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#3959 - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - Editor: Jerry Katz  

The Nonduality Highlights -  


Memories are Made of This …


I recently received the following query, which I think we can all relate to, from a reader of Beyond the Separate Self :


Hi Colin,
I have been reading Dialogue in Consciousness and I was wondering if you could answer a question I have about something I read.  It said that memory is just a concept.  So does that mean that when teachers say nothing exists that they literally mean nothing exists?  What came up for me when I read that memory is a concept was that literally nothing existed before this moment - not even a minute ago - and that there is no past.  Does that mean that there whatever is happening is happening freshly now and that all my so-called memories don't exist at all?  It feels huge but my mind doesn't want to accept this at all - if in fact this is what the writer meant about memories being concepts.   But what then comes up is well why does it seem to have continuity?  I go to work and I know what to do, I recognise some people and others appear to be total strangers.  I can see pictures of myself as a child.  How is that all explained?   All that seems to come from memory.  I remember how to do things, I remember people - and everything always seems to be there the next time.  But sometimes I also wonder if people are still there when I'm not there.  I hope you don't mind me asking you these questions.  I just wanted to run it by someone before my mind whitewashes over it.

Here is my reply:


To say that memory is just a concept means that memories are just ephemeral thoughts (including all mental images), they come and go. Recognition occurs by comparison of these ‘images’, which have been stored by past sense-impressions, with the present sense-perceptions. Whereas, that which 'sees' these thoughts/images is the constant conscious subjective presence of pure awareness. However this does not mean that they are not useful, in fact as you have pointed out they are vital for our survival and seem to provide a sense of continuity of an apparent separate self. When examined carefully this can be seen to be an illusion as all thoughts/images (and therefore memories) come and go, whereas the continuing presence is in fact awareness itself. The confusion arises when we identify ourselves with the mind, i.e. with the thought/recognition process, rather than seeing the mind as what it is: a very powerful tool (our onboard computer) which allows us to negotiate the physical world. This does not mean that the mind is not a part of what we are, but that it only exists at a peripheral level and is experienced as a flow of objects (thoughts and mental images). At the deeper level we are the experiencer, the constant conscious subject (pure awareness), and identifying with this means that memories lose their power to overwhelm us as we can see them for what they are, just a flow of ephemeral objects. A very useful flow at times but not who (or what) we 'are' at the deepest level.


As far as 'nothing existing' is concerned, at the ultimate level all (every thing) is just the 'play of consciousness'. All 'things' are manifestations of cosmic energy (movements in consciousness, or consciousness in movement) and arise in, and from, consciousness at rest ( pure awareness) which is aware of the movements occurring within it. They exist in this (and are 'seen' by this) and finally subside back into this. So what is meant by the phrase 'nothing exists' means that no thing is permanent, or has a primary individual irreducible essence.


I do hope that this answers your question(s), love, Colin

To back up my assertion that all things arise in, exist in, are seen by, and finally subside back into pure awareness (consciousness at rest) this can be shown to be the case at the purely experiential level:


1. Consider the following statement: ‘Life, for each of us, is just a series of moment-to-moment experiences’. These experiences start when we are born and continue until we die, rushing headlong after each other, so that they seem to merge into a whole that we call ‘my life’. However, if we stop to look we can readily see that, for each of us, every moment is just an experience.


2. Any moment of experience has only three elements: thoughts (including all mental images), sensations (everything sensed by the body and its sense organs) and awareness of these thoughts and sensations. Emotions and feelings are a combination of thought and sensation.


3. Thoughts and sensations are ephemeral, that is they come and go, and are objects, i.e. ‘things’ that are perceived.


4. Awareness is the constant subject, the ‘perceiver’ of thoughts and sensations and that which is always present. Even during sleep there is awareness of dreams and of the quality of that sleep; and there is also awareness of sensations; if a sensation becomes strong enough, such as a sound or uncomfortable sensation, one will wake up.


5. All thoughts and sensations appear in awareness, exist in awareness, and subside back into awareness. Before any particular thought or sensation there is effortless awareness of ‘what is’: the sum of all thoughts and sensations occurring at any given instant. During the thought or sensation in question there is effortless awareness of it within ‘what is’. Then when it has gone there is still effortless awareness of ‘what is’.


6. So the body/mind is experienced as a flow of ephemeral objects appearing in this awareness, the ever present subject. For each of us any external object or thing is experienced as a combination of thought and sensation, i.e. you may see it, touch it, know what it is called, and so on. The point is that for us to be aware of anything, real or imaginary, requires thought about and/or sensation of that thing and it is awareness of these thoughts and sensations that constitutes our experience.


7. Therefore for each of us, at the experiential level, this awareness is the constant substratum in which all things arise, exist and subside.


These seven points are taken directly from chapter two of Beyond the Separate Self  which may be sampled, and purchased, at

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