Thursday, July 22, 2010

Memories and Things


Everyday, every moment, all of us undergo a range of experiences. With each experience is associated a memory. Unlike our word processors that ask us every time if we wish to save a file or not, the human brain stores all the memories, of all our experiences, by default. During an average lifetime the storehouse of such memories is vast indeed. Far more than any computer can probably hold.

A very neat trick of the human brain is to organize these memories in layers, the uppermost layer being the conscious mind. Below this are the near infinite layers of the subconscious mind that store not just the memories of this lifetime, but for those who believe in reincarnation, the memories of previous lifetimes as well. Some mystics believe that the deepest layers of memories are in the soul and contain knowledge of the entire universe. Reaching this layer is what is described as enlightenment. Nevertheless, restricting ourselves to the most immediately accessible layers of the mind, we know that with each memory is connected certain emotions such as hate, anger, love, sorrow, happiness etc. Indeed it seems that only those memories are of value that have an emotional value attached to it. Others such as the knowledge of numbers and how to add them that may not have any emotional value attached to them are mere temporary conveniences that do not impact deeply on our psyche. From time to time we are able to resolve an emotional memory so that it has no emotional impact left for us. At this time, the memory has no more value left than say a memory of the alphabet or numbers. This is what shrinks try to do when they talk to their patients whose memories have become so overwhelming so as to severely limit their daily functioning in the world.

A lot of this resolution also takes place through dreams while we sleep. The quality of our dreams is an indicator of the quality of our suppressed emotion linked memories. 

It is these unresolved memories and their emotional impact that shape our personality. They are different for each human and therefore each human has his or her own unique personality. The accumulated unresolved memories at the end of a lifetime are what determines what our next life will be from how we look to where we are born; just as the accumulated past memories have determined our present life. In Eastern philosophy this is called Karmashya or the store of Karma.

As our conscious mind preoccupies itself with whatever we are doing right now, from time to time old memories pop up along with their accompanying emotion. It could be love, happiness, satisfaction or a negative thing like hate or anger. If the negative memories are far too many or too strong they limit a person’s happiness, energy, intellect and abilities even though they may remain dormant in the subconscious mind. Resolving these lifts us out of negative things like fear, nervousness, depression etc. It is a result of the quality of their memories that some people are just naturally happy souls full of energy and others are suppressed or depressed. Therefore it is worthwhile for us to deal with our negative memories and resolve them so that their negative emotional impact on us is reduced or vanishes. Only then can we be at peace and happy.

Persons who lead very busy lives, and have a lot of things on their do list keep their conscious minds so preoccupied that there is no room for the buried memories to emerge. But just keeping them buried does not help to resolve them. That is why it is so important to have periods of mental silence in our lives. Processes such as communing with nature or meditation are some of these periods of silence.

Another thing that keeps our conscious mind occupied are our possessions and things and our attachment to them. It is perhaps because of this that the ancient Yoga Guru – Patanjli has said in his treatise on yoga that it is useful to reduce such possessions. In fact he goes on to say that a reduction in possessions (or attachment to them) can even lead a person to the memories and knowledge of previous lifetimes.

The picture is a photo of me in a boat in the middle of Nainital Lake

17 comments:

Vincent said...

Thank you for this, Ashok. You have summarised a range of interests which I have been exploring on my blog for the last five years, not through any conscious intention, but pulled by some magnetic force.

I'm fascinated by the way you have presented this as a kind of settled knowledge, composed perhaps of wisdom coming through the Indian tradition via such authors as Patanjali; and confirmed by your own experience and contemplation.

I have much less certainty, and only fragmentary experience of these matters, which I try to treat with scepticism. I don't deny that you may be right in every particular. But at the same time I want to keep this "knowledge" at arm's length, so as not to influence the spontaneity of direct personal experience. For as you have said in comments relating to your last post,

There are proven instances in ancient Indian Literature where ancient Kings in collusion with scholars perpetuated false information for the masses in order to keep them subjugated.

And I suspect there are millions of unproven instances where gurus have in self-delusion or self-interest propagated false information to their disciples. It's impossible to be human without being biased, I think. When I say "gurus" I am not just referring to spiritual teachers within Indian culture, but much more generally.

