I’ve bashed memory quite a bit in the last few posts, but it isn’t all bad.
Not only is it, ya know, kind of helpful in daily tasks like: going to work, picking up your kids from school, and remembering to put your pants on before you walk to the mailbox, but there really couldn’t even be Buddha practice without it.
So, when I talk about how memory weighs us down with loads of cognitive rags, I’m talking about very specific aspects of memory; the aspects that cause us to dress up the nude world and obscure the naked mind.
Love lives in memory, so memory isn’t just some heaping pile of shit. Most Buddhists don’t emphasize love. If they do, they roll it up in Sanskrit terms like metta and karuna (loving-kindness and compassion). But, I can talk about love all day because I’m not accountable to anyone.
Love is everything, I think. I can live without love in my life, but it’s such a lackluster life. I value and enjoy being alone, but I tend to self-destruct if I’m not living for someone.
You can easily see how love lives in memory. Spend some time with someone you love or that you’re in love with, and be aware of those moments when you don’t feel that delightful, warm ache in your chest. When you notice it’s absent, look at them and think about all the great times you’ve had together; think about their smile, their laugh, and the dreams you’ve shared. Then, you’ll feel it right away: love.
Love can enhance life in so many ways, ways that don’t even have anything to do with it. Love makes work better, it can make you more creative, it can help us to not sweat the small stuff or to let go of the grudges we have against others. It softens us to the moment.
So, I think love is an important part of Buddha practice. You can even fall in love with the practice itself—this love can move you forward.
Love can also be selfish, yes. This brings us to the shit-stack memory I’ve spoken of before. When we use memory to draw someone we love into a box, when we dwell in who they were and ignore who they are now, we’ve just killed them, and we’re spending our days infatuated with a ghost.
The world is full of ghosts. When we stop seeing things the way they are, we immediately turn them into phantoms or shades, faded black and white images of themselves. This is a very sad excuse for a life, yet it’s the life that many of us are the most familiar with.
I like comparing Buddha practice to a craft. I seldom even call it Buddhism now. Hell, maybe I’ll really confuse people and start calling it, “Buddha craft.” Eh, nah. That makes it sounds like either 1) a board game, 2) An enlightened version of Mac’n’Cheese, or 3) a magickal interpretation. I’d have to start calling Sanghas, “Covens,” then too.
Anyway, Zen, and Buddhism in general, are crafts. We pick up our tools, learn some skills, and then get to work renovating our minds. Memory is a tool; everything in the mind is a tool. We can use memory to nurture our own freedom from suffering; we can use it to overturn ignorance; we can use it to see things clearly, serve others, and keep ourselves grounded.
The issue is that, instead of using memory, we’re often used by memory. I think it’s important to understand that the same tools that mire us in confusion can also secure us in clarity. There’s no need to throw it all away; we’re just taking off our clothes, not our skin.