I Was There
As is true of most of these exercises, this exercise works better if you concentrate on each step instead of merely reading the exercise quickly and only grasping the conceptual content of the exercise.
Going back in memory, of course, you find that you can remember lots of recent experiences. You remember fewer incidents from earlier in your life, but each memory has one essential aspect, a quality shared by all remembered experiences that is absolutely without question, and that quality is the knowledge that, “I was there to have the experience.” And this certainty that, “I was there,” is identical to your present feeling right now as you read these words and can say for certain,”I am here.”
Now think back, systematically, over the years of your life, and remember specific experiences all the way back to when you were about five years old. With each memory, specifically obtain that nuance of it that indicates to you that, yes, “I was there. I was the one who had that experience.”
Take time-jumps backwards, so that after about ten remembered experiences, you find yourself remembering something you experienced around the age of five. You can go younger if you wish. The object here is to find one of your earliest experiences which memory can bring up that also contains that “I was there” aspect.
Now, after you have done the above, this exercise becomes an experiment in logic instead of memory. From this point on, try to imagine experiences that you must certainly have had in those younger, but unrecallable, days. This imagination process might be seeded by remembering what your parents or others told you about events in your life that happened to you, or this process might only be imagining situations that you are certain happened to you because they happen to almost everyone in childhood–being bathed, taking a first step, opening a present, etc.
As you step backwards in time in your imagination, be certain, at each step, to imagine the “I was there” aspect of imagined experience. You can do this by intellectually understanding the following concept: As time passes, you forget (or lose the ability to easily recall) experiences that happened to you. And you are absolutely certain that the person you were ten years ago could remember at least ten times more about your life eleven years ago than you can now, just because the memories were only one year old at that time.
So, as you step backwards, each experience should have this certainty supporting the idea that, indeed, despite the fact that you cannot now recall them, you were there for each experience.
The trick here is to take, well, baby steps backwards in time from five years old. The more steps you imagine between five and the day of your birth, the better. Again, each step must have that intellectual certainty that you were there.
And then, you arrive at your birth experience. Imagine that moment. Be certain that you were there, and then be equally certain that fresh memories of pre-birth must certainly have been available to you at that moment.
Now, imagine those pre-birth experiences, being sure to insert that “I was there” aspect of each moment.
Finally, you arrive at that moment–one second after conception. Somewhere along this path, at some point, you’ve lost any intellectual hope that you (as a personality with features that would not differ from any other fetal personality) even have a memory function.
Now this pushes the envelope of most definitions of sentience, but what the heck, try it anyway. Pretend now that somehow, despite the fact that somewhere in your development in the womb you did not have a nervous system, somehow, there was still a kind of memory of some sort. Consider that even a single celled organism reacts to its environment, and that this reaction takes some amount of time, and during that time span it must have some aspect of memory that allows it to remember long enough to biochemically adhere to a plan to react to the environment. These reactions might be said to be remembered by your rudimentary nervous system when it eventually does form as, what? Feelings? A sense of previous states of being? Whatever.
The important knowledge gained from this exercise up to this point:
1. You can develop a deeper intellectual recognition that you have always been, and this can circumvent a faulty memory that prevents you from knowing this with a great deal more clarity than you have had previously.
2. You can intellectually conclude that personality and the hardware (nervous system) that supports its existence may change over time, but the “I was there” aspect of all experiences does not change.
Final jump: Now leap back one last step before time began for you. Imagine being there before you even have the wherewithal to know that you exist. Imagine this thoughtless, personality-less state. You are not aware of being anything yet. There is no “I,” no “I was there.” You do not even have the thought that you have no experiences. No thought.
Is this a silly notion? Do I believe my “self” is correctly defined as a non-quality-point-of-awareness? Does my intuition support this?
Am I subjective or objective? If I am subjective, can I be an object of my own perception process?
As I proceeded backwards in time, where did I lose most or all identification with that historical entity? At what point in my life might I expect to lose a large fraction, or even most of my identification with who I am now? On my death bed, will I think of my experiences now as any more important than the experiences I had in childhood?
Am I immortal, but I cannot know, but only be so? Is a nervous system capable of conceiving endlessness when it has always known, and only known, change after change after change? How would my nervous system and the personality it manifests go about being okay with this?
In this process of remembering, at any point, did I recognize the point where my soul entered the picture?
What would happen if God did this exercise? What was God’s earliest memory? Before creation, what was God thinking, and can God have thoughts without a nervous system? How would that be possible? Does God think?
Do I think? Do I experience?
Or, am I the bodiless witness of a nervous system that is the thinker?