Memories are cherished or feared, depending on whether they are good or bad memories, so it makes sense to have as many happy experiences as possible. We can call this sound psychological advice, but spirituality is different. From the ancient Indian tradition comes a saying: “First experiences are written in stone, then in sand, then in water, and finally in air.”
In this one sentence the path of enlightenment has been encapsulated, once you unravel what the sentence means. It concerns the ability of experiences to stick with us as memories. If a memory is so strong that it makes a deep, even lifelong impression, it is like words engraved in stone. To find freedom, to live in the present moment, you can’t be bound up in the past, which is what strong, sticky, stubborn memories do. Therefore, the spiritual path isn’t about getting as many positive memories as you can. It’s about whether your memories are holding you back, overshadowing the present with ghosts from the past.
The past is a mental illusion created by memories. The present moment is free from the past, and as we live in the moment more and more, our memories loosen their grip. As the Indian axiom says, they are no longer engraved in stone but are like writing in sand, then water, and finally air. If this sequence sounds mysterious, that’s chiefly because modern Western science hasn’t solved the mystery of memory in the first place.