Everything You Experience “Now” is Remembered: Neuroscience and Nonduality

By Adam J. Pearson

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Totem Pole in the beautiful Parc Maisonneuve located in Montreal, where the author took all of the pictures in this article.

Introduction: What We Seem to Experience ‘Now’ is… Remembered?

A fundamental breakthrough in cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychology was the discovery that the brain contains distinct memory systems that shape every experience we have.  These systems have striking implications for our understanding of what it means to be “in the present moment,” and what alone can truly be considered present…  What are these memory systems?  How could it possibly be the case that everything we seem to experience “now” is not truly present, but remembered?  Let’s dive in to this fascinating subject and ride this roller coaster to its surprising conclusion…

The Three Memory Systems: Sensory, Short-Term / Working, and Long Term Memory

First, there’s sensory memory, which registers traces of things you just heard, sensed, tasted, touched, and so on a few seconds ago (Baddeley, Eysenck, & Anderson, 2014).  If you eat a chip, you can remember the vivid taste of it for a few seconds after you swallow it.  Then that memory trace dissolves and is forgotten.  That’s the power and limitation of sensory memory.

Second, there’s short-term / working memory, which covers everything you are ‘presently’ feeling, thinking about, and attending to (Gathercole & Baddeley, 2014).  If you’re thinking about something now, the brain is processing it in working memory.  For example, you’re reading this article and your cognitive system is processing these words.  This is happening thanks to the wonders of short-term / working memory.

Third and finally, there’s long-term memory, which covers everything you remember from more than 30 seconds ago.  All the concepts in semantic long term memory, all the knowledge of how to do things in procedural long-term memory, all the episodes and experiences in your life in episodic long term memory, and so on (Baddeley, Eysenck, & Anderson, 2014).

The three memory systems are interconnected, but they function independently and work by means of different neuron systems that store information by means of different neural codes. I won’t go into the details because they’re not relevant to the point I’m making here, but the information is out there if you’re curious. See, for example, Reber (2013), Cowan (2008), or pioneer of memory research Baddeley’s (2014) fantastic textbook Memory.

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How Do We Know There Are Memory Systems? : Some Evidence From Brain Damage Cases

There’s tremendous experimental and observational neuroscientific and neuropsychological evidence for the workings of these memory systems as well as for their relative physiological independence.  For example, we have brain damage cases in neuropsychology in which people lose the capacity for short-term / working memory, but retain their long-term memory (Sullivan & Sagar, 1991).  For instance, such individuals can’t remember seeing their wife 20 seconds ago, but they can remember the date that Rome fell!

There are also cases where people lose their long-term memory, but retain their short-term / working memory (Nee, Boorman, Moore, & Jonides, 2008).  These patients can work on and solve a problem over the span of a few minutes, but as soon as they leave the room, they forget ever having completed it.  If you present the same exact problem to them again, it takes them just as long to solve it.  Amazingly, such individuals can greet heir wife now, but they don’t remember ever having married her!  If you tell them this woman is their wife, it comes as a surprise to them…

People can also lose various forms of sensory memory due to areas of the brain that govern their processing.  For example, if V1, the primary visual cortex, is damaged, then people lose the ability to remember things the eyes just saw a few seconds ago.  In fact, they don’t register any vision whatsoever.  Such people have perfectly functioning retinas, but can’t consciously see anything at all; thus, they are called ‘cortically blind’ (Celesia, 2010).

Surprisingly, however, if you ask patients with cortical blindness to point to an object in the scene, they can point it out despite having no consciousness of seeing it at all!  This is because there are other pathways that carry retinal signals to the LGN and into the medial temporal and the posterior parietal lobe, in the latter of which there are neurons that fire during pointing and clasping hand motions without having to pass through V1 first (Gaglianese, Pietrini, Costagli, Bernardi, & Ricciardi, 2012).  Because they can point to things despite not consciously seeing any of them, these individuals are said to have ‘blindsight’ (Carlson, 2013).

