What is memory?

I have been unusually exhausted the last few days (after travels), and yesterday forgot to bring a book to return to the library. I had a vivid image of putting the book in my mochila (bag) so it was surprising to not see it there.

I realized that my apparent memory was actually an image I had created when intending to put the book in my bag. It wasn’t an image created from actually placing the book in the bag.

And that says something about what our memory is. It’s a set of thoughts (mental images and words) often associated with bodily sensations.

Just because we have an apparent memory doesn’t necessarily mean it’s accurate.

These images, which our thoughts call memory, are created and recreated in numerous ways.

In my case, they were created from having the intention to put the book in the bag. My mind created an image to support that intention and later took it as a memory.

Even when something actually happens, our memory is always a story. It’s an interpretation. It reflects our psychology as much or more than the actual event. It reflects our biases, viewpoints, access to and lack of information, hangups, issues, traumas, and much more.

And they are always recreated here and now. Just like with Chinese whispers (the telephone game), the story as it is now may be quite different from the original story.

Memories are stories. Sometimes, they reflect something that happened in a conventional sense, and sometimes they don’t. And when they do, they are always recreations and colored by our psychology.

That’s why healing often includes healing our stories about the past. Healing comes from finding a more accurate, kind, honest, and peaceful story about what happened.

And no matter what, it can be fascinating to explore our memories. What do they consist of? What mental images are there? What words? What sensations in the body are they associated with? How do these sensations influence how I perceive the images and words? (They tend to give them a charge and sense of reality and even truth.) How do my images and words influence the sensations? (They tend to give them a sense of meaning.)

Examining the stories we call memories allow us hold them more lightly, and that gives us more peace of mind and more receptivity, curiosity, and kindness in how we relate to ourselves and the world.

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