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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Memory?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Memory

A Memory is Already Something Dead

You cannot go about looking for reality by looking for something you know, because what you know is a memory of what you perceived in the past. A memory is already something dead. And since you are remembering it, even if you are remembering some experience of reality, the memory is not the reality. The reality cannot be remembered because it cannot be put into words, images, or concepts. The reality itself is the very explosion, the very incineration of those ideas and concepts, so how could you remember it? You can only learn to forget. You can forget what you know, forget what you want, and continue forgetting until you have no mind whatsoever—until you become like a newborn baby. Only when your mind becomes as innocent as that of a newborn baby is it possible to see what is here, what you actually are, and what reality is. When you see it, you do not really know it; it is more like you smell it, you taste it, but you can never say what it is. The moment you are about to know it, it is old. So what we really know of the world we live in is a continuation of the past, which means it is in the mind. It is completely in the mind.

Essential Presence Cannot be Captured in Any Kind of Memory

The representations which constitute the structure of the identity of the normal self are impressions integrated from the past, which by their very nature are unable to contain essential presence, and thus, alienate the self from its essential core. Essential presence cannot be captured in any kind of memory. Awareness of oneself as presence is the immediate experience of beingness, while retained impressions are many steps removed from this immediacy. Therefore, to recognize ourselves with and through this memory, or any impression from past experience, is bound to exclude essential presence from our sense of self. Hence the nature of essential presence and the epistemological stance involved in identification with psychic structures combine to make that developed self -- a psychic structure -- fundamentally narcissistic. This development creates epistemological barriers to self-realization by rendering the content of experience opaque: the self cannot see through or beyond its concepts of itself or the world.

Everyone Has Some Memory of Essential Forms

In the history and literature of the Work, we see that knowledge of what we are calling “Essence” is the goal of the Work. In Western philosophy, we find Plato talking about pure ideas, or the Platonic forms. Plato, a student of Socrates (who was doing the Work), wrote about Socrates’ discussions with his students concerning what are called the “eternal verities.” (We call them the qualities of Essence. These include courage, truth, humility, love, and so on.) Socrates wanted to show how people learn these things. He demonstrated that we can’t learn these from someone else. No one can teach you the quality of courage or love. In his final arguments, he showed that we know these things only by remembering them. Everyone has some memory of these essential forms. We have seen in our work that a consistent characteristic of essential states is the feeling that you have known it before, you have been here before, you are recalling a more fundamental reality that, in the process of living, you had forgotten. So we know that although we are generally unaware of it, this memory of Essence exists, and we know that the process of remembering our Essence is the process of remembering ourselves, of returning to our true nature.

Fluctuations in Memory

I’ve recently been noticing that I forget a lot. There seem to be gaps, more than what is usual, when I’m talking about something that happened last year. I think this is a transitional state in the process of integration. Certain states, such as emptiness in the mind, interfere with personal memory. As you stabilize in the new state, memory becomes more normal. You remember, but you don’t exactly control what you remember. You spontaneously remember what is needed. If I try to remember something, I might not be able to, but if the need arises, I remember. So memory becomes
more organic.There is the need for a tremendous kind of trust, knowing that you are in good hands. We realize that our memory, our thought processes, our minds begin to function in ways different from what we know and expect. Usually we use our memory and mind to define who we are and what the world is. We live in the past instead of being in the now. We use old ideas to constrain what is fresh and new. The tendency of memory to freeze our experience relaxes as we live in the now. Sometimes you might experience lapses of memory, but then you realize that the now has nothing to do with time. The now contains all time, and memory is a small part of your mind.

Generation of Memory

The memory is images appearing in our minds. The images that appear in your mind are created instantaneously all the time, as is your mind and your head and your body. They're all being generated spontaneously together. So you don't remember in the sense that you recall something that happened at some other time and space. Thinking is creative. Something entirely new is brought to life. Our usual mode of thinking relates what is being generated now to something similar or familiar and calls that memory.

