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!
Ahhhh memories!! So many good and many not so good. I have always loved looking back at old pics reminiscing of different times in my life. I now understand how these memories have formed my thinking and Kleshas-misperception, judgements, attachment, detachment, etc. Yoga brings so much clarity to memory and its influences through Self Awareness. I feel like I was living in a cloud before I began this journey. A cloud of Klesha full of my own judgements and suffering. Through yoga I see things so clearly…and some of the things are scary. Yet beautiful because its through this clarity that I can truly transform. I feel like my spirit or Purusa is blossoming and am loving it. I’m excited for the memories I am making on this beautiful journey.
I love how yo phrased it: “I’m excited for the memories I am making on this beautiful journey.” since every second of our lives we are creating our own future. Our samskaras are largely what determine who we are, so it’s great to hear that even though it’s hard sometimes, that you can see the joy of it!
I just had another beautiful thought about memory in a positive light. This occurred to me during my practice this AM. I have been practicing inversions in which I face fear. Each time I take a step forward in the steps of preparation, my body’s memory helps me overcome fear. Beautiful!
And now you have!
I think that it’s funny how the memory works in different situations. I have always thought that it was interesting that in the workplace, come review time, all the bad memories tend to surface from some management such as messing up ONE test, but how the several hours that were put in to finish a project on time wasn’t remembered. I feel like my own memory works like this much of the time. I’ve used this example before, but the time that I got food poisoning from a hamburger still stays with me and I haven’t eaten a hamburger since. When I was in the second grade, I got a compound fracture on my arm from roller skating and haven’t roller skated since. I have other bad memories like this that I could tell about, but what about the good memories??? I guess maybe the good memories don’t resonate as much with me because of the fact that they’re good and I wasn’t put off by something.
Daniel, that’s a great point. There is a tendency for some of us to focus on the negative. It adds some drama to our life (which most of us love!) and it also makes us victims (which we think we don’t like, but weirdly, we do). Now that you’re aware of this, see if you can replace that old samskara with a new, fresher one?
Memory is such a powerful state of mind. Memory reminds us of good and bad situations we have experienced in the past. It’s funny how many of bad memories we seem to remember year down the road, and sometimes goods one escape our mind. I seem to always remember bad situations that I have experienced in my past and I think that sometimes its because those situations had such a strong impact on the way I felt at that moment that they are forever ingrained in my mind. Really good memories also stay in my mind, but how come memories that happen a week or two ago that maybe weren’t that important to us at the moment , but maybe in the future, tend to slip away?
Your comment is closely linked to Daniel’s above. There is an addition to my response above: negative experiences cause some sort of trauma, or undigested experience, which ultimately leads to fear. We are frequently guided by fear and that becomes a deeply ingrained pattern…observe, and see how you can replace.
I always think to myself…if I was given the choice, would I live this life again…would I make the same choices..meet the same people…if I had the choice, would I? And I always come to the conclusion that I would. All of the memories…all of the people, made me who I am. And living this life/being able to learn from every experience/person is truly amazing. The key is just remembering that on the ‘not so good’ days.
Memories are such a beautiful and interesting thing! I sometimes imagine my brain as being full of little file cabinets that hold all of the memories, experiences, and information I’ve accumulated over my lifetime. Some of these file cabinets are old, creaky, and dusty. Some are well-oiled, clean, and accessible. Lately I’ve been slowly making connections between the things that I choose to do and not do, and these various file cabinets of memories and experience. Similarly to Daniel’s explanation, I see how the memories and knowledge stored in these cabinets affects the life choices I make to this day. What is even more fascinating to me than that, is the way this wealth of memory and information goes so unnoticed! I want to know why I choose to do the things that I do, and be able to actively decide whether these memories are truly reliable enough to be the basis for important decisions. I love how recently I’m beginning to see the web that connects everything in my mind together! In order to better understand this web, I’m dusting off the old file cabinets, acknowledging what is inside, and taking it step by step from there!
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It is very interesting to me how memory is so connected to the five senses. For me, and I think for many, both particular smells and particular songs (a combination of sounds) strongly trigger specific memories. For example, just the other day after Thanksgiving dinner with my family, my mom put out the candles on our table and the smell of the resulting smoke immediately made me think of birthday cake. (It’s a funny one for me because I love candles and every time I put them out I think of birthday cake… oh boy.) This had a very rajasic energy to it… I was excited by the idea of eating cake!
