Remembering

Remembering

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The Black Pond, by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz – 1907

Again we ask: Why don’t we remember? Plato gives us a hint near the close of his Republic, when the souls had each one chosen their lot for their coming birth on earth. Having been warned to have a care and not be covetous, they pass before the three Moirai or Spinners of Destiny. Arriving at sundown at the arid plain of Forgetfulness, they were enjoined to drink “a certain quantity” from the river Lethe. Sagely he notes that “those who were not saved by wisdom drank more than was necessary,” and so forgot “all things.” In those few words lies the whole drama, the tragi-comedy of human existence, and also its enduring hope. Who of us in our desire to forget the painful encounters of the day does not welcome the boon of sleep; how much more should we not appreciate the mercy of death, whereafter the noble and beautiful of a life leaves its indelible impress on the soul? (Why Don’t We Remember? by Grace F. Knoche)

When we are sleeping, are we remembering? Are we drawing closer to aletheia? We sleep, we dream. We are flooded with autonomous, spontaneous images. These tell stories, tales from the underground of human being. We insist they mean something. We try to interpret them, according to some standard, such as the Jungian archetypal system. But doesn’t this try to pull them from their native soil up into the light of ego and rationality? Are dreams really meant to be explained, or have we been duped into thinking this by psychoanalysts, who get rich by telling us what they mean?

If there is a way to experience dreams without resorting to rationality, this is the path to follow, I think. This thought reminds me of Zen koans.

But what if dreams are memories? Could they be the unconscious act of dredging up images from the underground that point us toward our true place in the universe? Perhaps dreams are like convoluted memories, dimmed by the darkness of the underworld.

When we dream, are we conversing with the goddess, Mnemosyne? Are we drinking from the gentle course of her waters?

Nature is ever compassionate and just: since the bright waters of Mnemosyne could be death-dealing to the unready, she provides a caring method whereby one or more of her daughters may inspire to nobility of soul. Do we not even today seek Terpsichore, Melpomene, or Polyhymnia — Muses of Dance, Song, and Hymn — for inner as well as outer refreshment? Do not scientists, in self-sacrificing labor and research, receive intuitions from Urania whose magic staff points to heavenly spheres whence comes her celestial knowledge? Assuredly, every human being is the particular care of one or more of the “sweetly speaking Nine” — messengers of our spiritual self, whose life-giving wisdom is a constant aid to remembrance (ibid.).

Remembering from whence we came is the great task of human beings. Our lives are a cyclical journey, opening into aletheia, following the path of the river, Mnemosyne.

Remembering is the means by which we can join soul to matter and become more intelligible, thus having the ability to walk unfettered in the world of imperceptibles.

Plato believed that memory is

that power by which the soul is enabled to profer in some future period, some former energy: and the energy of this power is reminiscence. Now the very essence of intellect is energy, and all its perceptions are nothing more than visions of itself: but all the energies of soul are derived from intellectual illumination. Hence we may compare intellect to light, the soul to an eye, and Memory to that power by which the soul is converted to the light, and actually perceives. But the visions of the soul participate of greater or less reality, in proportion as she is more or less intimately converted to the divine light of intellect. In the multitude of mankind, indeed, the eye of the soul perceives with but a glimmering light, being accustomed to look constantly abroad into the dark and fluctuating regions of sense, and to contemplate solely the shadowy forms of imagination; in consequence of which, their memory is solely employed on objects obscure, external, and low. But in the few who have purified that organ of the soul, by which truth can alone be perceived, and which, as Plato says, is better worth saving than ten thousand eyes of sense; who have disengaged this eye from that barbaric clay with which it was buried, and have by this means turned it as from some benighted day, to bright and real vision: in these, Souls, Memory and Reminiscense, are entirely conversant with those divine ideal forms, so familiar to the soul before her immersion in body (From a footnote to The Hymns of Orpheus, translated by Thomas Taylor, 1792)

This conversion, awakening, transformation, seems to be gradual. It is not sudden, such as the so-called “born-again” experiences of many Christians. Aletheia takes time and much rumination. Something so valuable never comes easy.

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