As you say, "there may be gold in old beliefs", but I work on the principle that everything worth discovering can be discovered directly and not at second hand. Whether everyone can do this, or has the liberty to do it within a busy life, I don't know.

However, the act of reading - for example I or someone else reading this post of yours - can help bring about direct discovery. So once again, I say thank you!

ashok said...

Vincent, thanks for your well thought out and well expressed views.

There is no certainty in such matters Vincent. I too am a explorer and present what my explorations and study suggest and any given time. I too dont accept anything in old texts either, unless validated to a substantial extent by my own experience.

In particular, the matters regarding reincarnation are very much veiled and it is because of this I have said that with a qualification for only those who believe in it. However, my own reasoning, intution and experience has suggested to me that reincarnation and continuity of life is a far more logical belief than an absence of it.

Thanks for you comment and keep them coming.

keiko amano said...

Ashok,

That’s a great photo. I like everything about it including the red cushion you are sitting on. It must be a traditional Indian design. I wish the photo is a video, so I can click the center and start to listen to your talk.

About the reduction in possessions, I generally agree with it not because I want to sit and meditate and reach enlightenment, but for practical purposes such as for ease in vacuuming and dusting my house, finding things easily, and avoiding eyesore views. I’ve done my reduction three times after my mother died.

But I think the reduction depends on the situation and the person. It is possible and also makes sense to keep everything we own in respectable order and not let them own us. But, of course, that requires a valid thinking and discipline physically and internally. My mother was one of such people, but she had a good reason. She wanted to teach her art (ocha) until her death, and without her utensils and other possessions like house and kimono, she could not.

Also, concerning possessions, I admire the way ancient ordinary Mongolians lived. They had almost no concept of personal possessions. They just picked up very few items, moved to other location, and put up a tent. They still do that today. I thought they moved with no baggage in real or metaphorical terms, so I understood why Genghis Kahn and his followers ended up covering such wide area in the world with the help of their fine horses. I probably will never live like a Mongolian. I can’t even mount on a horse by myself. But learning how they were helps me imagine the kind of person I want to be.

keiko amano said...

Vincent,

Re: “It's impossible to be human without being biased, I think.”
But I also think it is possible to be human without being biased. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have trusted or loved people.

ashok said...

Keiko, yes the cushion really is colorful. The boatkeepers compete with each other by trying to make their boats more colorful than the other.

However, personally I prefer the softer colors and minimalism of japanese art as something much more aesthetic.

For sure, life does become easier as possessions reduce, especially in India where we have to contend with dust, heat and humidity for a substantial part of the year. However, I think the trick is not to be attached to possessions rather than possessions themselves , as you perhaps put them - not let them own you - and to be able to keep whatever one has in an orderly manner.

It certainly is quite amazing how some ethnic rural communities manage with the fewest of possessions. It is the same in rural India. However most urban indians are just the opposite. Some pack their homes to the extent that there is not enough space to move around, making one wonder if the home is for the people or the things in it.

Hayden said...

I've been thinking about your post for awhile before responding. Memory is mysterious. I agree easily with the notion that factual memory is of a different sort than emotional memory. Friends think I'm coy or secretive when they ask what I paid and I can not tell them. I am a compulsively careful shopper, working hard to get the best possible deal - in part, to avoid repeating the process, and also to avoid waste. But once made, I quickly forget all of the detail, including price. To me, none of it has any *real* importance.

It was deeply important - shocking- to me to buy a house. Growing up when women had no money of their own and few opportunities to make any, in rented apartments in the poor area of town - becoming able to buy a house was revolutionary to my view of myself and my life. Yet - the price didn't stick, and I'd forgotten it within a year.

Memories - the kind I luxuriate in - are sensual and mysterious. Typically they evoke things I can't name, often involve an image or a sense of contact with a wild animal, a space, a rock. It's always been that way for me. I remember a moment in my kayak on the water at 40, the way the water rushed me into current while sun- sparkles danced over ribbons of deeper blue. I remember being a "grown up 20," and in an evening of heady laughter and mild intoxication - rolling down a hill (like a child) with 6 or 7 of my friends. Running through a thunderstorm. Waking from my nap on a blanket spread under an apple tree in our orchard - how old? Had to have been less than 5 - and staring up at the branches lacing the sky.

