Dealing with Memories
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 11 Jan 2021
Dr. Ravi P. Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service
11 Jan 2021 – Memory roughly means the thoughts or events that we may remember. Some of these memories are pleasant — give pleasure; some of these are painful, unpleasant and result in pain or sadness or occasional suffering. The latter trait of suffering results both from physical or mental causes. In this essay I focus on memories of individuals both pleasant and painful.
An American scholar Michael Brenner has written on collective memories that not only affect an individual but a group of individuals — society, community or even a nation. Wars, large scale fires, partition of countries are some of the agents leading to collective memories usually painful and sordid.
Brenner wrote about collective memories in an essay earlier and reproduced it recently where he stresses — “our national persona is constructed around a superstructure of mythical images crucial to both our collective identity and individual self-esteem. We sublimate events that contradict them.”
He also refers to neo-nazi marches, fascism, xenophobia and racism as other symbols of painful events that are resurfacing in America. In Asia, there have been wars for and against certain religious peoples, on political ideologies and a form of social racism known as caste system in India which we treat some peoples as sub human and meant only for performing degrading duties. Many scholars and constitutional experts such as B R Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi extensively spoke and worked for social equality and justice.
I return to the theme of individual memories now.
One person who is believed to have had an excellent and extensive memory was Lord Vyas who is credited for compiling the Hindu epic Mahabharata originally in Sanskrit language. He would mentally compile various stanzas of the epic and then recite them to Lord Ganapati who would then write them down.
Individual memories can be pleasant or painful. In either case these usually are etched firmly in individuals’ minds. For example an academic prize a person may have won many years ago, gives pleasure and satisfaction at a later date also. In fact one may talk about this fond memory to friends or even one’s children to motivate them. A promotion in the job also is a source of pleasurable memory. Moving into a new house is a joyful occasion. Similarly buying a car for the first time, also provides happiness when one thinks about the event later.
There are several other events in one’s own life or that of one’s children or one’s close friends that produce happy memories. I fondly remember chance meetings with some people and becoming friends with them. This chance meeting with a French Professor helped me to converse with her in French and brush up my language which lay a little unused in my memory. Of course we develop friendships with students or people we work with or with neighbours and think about various happy occasions in their company.
I remember a very funny incident while travelling from Belgium to France in a train when I was a student. A European lady was sitting next to me. We did not have any conversation but when I took out a chocolate from my bag I thought of sharing it with her. I offered it to her hoping she would accept my offer. She did more than that — she accepted the entire chocolate and put it in her bag without even saying Merci
The event of marriage is an important milestone in one’s life, but its memory may not be joyful if one has had a tumultuous relationship with one’s partner. Marriage of one’s daughter is an important event that gives a person joy and satisfaction thinking and talking about it to one’s friends or the daughter herself later. However one does feel somewhat sad with the departure of the young woman who has been part of the family for twenty or more years.
Undoubtedly remembrance of happy events or of the company of people depends strongly upon the nature of the individual — happy people generally remain happy and sullen people can mar a joyful occasion to become morose. People who tend to see things positively will generally remain comfortable thinking about various events. They also have the ability to sublimate unhappy occasions from their memories and feel balanced and relaxed even under earlier dubious conditions.
In contrast, some people only feel sad or sullen under different types of happenings. Sometimes, such people have lost their nerve and committed even suicide if things go wrong. Many a time they would not have taken the extreme step if they had talked about it to their families or friends who may have counselled and comforted them.
However there are some events that are very tragic and painful and are difficult to erase from one’s memory. Holocaust produces some sad, sorrowful comments from its survivors even today. Similarly the tragic bifurcation of India in 1947 leads to manifestation of its traumatic experiences by its survivors. I was too young to understand the immensity of the tragedy when I was a young boy, but I cannot forget its unhappy consequences — moving from one place to another and often going hungry.
A positive result of this tragedy was that I could remain calm under various unhappy and disconcerting situations that are part of one’s life. Another feature is to respect poor people who work honestly under trying situations and to overlook the struggle and poverty written clearly on their faces. In fact one begins to admire their struggles.
