The storied container of a person’s recollected history is a kind of static object that exists in the head. Mental memory is distorted by interpretation and sculpted by a sense of identity, helping maintain the ongoing illusion of a self. There’s the temporal sense of ancient history relative to something having occurred more recently.
Awake or otherwise, whatever has shaped each of us into what we are animates us until we die.
By marked contrast, the experience of profound heart-opening — accompanied by the dissolution of temporal boundaries distinguishing the now from before — makes vivid the continuity of all of a person’s lived life. The stilling of the mischief-making mind enables the heart to take over.
Yet even in liberation, prior experience continues to animate the human heart. Pieces of the past that dwell in our hearts, rinsed of crippling meaning, continue to be a part of who we are. This bodied “memory” is markedly different from the mental rehashing of an earlier time. Nor does a present-moment revisiting of earlier experience necessarily constitute “living in the past.” It can more accurately be said that the past lives in us. It is, after all, the accumulated bounty of our experience that’s made each of us into what we are (whether or not it’s all retrievable via ordinary recollection).
Consciously entering a moment of one’s history in a bodied way (not in the head) — palpably sensing the reality of the past’s ongoingness, right now — is akin to the discovery of a new dimension. It’s as if one previously has known only two dimensionality, having features of just left and right, forward and behind. Now, abruptly, the present is endowed with three dimensions, where up-and-down has been added to the prior experience of flatness.
Here’s another way of looking at it. In what has been called the fourth dimension, all of time is said to co-exist. The explosion of cherishing lands us in the space where all our personal history is concurrent, with the past “contained” in the present. Whatever has been experienced, whatever continues to dwell in the heart (independent of a mental accounting), is still real. The re-collected experience is palpable in the body, in this moment.
These are the words of T.S. Eliot:
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future.
The poet is saying that in some sense, all of time co-exists. Each moment of a person’s lived life is the present, contained in immediacy. It continues to animate us now, the sweet and the sorrow of whatever has occurred. No matter whether it’s been grieved or celebrated, learned from or disregarded, consciously recollected or forgotten, or suppressed.
Nor can the mind hope to understand how this can be; any attempt to do so is inevitably reductive. This is not about ordinary memory; it has nothing whatever to do with the interpreting mind. Yet something in the alive human body — the same something able to register momentary aliveness — registers the truth of it.
To know the profound blessing of being aware of what has shaped your human life — while no longer being at its mercy, or defined by it — is one of the miracles of wakefulness. Awake or otherwise, whatever has shaped each of us into what we are animates us until we die.
[From a forthcoming book by Jan Frazier]