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All Experience is of the Past, Only Awareness is Present: Neuroscience Meets Nonduality

These findings have tremendous relevance for the work of the spiritual path within the nondual wisdom traditions, whether we are considering Dzogchen, Zen, Advaita Vedanta, Sufism, etc, and it is this: everything you seem to hear, see, touch, taste, smell, think, and feel “now” is in short-term / working memory and sensory memory. Did that hit you? Everything ‘you’ seem to experience “now” is held in memory! It’s all remembered!

In case the mindblowing implications of that statement failed to hit home, allow me say it again: everything you seem to hear, see, touch, taste, smell, think, and feel “now” is remembered. It’s not truly present; there is a delay between its occurrence and your conscious registering of it.  Nothing is experienced as it is now; only the memory traces are experienced and they are of the past. 

There is one and only one exception: awareness itself. Everything else, and I mean everything else is remembered.  All of it.

All we ever experience are memory traces, reverberations of what has already occurred picked up and processed by our neural systems.  In contrast, awareness itself isn’t experienced; as the Zen Master Huang Po frequently pointed out, what’s experiencing can never be experienced (Po & Blongfeld, 1994).  Moreover, it has no sensory, affective, or emotional content whatsoever, therefore, can never be remembered.  No one ever says: “Gosh, remember that time I was aware 20 years ago?  That was a good time.”  Why not? Because awareness isn’t an event in time. It leaves no sensory, cognitive, or feeling memory traces in the neurophysiological systems.  It yields no data that sensory and short-term / working memory can process or work on. It’s literally nothing, no-thing.

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And yet this no-thing is ever-present and undeniable, and far from a stagnant or dead void, it’s vibrantly awake to whatever the sensory, emotional, cognitive, and memory systems present within it.  The content of awareness comes and goes, but it as the context of the content, remains unchanged.  That we are aware, we always know beyond all doubt. What we are aware of can indeed be doubted, but that we are aware is undeniable.  This is because awareness, as the great sages Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj point out, is the only constant reality in the fleeting, fluctuating ocean of experience (Maharshi, 2000).  It is intimately immediate and ever-present, the foundation of all experiences that remains itself beyond all experience (Nisargadatta, 2009).

Of course, we–relatively speaking, that is, the body-mind–can remember to notice or attend to awareness, but being awareness, that is, abiding as that ever-presence is never remembered.  We can neither experience nor remember it, we can only be it, and that we are, endlessly and without cessations, pauses, or gaps.  Waking up to the reality of awareness is at the heart of all of the nondual paths, whether Zen, Dzogchen, Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism, or Christian mysticism alike.  Indeed, ultimately, these paths collapse even the apparent distinction between awareness and the impermanent content that arises within it, saying the seemingly two are really non-two…

In short, only awareness is ever present, can be said to be present at all.  Everything else we believe is happening or unfolding now, all the sensing, feeling, and thinking, is remembered.  Even the experience of our own body is remembered!  All we experience is the sensory and short-term / working memory of whatever seems to have occurred.

It is surprising enough that when we look at the night time stars, we are seeing light that left those stars, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of years ago, the celestial past on display in the nowness of awareness. But this is a whole new level of a comprehensive statement.  Not only distant starlight, but everything we seem to locally experience as happening “now” registers after a brief time interval.  In other words, there is a delay on the processing and experiencing of the information the receptor neurons in the body’s sensory systems pick-up.  The information takes time to register.

In contrast, awareness takes no time because it’s timeless.  There can be no delay on the constant, the ever-present.  And that, the sages of all great nondual traditions suggest, we are, more fundamentally than any of the content of the mind or even the body itself, more fundamentally than even the sense of “me” and the word “I”…

Therefore, “being in the present moment” applies to awareness and awareness only. We can only be present to and as awareness because only awareness is ever present and not delayed by neural processing time.  All of the rest of what seems to be happening ‘now’ in what we conventionally call “present experience”–that is, thinking, feeling, tasting, touching, hearing, seeing, smelling, etc.–is an experience of memory traces temporarily stored in sensory and short-term / working memory or retrieved from long-term memory.  It’s a delayed playing out of the past within the presence of awareness.

