How Deep Are Your Memories?
Memory is one of the most powerful ways to enhance your meditation practice, and deliberately using your memory is a great way to increase your control and awareness of consciousness. Using our memory deliberately can also be a great alternative if you want a bit of downtime in your day, instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media.
There are many different types of memory. One is recalling useful facts, but that is not a type of memory that we would generally use in meditation. I’d like to introduce you to a ten-minute memory exercise that increases your skill at deliberately navigating through what I call ‘deep memories’. Deep memories are memories that lie below the surface of what you normally remember about an event, an emotion, a person. For instance, if you sit quietly and think about where you lived when you were five years old, you will probably immediately or with relatively little effort be able to remember the name of the street, the names of a number of your childhood friends, or a pet's name from that time.
A deep memory in contrast, is a something where it would never normally occur to us to recall — like the sound of the train that ran behind your house at that age, or exactly what you saw on your first day at school, or the color of a model train you had as that five-year-old. Normally, when we remember things, we are not very deliberate about which sense we are directing our attention to.
A deep memory can involve any of your external senses of touch, sound, sight, smell and hearing, its just not the first sense that you remember when you first direct your attention to the memory. A deep memory involves some deliberate effort and focusing of your attention. A deep memory could also involve some of your internal consciousness senses such as emotion, thinking, intuition, or instinct. The key thing about deep memories is that they take some effort and focus to get to. They are always just out of view when you first direct your attention to the memory. That’s the joy and mystery of them.
If you want to understand more about what I am talking about when I refer to internal consciousness senses, read A Model for Mindfullness.
A deep memory might be visual snapshot a single water lily on a quiet pond your found by accident wandering in a foreign city, the sound of laughter across the room at a party you once threw, a snippet of dialogue from a conversation you thought was long forgotten. But it is always that something that is below the normal ‘surface’ of remembering. It may have no importance, or you might find that is has some meaning that actually has some significance. There is an element of randomness to these little snippets, and that is part of their charm.
One word of caution. The first time you do this exercise, it’s best not to recall emotions. Stick to other senses at first. Recalling past emotions, even positive ones, can quickly becoming overwhelming for many people, or trigger a chain reaction of emotions and thoughts that are then difficult to manage if you don’t already have some fairly well-developed self-help or meditation skills. Deep emotional memories can take on a life of their own and consume all our available attention very quickly. So ease yourself in.
Deep Memories are so valuable to us because they are the memories that are just not available to us unless we make a specific effort to use our consciousness in a deliberate, disciplined way. Meditation can be many things, but fundamentally, all the skills involved in meditation have in common careful, deliberate and controlled use of our consciousness, in order to increase the skills needed to navigate your unique personal internal world and experience of life. When you practice exploring deep memories, you will become more aware of how rich and flexible your brain is, and how with very little effort we can remember things that are normally forgotten in our normal daily lives.
Realizing that there is much more hidden in our memories than we may think is also an antidote to the onslaught of modern media from Facebook, Tiktok, Instagram and so on. These addictive streams of content are fascinating because they are ‘sticky’ to our attention. We just want to keep scrolling and scrolling. If you’ve ever had the feeling of wondering where the last hour went while flicking through your phone, you’ve succumbed to the deliberate stickiness of modern media. In a sense, exploring deep memories is the meditation equivalent of scrolling through social media, but one that will improve brain function rather than dull it. Plus, you won’t be providing an enormous corporation valuable commercial data about your interests. You don’t quite know what you are going to find, but it probably will be just as entertaining as your Instagram feed, and you’ll actually be strengthening the skills needed to go into deeper, more challenging meditation practices if you choose.
Make a mental note that deliberate navigation of deep memories is very different from daydreaming. Daydreaming is what you do sitting beside the pool in the summertime, half asleep from drinking that mid-afternoon vodka and orange. Navigating deep memories is a deliberate consciousness skill, something that improves greatly when we practice it, even for a short period. You could also do it after drinking that vodka and orange, but in general, alcohol and recreational or prescription drugs hinder meditation and consciousness skills, not enhance them.
Ask around and you will find that navigating deep memories is something that very few people have even taken any time to ever do, even though it is a very simple idea, takes very little skill, is absolutely free, can be enjoyable and fascinating, and takes and very little time.
Deep Memory Process Steps:
1. Close your eyes and pick a time in your life when you felt happy. It doesn’t really matter how long ago it is, the key thing is that is when you were happy. Please don’t pick a negative memory unless you have the confidence to work through negative emotional states that may get triggered by a negative memory.
2. Gently direct your attention to the most obvious aspects of that memory — whether it is a place, a person, an idea or activity. Sometimes it helps to focus on the place and time, but don’t get too hung up on details if the exact time and place are no longer clear. Do this for about a minute or so.
3. Now, go deeper. Direct your attention to distinct sensory aspects of that memory in turn, for instance the color of the leaves, the sound of a car door slamming, what was being talked about, how you felt about what was going on, exactly what dialogue was going on inside your head, etc. If your attention wanders, gently bring it back to that first memory and go deeper using a different sense. Seek to go deeper into one memory or area of memories, rather than wide and shallow across many memories. This is not free associating from one topic to another, it is using your attention in a very specific, controlled way, to go deeper and deeper and deeper into one topic, and improve your ability to manage consciousness in a specific way.
4. The key is relaxed, directed attention. This is not a difficult, goal orientated exercise, it’s a training in deliberate attention management. You might like to read the article on what is attention if you are struggling to stay focused. If you are straining, back off and be easier on yourself. Use relaxed observation rather than strained concentration.
5. Once you are comfortable with the concept of going deeper, stay within the general area, but slowly allow your attention to naturally explore what is connected to that original memory, using your curiosity as a guide. For example, if you picked a particular time in your life, remember other things that were happening at that time, and go deeper into each of those things in turn. Or if you picked a person, remember other things you did with that person, and go deeper into each one in turn. If it was an activity, remember different times or places you did that same activity, and go deeper into each of those places. Remember this is not day dreaming. It’s very conscious, deliberate exploration.
6. Continue this process until you come across something that you really haven’t remembered for some time, and that would never have occurred to remember if you had not done this exercise.
7. Continue the memory exercise for at least 10 minutes. Check with yourself how you now feel. Usually, this exercise will leave you feeling relaxed, curious and appreciative of the uniqueness of your life.
8. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have interesting insights you want to share.
About the Author
Peter Hill loves to take time to think and feel deeply. Over more than thirty years, he has studied dozens of meditation, self-development and spiritual techniques. Guided by neuroscience rather than mysticism, his mission is to demystify consciousness and teach people to live better lives by using their brains more effectively. Visit the NeuroYou Facebook page for more interesting articles and insights into meditation