Also, I recently drove home on a very long road trip in the middle of the night… when James Taylor came on the stereo I was reminded of camping with my Dad, who loves to play and sing James Taylor songs. This had a very tajasic energy to it… I began to miss my Dad.
Interesting that these samskaras are triggered by my perception of external things so that I may re-experience my own internalized realties. How wild.
Similar to Elsa, I find that sounds and smells are particular triggers for me. For example, I heard Little Drummer Boy today on the radio and it reminded me of Christmases in the past at my grandparents’ house (great memories!). Similarly, certain scents trigger memories as well; the scent of pine takes me to my family’s lake house (positive), and the smell of certain Jimmy John’s sandwiches reminds me of food poisoning (negative). I love that yoga has given me a new lens through which to view my past experiences, both positive and negative!
I interestingly and in a round-about way I had a thought about this last night during my brief meditation right after my pranayama practice before I crawl into bed (yeah that sentence just happened :)). In that moment, I became very aware of my my body and my surroundings and then realized that I was completely unaware of my walk home from yoga that night. I’ve walked that way so many times before my mind and body had the subconscious memory and it just naturally went where it was supposed to – I wasn’t thinking about anything that would have distracted me mentally either. I’ve had it happen to me in high school too (ask me about that one…it was scary, but everything was fine). It’s amazing that my body and mind can just knew where to go, but then I question awareness during that time. What did I miss experiencing in that 10 min walk from the bus home? Could I have run into my true love, was there someone that needed helping that I didn’t even notice, etc?
I find memory to be so interesting. My mom and I talk about it a lot because her and I have such different experiences with memory. She can remember such vivid details from her childhood. Specific occurances, feelings, tastes, smells; whereas I can hardly remember anything. I also find that many of the memories I do have are not remembered by anyone else involved. I think the idea that our minds mold our past is fascinating and I like to keep the idea that our memories are not always pure fact in mind.If I have a negative memory of something or someone, I try to remind myself that perception is not always black and white, which allows me to be more open-minded than I would be
This sutra makes me think of a few things I’ve learned from Vipassana meditation, specifically the idea of being aware & equanimous. In this post it says “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”, it’s for this reason why we try to practice being aware & equanimous. When we have an experience through our senses we label that experience “good or bad” and that can create inaccurate memories(Smrti) which misinform us and can influence us negatively in the future – so instead of impulsively reacting and labeling my experiences Vipassana has taught me to be aware, to see each experience “as it is”, and to accept it with equanimity. This awareness and equanimity allows us to be aware of our Smrtis/memorues and instead of “mechanically” or subconsciously reacting to them right away, we can see them clearly in order to act Mindfully and accordingly.
There was one time recently in savasana that a very vivid memory came back to me of my sister and I as kids. It was something I had not thought about in a long time but came up so clear it made me miss her. I was surprised and happy that such a good memory came to me in savasana. The practice helped calm my mind enough that I could clearly see how much I missed my sister that day. I called her that afternoon! 🙂
Smriti, memories, often triggered by the most random of circumstances or external objects making a single moment in time become a life-motion picture of our past.
Yesterday was my husband’s birthday and we went to get cupcakes and while we were sitting together eating them the way the cupcake tasted and smelled and I just happened to catch a glimpse of him in such an angle that it was as if I was transported back to one of our first dates. I was overwhelmed with love and affection for him. I couldn’t believe how happy I have been since we met and how at any given point in time my own memories can bring that same rush of excitement and bashfulness I felt when we first met.
Unfortunately we can also suffer through our memories. They can bring up dark moments of our lives but I am so grateful of being capable of reliving joyous moments from the past by simply existing. Smirit can also help us with understanding the world around us from an academic point of view. I know in the West critical thinking is highly regarded and it should be but there are great merits to learning and memorizing certain things. We memorize favorite songs, movies, important dates, etc. It tabs a different part of our brain that must be exercised throughout our lifetime to avoid onsets of diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. We learn yoga sequences, we learn chants, we learn body parts and body movement, memory has endless uses but my favorite use is when it can bring us the past to the present, even if it is just for a few seconds.
