Can we remember not being in the moment?
These are strictly my thoughts and many questions. Perhaps one day I will have the time and inclination to see what scientific studies say about this, if there are any.
My main question is…. Will I remember more if I spend more time in the present? Or the reverse…. Can I remember specific parts in my past when I was not in the moment?
This question all started with a conversation with my sister Jo. She was telling me about how hearing a song brought her intensely back to a time when she was young. Emotions and feelings came with this memory, who she was with, what they were doing, etc, etc. She was snapped right back to that moment in time when she was listening to that song before. We talked about how smells and other triggers can also do this. So I asked her if she thought she would have been able to have those memories if she wasn’t “present” at the time. Jo found this as intriguing as I did, so we explored that question a little further.
This has been a topic of conversation in our family before; maybe that’s why this was so interesting to us. My mom took a sort of self helpy course in the late 80’s and she came home talking about how she was “internal”. This was the way they would describe not being in the moment back then I guess. Nowadays I think they say you are “in your head”. So….., mom was learning about being present and would go around apologizing when she wasn’t listening or paying attention saying, sorry dear I must have been internal. It became kind of an inside joke about mom being internal. Later in life I remember dad giving me advice to stay in the moment. Funny how relevant that simple advice was, looking back on it now. I am sure that I underestimated it back then and can only hope that it stuck in my subconscious somehow. Or maybe I was following it without really realizing it. But now after truly tying to practice this along with meditation I am realizing how powerful this advice was.
Back to the original somewhat vague question, which really just lead me to many more….. It may seem obvious but if Jo was internal, in her head, daydreaming or whatever you want to call it would she have been able to recall that moment many years later. Can we access memories of the past when we were not being present? Or, maybe it’s not black and white and it depends on how focused you are. It seems to me though that my past memory would be much stronger if I was in the moment. If I am worrying about the past or future would I be able to remember that as strong as if I was fully present. It makes me think of those flashback memories on the silver screen. Vivid video type images of a past event…. sometimes that seems to really happen to us. Maybe the intensity of that video type memory has to do with how focused or “in the moment” (or even emotional?) we were at the time.
Maybe I am biased now but it seems like my memory – now to think of it, it’s not like factual statistical recall memory but more like experiential memory seems to have improved over the past few years since trying to practice mindfulness meditations, etc.
When I think back to times of greater unawareness in my life the memory seems vague or blurry, sometime just plain missing. Granted that could also be due to external things like alcohol or drugs.
Many of us have experienced this while driving, where all of a sudden you realize you are 20 minutes into your drive and you can’t remember anything along the way. We have just been subconsciously driving. Fast forward 20 years and where do those 20 minutes go. Is it available to our conscious memory? Is it somewhere buried deep inside? It is just as easy to access as if we were in the moment during that 20 min drive? What would we be able to access from it anyway…. some day-dream of future or past events? Does that “internal” part of our life disappear?
Does one’s level of awareness have any correlation to quality of memory? Can we create more memory or are we always maxing out? Talking to my sister again about this and funny enough we both remember exactly where we were driving while discussing this originally. She also made an interesting point about being “in the zone”, “the pocket” or “void” whatever you wish to call that space where time slows down and you instinctively create. Basically super focused, usually while playing sports, performing arts, or creating something. She figures she can’t remember details while in the zone but will remember more during conversations with people. I understand what she means but I don’t think I can say the same. I do feel that stuff happens automatically while in the zone but I seem to remember it the same as generic experiences in the present.
I find these questions fascinating and maybe will try experimenting a bit with it, or at least be aware of it and see if anything changes. I know that as it stands I still forget way too much!!
Thanks for reading,
Possibillianist G-gnome (Graham)