pasta in the past

IMG_2234bPOSTCARD #152: Delhi: Video call from M, my Thai niece, she’s showing me her new glasses… they make her look so grown-up, hard to believe she’s only 11 years old. I remember when she was little, using English words and that creative playfulness: ‘pasta in the past’, something she learned about the word ‘pasta’ having its origins in China and brought to Italy by Marco Polo in the 13th century. So it became pasta (in the past) – as in pasta/ presenta/ futura – but it was also from the movie ‘Frozen’ where the main character (Elsa) sings the song, ‘Let It Go’ and there’s the line ‘the past is in the past…’ (click here for 9 second link) and M was singing along with a video of it as, ‘pasta in the past’, either because that’s how she heard it in some other animation, or she thought it was funny, or both… I can’t remember.

The wisdom of this childlike intelligence that seeks/finds creative solutions to problems – I must have had in my own childhood, over many horizons, long ago and far away. All the ups-and-downs; all the dramas embedded in our history that make us who we are now and form the characteristics of our future time. Births, deaths, marriages; I have a fragile, old, yellowed newspaper clipping of an obituary column that describes my grandfather who came from the Orkney Islands in the North of Scotland and was drowned in a fishing boat in the Moray Firth before I was born. The unseen cause/effect of emotional catastrophes enduring for decades; we’re unknowingly driven to take responsibility for things over which we have no control, thinking (or believing) that by chance we might stumble upon the key to unlock it all; the karma that’ll undo the karma that led to this.

M asks me: Toong Ting, you feel better now? How about your Chingo? (Shingles)… I tell her, yes, I’m okay now, thanks. She looks at me, Did you go to the hospital? (we go to the outpatients section of the local hospital rather than a private doctor) Yes, I went to the hospital, showed the doc my skin rash, looked really yukky, told him about the bad headache all the time. Did you eat the medicine Toong Ting? Yes… we take medicine, we don’t eat medicine, and she knows this but can’t be bothered to make the change from the Thai translation: kin ya

I took homeopathic medicine towards the end of the three-week frenzy of stabbing pain, then the recovery and falling into a huge landscape of pain-free, ease and gentleness. Altered state, revisiting old memories with such vivid clarity it all seemed quite different – I thought the past was irredeemable but it’s not. The past changes according to how it is perceived in present time. And I’d been so firmly attached to the endless thinking-about-thinking, watching the same old rendition of the story I’d assembled over the years.

My world was transformed, ideas and perceptions started to change; a fierce face appears in a kindly way, the scary familiarity of events unfolding but portrayed differently… a completely new production of an old movie. Kindnesses and sorrows, things I’d not noticed at the time become redefined in the process of mindfully remembering the situation. It’s as if I’m seeing my missing grandfather coming back to life; a rebirth happening here and now – in the same way this video call from M is happening now, although she is 2000 miles away. Toong Ting?, M asks, when you come to Thailand? I tell her it’ll be 29 September, that’s next Tuesday… Okay, bye! Everything comes full circle again.

A monk asked Yueh-shan, “What does one think of while sitting?”
“One thinks of not thinking,” the Master replied.
“How does one think of not thinking?” the monk asked.
“Without thinking,” the Master said.
[Zen mondo]


47 thoughts on “pasta in the past

  1. The angle of perception changes everything, doesn’t it? Sometimes I just lie on the floor and look up at the world like my baby granddaughter or the dog… Surprising how much even that physical activity can alter how events appear.

      • I think David Kanigan misses the mark a bit there.

        Pre-1950s parents simply raised kids according to the methods their own parents and grandparents used. Praise was rationed because it was thought to make people excessively proud and arrogant. It wasn’t until Benjamin Spock’s work was disseminated that the notion children need constant positive reinforcement became widespread and the ‘every child gets a prize’ model was mainstreamed.

        History hasn’t been kind to Spock. Not only has his advice about putting babies to sleep on their bellies been blamed for millions of cot deaths but his positive reinforcement techniques have been linked to an alleged ‘plague’ of narcissism in generations raised since then, though some insist parents misinterpreted his insistence on respect for children as a call to always indulge them, just as earlier generations interpreted teaching them modesty as demeaning them.

        I think regardless of the fad followed, Philip Larkin got it right.

      • Sorry I’m late with this reply. You’re right about Dr Spock and the new way of thinking that arose from the strict pre-50s. Then it may have gone adrift slightly, we are able to see in hindsight, in the anarchy that follows a fallen dictator. Philip Larkin is hilarious, thanks

      • It is an interesting view… that so many of us grow into that mindset of ‘not good enough’… a few break out and change the world, many who might have ‘done something’ simply wither and fade. Yet blaming parenting alone is too easy… the article is right when it points to that inner voice.The kind of tough love written of doesn’t silence it… just makes it harder to hear or to believe.