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Conclusion: The Take-Home Message

In summary, then, the findings of neuroscience and cognitive neuropsychology suggest that all experience of thought, feeling, and sensation is an experience of the past, the very recent past perhaps, but the past nonetheless.  Only the intimacy of awareness itself is ever truly present, and it is so endlessly, constantly, and unchangingly, from the womb to the tomb…

Absolutely everything we experience, everything in time, everything processed as a memory trace, is a faint echo of a recent past.  What produces no echoes but is aware of all echoes, alone can be said to be present, what we truly were, are, and always will be.  The reality of awareness is prior to the word and concept of “awareness,” which, as a thought, must be remembered.  The intimate reality of it is prior to conceptualization; it is intimated in every experience without being experienced.

This is what Zen calls our “Original Face before our mother and father were born.”  The Pali word Buddha means “the awakened one.” Since awareness is what’s awake, Zen calls it “Buddha nature.”  Abiding in the simple fact of being awake, of being aware is sitting as a Buddha here and now.  Awakening is waking up to what’s aware, not something ‘spiritual’ or exotic, but ordinary, everyday awareness. And that requires no memory, no space, and no time. Only now.

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References

Baddeley, A. Eysenck, M. and Anderson, M. (2014). Memory. Psychology Press, 2nd ed.

Carlson, N. (2013). Physiology of Behavior, 11th edition. University of Massachusetts, Amherst: Pearson Education, Inc. p. 4.

Celesia, G. (2010). “Visual perception and awareness: a modular system”. Journal of Psychophysiology 24 (2): 62–67

Cowan, Nelson. “What are the differences between long-term, short-term, and working memory?.” Progress in brain research 169 (2008): 323-338.

Gaglianese E. Pietrini, Costagli A., Bernardi M., Ricciardi G. (2012). “Evidence of Direct Influence Between the Thalamus and hMT+ independent of V1 in the Human Brain as Measured by fMRI”. NeuroImage 60 (2): 1440–1447.

Gathercole, S. E., & Baddeley, A. D. (2014). Working memory and language. Psychology Press.

Maharshi, R. (2000). Talks with Ramana Maharshi. Carlsbad, CA: Inner Directions Foundation.

Nisargadatta, S. (1973). I am That: conversations with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, 2 Vols.(M. Friedman, Trans.). Bombay: Chetana.

Po, H., & Blofeld, J. E. C. (1994). The Zen Teaching of Huang-Po: On the Transmission of Mind. Grove Press.

Reber, P. J. (2013). The neural basis of implicit learning and memory: A review of neuropsychological and neuroimaging research. Neuropsychologia,51(10), 2026-2042.

Sullivan, E. V., & Sagar, H. J. (1991). Double dissociation of short-term and long-term memory for nonverbal material in Parkinson’s disease and global amnesia. Brain, 114(2), 893-906.

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Part of a series of Nonduality:

Haikus While Walking in the Rain

We Were Never Broken: Beyond the Sense of Lack, Incompleteness, and Deficiency

Emptiness and Radical Negation: Shifts in and Beyond the Story of “Me”

The Ultimate Surrender

The Welcomeness Of Now

Beyond “I Am”

Remember To Be Unhappy!: The Unnecessary Root of Human Misery

The Remembered “Me”: Why Presence Implies “Your” Absence

The Vibrancy of Life and the Deadness of the “Story of Me”

The Futility of Sandcastling

The Difference Between Seeing A Thought or Emotion and Looking From It

Emptiness in Emptiness

Thoughts That Never Were

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25 thoughts on “Everything You Experience “Now” is Remembered: Neuroscience and Nonduality

  1. Hi Adam, really enjoy the writing and photography, wonderful! Exploring after what you’ve written here, what you speak to … Experiencing without experiencer or thing experienced, the direct experiencing of … What is now. Brain functioning and Awareness … Admittedly I can feel the wind on my skin and the wind in your words pretty instantaneously but agree there is lag time. Does my awareness through my sight go out to the picture on the wall, do the various hues of color emanate light frequencies that enter my eyes to be translated by brain’s capacity? I can sense or is there awareness of the time that takes? So experiencing now … Sensing and aware, given Awareness is only now, can it not be only now that there’s awareness of seeing starlight from light years ago? Of this room even with sensory delay that can be tracked? Among the oft used meditation tools is the sound of bell. Leaving the tree that falls in the woods with no one there to hear it, I can be aware a bell has been struck … My listening can even go out to the bell and return back upon sound waves into the ear & the parts of the ear that eventually get to the neuronal firing and easily admit that the master struck the bell some time ago, even when there’s no distance, I struck the bell. The impulse arises, ring the bell, arm moves, picks up bell, moves it, clapper strikes vessel, sounds out … Am I remembering all that from fractions of a second it takes? Or is there simple awareness experiencing all this occurring while nothing is happening at all?

