Opinion: Mindful forgetting

‘Feather in a Tidal Pool.’

‘Feather in a Tidal Pool.’ Jean Stimmell


Published: 10-15-2023 11:00 AM

Jean Stimmell, retired stone mason and psychotherapist, lives in Northwood and blogs at jeanstimmell.blogspot.com.

The cricket’s persistent song of autumn used to haunt me, reminding me how brief life is, especially now I’m old. But it doesn’t have to if we follow David Henry Thoreau’s example and reframe “the cricket’s song: Turn it into an “earth song,” a reminder not of life’s brevity but of eternal return.”

Reimagining things as Thoreau does is crucial to being truly alive. The secret to doing so is forgetting old stuff. That’s the topic of Lewis Hyde’s award-winning book, “A Primer for Forgetting.” While a Wall Street Journal reviewer claimed his book shocks the mind like leaping into a cold lake, to me, some passages threw me into free fall like I’d fallen off a cliff.

The book was powerful without any guiding narrative, just an accumulation of what often feels like unrelated anecdotes. The glue that holds it together is Hyde’s celebration of forgetfulness. On a single page Hyde summarizes Plato’s claim that an oral culture is best because knowing how to write “strips forgetfulness” from the minds of the people.

“Relying on writing, they will cease to exercise imagination, calling things to mind no longer from the quick of present attention but from a past frozen in ink. What you have discovered is a recipe not for the mastery of living speech but for dead speech to master the living.”

The statement, “Dead speech to master the living,” seemed dead-on to me, reflecting to my jaded eye the true nature of today’s 24/7 media circus consisting mainly of political double-speak about how black is white and advertising brainwashing us to “shop until we drop.”At the same time, our world is imploding from income inequality, escalating wars and climate doom.

Maybe Plato was right. Perhaps our most unheralded trait is the most important: our unequaled ability to dance spontaneously in the present moment. Unfortunately, during our modern age, this essential human spark has been lacquered over with an impenetrable layer of media, written and otherwise.

It’s like we have become encased in amber, like those fossils we visit in the museum.

To regain our mojo, it is necessary to go back to the future. Forget (delete) the chirping virtual crickets projected upon us by our new high-tech masters and, instead, seek out actual crickets as Thoreau did, singing in the present an authentic “earth song.”

Today, going back to the future means revisiting science!

Old science could be viewed as part of the problem, doing its part to encase our living world into an impenetrable armor of abstract facts and blockish equations. Science today is different. It is flying high, pursuing theories dealing with relativity, quantum mechanics, and complexity, not static notions from the past but the infinite probabilities that exist in the present moment.

Contemporary science rejects the notion that we are living beings moving about on this rock called Earth. Instead, we are “Earth itself, whose atoms have self-organized to form these transitory beings that think of themselves as self-sufficient and separate from each other, even though they only ever arose from and will inevitably return to the atomic substance of the planet?”

As Neil Theise states in “Notes on Complexity,” “At the atomic scale, each one of us is both our own separate self and, in complementarity, also just walking, talking Earth.”

David Henry Thoreau would certainly agree.