Nostalgia, Creativity, Emptiness, & Mind

Half a universe away, moods echo from another time.

Do you ever get that? When you’ll be doing something mundane, like eating a pickle or lying in bed, and then it hits you: a feeling.

Not just any feeling, but an almost wistful flash of memory calling you back to some random event in your past that was as equally mundane as this moment.

It sometimes comes bundled with images, a first-person clip inherited from some former you. Maybe it’s the feeling you had when you looked at a pile of autumn leaves when you were nine. Maybe it was a walk down a summerlit back road when you were 12.

It’s amazing how these moments can surface seemingly for no reason. It’s the chicken and the egg debate: did the mood signal the memory, or the memory the mood? What subtle cue in the present experience made that possible?

These experiences usually find me in bed, while I’m winding down or waking up. That bridge between sleep and wakefulness is always a liminal place to be. The Tibetans call it a bardo, a transitional state that’s ripe for enlightenment.

If we focus, we can kind of step into those experiences, and bring them to life. So that I’m not just having a blip of nostalgia, but actually breathing being back into that feeling.

I mean, why not? The mind is a canvas, you can paint whatever you like.

Of course, the mood doesn’t last long because it doesn’t have enough support to keep it going. Then we might ask ourselves, “Did I really feel that way, or am I romanticizing the past?”

There’s no way of knowing. So, any answer we give is just gonna be an educated guess. We spend too much time being certain. Certainty is overrated, because certainty is an arising, which means it’s impermanent. At some point, it always shifts back to doubt, to not knowing.

Can we celebrate that the same way we enjoy those little wandering moods? If you can learn to celebrate uncertainty, then there are really no perceived obstacles for you anymore. Because fear is an obstacle, and what do we fear more than the unknown?

Multitudes of indefinites cycle in and out of our lives. When the indefinite becomes our standard, then those sweet little moments of reverie or appreciation become more and more common.

A certain mind has no time for play. A sudden feeling arising, without a clear reason, is irrelevant to a purpose-driven gaze.

But, I’ll gladly say there’s one purpose that props up all others: to create. That’s what the mind does, it creates. Whatever appears is created by the mind, including purpose. Including itself. And there’s always a little chaos to creation, because establishing something new involves unsettling what’s already established.

A sudden mood from another time, a distant me, is by definition a form of chaos, chaos simply being the occurrence of the improbable, and in some cases, the impossible.

I know, I know, if something happens, then that means it wasn’t impossible. But, from lived-in perspective, it was. It did seem impossible at the time. When new information changes the way we look at the past, then that lures us into rigid thinking.

It’s like if you’re in love with someone, then you breakup and eventually fall in love again. This new love is so powerful that it makes you look back on that last relationship and say, “That wasn’t love at all, not really.”

But yes, yes it was. That’s what love was to you at the time. Now it just means something else. This new meaning doesn’t change or negate the past. There is such a thing as unhelpful creativity. Autobiographical revisionism is usually unhelpful, it prevents us from seeing that we’re different people now.

If we can see that life is a passing of the torch from one version of ourselves to another from moment to moment, then there’s less to cling to, so there’s gonna be less suffering.

It’s also empowering and vitalizing.

And when we view our lives in this way, as-lived, those sudden winds of nostalgia are free of bitterness. They’re wistful or whimsical all the way through.

And mindfulness alleviates the trails of sadness related to those memories, the wanting to feel that way again, because if we stop and see during those moments, it’s clear that we’re already feeling that way right now. So wanting to feel that way again is redundant. That’s like if someone thought, “Jeeze, I’m thirsty,” while they’re drinking a glass of water. 

The great fallacy we all live with is that things cause us to feel a certain way. Mahayana Buddhism revolutionized causality. The hub of all our experiences is the mind, the mind is what causes us to feel. What the Mahayanists weren’t concerned about, but I am, is that that means we can—to an extent–feel something without an environmental cause.

If we want to feel like a kid again, we can. If we want to feel a sort of melancholic grace, we can. Just by reaching for that feeling, we can feel it. Just like with that moment of recollection I had, these reached for feelings are always short lived because we can only keep attention and intention on them for so long. But, in a pinch, being able to call up a little sunshine on a cloudy day can be helpful.

When I say, “It’s all in the mind,” I’m also not limiting, “Mind,” to the lump of matter in our heads. Life isn’t a hallucination; separation is the hallucination. This private, isolated, static me is the hallucination. The mind is co-creation. Even as I create these words by reading them, they’re also creating the me that’s reading them. The mind is this field of mutual experience.

What we’re experiencing isn’t a private representation of life, it’s the merging and interacting of seer and seen, thinker and thought, lover and loved. This intimate communication reveals that, instead of being a person who’s fated to going from an is to an isn’t, we both are and aren’t at the same time. We’re less than we think we are, and also so much more.

The mind is naturally shapeless, and always bright. It lights up our joys and sorrows, and brings them to life in our lives. My intention isn’t to eliminate sorrow and immortalize joy, but to see how they shine. In that in-between memory, somewhere between reality and a dream, it shone like light shimmering on a far off lake.

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