Sri Patanjali defines memory as "the unmodified recollection of words and experiences" or "memory retains living experience." (Sutra 1.11). Patanjali also says that memory, like all forms of thought or mental activity, can be afflicting or non-afflicting. It depends on use. It depends on us.
Geeta Iyengar once said that we always remember "peak" experiences. But why? Is it because perhaps in those moments we were more wholly present? Present with the totality of ourselves? Is it because at those times we were truly awake? That we were open and receptive? Vivid memories or recollections often include our sense perceptions and emotions, and some proprioceptive and interoceptive sense of how we felt at the time. Perhaps our ability to remember is affected by how integrated we were at that time. Or are at this time. When we are in a truly integrated state our minds and hearts tend to be open and receptive, or inclusive. Fragmented states of being tend to exclude large chunks of experience. Sometimes this is born out of necessity, as a survival mechanism. Sometimes it is just how we tend to live, and get by.
Memories will often be inclusive of how our senses, our bodies, and our emotions were at the time. They can be rich, multifaceted and complex. They can also be difficult or, in some cases, terrifying. But, whenever possible, to incline our hearts toward presence and to invite the whole of ourselves into experience is to cultivate an integrated state of being. And memories that have been integrated into our present experience, because memory can affect how we are now.
Sometimes when we attend fully to some present experience we are visited by the past. This may be an invitation toward integration, an opportunity to integrate our memories of past experiences into the present. Because we are never really without our past, in some way or another, or without our future, when we embrace the present moment. It is this knowing, this felt sense of how fragile and fleeting life is that wakes us up to the now.
Ever since I was small I have have had a fascination, and a love, for aspen trees. They stand in clusters, or groves, like small families with their white barks, delicately mottled with black, like friendly skeletons wearing coats of gold sequins. Their fragile beauty is especially brilliant in a few shorts weeks in fall when their bright, round leaves quiver and quake in the thin mountain air. Their leaves seem so delicate, almost fragile. They are small, with roundish teardrop shapes and seem coated with a very light wax-like substance that makes them shimmer in the sunlight - shimmer like sequins attached by thread to cloth, or bone. They appear to shiver. And then there is the sound. That sound of time, of heartache, and of love.
My most recent memory of aspen trees (which we do not see in NYC) was evoked by seeing the birch trees this fall in Riverside Park. They share a similar white, silvery bark as their aspen brethren. That silvery white so evocative of snow or bone. And then there is the gold of their leaves, the short but beautiful life of those golden leaves.
When I close my eyes to remember the aspen trees, my heart literally aches. I can feel the cool, dry rocky mountain air on my nostrils, hear those leaves quaking, as if they were speaking some primeval secret of life. It is as if their leaves are softly whispering of what has been and what is to come. Listening to their quiet song was both sad and beautiful. It was like many a memory.
My aspen memories include my family. They include our sweet adopted border collie Allie, a young stray that we had taken in to our home and hearts. When we took a Sunday drive one fall afternoon to see the aspen trees she became terrified. When we stopped the car, she began to shiver and shake just like the trees, perhaps remembering being abandoned on a road somewhere. Her fur was a beautiful pale gold and white. She reminded me of the quaking aspen trees that surrounded us. That day she would not leave our station wagon to play or go for a hike among the trees. She was terrified. So we stayed. We stayed with her, and her fear. We surrounded her with love as she shook in anticipation, or in memory.
I remember how the light that day reflected off the shimmering sequins of golden leaves. And off the fur of my scared dog Allie. It was clear and brilliant and all encompassing like the air. The clean and crisp air that held light and sound, that held that smell that dogs emit when they are afraid. It held the sweet and yet frustrated voices of my parents, and my brother. It held us all in the very breath that knows past and future are here, now, in this moment. And the breath that is inclusive of the complexity that is experience. And the breath that is inclined towards acceptance and love.
This is the use of memory: For liberation- not less of love but expanding Of love beyond desire, and so liberation From the future as well as the past.