    And finally, experiencing – is it really what materialisticly-based science says? Are we really sure that brain functioning is limited to memory? Clearly memory is involved for most common experiences. Yet there is experiencing This we are. What senses, sometimes called soul faculties, capacities of cognizant awareness, Self or rigpa, to discern subtle differences in experiencing say, the different Buddha families in the bardo states? How can the experience of green Tara be recognized that is different from a wrathful diety? It is said that This we are, all-knowing infinite intelligence, the all-discerning wisdom, is cognizant. Is all that the lamas, Saints, sages, rishis etc., over the millennia of human conscious exploration remembered? As Ramana might ask, who remembers? All these folk were embodied, their brains were utilized … Cognition conceives and concepts that we mutually understand are used to describe the direct experience of the indescribable. Language invented and … Remembered, spoken, shared … A word nonduality … Written, read, translated, understood just a gap of an instant ago.

    Awareness sagely nods its head and laughs… The active aspect of awareness, attention is given to experiencing … What is the nature of experiencing? When all is empty and freshly new, innocently perceived … Now? Just before now & remembered? Those materialistic based scientists who … Believe that by chance, material of the cosmic soup somehow evolved to be conscious and become humans with the capacity to write and remember say we are remembering all of this… Closing my eyes I can remember what I just saw, the magical display of trikaya consciousness in constant change while seeing nothing whatsoever … The changeless formlessness shining that eyes cannot see … The soundless sound ears cannot hear … The texture of joy discerned from the texture of peace … The one taste … The heaven scent aromas, fragrances of pure flowering consciousness … Is remembering what happened in these experiences that were unknown before they occurred that now, admittedly are remembered & reported? Literature will suggest that others have … Experienced similar things & lived to describe them … So is this localized form remembering something that is known in consciousness? There is nothing new under the sun after all! 😜 The unfolding Now, perception and experience, is the brain even necessary? Do bardo states only occur while consciousness is connected to the body? When experiencing what I’ve dubbed simultaneous time within the infinite now, in which everything within the time space continuum is included and awareness can enter in and change the memory, experience of what is & anticipation of what is to be, literally changing the direction & shapes & forms life takes, not previously conceived but spontaneously arising in the moment … Perhaps only the brain, the entire intelligent system that has neuronal firings in heart & belly too, can remember what luminous Mind conceives? Perhaps that’s what bodies do, remember This? Hmmm… I remember now that I anticipate continuing to explore the role of memory, brain functioning as applied to the ineffable Here and Now. This was fun. Thank you.

    Sincerely, Anrael

    • Wow, what a beautiful and elegant comment and a host of fantastic questions, Anrael. Thank you. My experience suggests or intimates that what we fundamentally are is beyond all concepts and language and all mental understanding altogether; it is intimated from its own ever-present immediacy. With that said, let’s explore some of your questions and see what seeming answers arise…

      “Admittedly I can feel the wind on my skin and the wind in your words pretty instantaneously but agree there is lag time.”

      Oh yes, the feeling we have is that it is instantaneous. This is the subjective sense we have. The delay we are exploring here is on the millisecond timescale, for local events happening nearby. It’s the very, very, very recent past, but we only experience the memory of it nonetheless. Only awareness itself is truly present because it is timeless; to be aware as such takes no time. To remember a mental representation stored in short-term / working memory so that it can be experienced, takes time.

      “Does my awareness through my sight go out to the picture on the wall, do the various hues of color emanate light frequencies that enter my eyes to be translated by brain’s capacity? I can sense or is there awareness of the time that takes?”

