It is amazing how much memory is built
Around things unnoticed at the time.
The next sutra I will be addressing is smrti, the Sanskrit word for memory.
Here is what I have covered so far:
- Atha: Readiness and Commitment
- Citta: Heart-Mind Field of Consciousness
- Purusa: Inner Light of Awareness
- Drsya: Ever-Changing Mother Nature
- Viveka: Keen Discernment
- Abhyasa: Diligent, Focused Practice
- Vairagya: Nonattachment to Sensory Objects
- Yoga as Nirodha: Silencing the Heart-Mind
- Isvara: The Source of Knowledge
- Karma and Samskara: Action and it’s Imprint
- Parinama: Transformation
- Duhkha: Suffering as Opportunity
- Samyoga: False Identification of the Seer with the Seen
- Vrtti-s: Activity in the Heart-Mind
- Pramana: Correct Evaluation
- Viparyaya: Misperception
- Vikalpa: Imagination
- Nidra: Sleep
Nicolai Bachman’s book, The Path of the Yoga Sutras, has been my lifeguide the last couple months. Back in chapter fourteen on the vrtti-s, Bachman described five different types of vrtti-s, or heart-mind activities. Smrti is the last one of those five. Smrti was preceded by nidra (sleep), vikalpa (imagination), viparyaya (misperception), and pramana (correct evaluation).
All of the five smrtti-s have one thing in common: they are either helpful, harmful, or neutral when they occur. The work of meditation and yoga is to practice viveka as each vrtt-i occurs. Viveka in English means keen discernment, which aligns perfectly with the Red Cheetah Yoga motto, “choose to evolve”. The work of yoga and meditation centers around boosting awareness, and awareness is our greatest asset because it gifts us with the ability to choose. This chapter on memory, smrti, is written to bring awareness to the fact that we have the power to choose how we perceive our memories, and to choose how our memories affect our decisions in the moment as well as in the future.
Every time we act or think or speak, we draw from our memory. Therefore, what we remember directly affects our behavior and the way we perceive the outside world. If we are to act in a kinder and gentler manner, then we must be careful and vigilant with what we expose ourselves to.
The bold sentence landed for me when I read this. When I read this sentence, I realized I have been practicing this for some time. The more I have committed to meditation, the more I have committed to changing my story about personal finances, world peace, and environmental concerns, the less and less I have given in to watching the news and giving in to negative and low-vibrational articles and topics. I have found that my life is far more effective and beneficial not only to myself and those around me when I cut out those unnecessary things, but also beneficial to the functionality of the entire world. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t not acknowledge the fact that terrible things happen around the world on a daily basis, I choose to make the conscious decision to not allow it in to my psyche, because it only serves to distract me from my path.
Since I have intentionally not watched the news in about two years, from my space of detachment I sense that news stories exist to keep us in a veil of fear. Fear is controlling. It’s allowing a force outside of yourself that you cannot control take over you. Biologically, the fear center of our brains, the amygdala, grows as we watch news reports on murders, break-ins, natural disasters, and other terrible things that we can perceive as threatening to our existence. Clinical and controlled studies have shown that a life without meditation grows grey matter in the amygdala, trapping us in a veil of fear. These same studies compare and contrast non-meditators to meditators, who have much less density in their amygdalas, and more grey matter in the memory centers of the brain as well as increased integration of disparate parts of the brain.
So, as soon as I experience something negative and makes me feel bad, I work to reverse those effects by engaging in something positive, whether it’s meditation, walking my dog, petting my cat, having a good laugh, watching an uplifting video on Facebook or social media, or immersing myself in something Doreen Virtue or Wayne Dyer has published. I don’t allow unnecessary negative things to linger any longer than they need to. As soon as they occur, I know it’s time to work to change it around, because where my focus goes, my energy flows.
Another great example is this: Al (my boyfriend) and I love watching movies. I am very diligent making sure I choose movies with a positive outcome, usually involving some sort of underdog overcoming a great obstacle, that I know will leave me feeling good after watching it. Al loves watching crime shows, and after watching a few of them with him I realized I felt too bad for too long after watching some of those episodes, so I choose to not watch them, just because they make me feel low-energy afterwards. This past weekend we watched The Finest Hours, a great movie about a daring coast guard rescue that took place in the 1950’s, and we watched How To Be Single, a great and uplifting comedy about a bunch of characters questioning the necessity intimate relationships as opposed to being single. These things made us feel great, which creates positive memories. All in all, our aim is to create more and more positive memories, and to keep our focus on the positive happenings in our lives.
The things we give our attention to are the things that will flourish in our lives. The things we cease to give attention to will diminish in our lives. Viveka (keen discernment) and abhyasa (diligent, focused practice) work together to help create positive and uplifting memories that move us and our causes forward.
All of our experiences are recorded in our memories. Our memories are seated in our citta, or the lens through which our inner light shines. Samskara is the Sanskrit word for behaviors, and samskaras can either be affected by our memories, or memories can affect our samskaras.
