Taking experience seriously must make it equally necessary to take the destiny or future of experience seriously. This is a particularly poignant necessity, given that the future of each experience is its disappearance. The destiny of every experience is transience…Everything, no matter how painful, beautiful or sonorous, recedes into the silence of transience. Transience too is the maker of the final silence, the silence of death.
Is the silence which transience brings a vacant silence? Does everything vanish into emptiness? Like the patterns which bird flight makes in the air, is there nothing left? Where does the flame go when the candle is blown out? Is there a place where the past can gather? I believe there is. That place is memory. That which holds out against transience is memory.
Is memory produced by us, or is it us? Our identity is very likely whatever our memory decides to retain. But let’s not presume that memory is a storage room. It’s not a tool for being able to think, it’s thinking, before thinking. It also makes an (apparently) simple thing like crossing the room, possible. It’s impossible to separate it from what it remembers.
Oftentimes during meditation, I am visited by flash-memories dislodged from some dusty recess of my unconscious — vignettes and glimpses of people, places, and events from long ago and far away, belonging to what feels like another lifetime. They are entirely banal — the curb of a childhood sidewalk, mid-afternoon light falling on a familiar building in a familiar way, the smell of a leather armchair on a hot summer day — but in their banality they intimate the existence of the former self who inhabited those moments, a self that seems so foreign and so remote, yet one to which I am forever fettered by this half-conscious memory.
In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained;... We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience. — Henry David Thoreau