A well known Guru has said, “Be grateful in life. Then you will stop grumbling and your sorrows will disappear from your life …”
In the famous Hindu epic Bhagavad gita, Lord Krishna says: “We are all children of God. Whatever happens in life happens for a good reason.”
So I tell myself: Do not grieve.
Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 11 Jan 2021.
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Thank you for the sincere and thoughtful reflections on “Dealing with Memories.”
It seems that humanity has been losing its ability to remember due to the enchantment of algorithms and the endless screens through which we currently view (neither seeing, nor feeling) the world. As Gary Corseri has expressed, “Now we dance to a minuet of screens.”
Our memory is essential, as it is a major component of our consciousness, which in turn consists of what I prefer to term our “human spirit.” Unfortunately, the vast majority of individuals take the word “spirit” as being attached to certain religious faiths or dogmas. This is one of the most profound misuses of language of our times. We all are mostly spirit, which is also referred to as “consciousness.” All else is skin, fluids and bones, or as Nikos Kazantzakis’s Zorba crudely called it, “Food for the worms.” Although true, perhaps a more gentle and positive Oriental version would be, “Ashes to fertilize the earth, so that other life forms may emerge and grow.”
As you’ve expressed, Ravi, memories are made complete through happiness, sadness, joy and pain. These emotions are what make humans particularly significant in the evolutionary process. Without these how would we be able to judge what to do, either in the next moment or at some future date? How would we be able to better understand death without having a full understanding of life?
The Tao itself is an expression of the Light and the Dark, as is one’s own life of birth, aging, sickness, and death. These are the cycles we all pass through in the process of understanding our lives and those we share with others. Other living entities, flowers, fish, fireflies and fauna, also feel certain emotions and sensations. However, these beings lack memory and therefore consciousness, and are thus pure and wondrous models of natural acceptance, without any doubts or questions whatsoever. However, they are not, have never been, nor ever will be, responsible for the care of our Earth.
Can we then say that we humans, with our ability to retain conscious memories of our own and of others, including the well recorded wisdom of the ancient to more recent past, are equally not responsible?
Ego-centric individuals, and there are now far too many of them, as this is what our global socio-economic systems have essentially taught and instilled, have no idea what “memories” such as those you’ve expressed mean. They have lived within their own world with few shared sincere memories and thus have lost any sense of empathy, seemingly forever. For empathy can only grow through experiences sincerely shared and then treasured by interacting with others, as I’m now sharing these thoughts with you.
Such egoistic individuals are some of the saddest examples of humanity, having been undernourished of influential contact with more complete humans, those who have retained an evolved and evolving consciousness, or human spirit. Interestingly, these yet evolving human spirits are often found in the most challenged countries where there is less affluence, comfort and waste. For them, everything is precious. Those who take running water and collected waste for granted, become a species that expects and wants even more.
As for algorithms, those now highly beneficent creations of our intelligence that have brought us to this day, they have no such consciousness-based memory, nor empathy, nor any understanding of death. They are merely 0’s and 1’s that are colder than the most distant of ancient stones. Those two simple numbers can never be turned into conscious emphatic spirit. They are meant for calculations. Their abilities will always be limited to self-driving automobiles, devices that can do humanity’s biddings, and having the means of controlling the minds, passions, and the destiny of humanity.
All one needs to consider is, “What’s wrong, Dave?” the voice of the computer HAL, from Stanley Kubrick’s movie, 2001, A Space Odyssey, released in 1968. It seems humanity no longer remembers its obvious warning. Either that, or we no longer feel HAL can be controlled, which would be a most serious irresponsibility the consequences of which one hesitates to imagine.
As this reply is written, one can see clear evidence of the increasing dependence on algorithms along the streets of Washington, D.C., where opposing views have generated a national crisis, created and further encouraged by the algorithms of attention and profit hungry mass media. A dire situation that only the memories of consciously refined human spirits may be able to control.
One trusts this is still possible.
Ravi, thank you for wisely advising a reconsideration of our memories, one of humanity’s most essential resources. May your reflections lead us to better share and employ three of the most natural values we human spirits have at hand, and in our hearts and minds: Understanding, Empathy and Appreciation.
With shared memories of Siem Reap, Kyoto, and New Delhi always in my pockets,