A back and forth in comments on Rose Rosetree’s blog led me to write this article. It evolved from there.
Our relationship with memories changes as we grow. Just consider now something you remember from when you were about 8 years old. While the idea of the event remains, you are remembering it from how you are now, not how you were then. This changed perspective changes both the context of the memory and some of it’s qualities, like importance.
Also, in the remembering and the telling, our self-story about memories tends to change over time. We reinforce what has become important to us and forget those details that are less so. This changes what we remember over time.
Our brain is very fluid and is constantly being changed by new experiences. If memories are not reinforced, the connections for easy access will tend to be edited out. This does not erase the memory itself, just easy access to it. But certain circumstances may trigger it again. There are close to 100 billion neurons in the typical adult brain, so a great many back roads.
It’s also worth noting that memory impressions are first processed biologically with an associated emotional charge. If the event had no charge, it is soon forgotten. What did you have for lunch 2 days ago? What about that fight you had with a friend last year?
Our brain is an associative machine so it will not only associate related memories, it will associate related emotions. For example, if we have a fear response to 2 different men for unrelated reasons, we’ll tend to get that fear response with anything that reminds us of either. This may even generalize to be all men or all of a certain type of man. This association process happens before the sensory input even becomes conscious. This means that emotions are already intertwined with what we see and hear as we become aware of them.
With growth in consciousness, there is another kind of change with memory. With the initial shift of Self Realization, we shift from being a “me” or individual person to recognizing ourselves as pure consciousness itself (or related terms). Our self-sense changes markedly.
As a result, the perspective we have of our memories changes too. They were the memories of a me. Over time, as those memories come up again, they are seen in the new context. The old charges fall away, along with a lot of the stories. Many of those old associations fall way as well. This considerably simplifies the mind and emotions and we get a lot less noise with our daily experiences.
If we’re actively engaged in inner healing prior to awakening, some of this is already taking place. It simply accelerates a great deal after the shift because of the change in perspective.
Of course, as there is a growing background of profound peace, then happiness, much of the drama looses it’s purpose and weight too.
Another aspect of this change is the winding down of attachments and identification. When we’re no longer identified with a “me”, the construct of memories used to support that self-concept (all those “I am” statements about our work, preferences, race, sex, party, role, etc) lose their importance. Consciousness is ever-present 24/7 so we don’t need to maintain a story about it. The self-construct may collapse quite thoroughly with the shift but often just looses it’s center. Then the rest crumbles over time. Again, this much simplifies our internal life.
This is not to say we lose any memories or personality. It is only that the big story about them winds down. We still have preferences and a sex and a race, etc. but they are no longer the center of our being. They come to have a similar importance as your little toe – just some aspect of what is here.
Newer events typically hold little charge so we may have to become a little more intentional about remembering what we need to. Making a conscious note. “Bookmarking” an event. Otherwise, it drifts out of the now into the void.
A further stage of development is called Unity. In this stage, we recognize that the presence we’ve discovered infusing the environment and everyone else is also ourselves, so we be become one with all things.
Just as experiencing resolved much of the past in the prior stage (and typically continues), in Unity there is an experience and become process. Whatever arises in experience is recognized to be our Self. This is also true of memories. That layer of experience is also united, again changing the context of all those memories. In effect we enlighten not only our present, but our past as well.
Because time is an effect of the process of experience, as we lose our boundaries in consciousness, our relationship with time can shift quite easily. One way, for example, is that all of the past and future are recognized as existing simultaneously in the present. As the past is also now present, it is not memory in the same way. It is concurrent and can be known now rather than in “another time”. Time as we normally know it is simply a perspective of consciousness. We experience time unfolding in an apparently linear way so that the details can be unfolded in awareness.
In one sense, that is all memory is – accessing the simultaneous past through our present filters. Memory doesn’t really exist as something stored per se. It is only because of the process of experience that we experience a before and after and thus apparent memory. Same thing with the process of awakening I describe in this article.
We’re also shifting progressively deeper into the cosmic values of our apparent individuality. We recognize our mind, emotions, and even body are actually cosmic in nature, arising from the one consciousness. This means we are the one mind and one body from which all apparent individuals arise.
Not only our own past but that of all beings becomes accessible. Our memory becomes progressively more universal.
This relates to the nature of mind as the lively inner surface of self-aware consciousness. When we’re identified with a local “me”, the mind and memories are constrained to the local experience. As we gradually open in consciousness through the above stages, our sense of self expands and we step deeper into pure being. At one of the sub-stages of Unity, our mind is recognized as cosmic, a single mind in a single consciousness focused here or there as an apparent person. Each of us like waves on an ocean of being.
From cosmic being, what might be called cosmic memory becomes available. This memory is known in the ancient texts of India as Veda or knowledge. The books of the Vedas are written versions of some of the “memories” inscribed in consciousness itself.
These memories are periodically recalled or cognized by ancient seers in sequence, enlivening them as new laws of nature that then begin to unfold in creation, evolving the whole to the next stage. At this point, the seers are experiencing their body as cosmic, so remembering in the cosmic mind and body enlivens it in all body-minds of all types. Of course, these are rather a different style of memory than what you had for breakfast. These are fully encoded experiences that contain profound intelligence that will steer nature. We might call them the memories of God. But that memory in your life is a local reflection of pure knowledge itself, even though those are so often laden with stories and interpretation.
In a sense, one aspect of unfolding enlightenment is coming back to memory in it’s pure form.