Contrary to Daniel’s response, I have the tendency to focus or remember the positive. At first this may sound like a good thing, but in actuality, it is a hindrance for me. For example, when I broke up with my boyfriend, instead of thinking about all of the negative times we had together, which ultimately led to the break up, I only remembered the good times. Or when I left my old job, I only remember what I liked about it instead of the reasons that made me leave. Why is it that I make decisions and then look back at them second guessing myself thinking, did i make the right move? Is my memory playing a trick of me?
Through the practice of yoga, I have noticed that I do fantasize and romanticize specific past events in my life. Life wasn’t perfect before I left my old job or was with my old boyfriend. It had its share of easy times and tough times, of successes and disappointments. When I find myself putting that “old” life on a pedestal and thinking that I was always happy, I try to remember that this is a distorted view of the past that serves only to make me feel bad about the present.
Sometimes, taking about something personal is easiest in English, which is not the language I grow up speaking. Then sharing the very same facts and feelings in my mother language may carry much more difficulty (or release/understanding perhaps) and even trigger tears. I did recognize early on that what was going on is that my mind had deeper meanings and memories attached to the words of my mother language but not to the equivalent words in English. The mind is just amazing.
“taking” in previous comment is “talking”. Funny.
Memory is incredibly fascinating to me, I think that it is so interesting from a neurological perspective how we code memories, short term one go one place, our mind makes a unconscious decision as to what what becomes coded into our long term memory. And all of these memories become coded into different areas of the brain, music in one place, language another, sensation, vision, coordination, all in different places. When I work with some of my patient’s with brain injuries it is astounding to see the effect of loss of function in any one of these areas presents. Patient’s who can sing full lyrics, yet cannot say hello, who after years of speaking English revert back to the language learned in childhood. Patient’s who cannot retain new memories yet can telling vivid detail incredible life stories up until the accident. This truly allows me to appreciate our amazing our mind is, it is constantly coding everything around us, and the more awareness that we are able to bring to what we experience the more clear and accurate our memories are.
The only way that we experience life is through the the filtering of our physical body. Repetitive experience creates layered memories which create patterns and pathways in our mind. I read a story recently that explored a study in which the scientists were attempting to find out why children are so receptive to technology and so able to adapt as compared to adults. At the root of the results was the finding that, in children, memories have not yet accumulated to create “shortcuts” to possible solutions and thus are open to exploring unexpected combinations to solve puzzles and challenges, whereas adults learn to rely on their memory of objects in the past and try to shortcut the work and look for expected outcomes, and even have a difficult time not trying well-worn paths even when they are clearly not solutions.
It is important to remain aware of how memories build themselves upon one another and how this can be useful in certain situations, and may make certain aspects of life easier for us, but how too, we can rely too heavily on these ideas of what something is, was or can be – when sometimes the solution is right there in front of us.
The mind is a wondrous and powerful creation. Its through the power of the mind we process the world around us creating perceptions and memories that influence our everyday life. It never ceases to amaze me how transformative the power of the mind is in changing our emotional state. Yoga has helped me overcome using my mind as the source of suffering to using my mind as the cause of liberation. With a personal yoga practice I have often used a change in perspective or using a memory of how I got through another difficult time to liberate the mind.
I have a bad habit of obsessing over bad memories. Sometimes when something painful has happened to me, such as a breakup or insult or job loss, I continually access the memory even though it does not feel good to re-live it. I am not sure why I do this to myself but think it has to do with holding on to emotions. I am very private and do not like to really share or show my emotions. This is something I learned in childhood, where no one talked about feelings in my house. Not talking about or expressing emotions when someone has hurt you causes a lingering resentment, which can grow over time the longer those feelings are left unresolved or unexpressed. To this day, this is still the dynamic within my family. We all just keep acting the same way we always did even though now we’re all adults and my siblings have children of their own. Now that I realize what is going on, I need to begin breaking this communal habit by finding a way to express my feelings and not continuing to accept the status quo.
I think Abby intercepted my brain and wrote all of my thoughts (however many months ago!). I can easily romanticize many past experiences, and with that, I forget the lessons learned in previous life trials. Through a developing practice of “letting go”, and my friends constantly encouraging my positive choices, I am able to confidently stand by my experiences and choices.
