I have a friend who seems to have the sharpest memory of anyone I know. I’ve known him since the late 1980s and we’ve spent a lot of time together in pursuit of fresh powder, trout and steelhead. From time to time, during long drives to Montana or Idaho, he’ll try to remind me of something funny or unusual that we experienced on one of our previous trips. “Remember the time we stopped for lunch at that bar in Dillon?” He’ll say. “No”, I’ll reply. “Yeah you do; you were flirting with that waitress and she kissed you on the cheek?” – “No!” “And that biker dude at the pool table started giving you a hard time”? “You must be thinking of someone else.”
This is the way many of our conversations go, while on the road. Sometimes I think he’s just making up stories while at other times, the memory slowly begins to return to me like somebody is sliding the dimmer switch up. I often wonder, why he has such clear and vivid memories of shared experiences, while sometimes, I have completely forgotten or only have a vague memory of them.
Well, I’m happy to know that it’s probably not the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The sage, Patanjali tells us that memory is not being completely disconnected from previous experiences (Yoga Sutra 1.11). Every one of our actions creates an impression in the mind, a samaskara. The strength of our samskaras depends upon how attached we were to our actions at the time we had the original experience. When we are not fully engaged in the present moment or preoccupied with the future, we are able to recollect past experiences. In fact, we may not be able to avoid the memory of those experiences that made a particularly strong impression (vasana) on the mind because, at any given moment, the memory might occupy the mind more clearly than present or future thoughts.
There is a lot more that can be said about this subject. For now, it’s enough for me to know that sometimes a memory isn’t clear either because I did not engage experience strongly at the time; that is, I wasn’t fully present or it just didn’t seem very important; or at the current moment, my mind is preoccupied with other things.
Credits: The Secret of the Yoga Sutra, Samadhi Pada, by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait.