My friendly neighborhood dictionary, Google.com, tells me about a fascinating word I came to know only within the past year or so. Google defines a meme as “an element of a culture or behavior that may be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, esp. imitation.” Yep. Think the OK hand gesture, believing in Santa, Valley Girl dialect, communism, your particular culture’s work ethic; all of these fit the definition.
Now, imagine a collection of ever-changing memes, all overlapping, jiggling and coloring each other, dynamically, all housed in a porous, sensitized, temporary gelatinous organic container, all coming, passing through, and going. That description fits me almost to a T. When I was in college, I was a meme carrier for marching band patterns, political theories and German phrases. Most of those are gone now, replaced over time by the hand-eye coordination meme of pinning a diaper the old-fashioned way and balancing a checkbook, among other things. I’ve gained the meme of meditation guidance instructions, and long lost the meme of my high school locker combination.
There will come a day when this organic vessel containing all the collected memes will run through its capacity for sustaining life, and the whole set will go offline as a unique collection. Still, the memes themselves will continue, at least the useful or pertinent or anyway sticky ones. Some memes may die off permanently. Others will be invented long after this body dies. It’s the way memes work.
Knowing I simply house a subset of memes in a larger collection of memes is actually pretty relaxing. I can hold onto any one of them lightly, knowing they’re housed in lots of other places. I can let go of the ones that don’t serve; I don’t have to own any I happened to pick up along the way just because I’ve had them in the past. I can pick up new ones with interest and curiosity, when I remember that there’s nothing about me that’s truly fixed. I don’t need to hang onto philosophies, views, opinions, cultural norms or affiliations.
There is, present and available to all of this meme-passing, a particular awake knowingness, a benevolent companion to each visitor. When my meme-friends Anger, Boredom, Joy, or Listlessness visit, this companionable awakeness is knowing they are passing through. If I take up the fiction of believing myself to be (fill in the meme) as my actual identity, I get myself into all kinds of painful messes, even when I’m clutching one of the nice-sounding memes! Call myself “effective” and two minutes later I’m beating myself up for forgetting to pick up milk on the way home. When I don’t confuse myself as any of the temporary visiting memes, I know myself to be quiet, clear, un-meme-patterned presence. This is unchanging, unfailingly reliable and self-sufficient. There is rest, appreciation and compassion, for myself and every other walking and scrambling meme-collection alike, when viewed via this reliable orientation.
You gotta see this meme-collection you’ve called “you,” through and through, to discover what’s reliably true.