Smrti (memory) is the mind’s ability to hold on to (asampramosah) an object (visaya) which has been experienced (anubhuta) in the past.
PRACTICAL LIVING Memory is the last of the 5 activities of the mind that Patanjali describes. Perhaps the reason why he keeps it last is because we frequently use memory in combination with the other activities. In order for me to type these words and for you to read them, we are both using our memory of the alphabet and the memory of the words being associated to certain objects. It is important to understand that even though Patanjali describes these activities separately, most of the time we are using them together in a rather complex manner. For example, vikalpah (imagination) is strongly based on images we have seen before. Preparing for my vacation I catch myself often imagining soaking up the sun in a beautiful beach. The image in my head is the result of photographs I have seen and of actual beaches I have been to (though I have never been to the one I am about to go spend some time on). Like the other 4 activities, memory can either cause pain or can be pleasurable. Frequently, the stronger the experience, the stronger the memory is whether the experience was positive or negative.
Memory also plays a crucial role in how we perceive and relate to the world. In summary, whenever we have an experience through our five senses, an impression (samskara) gets imprinted in the mind. That imprint then becomes a memory, which then colors the way we perceive future experiences. A newborn baby has been receiving imprint throughout the mother’s pregnancy. After birth, his/her senses gives the baby continuous experiences, which are all new at the beginning (have you seen how fascinated babies are by their own hands?). Once a child has seen/experienced something several times, the imprint (samskara) deepens to a point where certain behaviors become subconscious (e.g. riding a bicycle and singing at the same time). That imprint will determine how we experience life. The journey of Yoga is to become aware of our destructive habits and replace them with fresh and better ones while being aware of the positive ones and keeping them. Ideally, we are becoming more and more “awake” so that life is a fresh experience every minute as opposed to a combination of mechanical subconscious behaviors.
IN THE YOGA WORLD The five activities of the mind (correct perception, misperception, imagination, deep sleep and memory) are always in motion and unstable, unlike pure consciousness or purusha (see History), which is stable and unchanging. Purusha is not influenced by the mental activities, which are connected to nature and thus influenced by nature’s fundamental qualities (the three gunas):
- sattva: illuminating energy
- rajas: activating energy
- tamas: stabilizing energy
Unaware of purusha, we have the feeling purusha gets pulled along by the activities of the mind. It is released (kaivalya/freedom) only when it is definitely established within itself (see Sutra I.3). This state is reached when the activities of the mind (citta-vrttis) have been channelled (see Sutra I.2).
Due to this constant motion of the mind, the object perceived by the senses is not exactly the object experienced. As discussed above, the senses perceive through a ‘colored’ lense due to memories of past experiences. A mental object is created from past impressions, present sensory input and future anticipation. Consequently, each person creates his/her own reality. This partially explains why two people can have different perspectives or memories of the same situation.
It could be said that the mind (citta) is both the source of suffering and the cause of liberation! So what do you do with all of this information about the mind? Well, practice awareness: the journey of Yoga. Let’s make sure we enjoy the process, I hear it’s an entire lifetime 🙂
Popsy instantly comes to mind when I think of memory. This woman has the clearest memory I have come across. Like Forest Gump tells his stories with vivid details and emotions, so does Popsy. Moreover, she tops it off with humor, a lot of it!
Our friendship goes back to the beginning of high school, when she moved from another country (to a more civilized one ;)). Her family became a second family to me during my teenage years and I am deeply grateful for all the love I received in that home! My memory of her is vivid with giggle attacks in class, horse back riding weekends, boy-talk, lot’s of traveling and A LOT of laughter along the way. I love this woman so much and thank life for bringing her to make my life more fun!
Pops, thank you for being the AMAZING friend you have always been!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and we will look at the foundational concept of practice and detachment next week!