Zen Spot #169 — Mindfulness, meditation and the enemy of memory July 20, 2018 00:00

Not eidetic

I remember oral discussions vividly. Forty years after the fact, I can remember the exact words used in specific conversations. My visual memory is far above average but not nearly as sharp as my ability to bank the exact language used in a conversation. That said, my ability to fail in recalling the written word borders on the absurd.

Ironically, my reputation for having an awful memory in matters of the mundane is well deserved. The disparity? I have to be listening to a conversation to remember the language used — and often, I don’t listen. I listen when listening counts.

Listening and not listening 

People take offense when I don’t listen. It’s easy, however, to tell when they are not listening to themselves, in which case I turn them off. The investment doesn’t deliver an appropriate return. For the rare minority who will be accountable for their ideas and promises made in a state of rambling, despite not remembering, it’s simply not worth listening.

If I’m within earshot, though, it’s hard to not have an incidental recording take up space on the Google Drive of my mind. Mega-bytes wasted.

A gift?

As a child, and young man, I had no idea that I was given a gift. With no evidence that my ability was rare, I expected others to listen and remember. Further, I expected accountability for their language.

When reminded or confronted about promises or rhetoric, I was surprised with vehement denials. When promises went unfulfilled, I was angry. When rhetoric was denied, I was confused. When a reminder of precise language was offered, I was reminded that my counterpart didn’t actually mean want was said — that the problem was mine despite agreement with my assessment.

Confusion — especially since the common denominator was me. 


A twenty-five year old colleague recently told me that he had the same ability. He, too, saw the ability as a gift, with an expectation that its benefits would pay handsome dividends throughout his life. I disabused him of the notion, like an army sergeant who had spent time in the jungle, offering the opinion that, without accountability for language on behalf of counterparts, the gift causes more pain than benefit.

An experiment in rhetoric

It took over fifty years, but I decided to join the ranks of those who don’t care about language. Life, not surprisingly, got easier. The experiment was uncomfortable because I felt like I was lying. My corresponding expectation was to be confronted with my lies, which rarely happened and, when it did, it was done to gain the upper hand in a negotiation or argument. That said, given my ability, I could remind my counterpart of the precise language used, which quickly created anger or disarmed the power grab. Unilaterally, people listened to themselves enough to get what they want but never enough to not be indifferent, lazy, manipulative or lie.

Lying in a world of liars? Not exactly. Sometimes. A useless gift?

Zen spot?

Buddhism’s belief in the science of the mind expects a commitment to truth, and relies on one’s mind to understand critical premises based on language, reading, analyses and discourse. If one accepts the existence of suffering, it would naturally follow that with suffering comes, if not lying, an understanding of the fact that listening is as rare commodity as is one’s ability to follow The Eightfold Path purely — an effort at which I fail daily.

Every human being has been bestowed a gift that has not been bestowed upon me. Without my trying to be mindful, and trying to recognize their gift, I preclude myself from participating in relationships and discourse as effectively as those who are ineffective when they enter into the world of my gift.

Listening with compassion is the solution. It works wonders.


About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?