One positive memory that ignites my heart is the feeling of community. Being engaged in the performing arts from a young age, I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by other creative-minded people who bond over a similar purpose. Going through life, this has always been such a comfort. I strive to bring the same comfort and joy of community into the yoga world…which helps my teaching abilities. When in doubt, it’s okay to laugh and smile while in a yoga class 🙂
My memories of past events are often influenced by my emotions. There are many times when I reflect on past experiences and I don’t really remember what happened but I remember how I felt. For example, I might have attended a musical and remember feeling upset and annoyed throughout the show. Usually this has nothing to do with the show itself but with something that happened before the performance. My actual memory of the show is “colored” because of how I was feeling. I may not even remember a lot about the performance itself.
There are also times when I have left a job that I have not enjoyed and look back with “rose colored glasses” and almost convince myself that it really wasn’t that bad. I start to miss the thing that I couldn’t wait to leave. I am not sure if that is because we always want what we don’t have, or because change and life transitions are just difficult. Either way it causes some uneasiness.
Lastly, there are memories that I treasure and always make me smile and I am so thankful for having them. They influence my current choices and life in a positive way that helps to make the world a better place. It is those memories that I try to focus on and learn from as I travel on my journey.
I left a two year relationship and after almost a year I met someone new and started attaching their actions to my previous boyfriend. After a few times of doing so, I realized that it wasn’t fair and started changing my perception. Realizing I wasn’t in front of my ex boyfriend anymore.
For work, good memory is a good thing. It helps retaining information and experiences gained from the past. However, in relationship, it could be bad. It is best to let go of past relationships if they didnt work out before. There is no need to hold on to them; it is a waiste of energy and emotion. That being said, i was able to maintain good friendship with this lady for almost 8 years now. We respect each other and did not dwell on things that happened in the past (we rarely talked about it and made clear that it was nobody’s fault and that we would not reconnect). For the beggining, it was hard because memories would just resurface. However, after reinforcing the notion that i had to let go, the memories did fade away and new windows openned up after that door was closed. Today may be rainy but get ready for sunshine tomorrow.
Smrti is so powerful!! When I see the word or hear someone refer to their grandparents I instantly feel love and warmth! I was blessed with the most wonderful (not perfect) grandparents! Those memories give me great peace and strength!
After 11 years of marriage I have made it a practice for my hubby and I to pull out our wedding album. It helps us to remember the memory of how and why we fell in love and married. I just recently met with a mom-to-be and her and I had a great conversation that life is made up of “scenes” like in a play. When the curtain closes on one phase, it is over…that is it. On to the next phase. We want so bad sometimes to keep reliving the old scene because we felt really good there! So when a new scene is started we have to find the good in that one too….even if it is different.
Memories, I seem to only remember the good memories. The smell of my grandmas hug! The hot sand on the beach, the snow on my face, the laughter of my kids, my husbands hand in mine, these all bring a smile to my face.
i try to only focus on the good memories i have. if it is a bad memory, i see if there is something to be learned, then move on. life is too short to be so attached to the negative and let those memories prevent you from experiencing and making new positive memories. my mom always tries to find the positive in situations, and i strive to do the same.
This sutra entry reinforces to me that I wouldn’t change a single memory I have, whether or not it’s good or bad. It is because of both of these types of memories that have made me the person that I am today- and it’s mainly the bad memories that I’ve learned the most from.
I am reminded of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It is one of my favorite movies of all time. Memory is the main theme throughout the movie. It stars Joel (Jim Carrey) who shares a highly passionate yet tumultuous relationship with Clementine (played by Kate Winslet). The movie raises the question to the viewers “If you could erase a person and relationship out of your mind to avoid the pain of loss, would you?” It also explores the idea that it is through loss that one discovers what he/she has to begin with. I’ll leave you with a snippet of a scene- watch it if you haven’t already!!
Joel: [in the house on the beach] I have to go. I have to catch my ride.
Clementine: So go!
Joel: I did. I thought maybe you were a nut… but you were exciting.
Clementine: I wish you had stayed.
Joel: I wish I had stayed too. NOW I wish I had stayed. I wish I had done a lot of things. I wish I had… I wish I had stayed. I do.
Clementine: Well I came back downstairs and you were gone!
Joel: I walked out, I walked out the door!
Joel: I don’t know. I felt like a scared little kid, I was like… it was above my head, I don’t know.
Clementine: You were scared?
