be divided into two aspects solely for the purpose of a intellectual proposition being practical and fantasy imagination, although both are equally unreal at their core. The practical incorporates thoughts and images surrounding a potential ‘real’ event or situation – what you will say to your boss tomorrow about that raise, the speech you might be about to give or a shopping list. Fantasy imagination is the ability to create a situation that doesn’t currently exist in your projected future – winning the lottery, getting that promotion or finding your partner in life. Both imaginings are equally unreal of course and support the illusion that once again we can become a Doctor Who but on the right hand side of our timeline..
The combination of emotional memory recall and an imagined future powers the reality of who we think we are in this immediate moment by colouring in the blank spaces of our personality. When these two aspects dissolve, as part of the transition to a no-self Stage Three reality, gradually the concept of a linear timeline stretching from a starting point in the past (birth) to some imagined destination in the future (finally death of course) fades as well. That which remains is a single point of consciousness, complete in itself that requires no conscious access to a past or future to give it life, personality or ability to react appropriately to life’s events and challenges.
The more settled I become in a no-self existence the more complete and natural this reality becomes, not through choice or the application of some discipline, but just because that is how life is from the moment I wake in the morning. An alternative is unthinkable because an alternative is unthinkable!
I have assured you previously that no-self existence isn’t a zombie transformation or as Bernadette says:
We’re afraid that without feelings we will be inhuman, cold, insensitive, robot-like creatures, so detached from this world that we might as well be dead.
What keeps us functioning in the world as ‘normal‘ beings once access to the full range of memories and imagination are no longer available are a combination of practical memory and the unconscious part of historical memory.
Practical memory gives us the continued ability to function logically and effectively when the other two legs of memory have been removed. I still remember most of the functional and personality basics of my life without a need to specifically recall the situations where I gained that knowledge or recall any metadata attached to them. This is practical memory in action. It’s like the analogy of riding a bike. If you learnt that skill at some stage in your life it remains in your subconscious forever. You don’t need to recall all the drama of learning to ride, any associated emotional metadata or connect to the whole ‘ego’ illusion to jump on a bike; it just happens. Riding off is a pure mindful moment, an action that is complete in itself without any excess content. Apply this analogy to all of life and remove the expectations for an emotional payback and this nicely reflects living in a no-self state.
Unconscious historical memory is the recall of past events only when required and no emotional memory/metadata comes with them. The fact I can write this book based on some of the events of my past illustrates that there access to this historical information when it is required. For example, if my friend Phillip asked me about the time we spent together in Bangkok last year I would know that we did meet up and also I would be able to list what attractions we visited. This is a recollection I would classify as totally practical. Not to have access to this sort of information would start to fall into the dementia category. However, it all gets very hazy once I move beyond the basic memory recall and my description of Bangkok would be in line with Amy’s:
I noticed how flat and lifeless it (memory) was – like colourless slides on an antique film.
Unless there is some requirement to access this historical information it remains totally dormant and doesn’t intrude into the present in any way. What need is there for it to do so?
So, in summary. It seems that as our identification with a self, an ego, a me – whatever you want to call it, happens the past and future (memory and imagination) fade and the control they have over so many of our attitudes and actions also diminishes leaving us free to observe life from the present moment, which is a state of natural mindfulness except the ‘mind‘ bit has been removed. I think it is the natural playfulness of the mind that produces ‘solid’ thoughts resulting in the creation of everything we take as real and important. In the now moment, none of these has any true reality as they exist only in the sandpit of our imagination.
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