A long time ago I read a poem called “remember to remember.” Remember to pull yourself out of blurred awareness to focus on the lovely fresh precision of that which is in front of you right now, was its message. Remember yourself into the present moment. I have forgotten the author and much of the poem itself, but the phrase, and the idea, have stuck with me.
Remembering to remember is a key point of meditation training. In practice, we repeatedly bring our awareness back to the focal point, whether it’s an image, a sensation, an intention such as bodhicitta, or simply awareness itself, in the case of Dzogchen. Practicing this kind of remembering daily on the cushion, year in and year out, builds an inner structure; the capacity to wake up out of the trance, to realise we are dreaming and refocus on a reality unvarnished by expectations, hopes and fears. This is not the only purpose of meditation, of course — but the simple reflexive action of coming back to awareness is no small thing. Meditation is the intentional application of this skill, the flexing of this muscle, over and over and over again. Over time it begins to develop a life of its own. We automatically remember to remember.
What does this have to do with therapy? Quite often we come across an understanding that needs to be integrated into life, not just talked about for 20 minutes. Say it’s the matter of how Joe (a fictional composite) really wants to show up in a situation, vs. how he reflexively does. Take for example the dreaded holiday visit with the family (you’d be amazed at how much angst holidays cause!) He says he’s usually shut down and reactive, but he would like to be relaxed, aware, and grounded.
In a session we might explore the two possibilities. In one option — let’s call it the status quo — he notices he feels frozen, numb, shut down. His arms are braced for impact. His breath stops, his shoulders hunch. He’s anxious, anticipating some dreadful interaction.
In the other, Joe feels fluid and free, standing tall, with his feet solidly on the ground, clearheaded and clearsighted, relaxed in the chest and shoulders.
Each of these states of being are parts of him. Each needs to be explored and understood, with an open and relaxed awareness that doesn’t get stuck in either configuration. What’s most important is to fully understand, from the inside, the experience of each state of being, so that Joe can recognise the stuck place more easily the next time it arises — and perhaps have more choice in how long he dwells in it. Maybe he’ll even have more freedom in moving to a different experience.
If Joe practices meditation — or maybe just has an innate orientation towards awareness — he’s got a head start in this process. Remembering to remember helps us along the way, by allowing us to press the reset button whenever we get stuck.