Joel: Yeah. I thought you knew that about me. I ran back to the bonfire, trying to outrun my humiliation, I think.
Clementine: Was it something I said?
Joel: Yeah… you said “so go.” With such disdain, you know?
Clementine: Oh, I’m sorry.
Joel: It’s okay.
Clementine: Joely? What if you stayed this time?
Joel: I walked out the door. There’s no memory left.
Come back and make up a good-bye at least. Let’s pretend we had one.
[Joel comes back. Clementine walks down the stairs towards him]
Clementine: Bye Joel.
Joel: I love you.
Clementine: Meet me… in Montauk…
A dear friend of mine has a haunting memory. It really goes to show how the good side of these qualities can quickly change to shadow. He remembers every detail of his childhood home. He remembers the songs his grandmother sang, and every recipe she ever taught him. He makes lists of things only to throw them away and remember the whole thing anyway. He remembers the day he got his favourite dog, Red. He remembers the day he burried Red. He remembers the loss so well he will never get another dog. He has been wronged repeatedly by his son, but the memory of him as a child keeps him hanging onto the relationship. His mother died on his birthday, so he never celebrated that day again. Memories can so quickly change to something concrete. Wow, that sounds really, really sad when I reread it. I guess the point is that even beautiful memories can become hindrances.
So they say that your sense of smell is very influential with your memory. You smell cookies it reminds you of baking with your mom, etc. I always knew that senses can trigger memories. However, I never really thought of it in relation to an imprint (samskara). All of our senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch) all create imprints for us and that goes to our memory. Whenever I smell paint, it reminds me of spending weekends at my dad’s work – he worked at an autobody shop where they did a lot of detailing and painting of cars. I remember the sound the phone made when we got the call my grandma died. I’ll never forget that sound and how I just knew something was wrong. The phone never sounded like that before. It sounds silly, but I never really put together how your senses can effect your memory and how your memory effects your experiences, perceptions, etc.
I am so grateful for the gift of memory. I love the feeling of nostalgia that has an amazing way of being so sweet and slightly sad at the same time. This mixture of emotion that comes with most memories I can call to mind sums up the way I also understand life: Life is a constant flux of happiness and sorrow. Yoga can help me take memories exactly as they are and let them come and go without judgment.
It’s often a matter of perspective how an experience becomes a memory. Yoga helps me to be mindful of how I allow memories to influence the present moment and ultimately the future. When my son was little, he was always telling us to look at “the bright side”. Then he would share what he saw as the silver lining. As mothers it’s our duty to teach our children, yet I find my three boys to be some of my biggest teachers. Though my son doesn’t say it anymore, I can call on those memories to help me find the bright side when things don’t seem so bright.
It’s so interesting to think about the memories that do (or don’t) stand out in our minds. When I think back to my earliest memories, interestingly, they are all very vivid dreams I had as a child. As I got older, I made it a point to write things down so I could recapture memories and the feelings of nostalgia that come along with certain times in life. It’s such a gift to have so many positive memories.
Memories are designed to protect us, for example when we have experienced something painful we will respond to similar situations in a way that will protect us such as touching a hot stove. Yoga helps us to separate the memory from the amygdala, or the emotion mind and view it in a way that can serve us more clearly. If we are not able to use our memories in a helpful way, then they interfere with our life and contribute to misperception. Misperception causes suffering, painful memories cause suffering. We all suffer, it is the human condition, it is the work of yoga, in my view, to help us use memory in a way that enhances our lives and enriches our experiences.
Yes. Memory serves us so well in some cases. ‘Viveka’ is the sanskrit word that defines what we are after: discerning when the memory is useful (like in the case of putting our hand in the fire) as opposed to the automatic reaction of judging things that may look similar to something we have experienced before but are in fact different. Awareness and practice is what takes us there.
Memory and our ability to recall events from our past can be such a beautiful gift, but it is important not to live only within the memories of the past. Our experiences undoubtedly shape the people in which we become, but there is always room to grow and expand our worldview. Within the counseling world, Adlerian theory places a lot of emphasis on early childhood memories. These early recollections, according to the theory, hold the ability to help define a person and the way in which they developed. It is interesting to hear what the earliest memories are for each person, because they range from joyous to painful. Adler would say that there is a reason for remembering those specific memories, and they can often be significant in understanding the person in their current world.