Always Forgetting, Always Remembering

Maybe the world ends when I do.

(Go with me on this thought experiment.) Maybe it all evaporates at the instant of my death, the sun and all her sister stars spread across the eons snuffed out in a whisper.

Maybe my consciousness is the sum total of consciousness. All the events and people I have known or heard about, all history, literature, language, science, culture, were just props in my stageplay. Joan of Arc, Shakespeare, the Great War, quantum theory, Impressionism, migratory birds, interstate highways, ice cream cones, and all the rest were curated artifacts presented to me so I could craft this one life.  

And when my eyes close for the last time, the final curtain falls on everything. No more thoughts or fears, no symphonies or street crime, no conversations in coffee shops or late night bedrooms, no playing children, no morning sunlight. Maybe it was all a parade hung in the sky for this one small spark of light that was me.

Pause and consider for a moment; what is your reaction to this scenario? I have two thoughts.

First, it’s intriguing but absurd, of course. I know that all of the cosmos does not reside in the “universe of me.” I am one small part of a larger web, one atom in an infinite field of awareness. I see my life through the lens of my individual self, but I also see the glorious realm of Life as a vast connected whole.

Second, then why, I have to ask myself, do I live so much of my life as if I believed that this was true? Why do I spend so much attention and energy fixated on the details of my separate self while forgetting the connective tissue of the main? Why do I obsess so often over my single thread and ignore the brilliant tapestry it weaves within?

Because this is how the spiritual journey works. We bring Spirit into form by reconciling two fundamental aspects of human experience:  separation and connection. We each have an ego self that focuses on our needs as a separate individual. It has learned how to protect us and help us thrive in a physical world that has both tantalizing joys and ominous threats. We also have a higher self that focuses on our needs for connection to others and to Spirit. These two poles fuel the constant cycling of our attention and energy between the truth of our separate self and the truth of our connection to the whole.  

Many times a day, I am pulled away from the whole and retreat behind the protection of my ego self. It might be because of someone’s hurtful remark, or a pang of jealousy, or a memory of a wound from years ago. My ego rises to defend me or help me flee the discomfort of the moment. It considers my individual interests paramount, as if my interests are the only ones that matter, not unlike the “universe of me” in the thought experiment.

But I also have the human capacity to look beyond my narrow self-interest and remember my connection, and it is this capacity that brings Spirit into form, brings higher self to ego self. I do this in two steps, an awareness step and a compassion step.

First, I become aware that I am caught in the “universe of me.” I hear the angry me, or the victim me, or the frightened me, or the boastful me, and I remember that none of these are the true me. I don’t know how this happens. Perhaps I am lost in my egoic concerns so often that it has to happen just by sheer odds.

The second step is to pause and bring compassion to the situation. I don’t blame myself for being caught, I hold myself in kindness. If others are involved, people I am angry at or fearful of, I hold them in kindness. I soften my heart to hold the pain, grief, and confusion of the larger context of the situation in kindness.

That is the work of the spiritual journey:  to continually bring awareness and compassion to the countless times we experience separation, and by doing so, move us back to connection.

There is no shame in the times we forget our connection and become caught in the small thinking of the separate self. The moments of forgetting are the exact opportunities we need to do our spiritual work. Each mini-cycle of forgetting, remembering, and compassion is a chance to integrate another layer of conditioning into conscious experience by feeling the feelings, learning the lessons, and healing what is ready to be healed.

These cycles seem infinite, how many times must I act? It doesn’t matter. That is a question from the ego self, trying to distract us. My job is to bring awareness and compassion to whatever is in front of me. Again, and again, and again.

Don’t ignore these small moments. They are not a senseless merry-go-round, endlessly spinning in place. The cycles of forgetting and remembering spiral upwards, inching us forward, decreasing separation and increasing connection as we go.

Photo by Alex Shuper on Unsplash

4 Replies to “Always Forgetting, Always Remembering”

  1. I LOVE this post! I actually think that the universe of the cosmos DOES reside in the ‘universe of me’. It is a thought exhilarating and depressing at the same time. It makes ME responsible for my life instead of blaming others and external circumstances for what is happening to me. But it’s depressing too because it reminds me that I am utterly alone – there is only me on my journey and I will pass alone to the next life.

    But I also believe in the connection of all things! And that is a comforting thought. I love your Awareness and Compassion steps. The connection between my ego and my spirit is the most real connection I have and the constant movement between them keeps me on my toes.

    Thanks for this and your other posts. I find them thought provoking and helpful.

    1. Thank you so much Geraldine. I think having compassion for ourselves is the first step, one that does not come naturally to me. Parts of my ego self want to beat me up, the inner critic!

  2. What a perfect post to begin my day! This helps me as I think about my own behavior and also the behaviors of those around me — as you said, remembering the compassion step is key! Thanks for sharing this post, Steve.

    1. Thank you Susan. It is so easy to get down on ourselves, I think it is helpful to remember that it is all part of the journey. I am glad you enjoyed the article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *