Is your memory keeping you stuck?

Preconceived ideas – they can certainly create whirlwinds in our mind, and like cyclones and tornadoes in the natural world, can all too often leave a trail of chaos in their wake.

Think of a four year old child, playing by itself on the beach. A large dog bounds up to the child, rears up on its back legs, knocks the child over on its back, and runs away. What is the child to think?

1. That dogs are friendly but occasionally overenthusiastic.

2. That dogs are vicious and dangerous.

3. That the quality of friendliness or viciousness applies to this particular dog alone, and not to dogs in general.

The result can affect that person’s opinion of dogs long into their adult life, potentially causing anxiety and fear whenever dogs are around them.

As we’ve discussed before, Yoga’s purpose is to help us slow down the winds that create disturbances such as these – the philosopher Patanjali called them the “modifications of the mind” – first to a cool spring breeze, and ultimately to the calm stillness of a summer morning.

Memory is one of the things that Yoga cautions us to use wisely: whilst memory can certainly help us move through our lives smoothly – once we’ve put our hand on a hot hotplate we don’t rush to repeat the experience – it can also lead us astray.

The problem with memory is that it’s subjective; it interprets the world around us according to our age, emotional state and cultural traditions, among many other factors. In other words, it often remembers things the way we want to remember them.

When we come across a situation, or another person’s behaviour, that we think we’ve experienced in the past, we use memory to determine how we will behave. But perhaps memory is clouding the right decision, and instead of using the best information available at that moment, we are allowing preconceived ideas about the person or situation to determine our response.

The question to ask the mind is: will this action achieve the best outcome? Or will it just create more confusion and send the mind hurtling off along yet another path? Put another way, could it be that those preconceived ideas that seem so comforting and solid – anchors for the mind to drop during a storm – actually create more chaos and heartache in the long run, precisely because they are so unbending?

Learning to use the tool of memory can be a struggle, but losing our preconceived ideas often leads to some pleasantly surprising results.

Image credit: L-plate big cheese

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