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Practice Notes on Memories

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    • #874
      David Filippone

        Image: Cape May 2000 – by William Thomas Cain for the Philadelphia Inquirer


        I was working with memories and posted a series of practice notes on the subject. For me, these have been profound experiences. It has been said about human nature that the most personal is in some sense the most universal. In reading these descriptions what do you think, do they resonate with your experience with memories?

        Glowing Journey in Time –

        A quick summary… Working with memories, I was particularly struck that at some point I became intimate with the dynamic structuring process of memory creation, from a more fundamental point as I recalled how the remembering process expanded outward. By looking back on memories, I began to see assumptions I had made, selective parts to include while excluding others, subliminal choices to value some parts while devaluing others. It also dawned on me why I valued some parts more than others. The original structuring happened so fast I didn’t notice, but tracking back things opened up, boundaries became apparent as they became more transparent [Seen through, but also understood like a ‘dawning‘], the tree of relationships of parts-to-parts became translucent, the spinning referrals seemed to loosen and unravel. As this intimacy of ‘inhabiting’ the remembrance unfolded, there was a welling-up of well-being. I felt vital, full, there was buoyancy with the dawned realization that awareness had expanded, and encompassed so much more than my little summary of what I had previously assumed was fixed.  What I had fixed in mind was the label, the name I gave to the memory.

        We talked in class about the zero-point, and the echo of zero. At the end of my remembering, or while ‘inhabiting’ the remembrance process I realized I was not ‘in’ the past in the linear sense, but that present and past were joined in the sense of Being. And here, so to speak, at the edge of arising, is where the echo of perhaps many thousands or more of zero-points began, that had comprised the remembrance.


        It’s interesting how looking backwards on memory can clarify how time unfolds in the present. I found it wonderfully fascinating how a little 5 minute exercise of looking at a memory (and hours of reading and inquiry) opened the door to how I take continuous open impressions, and through a focusing process, narrow a continuum of events, enfolding them to ever smaller pieces while discarding other pieces , while converting this data to meaningful information, which then becomes a linear knowing of specific ‘things,’ a lexicon of benchmarks in time and mental space. It reminds me a little of computer algorithms that take large amounts of data to then filter it down to a pre-intended category rendering it more ‘manageable’… a ‘nozzeling down’ effect.

        I also realize how I often then promptly forget it’s a ‘process’ and identify the entire movement as a thing that I can quantify, point to as if it were static and fixed, then claim it (this moment or memory) as mine, proclaim it even as ‘me’.

        Our class assignment was to write about the last paragraph of KTS p.25, which makes a few intriguing points:

        – the self and its experiences are an interpretation of time’s momentum.
        – Form and identity become the content projected by experience as it draws on time’s dynamic, thereby projecting the self into the realm of existence.
        – Existence responds to the transitory nature of linear time by proceeding from one transition to another.     ….”Knowledge of Time and Space“, by Tarthang Tulku

        I gradually took notice while observing my own mental space that a memory is NOT a static thing, it is a re-calling of pre-limited parts of a continuum of impressions and patterns that I gather as they pique interest, under a near continuous process of scrutiny and valuation. A memory of ‘going to dinner with friends’, or ‘sitting on the beach on a sunny day’, might arise as a specific memory flash of an image in mental space, but attempting to stay with that single image seems illusive. Other impressions bubble up, other flashes arise seemingly from the dark, and take form from space itself. Parts of an image may be ill-defined composed of fog-like elements, or there can be gaps in continuity, while others are vivid with color, and attached to feelings identified as originally felt. Focusing on the ‘unclear’ in a memory seemed to bring forth more related aspects of that remembrance: space just opened presenting more diaphanous impressions from the original continuum of impressions.

        By observing how a memory presented itself I got a sense of the ‘processor in residence’, a self in charge that assembled the parts, a controller who made all the choices, but looking now in a relaxed way, separation of me as a by-stander observing the memory seems to dissolve. Open observing [without assuming a position], was much less controlling, even when looking into the unclear areas of the memory, there was mostly just looking. There was little feeling of me observing the memory play out from over-here across the room… little apparent distance from a separated position as by-stander.

        Shifting from observing a memory, focus widens to the present, and what is arising from moment to moment was a stream of impressions, emotional-currents, sense data, images, thoughts, some of which were remembered, and more or less openness that felt like an abundance of space — degrees of roominess. At times I felt the controller intending thoughts, and attending to, or recognizing a sound or sight, naming and narrating a thought-string, then, referring it to a sense of self sitting and feeling ‘here’. This was how I confirmed my own existence, taking a me-subjective view of an objective world arising ‘there’. At other times the controller relaxed taking a back seat and just allowed time to blossom. So I definitely got a sense of self at the center organizing experience, but I also got glimpses of openness, witness-like, that is followed in time, by a continuous tendency that consolidates and organizes impressions. And I realized this is a much more fundamental view of, if not who, but what, I am.

