Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Ego, Memory, and Forgetfulness

Originally posted on February 11, 2014

I have been contemplating the sheer vulnerability of my memories, and the innate elusiveness of so many of the experiences that part of me wants to cling to. I want to have these experiences whenever I want to access them, as if they were kept possessions, treasures. Well, that’s one of the things ego does.

It occurs to me that much human mind activity involves clinging to our life. We do this in many ways: We take photos, we identify with our heritage, we elaborate our life stories, we develop these “roots” in many directions. We identify with the future—our causes, our purposes, our goals—and identify also with others who seek these goals. We elaborate these ideas, stories, develop heroes, magnify the stories of our heroes, imagine that we, too, are pursuing similar goal. (I was just giving a talk on tall stories and contemplating heroes that were “bigger than life,” (quite literally), such as Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Joe Magarac (of the steel-making industry in Pittsburgh), Old Stormalong (of the sailing ships of the Northeastern USA), and so forth. Others were quirky but more human, like John Chapman, alias Johnny Appleseed.

We identify with our gender, our national or ethnic background, our age group, and the challenges and triumphs “we” have faced. Our vocation or profession is another root, and its ups and downs. Stories (and folk songs) like that of John Henry, the “steel-driving” Black man of West Virginia who in the 19th century (according to legend) competed with a steam drill and won, but he died from a burst heart (?!) in the fight. Now people are struggling against automation, against being replaced by electronic machines. There are archetypal resonances here.

It occurred to me that on one level, all this might be viewed as illusion, as is the Buddhist and to some degree the Yogic view; and at another level, this is fully real. A mythic explanation might be that only by fully incarnating can God manifest full potentiality. The game is to become almost completely involved in the flesh and in the ego, with all its clinging tendencies. The angelic realm is too elusive, dream-like. Yes, it’s fabulous, but it dissolves in an instant and only shadows of it are remembered by most. Physical reality has that three-dimensional category of “mass” that sticks around enough to be noticed, perceived, tasted, pushed against, and thus is rendered “real.” It is a consensus reality, one that each of us in our own somewhat trans-dimensional reality of our individuated mind can agree on, a dimension where many if not all of us meet.

But that Yogic and Buddhist view suggests, in my understanding, that a small and maybe not-so-small fraction of the mind can also be simultaneously aware that this is illusion. We can play games and know that it’s only play, that kindness and keeping up the relationship is more important than “winning.” Perhaps we can learn this subtle skill of detaching a bit. We still are involved enough to play the game fully, but yet we know it’s a game. Hm?

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