In the full light of our embodied minds, we know that human thought is pure poetry. We accept that we live in metaphors that grow from our legacy as creatures on this planet. Our principle mode of understanding is associative, because that is how our nerves grow together, how our bodies become antennae for the paths we find through noise. Minds grow up no other way. Causation is a secondary inference; first, we find things together.
And so our most basic distinctions can be plotted along gradients of resonance, axes of affiliation. The only reason I recognize my memories as my own is because this body and this mind are similar enough in constitution that they ring together with that other moment, and the farther back I go, or forward, the more dissimilar, and the less myself. With all moments shining simultaneously in the ever-presence of All-Time, all places co-extant in the Infinite Expanse, we weave a sense of hereness and nowness, selfhood and otherhood from these harmonic near-identities.
Lovers test better in clinical studies on psychic phenomena. So do identical twins, parents and children, or even – to a slighter degree – people who have just met one another. There is an important sense in which this success in trials of shared mind is a measure of common identity, common form in body and mind. I recognize “you” as almost me, and “it” as further down that gradient of common patterning. Beyond that lies the unfathomably other, the truly other, that which is so different as to be unperceived by a system that evolved to only notice the pertinent.
In this way, we can talk of memory as a form of telepathy, or telepathy as a form of memory…or more precisely, both modes of perception as instances of a third category for which we haven’t yet found the words – a category that also includes spatial perception (“I” am over “here,” supposedly).
In mysticism, there are two schools of thought addressing the same great truth: to the Hindus, there is only Absolute Self; to the Buddhists, there is only No-Self. On the one hand, ultimate continuity; on the other hand, only frames, slides, a film reel we stitch together subliminally. Either way you prefer to couch it in ultimate terms is equally true (for being an apt description) and untrue (for being words, not experience).
It’s a pretty convenient way to resolve the question of whether reincarnation is truly the continuity of the self or just impressions drifting through the vastness of time. My bodymind is an antenna for the memory stored in Earth’s magnetosphere, as well as the ionic filaments threading galaxies together so much like neurons in the heart. The me of this moment is nearly identical to the me of the last moment, somewhat similar to the you of this moment, and brushes up against the him of four hundred years ago in Scotland – all of which I experience as self, although when I dream of other places and times I have no point of reference and it’s easier to dismiss these experiences.
These nodes of resonance seem connected to place. A few years ago I was washing my face in the bathroom sink and suddenly I was my lover, washing my face in the same sink at some other time, thoughts of Michael casually in the back of my mind, my slender body utterly matter of fact. Nothing unusual – no “Oh wow, I’m my girlfriend!” – those thoughts only came after, in a moment of reflection. I simply dipped into someone else’s experience for a few seconds. Nothing out of the ordinary.
I know many people for whom the memory of future events are occurring more and more frequently in dreams. These experiences of foreign places, people, and events are initially ignored; unfamiliar, we have no reason to remember them until a year or two later, when we’re sitting there and suddenly the pieces fit, and we’re hanging out with people we didn’t know a year ago, in a place we hadn’t visited a year ago, and of course we had no reason to recognize this as the memory of something that had yet to occur – but there it is nonetheless.
So does the soul transmigrate between lives? I have a hard time accepting that the soul, transcendent to any specific sensory matrix, would experience time in that crude linear fashion. Or that it would limit itself to a single narrative, a single trajectory. More easy to digest is the idea of a permeable association of experiences knitting together people, places, and times – a constellation of selfhood that stretches like a Julia set discontinuously through history, across continents and planets, an angel built of here-now-me in a breathing web of light and experience. A body beyond our Earthbound construction of beginnings and ends. One pearl in a circle of fifths, of complementary colors, a chord sharing notes with other chords, lives and lessons intermingling without survival-induced personality boundaries, seraphim with six wings and a thousand eyes, for which figure and ground wash into one another, tides of time and memory shining from a source that knows no distinctions.
[Anaconda Lodge, Puerto Maldonado, Peru, 13 March 2011]
Paleontologist turned performing philosopher, Michael Garfield‘s multimedia maps of the evolutionary landscape and our place in it are an attempt to demonstrate that everything is equally art, science, and spiritual practice. Follow him on twitter: @michaelgarfield