  2. According to researchers, memory isn’t what most people imagine it to be. It’s not like a dusty old archive where you can find images of the past, moth-eaten at times but still copies of actual experiences. Long-term memories are maintained by regularly recalling, recontextualising them and storing the now altered copy again. Often it’s done unconsciously or in dreams. It’s a kind of Chinese whispers in your own mind. Another way in which Nyanaponika was correct in saying there’s no memories, just remembering.

    I recently got another illustration of that akin to M‘s ‘pasta in the past.

    There’s a Jesus and Mary Chain song that I often get as an earworm despite rarely listening to it. Last week I played the original for the first time in years and was only slightly surprised to discover how much the lyrics had changed in my memory over time.

    BTW, if I was you, unless M has already had chicken pox I’d avoid contact with her until the blisters have been gone for at least a week.

    • I really like the idea of memory being Chinese whispers in your mind… this is how it is, ‘there is no memory, just the act of remembering’. It continues to be there because it’s reinforced by thought returning again and again – can be totally deluded to start with, or may be something gradually taking the shape of what you choose to understand it to be. An example is the Jesus and Mary Chain lyrics, hadn’t heard the song before (nice), seems as if ‘voice’ is more like an instrument than something you listen to for meaning – words are alliterative and rhythmical. The human race might communicate by means of honks and squeaks – just been listening to some Zappa…
      The skin condition is almost completely gone now, I’m sure by next Tuesday it’ll be okay. If not, I won’t go.

  3. I say to myself after digesting that. “What’s the point?”. Not so much of what you wrote but of life. Then I think, what if there isn’t a point. What if the point of life isn’t a “thought”. That of course only lasts as long a shooting star and the mind returns to its hungry appetite to know and know.

    • I’m reminded children are usually moving too fast to stick with meaning in the ordinary sense of the word – what’s the point if it’s not fun? Same with us as adults; if it’s not ‘interesting’ the default hunger of our conditioning locks in – wanting things to be different than what they are, or ‘better’ or bigger and so on. Or, as you say, maybe there just isn’t a point at all… except for listening and being open to the mystery of what’s going on.

  4. “Altered state, revisiting old memories with such vivid clarity it all seemed quite different – I thought the past was irredeemable but it’s not. The past changes according to how it is perceived in present time.”
    It sounds like you have revisited the past and changed it.
    I am amazed by how there are phases here on WordPress where many bloggers write about the same thing. This time, it is about time, and how time is an illusion and how revisiting the past from a different angle can sort of alter it. It just amazes me how the subject of time comes up often now. But, after all, we are all pulsed/fuelled by the same source of power, aren’t we?

    • Thanks Karin, you opened a new window on the discussion here, yes it sounds like we revisited the past and changed it. It’s the kind of thing that the blogging medium is suitable for, conscious awareness stretching all over the planet at the same time. Things are changing in a way that can’t be easily explained. It amazes me that the Buddha’s teaching on anicca, impermanence, 2500 years ago could also be quantum, spans time, past/present/future when the observer is sufficiently focussed and free of illusion…

  5. It’s wonderful to notice how flexible we can be and that we still have access to all those memories we thought we’ve lost. I’ve noticed that it takes a move from our side. I need to step down in order to give this process the chance to come about. Cause most of the time it is the rigidity of our behavior which keeps us stuck in loopholes of our thinking

    • Thanks Pieter, I hadn’t really thought how much we still have access to all those memories we thought we’d lost. What is it? Mindfulness is an over-used word, it’s more like I have to consciously take the step in order for things to happen, or develop of their own accord.

      • I like to call it clarity of mind. Because when memories pop up i always seem to be in a clear state of mind – not thinking about anything. And i guess there are ways to aid the process, but in my case the clarity proofed to be the key. The calm and open awareness which is so familiar that i tend to miss it

  6. Always, I appreciate “the act of remembering” versus memory, which to me seems a box that even if opened is irredeemable. I am not sure just when I started viewing the past as an act rather than a visit to a box, maybe when I began to sense the impermanence of life as an eternal flow through present, past, and future. A fine post; thank you, Tiramit.

