My First Encounter with Self-Remembering

In my case, bumping into the idea of self-remembering was like bumping into an old friend with whom one had lost contact for decades…

In my case, bumping into the idea of self-remembering was like bumping into an old friend with whom one had lost contact for decades, whom one barely recognizes at first, but by virtue of some distinguishing mannerism—a grin, a gesture, a toss of their hair—one suddenly remembers them quite unmistakably.

I shudder at the notion that this chance encounter could have easily never happened. For a long time, I had been searching for meaning. I could find nothing praiseworthy in myself, and although I thought myself smart, it was a futile kind of smartness always bent on wittiness and self-glorification. Strangely, I could see this but not change it, and this frustration powered my search. I could conceive of myself acting differently but could not take any practical steps to do something about it. Was there not more to being human than being endowed with the capacity for ineffectual self-reflection? I determined to find out.

I scoured bookstores and libraries in search of literature on psychology and philosophy. The idea that others had searched like this before me was itself some consolation, although none so far seemed to have found anything substantial. Some equated human potential with physical discipline: yoga exercises, strict diets, breathing techniques, and the like. Following their suggestions did improve my physical well-being, but that was not what I had been after. I remained the same selfish, arrogant and witty fool, with even more energy to power my folly. Others wrote off the prospect of a ‘search’ as a futile intellectual endeavor. It was our human birthright to experience love, empathy, and kindness—emotions that altogether eradicated the need to ‘search’. I could agree with this in principle but could only pretend to live up to these noble emotions—and strongly suspected that those advocating them were not always practicing what they preached. Try as hard as I may, I could not bring myself to cover my deeply embedded weaknesses with a dishonest smile or show of empathy. Others steered the search for meaning towards philosophical debate and argument. The more complicated their theories, the more difficult they were to apply. Even if by a strong mental effort I could fathom some of their reasonings, I remained unchanged; the same self-indulgent, witty, fool I had always been. And so, the accounts I was reading seemed to be memoirs of seekers who had—in my opinion—despaired midway in their search and compromised, like knights whose forlorn skeletons now lined the path to some Holy Grail, the existence of which I was beginning to doubt.

Perhaps the truth could not be found in books? Perhaps I should venture to distant lands in search of teachers, or secret brotherhoods? But where would I go, and what if these attempts would also lead to dead ends? The hours wasted on fruitless reading would be nothing compared to the weeks, months, and years I’d be wasting in fruitless journeys.

Meanwhile, the door of opportunity seemed to be closing. I sensed I could not continue this search indefinitely, especially because it was pressing me against the reality of my own weaknesses. The more advice I was exposed to, the more I saw how I couldn’t follow it, in which case, what was I really searching for? Even if I came upon some truth, some sound formula for actualizing the latent potential in human beings, was I not too scattered, too inconsistent, and too lazy, to put this into practice? Was my search, then, merely an escape from acknowledging my fundamental inadequacy?

Was I uncorrectable?

“Read this,” said an acquaintance one day, dropping a book on my desk. “It’s not for everyone, but some find it a good last resort.”

The book lay untouched for a while before I came around to opening it, and when I did, I found it engaging. The author cut straight to the point. He called for self-observation as a natural remedy for self-ignorance. My pride was quick to brush this aside, convinced that I already knew myself quite well. Nonetheless, the teaching he presented laid out very specific instructions about what to observe. The reader was being given a map. This was somewhat new to me, and I thought it worthy of respect, although it still didn’t address the fundamental problem of my inconsistency. I was not lacking in good instruction, I lacked the ability to apply it. I urgently needed a tool for change, a mantra that would take away my sense of impotence, a handle with which to firmly grasp my laziness and turn it around.

Just as the flame of my interest was beginning to flicker, the book took a surprising turn. As if taking back what he had said so far, the author plainly stated that if one were to try to follow this map, one would discover that one could not. This sounded true and painfully familiar—and a bit unusual for an author to disqualify the value of everything he had presented so far. My curiosity was rekindled. “However,” he continued, “by trying to observe ourselves we stumble upon an important fact—that generally we do not remember ourselves.”

I was overcome by a powerful sense of recognition and slammed the book shut.

The word self-remembering exploded in my mind sending shivers down my spine and flooding my eyes with tears. This is the missing link. If I could remain aware of myself—as vividly as I was aware right then—I would be able to catch my laziness, inconsistency, and wittiness in real time, and do something about them. This was the handle I had so desperately searched for.

The shock was not only in the profundity of the idea my eyes had just read , but also its familiarity. Had I heard this before? Certainly not, or I would have already begun practicing it. Yet why was this concept so familiar? And how did I know to recognize its value so unmistakably? Nothing in my past could explain this recognition. Beyond doubt, beyond any rational explanation, I was keenly aware that this marked the end of my search.

And that I had just experienced a miracle.