Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sutra 1.11

sutra 1.11

anubhuta vishaya asampramoshah smritih

Memory retains living experience

Most of our mental mapping relies on memory. And it seems we place a great deal of emphasis on memory as a way of understanding our selves and our behaviors. It's common to hear people suggest that the remembered sins of their parents are visited upon their present psychological state and often are the formative features of their mental landscape. Therefore David and I have begun saving not for college, but for the extensive therapy our girls may need because of our unconscious and sinful mistakes as parents. For example, I have on occasion, insisted they try some kind of new food that has been deemed yucky AND have asked them to wear sweaters on cold days. David has been known, on more than one occasion to pass highly noxious gas in their presence. He has also tickled them until they have peed. Twice. Now of course, one can be optimistic and consider the very real possibility that they may remember these foibles fondly, but you never know.

And while memory is the foundation of most talk therapies, memory also proves itself as one of the more slippery of the mental modifications known as vritti. How do we know what we are remembering is the actual event? Can we ever know? Memory is a key element in progress and learning, but it can also be a joker masquerading as a king, using the other mental activities (perceived reality—both right and wrong, sleep and most wiggly of all, imagination) to support it's costuming antics. When memory and imagination get together, it seems discrimination leaves the castle.

Every experience we have, EVERY one of them deposits a trace in our consciousness which in Sanskrit are refered to as samskara. Periodically through our day these residual experiences rise to the surface of our mind and effect our behavior. Some of these ripples in the water are minor, others are powerful, and some are even devastating. Modern therapy insists that dredging the lake and drawing these memories to the surface is the way in which we will no longer be a servant to them. Yoga offers a similar view, but does not rely on talking to heal and integrate the behavior. Meditation, devotion, service and love are the ways in which samskaras are put beneath the sun, as seeds left in the dust, where they can no longer bear fruit and flourish.

In the yogic tradition, memory serves a most powerful purpose. It is one of the purest ways to know the Self. Ravi Ravindra writes in The Spiritual Roots of YogaRoyal Path to Freedom:

"What lives in the body is consciousness. The question whether a person, while being pulled by the large momentum and force of the automaton of the body-mind, can remember why consciousness took on the body and whether the body is fulfilling its purpose.
When we remember, at that moment our consciousness is at a level higher than that of our automaton. In remembering ourselves, we know the original face before we were born. When Shiva performs his eternal dance of transformation and liberation, he dances on the head of Muyalka, the demon of forgetfulness."

Once again, Patanjali is not producing a judgment on the activities of the mind (or the body-mind automaton). I rather see the Sutras as a useful, waterproof map in the jungle. It is not always easy to read, but offers signposts and ways of viewing the surroundings with a sense of direction. If you can't remember the way Home, perhaps this map will help.

How much of your day today was lived in memory or the past?

How has memory served you well?

Name one memory that you feel positively determines your present behavior.

Name one memory you feel negatively determines present behavior.

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