      Awareness as such is immediate, but thinking, feeling, tasting, touching, smelling, and so on all take time. The brain and the sensory and perceptual systems facilitate perception, cognition, and emotion. Whatever comes, awareness displays it, like a perfectly transparent mirror reflecting all that passes. Because the processing in the brain is so fast–we can’t even count miliseconds without a very precise clock–all of these functions of the body-mind experientially seem to be equally immediate, but in truth, they are not. The delay still elapses and what we experience is only the brain’s representation of memory traces of stimuli impinging upon our receptor neurons and being represented by the firing rates of higher-order neurons through many areas of the brain. In the absence of a functioning body-mind, the great sages like Nisargadatta and Maharaj tell us, awareness remains, but devoid of any content, luminously empty…

      “So experiencing now … Sensing and aware, given Awareness is only now, can it not be only now that there’s awareness of seeing starlight from light years ago?”

      Yes, we are always aware only now. The actual ‘conscious contact’ happens now. But there is a lag or a temporal gap between when the event actually occurs and when the brain has time to represent it within the field of awareness such that it can be remembered and thereby, experienced. The representations are stored in memory and we only ever experience those memory traces. All sensory, cognitive, and emotional experience is of the past, even when it seems to happen now, because it is of memory. Awareness itself is not an experience; what experiences can’t be experienced, what perceives can’t be perceived, as the Zen Master Huang-Po put it. Because it is not an experience, has no form, and requires no representation of content, it takes no time; it is indeed, timeless.

      “Among the oft used meditation tools is the sound of bell. Leaving the tree that falls in the woods with no one there to hear it, I can be aware a bell has been struck … My listening can even go out to the bell and return back upon sound waves into the ear & the parts of the ear that eventually get to the neuronal firing and easily admit that the master struck the bell some time ago, even when there’s no distance, I struck the bell. The impulse arises, ring the bell, arm moves, picks up bell, moves it, clapper strikes vessel, sounds out … Am I remembering all that from fractions of a second it takes?”

      Yes, the representation of the sound takes time. You experience the memory of that very recently past event. And the only ‘nowness’ there is is in awareness itself. Awareness is aware now. But all of the content that appears in awareness is a representation of the past; it is memory. Awareness in and of itself is contentless and prior to representation and that is the key to its ever-presence.

      “Or is there simple awareness experiencing all this occurring while nothing is happening at all?”

      Awareness is always ‘on.’ Those who practice Yoga Nidra, some of my teachers among them, tell me that it’s possible to abide as awareness even in deep sleep when there is no sensory, emotional, or cognitive content. I have not experienced that, but I have experienced sahaj samadhi, in which all body-mind content drops off, including all sense of an “I” experiencing and of an object of experience of any kind. Not even Tibetan deity images, subtle inner lights, inner music, or anything whatsoever appears. There is neither subject nor object. No universe appears. Awareness alone abides. Ever-present, although aware of no-thing…

      “And finally, experiencing – is it really what materialisticly-based science says? Are we really sure that brain functioning is limited to memory?”

      All of the research suggests quite clearly that all sensation, emotion, and cognition depends on memory. Awareness is not an experience. Experiences come and go; awareness remains. Experiences have beginnings and endings in time; awareness has neither beginning nor ending. Experiences are in time; the assumed experiencer is in time and the seeming object of the experience is also in time. I suggest that the immediacy of ‘experiencing’ is itself not in or defined by the experience, but prior to and beyond it; it’s awareness itself. With no experiencer, experience in time, or object of experience, can we speak of awareness as an experience? Experiences to me are intrinsically dualistic. Awareness is nondualistic, neither ending nor beginning, neither subject nor object, neither starting nor stopping, neither arising nor subsiding…

      “Yet there is experiencing This we are.”

      This is so from one viewpoint, to be sure, but from another, is it so? If This seems to become an object of an experience, that to me indicates that we are really only experiencing a conceptually-mediated sense of something beyond all concepts, even of “This” and “That.” What we call That, as I see it, is beyond experience. What is aware cannot be experienced; only content can be experienced.

