Vision: The Art of Forgetfulness by Howard Hanger

February 16, 2017 |

Mindfulness? I don’t think so. Not all the time. Sometimes, my mind feels like a bloated whale. Every now and then, I need a shot of some straight-up mindlessness.
—Amanda Jane

“I’m sick and tired of you calling me, ‘Beautiful,’” she barked on the phone. “Every time you see me, over and over, that’s all I hear and I’m sick of it.”

“Sorry,” I meekly replied. “What would you rather have me call you?”

“MY NAME!” she erupted. “You call me ‘Beautiful’ because you don’t know my name!” And she was right.

“I’m going to take you out to eat,” she said, “and have you say my name every 5 minutes so you’ll never forget it again!”  And she did. And I didn’t.

Names slide through my head like snot through the nose of a kid with a cold. I can be introduced to someone one minute and not have a clue of their name when the conversation is finished. Nor is this a function of age. In college, I would sometimes go out on a date, and the next day not be able to remember her name. Or at least her full name.  I have tried working on this with mnemonic tricks.

“Hi! I’m Susanne Jones.” I’m thinking she’s very thin and has blue eyes. Blue and Bones.

“My name’s Morgan Harworth.” And what’s your car worth?

“Carly Kochesnoff.” Barley and good name for a vodka.  And so on. But, at best, these have worked with limited success.  Met a fat guy named, “Bart.” That rhyme was easy.

And for having this slippery name syndrome I have often berated and scolded myself.  I’m a minister, for God’s sake (so to speak). I should be able to remember the names at least of my congregation. But I can’t. And I don’t.

But lately, I have come to appreciate my forgetfulness. Not just with names so much, but with events in my life.  We’re always glad to forget and let go of negatives, while retaining the positives.  But sometimes, it’s good just to let it all go, leave it all behind and make room for what might be.  When we stay focused on what has been – the glories and goofs and whatevers – we sometimes find ourselves comparing our current life with what happened in the past.  With what is long gone.

Comparison and perfectionism are two of the biggest thieves of joy.  And, like any self-respecting thieves, they often come at night while you’re lying in bed. On your Memory Foam. Which is working.  Too well.

Buddhists are all about letting go.  “Attachment,” they teach, “is the greatest cause of suffering.” When you are unattached, you are free and open to enlightenment.  (What did one Buddhist say to the other? “Are you not thinking what I’m not thinking?”)

But as laudable as that letting go concept might be, I’m still not very good at it.  Except with names. Names? Boom, they’re gone.  Stupid mistakes? Set in cranial concrete.

So I have come to think of forgetfulness perhaps as an art form – a meditative exercise – wondering if, perhaps, it’s possible to create something beautiful with a healthy lack of memory.  What if we could voluntarily clear our minds every now and then of everything – the good, the bad and goofy –  as a way of welcoming what might be.  Meditation might do that for some. Walks in the woods for others. An engrossingly good book works wonders. Prayer can be a help.  Laughter is my ticket. A rollicking good belly laugh can quickly and easily clear my mind at least for a moment.

Whatever it takes, it might behoove us to be thankful every now and then, of the gift of letting go and the art of forgetfulness.

Now what was I saying?