The art of memory resides in our capacity to work imaginatively with our memories in order to improve the quality of our life in the here and now. Human memory is much more than a mental warehouse for the storage of past experience; human memory reveals a liminal frontier where the past and the present coalesce to influence the essential nature of our thoughts, feelings, intentions, decisions, and beliefs. In this sense, the art of memory is about gaining creative insight from past experience in order to cultivate positive resonance in the present moment. Like mindfulness, the art of memory is a means to help us feel more fully alive.
Aging gradually transforms our relationship with memory. As we become older, the diversity and variety of our experiences naturally expand. In addition, the feeling of the past changes dramatically as we negotiate the midlife passage. One of the most shocking and poignant realizations is that time past has suddenly become larger than time ahead. In the second half of life we sense an expansion in the depth of our memories combined with a frightening realization that one day each one of us will become a memory.
And now, firmly established in the second half of my own life, the urgency, felt-meaning, and influence of my memories are now more dynamic and conversational in nature; a single memory might become an imaginative dialogue between the resonance of something in my past and situations and circumstances of the present moment. Sometimes memories seem to emerge as a mysterious harbinger that reaches across time to speak to us in the here and now.
In an important sense, a memory is a collision of thoughts, feelings, and emotions originating in the past with the reality of the present moment. Unlike computer memory, human memories are not static scripts, procedures, or routines; each time we retrieve a memory we reinterpret and reinvent it based on our current circumstances in life. It is this intersection of past experience with the confluence of the present moment that holds the potential for discovery.
We tend to look outside of ourselves for insights and ideas. Sometimes we assume that learning is dependent upon the external expertise. Learning from our inner life often feels foreign and strange, while reading a book feels familiar and comfortable. When we read a book literacy is a well-practiced skill that enables us to generate comprehension. There is no comparable literacy that helps us to explore and interpret our memories over time.
New possibilities and discoveries can be found in our inner life, most especially within the realm of memory. The past never really past in the sense of being over; memories always seek us out across the entire arc of our life. And they often bring with them something of value, something that can help us to live in a deeper and more sensitive way.
Every human life inhabits its own unique repertoire of memories that are constantly expanding over time. When we reminisce about a significant event in our life the resonance of that memory generates thoughts in the mind as well as powerful sensations and feelings throughout the body. In this sense, memory is a form of touch since it infuses the body with feelings as much as it does the mind with thoughts and images.
Our experience of a memory is, however, always influenced by the cluster of thoughts, ideas, feelings, and beliefs we carry with us in the present moment. In other words, each time we visit the same memory at different points in our lifetime the energy of our present circumstance infuses the feeling and meaning of that memory in some unique and unexpected way.
Memories are a living phenomenon that invites us deeper into the experience of being alive. Each time we have touched a memory we are somehow changed by it; a seemingly simple act of remembrance can become a powerful catalyst for our own transformation.
Once we walk down memory lane we are never quite the same again.