    • ‘There is no memory, only the act of remembering’ This has only recently come to be a reality for me; cabrogal’s post on meeting Nyanaponika Mahathera in Sri Lanka. Events in the past are snapshots that in themselves don’t mean anything, like a photograph album, we have to apply thought to the photos before it’s meaningful… ‘is that really Uncle Andy? Looks so different now.’ As you say, the whole thing is subject to change, we revisit and recreate the past…

  7. Tiramit, these lines are, for me, the textbook definition of the miracle:

    “I thought the past was irredeemable but it’s not. The past changes according to how it is perceived in present time.”

    Just a gentle shift in perception… the opening of the door in the room… and everything is recognized– re-cognized– differently… I think perhaps in genuine healing, it is seen as it truly is…


    • Some recent research suggests the alteration of memories is vital to healing and that rather than being dysfunctional, PTSD flashbacks and obsessing over past trauma are a way of blunting intolerable emotional content from traumatic memories.

      Though I’m skeptical of the claims locating physical correlates for the psychological process, if the researchers are right it suggests that antipsychotic drugs may prevent minds from healing from trauma, which may explain why those given antipsychotics long term have worse prognoses than those who are kept drug free or withdrawn from the pills ASAP.

      • It says something about the value of the investigative contemplative practice – going back into the past and changing it, as Karin said. If there was a way of looking into memory and easing it more than obsessing over past trauma, it would have to be better than taking very strong drugs in terms of getting a starting point, finding a way into the problem.

      • Seems to me there’s a paradox there. The culmination of the contemplative practice is to free yourself from the past and future, yet even after enlightenment the Buddha remained, in a sense, a prisoner of his own karma (e.g. being injured by the thrown rock, dying painfully of food poisoning).

        I suspect the answer is that by freeing yourself from yourself (i.e. your identification with body, mind, ego, past, future …) you are freeing yourself from the causality that continues to impact on these elements. The Buddha’s body still suffered and died but the Buddha is not his body.

        Science is essentially the study of cause and effect and so has little or nothing to say about what we really are(n’t). That’s why scientists so often insist there is no free will and we are fully deterministic beings. Despite its claim to transcend mind/body dualism by fully identifying the mind with neurological phenomena, neuroscience in particular is completely alienated from non-duality and transcendence. Increasingly of late scientists of the mind are realising they’ve come up against some kind of conceptual blockage and are waiting for a Kuhnian paradigm shift that will break the logjam and revolutionalise their field of inquiry. Very few seem to recognise their whole discipline is built on materialistic ontological clouds and that a complete mind ‘science’ would not be science-as-we-know-it at all.

      • Interesting, I was thinking of it in the context of contemplation as opposed to antipsychotic drugs. Other than that, I can’t be scientific in my reply of course, all I can say is that what you say makes sense. Science is not based on anything and for most of us that comes as a bit of a surprise, attached as we are to the theory and the application of it means it’s only going to lead to more theory as there was nothing there to start with. The only alternative it seems is waiting for the paradigm shift that’ll make it into something… could be a million years.
        Then when I think about it, in all other fields there isn’t anything there anyway upon which any other explanation could be based. The truth must be a quality that ‘is’ and also ‘is not’, it’s the Middle Way, a kind of an all-inclusive thing.
        ‘…the answer is that by freeing yourself from yourself (i.e. your identification with body, mind, ego, past, future …) you are freeing yourself from the causality that continues to impact on these elements.’

        What makes this immediately sound right to me is the use of present continuous form: ‘ing’ it’s ongoing; it’s happening as we speak – not part of the time construct.

    • Thanks Michael, I understand something now about the textbook definition of the miracle, a re-cognition. The door opening into or out of, simply, another way of seeing the world, and it’s this that brings ease to the fierce holding on to perception. Somewhere in here there’s the opportunity to see things as they truly are

  8. Glad you’re feeling better. Children can sometimes see things much clearer. My friend who is 60 says she eats her pills. She should know better and when I try to correct her she says what difference does it make. None so I don’t correct her any more.

    • Thanks Kimberly, yes feeling better although it’s not easy getting rid of this condition. Taking a dilution of the med now, not ‘eating’ pills but drinking the fluid (a sip only), sounds better…

  9. Hello,
    I am a blogger friend of Karin and she led me to your lovely blog. I really enjoyed your story about time. I am hosting a blog challenge now that focuses on time. Here is the link:

    I would love it if you read the post about my challenge and consider joining us. Perhaps you could expand on your story or adapt it in some way or create something new if you feel so inclined.

    peace, litebeing

  10. Hi there, yes Karin told me about the blog challenge and sent me a link. I’ve been over to litebeing and yes, I’d like to participate. So let me see what to do, I’ll be in touch through your contact page

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