What these memories have in common is a strong sense of physical surroundings, surprise, and a sort of connection with a deeper part of myself that is freer than I had imagined me to be.

And yet there is something deeper still, something that can nestle comfortably in the category of ancient memories of lives gone by, though without proof. Nothing dramatic. Stabs of intuition or an unaccountable sense of either loneliness or connection. A sense of knowing that I don't know what to do with - is that from a whisper in my ear, or the recovery of another life?

And all of that is separate still from the stuff we work over with shrinks, which seems to me to be more about an internal dialogue than about real memory. We construct a dialogue within ourselves about what events *mean* and the importance of experiences in our lives, and we do it unthinkingly. It becomes our emotional history. It's sustained by the constant internal dialogue, so the first step towards disrupting it is to silence that voice. In example: a person who suffered abuse as a child thinks of themselves as powerless and a victim -not noticing that this is a dialogue felt by a child, not the survivor and strong adult they've since become. The events remain in their memory regardless of their meaning, but when they cease to signify "lack" and come to signify "growth and success" they change their power from one of hindering, to one of providing steady support for more success. It's a tough bit of alchemy to do these emotional transformations, but some would argue that this IS the emotional /psyche work of an adult human.

Fascinating post, ashok, I loved thinking about this. (and I agree, it's a wonderful photo!)

ashok said...

Hayden, It does seem that the constant internal dialouge or chatter is something that can crowd our conscious mind. A constant worry and fretting about something/anything is like that . All that or some of it becomes a part of our memory too. It is absolutely essential to silence that in order to free our consciousness for more worthy pursuits.

Its interesting that your pleasant memories include an element of surprise in them.

My most pleasant memories are connected with forests, wilderness, mountain streams and lakes and the quiet peace they evoke with no surprise.

I lived for several years in Vancouver, Canada and met a lot of people who were fascinated by the ocean. However for some reason oceans have never fascinated me. They convey to me a sense odf desolation.

Hayden said...

ashok, fascinating! And a needed reminder of how different we all are. Perhaps for me surprise takes a role similar to emotion in creating memories - it makes the moment memorable by standing it separately from the horde of other moments. Born inland, I - like your friends in Vancouver - deeply love the ocean. I worried that, returning to the midwest, my longing for it would become intolerable. I enjoy the mountains, gasp at their beauty sometimes - but I knew I would not miss them. I wonder what "ocean" feels like, exactly, to me? It certainly isn't desolation, but it's not friendship either. Power, certainly - and mystery. Awe at the unfathomable. I used to walk by either ocean or bay 3-5X a week.

ashok said...

I can understand through rationalising how the Ocean might fascinate those it does. Perhaps it is the sense of infinity and a view of the Universal Intelligience - God in all his glory, awe and infinity.

The love of different aspects of nature, such as the association with mountains or oceans may arise from associations of past lives. I know people in Jaipur who are fascinated by things of the city but are not moved by nature. Perhaps these are souls that have been born repeatedly in cities. For some reason though I feel sorry for them becuase they are missing something grand, seeing more beauty in what humans created as compared to the creations of the Universal Intelligience.

ashok said...

I even have a neighbor who removes every tree that comes up near his home. The area around his home is as barren as the desert. His forefathers migrated to Jaipur from the Western Indian desert (called Thar) and perhaps his soul did too and he is more at home with the barren desolation of a desert. Fortunately his home is some homes removed from mine.

keiko amano said...

Ashok and Hayden,

I was about ten. A boy next to me in class said he didn’t like chocolate. I couldn’t believe it. Now, I find you, out of all the nature loving and utmost respecting god-and
-goddesses people, is not fascinated with the ocean. I feel a duty to speak up.

Mother Earth is beautiful, and Mother Earth includes the ocean as you mentioned. If I could, I wish to take a walk along the beach in the morning and into the wood in the afternoon. I love both and I need them.