      Materialistic science says that what’s aware is the brain, but while we have found many neural regions associated with representations of particular types of phenomenological content (e.g. V1 neurons with preferences for edges oriented at very specific angles or MT neurons with preferences for movement in very specific directions), no fMRI study has ever found a ‘seat’ of awareness itself in the brain. That awareness is grounded in the brain is an assumption that materialistic philosophy makes, not something evidenced by neuroimaging. As such, it remains a pure hypothesis, and I would argue, an unsubstantiated one at that, an ideological notion unsubstantiated by empirical findings. My sense is not that awareness emerges from the brain–as per the common scientific view–but that the brain is an appearance within awareness itself, which is prior to the arising of any phenomenon in particular, indeed, even the entire phenomenal universe itself and the full fields of sensation, perception, cognition, memory, attention, and emotion.

      This view, however, is a fruit of mystical inquiry and meditation, not of science. It would be unfair to the research to attribute it to science. Every scientist I have ever met except for a select few disagrees with it. But the Advaita, Sufi, Dzogchen, and Zen sages all agree on it and it’s my sense as well based on what is intimated here and now.

      “What senses, sometimes called soul faculties, capacities of cognizant awareness, Self or rigpa, to discern subtle differences in experiencing say, the different Buddha families in the bardo states?”

      In Dzogchen, shiy is the Ground of rigpa. Rigpa is the intimate immediacy of aware-ing as an ever-present unfolding; rigpa is involved in the direct discerning as such and the differences are conceptualized by the intellect (chitta in Buddhism). In Nisargadatta’s Advaita Vedanta terms, we might call rigpa awareness and shiy or Ground the Absolute.

      “How can the experience of green Tara be recognized that is different from a wrathful diety? It is said that This we are, all-knowing infinite intelligence, the all-discerning wisdom, is cognizant. Is all that the lamas, Saints, sages, rishis etc., over the millennia of human conscious exploration remembered?”

      If it’s an experience with a beginning, middle and end, an arising that subsides, then it’s in time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sensory experience, a cognitive experience, an emotional experience, or an imaginative / spiritual experience. We are always aware now and only now; awareness is nowness itself. But content arises and falls over time. Time unfolds in the timeless, in other words, relatively speaking.

      With respect to the Absolute, however, there is neither time nor timeless, neither experiencing nor not-experiencing, neither something, nor nothing, so the question dissolves… The key thing is on what level are we asking the question and from what perspective? The answer depends on the level and perspective. About what’s prior to all levels and perspectives, we must remain silent. Already, I have said too much… and not expressed a single thing about the inexpressible at all… 😉

      “As Ramana might ask, who remembers?”

      The brain remembers in time, but the timeless awareness is aware of the memory in its ever-present trans-phenomenological ‘now’. As Ramana points out, the “who” gives way to the “what,” and the question “who remembers?” becomes “what’s aware of remembering?” That points us back to what’s beyond remembering, the immediacy and intimacy of awareness itself…

      “All these folk were embodied, their brains were utilized … Cognition conceives and concepts that we mutually understand are used to describe the direct experience of the indescribable.”

      Well-said. I would add that there is no experience of awareness as an object to a false subject, and thus language and concepts can never touch it. All we can say is what we’re saying here, that nothing can be said… Only pointing is possible, and the pointer points beyond itself and dissolves into silence…

      “Language invented and … Remembered, spoken, shared … A word nonduality … Written, read, translated, understood just a gap of an instant ago.”

      Yes, language is always experienced via sensation or cognition. Both are in time and represented in short-term / working memory. We experience the memory only. All experience is of memory. Even when we visualize deity images in Tibetan yoga, we visualize the memory of visual images; representations stored in memory. The immediacy of the awareness of it that’s empty of both experienced and experiencer, that’s the timeless, the nowness, true presence, emptiness itself…

      “Awareness sagely nods its head and laughs… ”

      I would say from one angle awareness has no head to nod or mouth to laugh. From another, it has all heads and all mouths, as manifestations within it, phenomena expressing the inexpressible, manifestations with qualities (saguna Brahman) of the qualityless unmanifest (nirguna Brahman)…

      “The active aspect of awareness, attention is given to experiencing …”

      Attention, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest, is very much driven by specific brain areas and grounded therein. Attention has limitations in time and capacity. Attention can shift in time; awareness never changes in the slightest, and yet all that changes is but an appearance within it. Attention itself is a phenomenon arising within awareness and cannot be reduced to it. Everything of the body-mind, everything observable, experiencable, feelable, seeable, hearable, attendable, and so on, that it is not in the sense that it cannot be reduced to that. All of this is content that must be discerned from that which never arises and never appears. Ultimately, there is no difference between form and emptiness, and emptiness and form. But again, it depends on the level and standpoint from which we’re asking and answering…

      “What is the nature of experiencing when all is empty and freshly new, innocently perceived … Now?”

