Selfless Moments


My memory has always been poor. I’m assuming that is what can happen when people in your life rewrite your stories for you from early childhood. I was familiar with the term “gaslighting” before it became a buzzword a few years ago.

At least I think I was. I know I’d seen the film with Angela Landsbury when I was young enough to be deeply unsettled by her — or her character’s — sexuality.

I’ve moved so often over the years, time is vaguely divided in my mind into chapters of “where I was living then”. So those mornings, in that house, when the kids’ heads could still be nestled under my armpit I woke fully conscious and fully unaware of who I was. It only happened twice. Not two mornings in a row, but close enough together that I carried a seed of panic for months. I was then still statistically too young for early-onset Alzheimer’s. But I wondered, and sometimes still do if it was a glimpse of things to come.

It was such a specific experience, lasting more at least a minute, that I still wonder if experiences like these are the source of people’s belief in reincarnation. I lay perfectly still and “sorted through” my mind to find my gender, my age, my situation: oh, yeah, I have children, two — just tall enough to fit under my armpits in side hugs.

I wasn’t overwhelmed with emotion during those lost moments. I was curious. At first. It felt as though I’d woke underwater and could see the light at the surface. But while swimming upward, I felt a growing fear that I may not reach the surface soon enough. What if I didn’t break through?

I’ve never talked to a doctor about these experiences. I figure now that I’d been dreaming. I’ve googled of course, but search results always mention “confusion.” I didn’t experience confusion. I felt remarkably clear, actually… just very far away.

I pull up these experiences now when I consider my meditation practice. Despite prevailing psychology theories, this is my conscious self detached entirely from narrative. Even the idea that this awareness was/is a dream-self is itself a narrative consciously placed on the experience.

In these moments the whole of my awareness was the “I”, watching the experiencing self — or in these two instances, searching for the experiencing self.

Swimming upward.

When I sit in meditation, I have to be careful. I have to guide myself to avoid hallucinations and other kinds of associative traps. I begin with the image of water. Blue (the air here is white*).

When I was small we would — or we did — camp in the desert and swim in springs. I remember once being tossed naked into a dark pool and feeling the cold current pushing against my feet, my legs, while the water around my torso was still and warm. I remember having the choice of where to put my attention.

I panicked. I kicked at the cold, I screamed: it got me nowhere.

I’ve found lately that there is a reason for pulling up memories. I’m beyond hope of uncovering objective truths, or even causes/consequences. I’ve given up on healing childhood traumas through memoir, but I’m convinced that it is possible that every incident tucked away — in sensual detail — in my mind is a metaphor for… everything.


*This is not at all in accordance with Buddhist symbolism, but it is in accordance with the Jæren landscape and relevant to my personal experience.

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