On the Spiritual Importance of Remembering

The rain pelts down outside my window. I get my pipe well lit and settle down. It's a good day to remember. To recall.  I've been thinking a lot lately about seeing, about waking up from the narrow prison of the self, of new awareness, new imagining. Author Bonnie Friedman presents a lucid case for remembering, for reaching out and escaping that prison via writing.

I write to make things real. Otherwise oblivion devours my days. One's whole life can pass in peripheral vision. We sense something in there, but don't know how to turn. Or we turn and the thing turns just as fast. The notebook coaxes from the rim of consciousness some of the figures that lurk in the curtains, that linger behind the milk-glazed night sky which, in the city, admits no stars. A wall of light hides the ancient shapes.

The notebook is a vessel for transformation. Jewish mystics used to believe that the world presents innumerable smashed pieces of vessels with divine light clinging to them. It is each individual's responsibility to rescue the captive sparks. Notebook keepers have their own particular method of collecting the shards, trying to uncage the shimmer.

The discipline of the notebook teaches attention to life, which itself is a doorway. What your own eye is drawn to, the emblems that haunt your pages, the dreams that won't let you forget them, the gold that your finger attracts--no need to know in advance what these omens signify. There are no bits of the mind's string too small to carry meaning. Unknown neighbors step near, tapping on paper walls, trying to show you unexpected passageways out of the sealed-shut vessel of the self.

Thursday nights year-round, I meet with a group of men around an outdoor fire, and it is here I often feel the ancient shapes looming behind the night, unmoving. I write to uncover the shards with the divine light clinging to them, because I can sense their presence. To uncage the shimmer. To remember what it means to be human, to see the world through another's eyes, as C.S. Lewis was so intent on doing.  To wake up to some small glimpse of the ancient shapes and what they signify.

Lewis realized that without the views and insights of others, he was barred from that unexpected passageway out of the self and trapped in a narrow prison. For him, reading, rather than writing was the gateway out of the self. "My own eyes are not enough for me," he wrote. "I will see through those of others." Even that wasn't enough. Lewis wished that the animals could write books, that he might be enabled to perceive reality through the nose of a dog or from the perspective of a mouse or bee. He wished his imagination to be awakened, to glimpse reality from a new perspective that presented a new imaginative understanding.

I once wrote that during nights around the fire, I tap into what seems like a deep "rightness." I write to remember. To become more human. To waken my imagination. Because if I don't remember in some small way, I will surely forget.