      Nothing is perceived as it is now, only as it was; only memories are ever perceived. Only the aware-ing, the conscious contact, is truly present.

      “The changeless formlessness shining that eyes cannot see … ”

      Yes, this is what I mean by awareness; the rigpa of the shiy, and only it is truly present. It’s prior to experience and beyond experience. The nondual Shiy is ultimately beyond rigpa (awaring) and arigpa (ignorance or unawaring), as seeming dualistic opposites. I use ‘awaring’ over ‘awareness,’ because in its felt sense, it’s a verb not a stagnant noun as the language suggests.

      Experience is the last addiction of the spiritual seeker, who craves an ultimate experience, and I am not accusing you of being addicted in this way. 😉 The ultimate is beyond experience, though, so even this addiction, the craving for experience, the attachment to experiencing, must ultimately release…

      When it is seen that only memory is ever experienced and all experiencing is remembering, experience loses its allure and fails to deliver the goods it promises. Faith withdraws from experience when its ultimate failure to embrace the ultimate becomes clear beyond all doubt. All spiritual experiences in time are ultimately worthless. Anything that comes and goes is not it. Indeed, from the standpoint of the Ground (shiy), nothing ever happened, nothing was ever experienced…

      “The soundless sound ears cannot hear … The texture of joy discerned from the texture of peace … The one taste … The heaven scent aromas, fragrances of pure flowering consciousness … Is remembering what happened in these experiences that were unknown before they occurred that now, admittedly are remembered & reported?”

      If they’re experiences with beginnings and ends, if they come and go, if they must be generated, then they’re in time. Awareness is timeless. It’s so subtle… Subtle beyond all belief, conception, and even experience. The experiences you point to are all indirect ways that awareness is intimated, but awareness itself is never either experienced as an experience nor known as an object of knowing to a subject. Paul Hedderman puts it beautifully: “you can’t know what you are, but you can find out what you are.” It’s that indirect intimation of the constant intimacy and immediacy of awareness that you’re pointing to so eloquently and lucidly here.

      ” Experienced similar things & lived to describe them …”

      As have I. And I came to see in time that all such experiences, however beautiful they were in the moment, if they had a beginning and an end in time, are ultimately worthless. What we are can never be experienced. Experiences are the play of its manifestation, its ‘perfume,’ if you will. The fragrance of a flower intimates something about the flower, but it’s not the flower itself; its an indirect ‘index’ of it as they say in semiotics. All we can ever experience are perfumes or fragrances in this sense. What experiences–the flower–is beyond all fragrances, which are neural representations of particular configurations of molcules that activate receptor neurons in the nose and are represented by the olfactory system as ‘smells.’ Even experiences must be dropped, no matter how spiritual or luminous… From the standpoint of the ultimate, there is neither subject nor object, neither arising nor subsiding, so no experience can ever capture it directly, only intimate it indirectly…

      “So is this localized form remembering something that is known in consciousness?”

      Yes, remembering is of the brain, and the brain could be called a localized form. Awareness in the absence of a body-mind doesn’t remember, see, hear, smell, taste, feel, attend, or think. In the absence of a functioning brain with neurons to represent remembered content, no memory arises. As Nisargadatta says, “in the Absolute, I do not even know that I Am…” Experience is intrinsically dualistic; the ultimate is nondual, beyond both our concepts of ‘duality’ and ‘nonduality,’ ‘time’ and ‘timeless,’ ‘experienceable’ and ‘inexperienceable,’ neither ‘transcendent’ nor ‘immanent.’ Everything is cut off, both form and formless alike and nothing can be said…

      “The unfolding Now, perception and experience, is the brain even necessary?”

