Can I Forget the Everyday World?

Dr. Charles Tart


Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 5, Part 10 of 18 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

CTT: What other attempts have people been making to be mindfully present in the ordinary world?

Student: The other day I was thinking about states of consciousness and state-dependent memory. Assuming that being mindful is a state of consciousness, do you think that – I mean, I want to hear what everybody’s opinions are – do you think that you can lose memory of being in the everyday state? In your book, you mentioned the consensus trance, and see being mindful as getting out of that trance. Then would it be normal to lose some memory and not remember being in the other state?

CTT: What’s being lost – the state of presence or the consensus consciousness?

Student: The consensus consciousness being lost in the state of being present. I’m not sure if I’ve experienced it, but I’ve had worries of losing memories of being in a different state.

CTT: I’m not sure whether I follow you or not, but the one stab I’d take at it is that I’ve known a number of people who’ve done this kind of mindfulness training for many years, and I’ve never known any of them to complain that they’re losing their ordinary memory.

Most of them say that, if anything, their awareness increases. It’s a combination of, on the one hand, a lot of aspects of ordinary life are less interesting and important to them. And on the other hand, they’re sharper at what they do in ordinary life because they have a more realistic view of situations, so they can act more effectively on whatever needs to be done.

I can certainly imagine some people deteriorating in ordinary life because – well, for several possible reasons. One is they experience such wonderful altered states of consciousness that they don’t want to be here. They get attached to highly pleasurable states, and I think you could talk about addiction in this case. You don’t have to have a drug to get addicted to something. You can crave some pleasurable experience so much that you start letting ordinary things go and live less effectively because of that.

Student: Wouldn’t we be talking about a lower level of awareness going down that path?

CTT: I certainly think it’s lower compared to what I think real enlightenment is, but I don’t know how to make a real precise comparison there.

There’s also another version of this where you have spiritual bypass motivations involved. Some people are interested in the spiritual path because they don’t want to face up to ordinary developmental tasks, and so they rationalize this as spiritual ambition. “It’s not that I’m a jerk and I’m too lazy to hold down an ordinary job, it’s that I’m meant for higher things and I can’t waste my time on that sort of stuff.”

Somebody like that can get into some pleasurable sort of altered state as a result of their spiritual practices, and certainly they can get kind of addicted to it and it becomes a great rationalization. It shows them that they’re “making progress” on the spiritual path, and whatnot.

Student: Well, what I’m thinking of is more like long-term memory, like past memory, as in not being in command of it when I wasn’t assuming that I am in a mindful state. Losing some of that when I wasn’t in a mindful state.

CTT: I wish you had a specific example.

Student: So let’s say, like that guy that you always talk about who decided he didn’t want to experience emotion.

CTT: Right. John Lilly, if I remember correctly.

Student: So let’s say I walked through life like that, and then all of a sudden I’m able to – or after doing mindfulness practices, I’m able to connect with my emotions, and connect with my body, and I don’t remember a lot of what happened before that because I’m in a different state. That’s the kind of memory loss that I’m talking about.

CTT: Ah, yes. I know what you mean.

Student: So state-dependent memory. Right?

CTT: Yes. Yes. I suspect a lot of memories are state-dependent, and if you’re not in the appropriate state, you can’t access the memory.

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