(The principal of a large school in Bombay gave us a list of frequently asked questions by 13 year old children in her school and asked us whether we can prepare answers in the light of a spiritual perspective. When we looked at the question we found that they are not mere “kid-stuff.” Most of them are either fundamental and existential questions related to world and God or psychological problems faced by most of us. This series is an attempt to answer these questions from the children’s perspective in the light of a spiritual vision of life. We don’t know how far we have succeeded in communicating to the children. Nevertheless, we hope these answer may be of some help to teachers and parents who have to deal with children. There are around thirty questions with answers given in the light of a spiritual vision of life. We will post these questions at regular intervals.)
Why Memories are Unforgettable
The function of memory is to remember and not to forget. There is a domain or place in our consciousness which is like a storeroom, where all the past experiences and impressions are stored. What we call memory is a faculty of our consciousness for recalling things from our inner storeroom and remembers what we want to know about the past.
Not all memories are “unforgettable.” How many of our past experiences or impressions we remember? The unforgettable are those memories with a strong emotional content like intense pain or pleasure or happiness or grief or great beauty and wonder or deep love or the opposite like overwhelming ugliness, terror or horror.
The memories of such experiences with a strong emotional content, positive or negative, tend to constantly recur or repeat again and again. The happy and pleasant memories recur because seeking for pleasure or happiness is an ingrained instinct in our emotional and sensational being. The unhappy and unpleasant memories also recur because there is a mechanical habit of repetition in some part of our consciousness closer to our body. The other reason could be that there are some inert elements in us which likes and seeks strong sensations inorder to feel alive and recalls them from the past when such sensations are not available or accessible in the present. The other form of “unforgettable” memories are hurt feelings which rise out of a sense of insult, humiliation, injustice, rejection or guilt which have a tendency to recur and repeat, because the emotional ego in us clings to it and broods over it.
Memory is a very useful faculty for studies and for dealing with life. But we should not be a slave of our memories. We should not allow the memories of the past to dictate our life. One of the indispensable conditions for progress and creativity is not to be attached to the past, which includes the thoughts, feelings, sensations and experiences of the past. And all our memories belong to the past. If we are rigidly attached to the thoughts, knowledge and mental formations of the past we cannot progress in knowledge or have new and creative thoughts. Similarly, if we are attached to the feelings, emotions and experiences of the past, however beautiful they may be, we cannot progress in our emotions or experiences towards deeper and higher emotions or experiences. What is called as “sentimentality” is a form of attachment to feelings and emotions. I have a beautiful feeling and it passes, because no feelings stay for ever. Life, within or without, is like a river, everything flows and passes. But I don’t want to let the feeling go. I cling to it; recall it with my memory and chew over it, like a child, chews a lollypop. This is sentimentality which is a great obstacle to emotional progress. In fact it is harmful to our emotional health, because if we cling desperately to our feeling and indulge in it, the feeling degenerates into something dark and ugly.
We must learn to inwardly step back from the memories of our past, detach ourselves from them and let them pass. As I have said earlier, this includes memories of thoughts, feelings, sensations, experiences,and all kinds of them, good and bad and the ugly, happy and painful, wonderful,beautiful and the terrible. When you have a beautiful feeling, enjoy it as long as it is with you but allow it to pass without clinging to it when it leaves. If the memories are that of hurt feelings to which some part in us clings,we have to isolate that part and persuade it by reasoning and patiently educating it to “uncling” and let go.
To conclude, memories are not “unforgettable.” We must know how to use and manage our memories in the right way.