I think it’s possible for anyone to fall in love with the ocean if one has a chance. Ashok, I think you haven’t had a right chance. I say that because when I came to Southern California for the first time, the dry looking land and the mountains with not much green really bothered me. I didn’t think I could stand living here for too long. I felt as though the fine layers in my brain were drying up and becoming a sheet of hard layer. But I ended up living here because of my family, and the dry landscape became familiar to me as years went by. And one day, I went to Arizona for vacation with my family and drove through the desert and to the woods and lakes of Flagstaff. The gradual change in the scenery was just amazing. The desert turned to the desert with low skinny pine trees here and there, the field with medium sized pine trees became the field of large pine trees, and then a forest came next, and soon, we were in the forest with lakes. It was a constant surprise all the way to the destination.

On the way back, we passed through the desert which long ago, I used to think it was nothing but a desolated land. But we drove through miles after miles of the dry, clean, and flat land with occasional Saguaros cactus standing up like a traffic controller. Some leaned over, and some looked the other way. The landscape tickled my bone, and before I realized it, I was in love with the desert. It was getting dark. The moon was beautiful. It inspired me to tell my children a ghost story.

I narrated that a family of four just like us went to vacation in Arizona. They made a visit to an Indian post, and all the places we went including a lake and a stop at a donut shop. I went into all the details, and that made them giggle. I continued on. On the way home and on the vast desolated looking desert, the car broke down. The family sat in the dark without knowing what to do. They hoped for a CHP officer to arrive. No car stopped. The family members got out of the car and check the tires and engine with a tiny flashlight. It became a pitch dark. Someone whispered “moshi moshi” behind them. Nobody should be around. Their necks stiffened. “Moshi moshi!” someone shouted. They turned. Who’s that?! Oh, my goodness! It was a Saguaro. A Saguaro was standing there. Whew! My children’s big laughter.

Throughout the vacation, I kept thinking it was time for me to really love this landscape not just from my lips, but from my heart. I tend to think it must be something wrong with me if the natives for generations have loved the place but not me. After all, I lived in the U.S. for fifteen years or so by then. And it happened. I fell in love with the desert. And in the same way and with a help of international friends, my love also went to the Chinese rice when I ate Chinese foods, and Thai foods, Indian foods, and so on.

Lastly, Ashok, this post explains to me why one of my neighbor has a barren backyard. I'll ask them about their memories. Also, about Japanese colors and designs, some of them, especially kimono, can be as colorful and busy looking as the cushion in the photo.

keiko amano said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hayden said...

Keiko, I really enjoyed reading your comment!

I think, living in San Francisco, the dryness wasn't as obvious, since land next to ocean and bay is so often transformed into a park. I became focused on the verge, that fantastically life-filled edge where change explodes. I know too that my appreciation and love for the ocean dramatically deepened when I began spending time in and on it - mostly kayaking. The deep familiarity I developed strengthened my love for it.

ashok said...

Keiko,

Thanks for your wonderful description. The various types of topography on our planet are the different faces of mother earth and all of them, the oceans, deserts, forest, mountains, lakes and rivers are exceedingly beautiful and needed for the sustenance of our planet.

When I mentioned that I loved the mountains and forests more than the oceans, it is something like someone loving one part of a beautiful painting more than the other. But you are right that the painting needs all its parts to be beautiful. Personally I have been an inland person most of my life. I did live in Vancouver for several years but between work at the university and spending time with friends in the city did not really get much time to spend near the ocean. However now that you have written about it I recall that one of my most striking memories of Vancouver is a view from behind the university where one gazes over the ocean sprinkled with a series of lush green islands and it was a heavenly view.

keiko amano said...

Hayden,

I'm glad you enjoyed it.

The west coast all the way to San Franciso from here is just gorgeous. You are lucky that you had lived in such a beautiful and exciting city before.

keiko amano said...

Ashok,

Oh, I forgot that you were in Vancouver. I went there twice when I was still in college. It was a beautiful city, and I recalled that it was quite cold in midsummer.

About the heavenly view, I'm glad you remembered it. I bet it was beautiful.

ashok said...

Keiko,
Vancouver can get a bit warm in summer if it stops raining. It rains most of the year in Vancouver except for a couple of months in summer usually July and August. However it can get a bit cold in midsummer if it rains especially for those who come up from Southern California.