Many of us are not yet able to deeply experience the present moment, but, if you are, try this. Allow yourself to simply be fully present. Let all past worries and concerns melt away. Be here now. Allow your attention to soften and expand, taking in more of what is here. Notice that your awareness is actually very vast and has no boundaries or limits. You are aware of what you see, hear, sense and feel. But even more than this, you are aware of awareness itself, of being awareness itself beyond any limitations of a separate self. In this vast awareness, this is what is happening right now.
Now imagine if you could capture this experience of presence in a memory or thought. How could you? It is far too vast and inclusive to be contained in any thought or memory. There is just far too much here. What was really happening in your past was this, this vast, all-inclusive presence. And no memory could ever capture this.
If you were to sit down with five people you shared a moment in the past with and deeply discussed your experiences of that event, you would find that there were five different memories of that event. How can this be? Each person has a different memory. On the very superficial level, it may seem like you are speaking about the same event. But, as you go deeper, it is clear that each of you have a different impression of that past event, a different memory. Each of you was affected in a different way. To you, your memory of that event is the correct one. You know that is what happened. It is your memory, so it must be true. That is your experience.
But is it?
Memories are interesting things. They are like a tiny fraction of what actually happens. When we truly experience presence, we realize it is impossible to place that experience into a memory or even a thought. A memory is just a thought attached to and held on to for a period of time. The original thought is not even one percent of what was actually happening in that moment. Over time this thought deteriorates and changes a great deal, making memories even less accurate than the original thought that occurred in that moment. Many studies have been done showing the extremely poor accuracy of memories.
Problems With Eye Witness Testimony
Stanford Law School
The original thought was only your limited impression of what occurred in that moment. Like all thoughts it is only a limited abstraction of the fullness of the moment. The moment is interpreted through the limited perspective of a limited, separate self – you. It is not an impression of the moment that takes in everything that is happening and everyone else’s perspective. That would be far more accurate.
Change Your Memory / Change Your Past
Let’s say you have a childhood memory of being punished or severely scolded by a parent. Your memory of this may be that the parent was cruel, unfair and didn’t even love you. This is the very limited perspective of a child. Yet you may keep this memory of your childhood all the way up into your adult life. This is your memory of childhood. And you are totally convinced this is the way it was. This becomes part of the story of me, of who you are. This is why I am the way I am today. You may have told this same story to many people. And you keep telling it today, both to others and to yourself. On each telling, it feels more real, more solid, more true.
Now what if you looked at that same memory and simply expanded it just a little. You know your childhood perspective. That’s what your memory is. But what if you expanded it just a little to include your parent’s perspective? Is it really true that your parent was cruel, unfair and didn’t love you? Were there any moments in your life when your parent was not cruel and unfair, when they showed that they did love you? Did that ever happen? If you can remember any moment when your parent did love you, then perhaps they still loved you at the moment they were punishing you or scolding you. If you have become a parent yourself, you will understand this. Perhaps they were actually punishing or scolding you in that moment because they loved you. Maybe they were not as skillful as they could have been. If you are now a parent yourself, you know how that goes.
See if you can remember that same event, but now include your parent’s perspective too. This will open up and expand your memory. It will actually change your memory and thus your past. Instead of only the memory of one person – you, you are including the memories of the other people involved. In this way, a more accurate representation of the past begins to form. If you are able to be present, you know this is still a very limited representation of the past. No accurate memory of the past is possible because no thought or memory can include all that is in any moment. Thoughts and memories can only encompass a very small and limited piece of the whole scene.
The memory of your parent scolding you probably does not also contain the sound of the bird chirping outside your open window, or the feel of the breeze on your skin coming through that same window. It probably doesn’t include the spider crawling across the wall behind your parent’s head or the small crack in the paint that wasn’t there just the day before. And, as we already mentioned, it probably doesn’t include the feeling of great love and concern your parent is feeling toward you that is prompting this fear and anger that you did experience. There is infinitely more that your memory does not include. It is like reading a great novel and out of the entire book only remembering that a body was scolded by his father or found a quarter on the street. All the other characters and events were completely forgotten, to say nothing of their perspective on all the events.
By freeing your memory from the prison of its limited perspective and opening it even a little more fully, your impression of your past will change completely. It will still be very limited, but far less limited than it is now. As you continue doing this, eventually your memories as something real will simply dissolve. You will realize that the past and present are exactly the same. There is only this full experience of the present moment always and forever. It includes everything, not only every perspective, but literally everything.
This is why I say that your past never happened. You may have pictures pasted into a photo album to prove that you were at one time a young child. And even that you had a bizarre haircut in one picture. Yes, that is true. But your memories of that time are not really what was happening back then. And the pictures are still going to be seen through those memories, until you change the memories, which you now see is very possible. What was happening back during the time that photograph was taken, was exactly what is happening right now. It was just a present moment, full of everything that exists. Just as it is right now.
Is It True?
If memories of your past are causing you problems or suffering today, take a closer look at those memories. Are they really true? Are they accurate? Is what you remember everything that was happening back then or just a very tiny piece of it? And has even that tiny piece of your original experience remained the same for all these years? Or has it, instead, shifted and changed to make the story more dramatic and interesting, to make you more interesting, to make you the focus of the story, to make you the focus of all stories? What, if anything, of that memory that seemed so important to you is actually true?
And, if it isn’t true, why continue holding on to it? If you can see that this memory isn’t true, that, at best, it only holds the tiniest sliver of what was actually occurring back then, then perhaps the other memories are also not true. Perhaps the whole story of your past, of who you think you are, is not as true as you once thought. Don’t be frightened. This is actually a good thing. It’s a wonderful thing. It is very freeing. As your belief in your past begins to crumble and fade, your experience of presence opens up. Your experience of your True, Unlimited Self begins to come forward and be revealed.
The Only True Healing
There is nothing that can be more healing than this, than the truth of things as they actually are. When you no longer identify with this separate, independent self, created out of all the stories, thoughts and memories of your past, all those old traumas just fade away. This is true healing. This heals everything. It heals the story of the separate self that experienced all those traumas and suffering. In presence, in life as it actually is, there are no problems. There is no suffering.
In Zen, we call carrying memories of the past into the present “dragging a corpse with us.” Until we free ourselves of attachment to our memories, thoughts and beliefs, it is as if we are carrying a corpse with us wherever we go. Our memories of the past create a thick veil over the present so we cannot perceive life as it is in each moment. Our experience of the present is filtered through the past preventing us from directly experiencing it as it is. Only by surrendering these attachments can we wake up and see the world as it is. But this can be done. You can do this. Simply by looking deeply at your memories and honestly questioning their truth just as we’ve done here, your attachments will dissolve. You will let go of what is not true and make room for what is. You will come into alignment with truth. And this is the only healing you will ever need.