Truth, the Truth, and Memory

Truth. A word that gets a lot of use, but, I think, is sorely misunderstood. I love lines from movies like, “You can’t handle the truth!” and “The truth doesn’t have versions.” Oh, if only the second one were true! But the fact is, for every viewpoint, there seems to be a “truth.” Note, I said, seems to be.

Let’s take Truth as an abstract. The great truths of the world are mysteries, because we know almost nothing about them. I think Truth has to do with what transpires behind what we see. The word Truth relates to words like Life, or Light, or Love.

What is Life? We know the word, but what it really is, is beyond our understanding. The truth of Life – that Truth is something contemplated, but not truly known. Scientists can observe what they see. For example, a group of cells in a body forming in a womb suddenly begins to move rhythmically to pump blood through that body. But what makes that happen? What tells the cells to do that? It’s actual cause is beyond us. We see it happen, but we do not know what lies behind what we witness. If, for a moment, we could see the Truth of what lies behind this happening, we might be opened to an enlightened moment. Knowing Truth would be enlightening.

And Light? We really don’t know what light actually is. We see it. Science describes its motion, its properties. But what light is, we really don’t know. The truth of it is a mystery.

Then there is another category of truth. When we say, “That’s not the truth,” what we are talking about has to do with facts, with what we think or believe occurred at a specific time and place. We often accept what the truth is without investigating to find out whether what we are told has actually happened. Anyone who has witnessed an accident can tell you that the different accounts of the occurrence are varied, and often completely disagree with another witness’s observation. So what’s the truth?

When we watch the news we are often presented with a selection of options, rather than the complete story of what happened. And we can never see that, because beneath all the activity are thoughts, motives and perceptions about which we have little understanding. If we were to see the entire story as it occurred, and then listen to the accounting of it, it could prove shockingly different from what we perceive.

This same thing happens when we judge a person we’ve met without actually knowing much at all beyond our own perception. Sometimes this is accompanied by the reputation the person has gained. Our perception can be colored with our own personal experiences, which can produce attraction and acceptance, or bias, suspicion and doubt. And a reputation is sometimes built on the same kind of flawed perceptions. We see what we want to see, or what we have been prepared to see, based on what we have been told.

So when we find out later that the same charming, intelligent and wealthy person we know has been embezzling money for years, we are shocked. And yet, we don’t even know if the person was ignorant of what happened, was set up, or actually did what accusation says. We don’t know his motives, which might mitigate our viewpoint of what occurred. In truth, we know very little. Yet we will judge by what we know, instead of just observing what we heard, and nothing more.

The fact is, the truth of facts can be as elusive as Truth. It is there to be found, but it is not always available at our fingertips. And when we hear about an event we are only going to get the viewpoint of the person relating the incident. Someone says something to me, and it makes me angry. I relate it to a friend, wanting agreement that what the person did was wrong. Then later I find out that I misunderstood something, and am no longer angry. Do I tell my friend, or do I forget, in which case she is still seeing the person through a slightly cloudy lens. And on it goes.

And now let’s take memory. Memory is almost always a lie, not because we wish to lie, but again, because what we remember from a time long gone, and what actually happened, are often two different things. We thought someone said something, but, no, they said something else and we misheard.

Many years ago I was with a friend at a party. We were upstairs by ourselves in a small room that was near a bathroom. We were both in a very giddy state, actually practically falling on the floor, hysterical over any little comment, being beyond goofy. And no, we had not been drinking. We finally realized that we might be drugged, and so we went downstairs to find the hostess, who frankly admitted that there was “grass” (marijuana) in the salad dressing, the pasta sauce, and the brownies.

Now, neither my friend nor I ever used drugs. That form of indulgence wasn’t part of our lives. So we were shocked at this whole thing, and upset that we hadn’t been warned.

Years later, when we were reminiscing about the insanely giddy time we had been having that night, I said, “Oh, yes, we were in that small room next to the bathroom.”

“No, no – we were upstairs outside in a sort of screened in porch,” my friend said.

I was about to protest, when I realized, in our separate memories, we were in different places. And there was no reason to argue, because we had different experiences of that night. So we just moved on. What difference did it make?

I am known for wanting to be right – but that night I really saw so clearly that we don’t know about what we remember, nor do we need to be right about it. We can let go of our own memory images, and just move on.

Even in simple circumstances – I can say something, someone misconstrues, and before you know it there is a rift between friends. It happens. You know it does. And the best way to heal that sort of thing is to discuss, but if one or the other person is closed, certain that the truth is as he/she heard it, then a breach in the friendship – even if they continue to speak – can go on for years, with slightly less trust between them. What the motives were, what the intentions were, get lost in judgment and personal injury.

