Remembrance is a fundamental principle in the Sufi path, as we have discussed before, but it is important to know that remembrance is not the same as memory.
In the usual way of speaking, memory means the mental recreation of something once known – for example, the recollection of a pleasant evening spent with friends, probably recalled as a cloud of agreeable impressions and feelings, without too many specific details. As our memory is a reproduction, we don’t feel it with the same intensity that we knew in the first experience, and our feelings and impressions seem to fade behind us us we go forward through life, until the event is almost forgotten. Memories are, we might say, something stored in the library of the past, that we consult from time to time.
Remembrance, on the other hand, in the spiritual understanding, means re-orienting our attention to a present Reality. It is, in fact, the precise opposite of memory. Perhaps a better word would be recognition.
Qushayri tells us that the moment is a sword, but very few people live in the moment. Our attention is smeared across what we believe to be the past and the future but which are really our own mental creations; we cannot point to the past, nor can we hold the future in our hands. Our ‘past’ is impressions, memories of memories, and interpretations of what we think occurred, with associated emotional forms and shadows. Our ‘future’ is no more real – simply imaginary projections and expectations which never seem to arrive. The power of a sword comes from its concentration of force in a single hair’s breadth, and mystical understanding comes from concentrating all awareness in the now.
That ‘now’ could be understood as the Divine Presence, and our remembrance should be the focusing of our gaze on that living moment. That is why, as Qushayri warns, the sword of the moment must be handled gently. If we are inattentive, we may suffer, but if we come humbly, with self-restraint and respect, the moment may be the brilliant edge that cuts the ropes that bind us.