Memory Cannot Retain the Sense of Presence

The soul possesses memory which makes it possible for her to retain impressions of basic knowledge. The first memories are bound to be elements of pure basic knowledge, direct and simple experiences and perceptions. However, she cannot retain the fullness of the impression, but most importantly, she cannot retain the knowingness of being. Pure basic knowledge is both protoconcept and sense of presence, but memory cannot retain the sense of presence… so it retains only the concept, the defining outlines of the element of knowledge in question -- the shape, color, texture, affect, and cognitive garb. Basic knowledge further manifests in the soul the capacity to label such concepts. The label is usually a word, which is another form of basic knowledge that refers to the remembered one. Memories and labeling become the initial steps in the process of representation. Conceptualizing develops into full-blown formal concepts that refer to categories and categories of categories. Memory can then connect one concept to another, remembering relationships and correspondences, beginning the process of thinking.

Memory Displaces Presence

The way the body is has a lot to do with what happened to you in the past—the same with your mind, your personality, your emotions, your actions, and so on. They are so much determined by the past that after a while there is no presence, there is only memory instead. The more you act and experience according to memory, the more your experience lacks presence. After a while, your experience is mostly a set of reactions based on what happened in the past. And the more it becomes reactivity from the past, the more you forget presence. After a while, you don't even know what presence is. It then becomes very difficult to disengage from the past because it not only determines how you feel, it determines what you think, your sense of who you are, your very sense of existence. The understanding of presence makes clear the great gulf that exists between the experience of Essence and the experience of the ego.

Brilliancy, pg. 57

Our True Nature is an Existence Not Based on Memory

The sense of oneself as a separate individual, which as we have seen depends upon the development of a cohesive self-image, can be seen as composed of memories, and in fact cannot exist without its connection to memories, to personal history. But the memory of a person is not the same as a person. The memory is of something that supposedly existed at some point in the past. This is another reason traditional teachings say that the individual or ego does not exist. A memory exists as an idea, but not as a presence independent of the mind. In other words, the separate individual has no beingness, no substance and no true existence. Our true nature is an existence which is not based on memory or on time at all. Being is eternal and timeless. We are not referring here to what people call “being in the present,” but are pointing out that we are timeless presence, that our nature is not time bound, as ego is. “Timeless” means that the sense of time is irrelevant to our true nature. “Eternal” means that there is no sense of memory or future in it. There is no concept of time, so there is no sense of present time. When the mind is still, there is just presence, just Being, unqualified by ideas or concepts of time or individuality. Thus when we cease to construct entities in the mind, we see that the ego does not exist. We then simply are.

Our Usual Sense of Self is an Ephemeral Memory

We begin to see that what we take ourselves to be is composed of constructed images and concepts that are remembered and organized. Over time, these accumulated constructs become lenses through which we view ourselves and reality. When we see through and understand these constructs, we recognize that they are not true and not real. We become empty of them and also can recognize their inherent emptiness. In other words, as we become free from the accumulated constructs, they reveal their emptiness; they reveal that they are empty of reality. Taken far enough, the emptiness of other begins to reveal the emptiness of self—that we are empty not only of the contents of self but also of what we have taken to be the very nature of self. As we recognize that our usual sense of self is an image that we are holding on to, we see that it doesn’t exist in a real way. Our usual sense of self is an ephemeral memory, an illusory concept of self. Seeing through our various images of self often reveals the spaciousness and emptiness of true nature. The spaciousness that arises as we investigate the self has many degrees and many kinds, including ones that are clear and light and others that are deep and black. And as we explore the self more thoroughly, our investigation reveals that our self-images and beliefs are based on reifications and conceptualizations that are more subtle than mere memories and impressions from the past. We discover that the basic way in which our mind works and our knowing happens tends to create constructs. Recognizing this subtle level of conceptualization reveals both deeper structures of the self and deeper understandings of emptiness. Working at this level of subtlety discloses the boundless dimensions of emptiness, where the spaciousness and the presence are inseparable.