So what this all boils down to is that knowing the facts is not to be dismissed, but getting into arguments over something that was said or done, often years ago, or even the day before, is a waste of time. Is it worth it to argue over what someone says someone said about something? Even writing that is funny!

We can argue and debate issues, but we must always remember that there are layers and layers of facts and opinions that may not add up to the truth. If we are willing to settle to having a good discussion, without having to declare, at the end of it, that one person really knows the truth, then fine. Go for it!

But remember that in the end, Love still is the biggest Truth, and no one can adequately explain even that tiny four letter word. So don’t let a bunch of words destroy the love you have for a friend. NOT worth it! And don’t let a bunch of words destroy your peace. NOT worth it!

Enjoy your day.

About Davina

I am a retired teacher, writer and artist. This web site was set up for several reasons. First is to give people a chance to see my art work, and decide if there is something they like enough to contact me. Second is to present my ideas on education and life in general - anything that gets my attention. Feel free to comment in an intelligent manner.
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2 Responses to Truth, the Truth, and Memory

  1. Mary Hjort says:

    It seems that current events are bringing questions about truth and memory into our attention now and perhaps that is one of the gifts brought in the process of what seems to be an awakening of global proportion going around … stirred perhaps by a pandemic and the various national emergencies happening, it seems, everywhere.

    I want to share some info I received in the process of yoga studies which comes out of the Yoga Sutras (Patanjali) and other scriptures. Keep in mind that Patanjali was writing some 2500 years ago about something (Yoga) that was already ancient. I am always amazed to realize that even way back then, people were trying to define things like truth, memory, light and love.

    From a yoga standpoint, a thing must have certain qualities in order for it to be true. They define Truth as timeless, unchanging and universal. In other words, if something is experienced by everyone the same way, every time, for all time and never changing to fit any “context” … then we can say that it is true. So, again, what is truth? Truth is Universal, Timeless and Unchanging.

    And how do we know truth? Three ways … by inference (smoke probably indicates a fire), by direct experience, or through the reading of scripture (and because this involves the mind, we should get help from a Teacher).

    So simple.

    Otherwise, as you said … we are subject to confusion. Our minds will be busy trying to sort out all the misinformation … and we will make choices based on the mis-information. We will also record the mis-information we glean from the meanderings of our thoughts and our choices to form patterned responses. Patterned responses can be helpful, as in always being careful around a hot stove … and they can be limiting as well.

    The idea of memory is tricky, as you say, because memory can be just a story being told about something that is not happening now. It can be just a rerun of information we have stored about an experience we had at another time, in another context, and from a different point of view than what we are holding at the moment. Have you ever noticed how memories change? Example … I remembered my grade school as a huge brick building with long halls and huge classrooms until I visited as an adult only to see how small it was. As I age and childhood memories come back, I find the details about something that happened may not be as available in terms of time and space as the feeling sense of the experience I held in my memory. As a kid, I was in awe of my school. I was proud of my school. And I can access those feelings with a fair amount of accuracy … I just have to be careful to remember that the direct experience, the feeling sense, is what was actually true for me about that school. The details may be subject to context … then and now.

    Another example … Recently it snowed here. Snow where I live now is rare. I grew up in a place where winters were snowy and cold. I had a Dad who made “snowy and cold” fun. I have many, many VERY happy memories of snowy cold weather and shared them recently with friends of mine who live in Texas. Yes, Texas, where they are experiencing extremes of snow and cold that have essentially shut down the entire state. My little girl memories, which were really based on direct feeling experiences, have more clarity now. The context of Now changes my understanding of those cherished memories of snow and cold from my childhood. AND … each one of my friends gives a different story and feeling sense of their experience as they are living it.

    They are making memories …. and each participant is receiving the experience differently. They will remember this huge, “big as Texas” experience in the context of their own direct experience. The story of this event will differ according to who you talk to….

    So what is True about the event? That which is Timeless, Universal and Unchanging.
    The truth is the Divine Presence they all Are. That’s the Big True thing.

    In that context, Love becomes a direct experience of the Divine Presence in another … and the only Truth. Memory becomes a trick of the mind and has a place … but it doesnt pass the test of time, universality or changelessness.

  2. Tomiko Yabumoto says:

    I enjoyed your version of Truth , truth and memory. I realized in my mental catorization of these terms, to simplify the discussion, I catorgorized the topic into relative truth, the one limited to our individual version of it, and absolute absolute Truth, the latter with a capital “ T”. I find that it helps me to understand and agree on the definition of the words. Truth with a capital “T” including love and light makes it for me!

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