Remembering Is the Point

Ajahn Munindo

Remembering Is the Point

I certainly experienced some benefits from the effort I made during this retreat period of intensified practice. About halfway through the three months, I had an experience of clarity that I can remember vividly – it was a night or two before my twenty-fourth birthday. It was quite spontaneous; I wasn’t doing any special practice. I was sitting there in puja one evening, surrounded by the other monks. Puja took place in a very basic, unattractive, open-sided wooden building with the usual grass mats rolled out over the polished concrete floor. We chanted in the same way as every other day, with the same mosquitoes biting and my knees hurting as they usually did.

Suddenly, without warning, I found myself experiencing the most wonderful clarity – unlike anything I had ever known before. I experienced an utterly natural yet at the same time extraordinary sense of well-being. It seemed as though this perspective on things should now last forever, because, in reality, things had always been that way, only I hadn’t noticed it. When puja finished I felt so elevated that I mentioned it to one of the other monks, and he said, “Let’s go and speak to Ajahn Tate about it.”

…He [Ajahn Tate] said, “These moments of clarity, this mindfulness and presence that you have experienced, are very good. From now on what you have to do in your practice is just to remember like this more quickly.” We were talking through a translator, which wasn’t easy. If we had been speaking directly, he might have said, “Keep exercising mindfulness in the moment and learn to come back sooner to this clear way of seeing. It’s that simple – make the effort to remember.” Little by little, with the right kind of effort, with consistent practice, as I am sure many of you have realised, we can make a difference.

…Now I encourage people to make this effort to remember. Sometimes, when we forget what we have learned, we can devalue experiences that we’ve had, effort we’ve made, insights that have arisen. Ajahn Chah had an image for this. He’d say, “These moments of mindfulness and understanding are like drips of water coming out of a tap. In the beginning it’s drip – drip – drip, with big gaps between the drips.” If we’re heedless during those gaps, if we’re caught up in our thinking, caught up in the content of the mind and the sensations we are experiencing, we can think that our mindful moments were invalid and dismiss them as accidents.

But Ajahn Chah said, “Little by little, with consistent effort, these moments become drip, drip, drip then dripdripdrip and then they become a stream.” With constant effort, you enter a continuous stream of mindfulness. The moments themselves are the same, but they’re uninterrupted.

We forget, but the good news is that we can remember. We sit in formal meditation, gathering our heart and mind together, and we settle into stillness. We gain perspective; we remember. The mind wanders off. ‘If only I hadn’t done that,’ we think; or, ‘Why did they say that?’ We wander into the future, thinking, ‘Have I got my ticket for tomorrow? Where did I put it?’ We get caught up; we get lost, but then we remember because our hearts are committed to remembering. If we simply remember, that’s good; but if we come in with some sort of judgement and say, ‘I shouldn’t have forgotten, my practice is hopeless,’ then we’ve lost it again.

Remembering is the point. We don’t need to dwell on our forgetting.

This reflection by Ajahn Munindo is from the book, Unexpected Freedom, excerpts from (pdf) pp. 7-10.