Self-Recognition through Self-Representations Depends on Conceptual Memory

Representations alienate the self from its essential nature in another fundamental way, also discussed in previous chapters. The capacity for representation is a natural property of the mind. The mind discriminates things according to concepts in the memory. Our normal self-recognition through self-representations thus depends on conceptual memory. The mind tells us who we are. This happens to everyone, since the mind believes it is its job to tell us who we are. But our sense of who we are as defined by the mind can only involve knowing ourselves through memories, and thus, through concepts. No matter what we experience, even nonconceptual reality, the mind will try to define our identity according to that experience. The moment this definition occurs we are identified with a concept, and this concept can only be a memory. This is the usual knowledge of self. We are not saying that this pattern of development is not necessary, or shouldn’t happen. We are simply describing what happens. This is how the mind functions; we end up taking ourselves to be something according to the mind, and thus become identified with concepts of ourselves. This is the simple meaning of the idea that our identity is an expression of self-representations. When we are self-realized, we are aware of ourselves as completely pure, completely virginal, and completely new. We may say, “It feels like such and such.” We may conceptualize our experience. But if we take that description to define us, if we hold on to a memory to define who we are, then we will have lost our self-realization.

Soul's Need to Go Beyond Memory

To return to our example of the soul’s process in the inner journey, we see that as the soul learns about the intrinsic aloneness of essential presence she begins to recognize that she leaves not only the world of object relations when she is presence; by realizing presence and understanding the separation of the red essence, she leaves the totality of her discriminating mind in this radical separation. This can bring up fear of losing her mind, of going crazy, of the unknown, and so on. She also begins to realize how her normal epistemological stance is a great barrier to the continuity and development of her essential realization. She feels the need to go not only beyond her memory but beyond all concepts, for she understands that such concepts are the elementary building blocks of the memories and images that compose her ego structures, structures that limit her realization. Of course, at this juncture true nature can provide the guidance and support to go beyond the conceptual mind; for it is the authentic reality that is transcendent to the mind and that functions as its eternal ground and source.

The Faithful and Rigid Function of the Personality

The personality, as we have seen consistently, contains the memory of all that was lost. To ask it to let go means, according to the unconscious, letting go of its attempt to regain all that was lost. Unconsciously, it knows what has to be there, and it is not going to clear the space completely before it is sure that everything is there. On the surface, it appears that personality wants to displace Essence. This is partially true, but on the deeper levels, it was formed and developed ultimately for the protection and the survival of the organism and hence for the protection and the survival of the whole essential process. And it performs this function faithfully, even though rigidly.

The Memory of the Endlessness of Essence

The personality has a memory of the endlessness of essence and its inexhaustability. But this abundance is projected outward, and then the personality wants more and more from the outside. So the hole filled by greed is the hole (deficiency) resulting from the loss of the characteristic of essence of abundance and infinity. In this characteristic of greed we find the pointer to the expansion, endlessness, and inexhaustability of essence. The personality wants what was lost, and what was lost is endless. The personality is not going to be stopped by moralistically accusing it of being greedy. It knows better. Its knowledge is deep. The characteristic of greed will not disappear unless its hole is experienced and filled with the actual abundance of essence.

The Movement Toward Essential Knowledge

The content of the mind is information. Information can be about real knowledge. But it is not the knowledge yet. Information is infinite; it contains memories, theories, descriptions, images. But the real knowledge is the taste. You have the taste, and so you know. If you do not have that taste, you do not know. But that does not mean that if you tasted it before, you know it now. But if you could remember that you knew, and remember what it is exactly that you knew, if you could remember it totally, the Essence would be there. So memory can help to get back to the real knowledge. Memory can reach toward it, and come very close. Then there must be a leap, and the essential knowledge will be there.

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