      As I see it, perception is based in memory and experience is remembering. Awareness is prior to both and beyond both.

      “Do bardo states only occur while consciousness is connected to the body?”

      You’ll have to ask a Rinpoche that one haha. I know nothing of Bardo states…. thus, as Wittgenstein used to say, “I must remain silent.”

      “When experiencing what I’ve dubbed simultaneous time within the infinite now, in which everything within the time space continuum is included and awareness can enter in and change the memory, experience of what is & anticipation of what is to be, literally changing the direction & shapes & forms life takes, not previously conceived but spontaneously arising in the moment … Perhaps only the brain, the entire intelligent system that has neuronal firings in heart & belly too, can remember what luminous Mind conceives? Perhaps that’s what bodies do, remember This?”

      Yes, ultimately there is nothing but This. It depends on the standpoint from which the statement is made. There are relative viewpoints from which all these statements are true and they are false from other relative viewpoints:
      What appears is not what does not appear. Awareness never appears. Awareness is nothing. Awareness is everything. Subjects are aware of objects. There are neither subjects nor objects. If awareness is everything, then awareness is the substance of every experience, subject, and object. Awareness is beyond all duality, beyond subject, object, and experience. If all is fundamentally not separate from awareness, then even remembering and time are it. Awareness is timeless and prior to remembering. And so on… All depends on the level we’re speaking from. And, from another view, there are no levels. 😉

      All of this is intended quite literally, as articulated from different views. And all that was ever spoken is a mere word game because what we are is beyond all words and concepts. Lila! Awareness is having fun with expression and inexpressibility. A play of the formless in form; played by what’s beyond both formless and form. Haha!

      All of the above can be summarized in this simple statement from Ramana:

      “The world is illusory;
      Brahman alone is real;
      Brahman is the world.”

      – Ramana Maharshi.

      That puts the whole matter to rest as far as expression is concerned. And yet, stubbornly, we keep talking… 😉

      “Hmmm… I remember now that I anticipate continuing to explore the role of memory, brain functioning as applied to the ineffable Here and Now. This was fun. Thank you.”

      Yes, it was! Thank you. 🙂

      • Oh Adam! Thank you for such clarity in your kind elucidating response! Wow! Right on! Matches my matchless non-experience! 😆 the part about addiction to spiritual experience, or any experience that tells us we’re alive, a subject with an object just blasts open the core of spiritual endeavor, that strange process of This embodied form aware and the clear formless awareness beyond all notions, that wedded bliss that calls us to end the delusions while we cling to them for dear life.

        I asked about Tara in part because of a recent … Experience with her. While her image looms large in my home, and I have friends who practice Tibetan Buddhism, I am not involved with those practices directly. So one morning, minding my own business, simply Being, and not being, both, neither, so perhaps could be called non-meditation, in awareness sensation of Presence occurred & was recognized as green Tara. Simply allowing experience to unfold, a merging occurred wherein an embodying whatever it is she represents took place. All I can say is some essence of the Leela that is known & loved known as Tara that exists to some degree in my mind, a merging of subject/object took place between forms … There was no one here who looked for, intended or even really knew what was happening, just aware as experience unfolded, just as now, aware as writing unfolds. It was a lovely experience, came and went although there is a difference in the experience of being embodied, and is recognized as phenomenal. Another articulation of Ramana’s paradox is: nothing is real, nothing unreal exists. All Is This in unfolding perfection of nothing ever happening. My heart leaps with joy, and perhaps awareness doesn’t have laughter, but I’m with Hafiz: I hear God laughing. It’s the best Truth of all echoing here now.

        Without experiencer and experienced there is experiencing, This experiencing Itself in Truth in form, amazing play of Consciousness, the luminosity of pure Absolute beyond even awareness yet vivid right here non-experiencing experiencing. And all this gobbledygook resolves back to pure Silence. Aahhhh. Here the no thing I Am non-exists as the entirety Now… See? Laughter. Such a joy this impossible essential conversation❣ 😍 ~Anrael
        PS I will enjoy reading more of your expressions.

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