Doors of Remembrance

“By learning to contact the essence of our being, we can discover an unbounded freedom, which is not only a freedom from some external restraint, but is itself the dynamic expression of the meaning and value of being human.”. Time, Space and Knowledge, page xxxv.

Memory is a strange and mysterious thing. We probably all know people who lament that their past is washing away, like sand carried out to sea by a spring tide. And there are others who scarcely seem to notice that this is happening to them; their thoughts orbit in tighter and tighter circles, each welcomed like a dinner roll fresh from the oven.

As best I can tell, my own memory has not yet succumbed to such extreme losses of age; although, when I try to retrieve the name of someone I don’t personally know, such as a character in a book or a movie, I increasingly come up blank. This doesn’t concern me as much as that the memories which do show up, some every day, are like wind-up toys stepping off the shelf of my mind; and I just watch them as they dance yet again.

What is it that causes these once living encounters from the past to replay so often? They seem like photographs of once precious relationships that have passed on from our lives. They pop up, now scarcely relevant to our present concerns, even though they were once very important to us, when they surged out of the dense thicket of our lives.

These reflections were spawned when I started rereading a book (from which I quote above), that changed my life 35 years ago. I don’t know if it will last, but the morning that I opened it, turned to the first page, and started reading, I felt I was embarking on an unprecedented adventure. I felt as if I was loading a canoe onto the top of my car and setting off for La Verendrye Park in northern Quebec, as I did in the 1970’s, to paddle and portage through an unknown realm of lakes and forest and open sky.

Rereading the early pages of the book, which brought alive a sense of my potential for transformation, I could easily understand why memories from that time, in the mid-1980’s, were stirring again in me. It was more surprising that memories from decades earlier also began returning. I remembered how crucial a role in my life had been played by Eric, who came into my life when I was a teenager living in Montreal. He introduced me to the philosopher George Santayana and–through George Steiner’s “Language and Silence” –opened me to western literature. Without Santayana’s understanding of the human mind, and Steiner’s articulate grief for the fall of western humanism in the holocaust, I would probably not have felt so at home in Tarthang Tulku’s vision of the untapped potential of the human mind.

I don’t want to prejudice what I may find waiting for me in this book. But I can’t help wondering: Will I discover, like Thomas Wolfe, that “you can’t go home again”? Or will I experience that hopeful vision of time expressed by TS Eliot?

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

May it be so for all of us.


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