        Explore a Memory, How Does It Feel?

        During last week’s conference call, we took about five minutes of silence to explore a memory, what it felt like, how we distinguished between past, present, and future, and how it felt around the memory?

        Over the ensuing week that little exercise has just been calling me, I am seduced by its depth, simply fascinated by what it offers. It’s a gift that has kept on giving.

        Initially, the memory I chose was a vivid one of sitting on the beach on a bright beautiful day. I mentioned in class recalling memory flashes of the heat of the sun on my skin, the bright blueness of the sky and the blue-green ocean, crashing waves, the salt smell, the sound of all the people laughing-talking all around, and so on. I thought the feelings that I remembered associated with that memory, and the flashing images were the whole of that memory, as if it was fixed, as if I assumed it was a frozen snapshot, bounded by limits I was constructing in the present while in the act of re-calling sitting on the beach — frozen in time.

        But as I kept returning to the memory it dawned on me more ‘stuff’ kept coming to my attention, like space, gaps and holes between and around the flashing images, and I realized, first, the memory is not a static thing. Even though we say the past is dead and gone, in a sense it isn’t, it’s alive because I am alive. The memory is a dynamic, moving thing in time, and while I skimmed over it initially as what I chose to focus upon, it was just a ‘summary’ of a moment of experience that was NOT bounded. I set the boundaries of it back then when I experienced it, and even when I recalled it as a memory.

        Photo: The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT)

        Working with the memory, as I noticed space or darkness around the edges between flashes of images, I decided to focus on those spaces, and what surprised me was that these spaces opened up. It was as if they were little tunnels or worm holes that led to some subset of the memory — like a new flash of specific faces in the crowd around me of children and adults coming out of the water toweling off, and sitting on their beach chairs talking to others. Each gap I encountered led to, or opened another branch of my remembrance. (An airplane dragging a long colorful sign, girls talking to the lifeguards, and so on.) You could say the past opened to reveal more branches, or that time unfolded what I (a consolidating self) had previously enfolded.

        I found this ‘opening the past’ exercise exhilarating, how it informed my present about how I go about structuring time, processing experience by managing content, by controlling, and ordering how and what unfolds.

        Awareness as a Reflective Surface – TSK Ex 29

        “At first, this amounts to adopting a more passive role than usual, conceding the active role to the perceived objects… they present themselves to your awareness. It is as though you, the subject, have become a neutral, reflective medium, like a mirror or the surface of a lake. Everything that draws near is accepted and reflected without your awareness itself doing anything, or changing in any way as a result of its responsiveness.” TSK p.258

        To some friends, I described a night out and showed some pictures of us enjoying wine and cigars. A seemingly harmless, night out, some fun, etc.

        So later, I was looking back on this evening, a little like savoring certain lingering tastes after a good and satisfying meal. I was drawn again to the cigar-bar remembering some of my thoughts and observations as I savored the cigar — between the ‘reflective surface’ of the smiles and laughter. I do not smoke anymore, occasionally a cigar, as a pleasant, pondering activity. I remember thinking, “the type of ‘knowing’ we employ determines the quality of what we know and live with.” p.243   A TSK quote which warns of seemingly harmless distractions. Distractions from what? From being aware of Space and Time, distractions that, ‘keep us ‘tuned-in’ in a constant and limiting way’, that keep us from a more fundamental vitality that is inherent in the awareness of a more open perspective. On page 244 of ‘Time, Space, Knowledge’, Rinpoche writes:

        “No fixed limits on either enjoyment or suffering exist; none are enforced by any inherent limits of the world as a whole or of our being in the world.

        Space and Time will support an infinity of ‘playing’ in either direction. So they must be related to properly and consciously if their infinite accommodation is not to prove disastrous to us. For if the positive and joyous possibilities implied by the ‘play’ of Space and Time are ignored, it then may indeed take on an ominous significance for the world.”

        It may sound as if I’m being hard on myself for having a good time, but I don’t think that is really the case. It was just an attempt to open a myopic activity to a greater understanding, to widen the mental space in which the experience arose, to expand the aperture on merely a ‘good time’ into ‘greater time’, to touch and appreciate that fundamental vitality of being alive in space and time — Now.  And to open the narrow fiction of ‘I was just having a good time’, when that was really just a surface reflection. Clearly, there was more depth to the experience than originally narrated to my ‘self’.

      • #876
        David Filippone

          When I first posted these practice notes, my fellow student at the time, Caroline Sherwood, asked the following:

          “I’m particularly interested in the wormholes. What happens if we go into those…and into those…how far down the worm hole can we go, and if we do, what do we find, and who are ‘we’ when we get there?”

          I responded…

          Thanks Caroline.
          You got me thinking about these interesting questions: If we go into them, ‘how far down the worm hole can we go?’  When I remembered focusing into the ‘wormhole’, what was blank or dark just suddenly opened, so it wasn’t like I was traveling any distance, like going ‘down’ a tunnel, but conventions of language have me speaking in those terms.