“When we witness or participate in an event that is very intense or repeated many times, the memory of that event is strong, stores deeper in our citta, and can therefore contribute to habitual tendencies (samskaras).”
This lands for me in the form of practice. Being a former collegiate sprinter, I recall the importance of practice: the purpose of practice is a deep-rooted, daily commitment to the ritual of going over the same motions over and over again. These motions will make you successful if done with intention, commitment and openness to coaching and improvement, and with love and self-compassion. This was my first consciously aware experience of practice, because I knew that if I missed a single day of practice, my end result (my races throughout the season and at the end of the season) would be detrimentally affected. Even though I do not sprint anymore, the habit of practice has stayed with me. The practice of cutting out things that do not help sprinting I have now applied to my work. I ask myself before I do anything, from brushing my teeth to going out on the weekends to taking on a new client, if that choice will further my cause. Taking a moment to make sure each of my decisions, from the smallest to the grandest, line up with my values helps organize my time in a much more impactful way.
I am motivated by these memories I have from my youth when I was a successful sprinter. These are positive vrtti-s in the form of smrtis that help move my life forward in a positive way every day, and it is a type of mimicking of what I used to do. It is familiar and it is effective, and those years I spent as a teenage athlete were truly just practice for the bigger picture that is occurring now. This is the outcome that we all are working towards: focused, intentional, and deliberate action in the present that is rooted in positive memories.
This really requires laser focus at all levels.
Perception is a huge part of all of this.
For example, if as a child you were forced to take on extra responsibility at a young age because your parent either couldn’t or wouldn’t. Abandonment situations are not unusual; they happen all the time. As that child grows into an adult, those childhood experiences could be interpreted by the individual in one of two ways: either by believing in being a victim, or being empowered by the fact that he/she had the opportunity to be responsible at a young age.
What we think we heard or saw gets stored in our memory, and this may not always be accurate of what actually happened. Everything we perceive can only be perceived by our own points of view. The best we can do to see things from others’ points of view is to activate vikalpa (imagination) in order to shift our focus, and to ultimately let go of our limiting points of view, which is freeing not only in the sense of giving up that heavy emotional baggage, but also in the sense of allowing new possibility in where it otherwise would have been blocked.
Correct perception is pramana in Sanskrit. This just means the memories that are stored are truthful.
Misperception is viparyaya in Sanskrit, which means untruthful memories.
Clarification and purification of our heart-mind is essential for seeing the world as it actually is. It is from the space of purification that we are able to take in information and make informed decisions about our subsequent actions that truly empowers us.
“The process of yoga includes the gradual replacement of harmful or negative memories with helpful or positive ones. Whatever receives attention will strengthen, and whatever we pay no attention to will weaken.”
This is exactly what I have been practicing since I first learned about it in Sid McNairy’s book, Empowerment and Beyond. It has been my atha, or commitment, ever since first learning it, and, like anything, it takes daily and momentary work to stay dedicated. Deviating from that path will only make my work more difficult in the long run, so I choose to stay my course. Deviation from my course includes choosing to not give in to media-induced fears and also giving in to the every day fears like fearing in lack in my life.
We are products of our experiences, and we have so much say in what it is we experience throughout our day. We also have a say in what we allow to let in to our consciousness and whether or not we allow negative things to have an impact on every other moment of our waking hours. This is evident in whether or not you allow one tiny moment to affect your entire day or subsequent days: someone close to you says something negative, and you have the ability to let it ruin your day or let it roll off of you so you can have an effective and productive day. Having the capacity to remember your inner light of awareness, your connectedness to your inner self that connects to the divine Source that permeates all that is, is the greatest memory you can retain. It is this memory that can keep you centered and headed in the direction of enlightenment and empowered living.
Your memory is intended to serve you. Respect yourself enough to let it do what it must in order to serve you: continuously learn, and continuously be open to new learning. Be a teacher and a mentor, and at the same time be a student. If you are holding on to a negative memory, get curious around the content of that memory, and begin to see it as something that has powerfully shaped you and prepared you for a daring and bold future. Hardships, past and current, exist only to make you stronger. There isn’t a single obstacle on your path that you cannot handle. So, if negative beliefs around and old memory are lingering and holding you back from your most expressive life ever, then choose to change the way you look at those memories. Write down what those memories are, write down everything you feel around those memories. Burn that piece of paper, and watch every single word burn. These words do not serve you to move you forward. Take out another sheet of paper. Write the same story, but this time write it from a perspective of how it challenged you and changed you for the better to make you the person you are today. Live with this new version, instead of the old one. Crumple this one up, and throw it away. Because dwelling on your past story, no matter what light you shine on it, takes you away from living in a forward way RIGHT NOW.
Your memory is powerful and exists to serve you. Allow it to serve you gently as you go on your way. Give up the old, get empty to let in the new, and be discerning about the new things you allow in to your memory and into your citta. The empowerment of your life depends on it.
Clear, accurate perceptions can replace past, inaccurate impressions.
What I remember will create an impression that can affect my behavior.
I will remember to engage in that which is conducive to the practice of yoga.