Three Taverns Church

Anticipatory Memory & Death

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I wrote recently that life is lived through anticipatory memory. When something has happened in the physical plane, at the exact moment of its happening, the mind has not yet captured the significance. It takes time to make meaning out of things. Humans can’t live effective lives behind the eight ball relative to time, motion, change, and reality. To compensate our minds become good at anticipating oncoming memories. From the perspective of our human minds, life is lived as anticipatory memory.

Viewing death through this lens, however, becomes problematic.

We only get to die once, thankfully, so death is the one event we can’t anticipate. To consider the End, or the Void, as it was revealed to me last week is awful because I perceived death as the ultimate and final ending of all memory. And because my identity, sense of self, and ego are tied up in memory, the ending of memory results in the ending of me in a way that is as terrifying as it is final. During my vision I felt my mind reach and search for the anticipatory memory necessary to prepare for the End…only, there was nothing to anticipate. There was only the Void, the End, the non-duality which goes beyond all words.

The Taoist philosopher Alan Watts frequently told his audiences, “Dying is like going to sleep without ever waking up again, just as being born was like waking up without ever having gone to sleep.” It’s a simple and beautiful way of explaining life and death. The trouble I have is that if life is lived as anticipatory memory, and death is the permanent cessation of memory, just how am I remembering anything now?

You might say rather indignantly, “Well you haven’t died yet so you mind is still anticipating memories!” Yes, that seems true. But how would I know? If we’re going to try to pretend time is as measurable and absolute as a line on a page (which, by the way, is hardly as measurable or absolute as you think!), you would say that today, June 25th 2015, I am still alive. But perhaps in fifty years or so I won’t be alive, and at the moment of my death my memories will cease and I will be *poof*! So you would say that I am at this point remembering things because I am at this moment alive.

But (and this is the part that freaks me out and gives me fits trying to explain what I mean) at some point I will stop accumulating anticipatory memories, and that means I won’t remember Me, and so how am I remembering that I’m Me NOW?

Anyway, what I really want to say is that I am very afraid. I cry frequently. Sometimes I have panic attacks, and it’s only been six days since the vision. I feel the fact that at some point I will stop accumulating memory. I feel my Ending and the Ending of everything else. I am absolutely terrified of ceasing to be. Frankly I don’t know what to do. How do I go to work or brush my teeth or eat? Of course I’m still doing these things but it feels like a horrible prank of some sort. Life feels like a terribly cruel practical joke. How do I do anything with a straight face when I know it’s all rubbish and passing show?

I know, in only the way you can know something by experiencing it first-hand, that at some point I will be gone. But even that word or phrase doesn’t do this feeling justice because “gone” implies there was somewhere to leave and somewhere to go, but in death there is just …….     ……. Like a barrier infinitely tall and infinitely wide and infinitely thick, with no way to go over, around, under, or through.

Normally I would turn inward to process my feelings and to seek shelter, but inward is precisely where I can’t go! Nor can I go outward, because it’s as if everything I perceive has an expiration date on it; turning outward reminds me of everything I’m going to lose.

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