          Another thought about ‘distance’ brought up the idea of sequences, such as how many wormholes could I focus upon that would open that summary memory of sitting on the beach in the sun, as opposed to opening some other context entirely? I realized I had abandoned the sense of distance as focus just seemed to open itself as additional impressions seemed to bubble up to a fuller awareness. And I think ‘intent’ was an unseen, almost ethereal thread that kept the focal awareness opening into the widest context of that summary memory. I don’t know how many times I could have fruitfully focused into those wormholes.

          I also was wondering about your question if we do repeatedly ‘go down’ the wormhole, so to speak, ‘who are ‘we’ when we get there?’ I think TSK would suggest we are the open witness that is followed in time by an ongoing tendency that consolidates and organizes impressions.

        • #1113
          David Filippone

            I decided to include the practice here in the comments:

            ..this week we practiced a modified version of, ‘Dynamics of Time and Space’, Exercise 18 – Pastness Knowledge, that I call “Swimming in a Memory” or “Tracing a Memory”. The instruction is to [at least initially] recall a pleasant memory, such as sitting on the beach on a sunny day, or having dinner with friends or loved ones, or whatever you find pleasing. After sitting calmly and relaxed, at first you may recall the label you give to the remembrance, then images may arise. Since thoughts and memories are never finalized or complete, as an image arises, and after noticing what arises, focus on the part of the image that is incomplete. It may seem fuzzy, or dark, it may seem like a gap in the arising. Go into the fuzzy part that is incomplete, patiently. Do so caringly, for this is your pleasant memory. As you focus on the incomplete areas, look at them with an attitude of wonder. See what comes up from the incomplete areas. If another related image arises, notice its content, and then focus on any incomplete areas, and see what comes up this time. Keep repeating the process…

          • #1124
            David Filippone

              I recently found these quotes that relate, in my opinion, to this tracking back memories practice while anchored in the present.  As this Tracing a Memory practice may demonstrate, tracking back a remembrance, without getting lost in the content, can reveal the “multifaceted complexity of all phenomena.”  See the following excerpt from, ‘Searcher Reaches Land’s Limits, Volume II,’ by Richard Dixey, Excerpts from Chap. 67, p. 310-11, [Emphasis added]:

              The word ‘reality’ refers to a construct we develop based on a map. While the map may be derived from the territory of experience, experience itself is totally without the boundaries of a map. Indeed, actual experience is beyond any concept we might have for it. In ‘tracking back… we can observe that every event that occurs has a multilayered complexity beyond any possible description… However, if we engage directly with experience empty of concept instead of living ‘according to’, new potentialities arise. As we begin to see the multifaceted complexity of all phenomena, whether in the natural world or in ourselves, the perceived limitations we have constructed begin to melt away. We then find ourselves becoming more at ease with the extraordinary richness of each experience. There is no moment or experience that is inherently limited. We do not need to seek or crave a better moment…

              PAGE 354, PARAGRAPH 2 [Revelations of Mind]: The more closely we are in contact with time—perhaps a hundred thousand times more closely attuned to time than the passing of a nanosecond—the less prominent a role identity plays and the less binding our attachment to habitual patterns. Unable to sustain its accustomed tasks, mind’s regime relaxes its grip, enabling us to operate it differently. Since problems and obstacles cannot arise in such a clear and open environment, we have an opportunity to experience a new freedom of mind.


              When we are fully engaged we do not experience the passage of time. Our ordinary experience of time is linear, a seeming forward momentum and movement. Clock time is a mechanical tracking of this movement. Our identity is contingent on linear time because it requires the projection of a present moment in which names and concepts, the building blocks of our narrative, can arise. This projection requires points of reference, both a spatial location and a time marker, the key elements in the making of remembered experience. But once we are fully engaged there is just experience; there’s no geotag marking space and time. Past, present and future are no longer useful metrics by which to access our experience. Events simply manifest in ever expanding displays. You could say they are unfolding ‘in time’, but time is elastic. As we become attuned to experience and fully engage directly with it, clock time simply stops. Unable to sustain its accustomed construction of time, the mind’s regime relaxes its grip.”

              I thought this was an eloquent expression of what might be understood while engaged in Tracing a Memory.  One might see the benefit in doing a personal history, tracking back the important milestones of individual growth.  I remember tracing back my personal hot buttons. For instance, as a younger man why was I so quick to anger.  What were the triggers?  When I had a knee-jerk reaction resulting in sudden anger, what happened, ‘how’ did the anger develop?  Going into it, like Tracing a Memory, noticing what comes up, and then looking into the gaps in the remembrance, seeing what arises, noticing and then looking into any fuzzy or unclear gaps to see what else comes up.  The essential attitudes to hold when engaging the practice are patience, and caring for my self, as if I were my own child, and also waiting in not-knowing for what may reveal… perhaps nothing, or perhaps the “multifaceted complexity of all phenomena.

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