This weekend, I went to a special film showing of Sita Sings. Unusually, it put me downtown during the day. The chance came to go to a coffee shop I frequented about 35 years ago. Enjoyed some great chats with the proprietors there on meditation, Ouspensky, and such. They were gay and formerly night club owners, so had great stories. I had another one of those nicknames there due to a preference for triple chocolate donuts. (laughs)
Trouble was, the place was no longer a coffee shop. It had become a luncheon place who’s specialty, believe it or not, was being abusive. (laughs) The waiter told the US customers beside me they were either government hacks or on a day pass from jail. He argued politics with another, then told him to f-off while he ate his soup. It was a sort of jovial and polite rudeness if there is such a thing. Curiously, they complemented me on my choice, though they had no desserts anymore.
It reminded me of the curious nature of memory. How we hold the past as reality until shown otherwise.
A few other examples come to mind. Like when you go back to where you grew up and find everything seems so much smaller. Or you see an old friend you have not seen in 20 years. Even if you’ve seen pictures in the meantime, it’s probably not replaced the memory. High school reunions are another like that. Some people have hardly changed, others you’d never recognize. Or the seniors who talk about how it is in the “old country” long after their homeland has changed.
A personal example. My father died when I was quite young. In my late 30’s, I realized all of my “memories” of him were in black and white as it was all based on photos and family stories. There was no ‘real’ memories.
This is the nature of the mind. It plays it’s story and fills in the gaps with circumstantial data and beliefs so that it can explain everything.
The best way to understand the mechanics of memory is the film model. When we watch a movie, we’re seeing some 24 still pictures a second flashed in sequence on a screen. Moving fast enough, they blur together into smooth motion. The physical world is much the same. Some people report the experience of seeing the world like being in a theatre – consciousness projecting out and creating the illusion of world.
We could say the motion picture illusion works due to the nature of perception, how the eyes see. But more deeply it works because it’s how the world is created. We think we’re the audience but we’re the projector. This is awakening, to the light. (laughs)
A memory is a still picture or a clip of that projection we saved. Most of life runs across the screen of our senses and away, forever forgotten. Especially if it doesn’t fit our story. What did you have for lunch last Thursday? But every so often, we “bookmark” or make a record of key moments. But because memories are made in the mind, we can “remember” anything. Create memories just like we create the world.
What then is a memory? A moment of mental story? Memory is way ahead of Pixar in creating artificial worlds. Further complicating it is that we always see the memory replay from where we are now. When we remember our 8th birthday, we’re not remembering it from the consciousness of when we were 8, we’re remembering it from now. It’s playing with a different lens. People will often reevaluate and change the saved memories over the years. Just compare your family stores with a sibling to see how much differently they saw the circumstance, and how differently they’ve kept the file.
Most remarkable of all, many people quite literally live in their past, rehashing what happened, what might have happened, constantly reviewing and editing.
What is changes all the time. We work to keep our unchanging memories alive, yet change them by our mere review. Such a curious thing to care about.