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