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The Impact of Personality Change on Memories - A bit of psychology for change

Madhava - Wed, 10 Dec 2003 03:47:10 +0530
I've done some study on psychology lately; pardon me for bringing up less rAgAnugA topics. Anyway, I suppose it fits in the current surge of posts on sociology and comparative what-not just fine.

There are a number of theories on why we cannot remember practically anything of our first two years, and memories from the subsequent years are considerably faint and hard-to-access as well. One theory suggests that we require a suitable cognitive frame of reference for storing memories, and since the personality of the child has not adequately developed in the early years of life, one lacks the adequate frame of reference for pulling up memories.

The reason I'm bringing this up is I've observed the same pattern repeat throughout my life, whenever substantial transformations of psyche have taken place. The first period is the early childhood, and then the youth. The period of youth is broken with my conversion intto a Hare Krishna. After a couple of years of Hare Krishna life, I observed how most of my memories from the pre-hare life seemed to become more and more blurry, to the point that I only had statistics left of it, with no personal contact to most of the memories. The Gaudiya Math phase fit in with the initial Hare-period, but the shift to traditional rAgAnugA was again a major transformation of psyche. Now I am observing the same phenomenom, memories from the Hare-period of my life are becoming increasingly blurry, and I find that I am having less and less personal contact with my memories from the period. There are images, there are facts and figures, but they are becoming increasingly distant, almost to the point where I feel like I could be watching a stranger's memories, with practically no emotional bond, or even a sense of presence, to the events that once occured. This naturally makes the images more distant and more hard to remember.

I've occasionally discussed this with my wife over the years, and we've observed the same thing. It was a bit of a mystery until today as I read a short note on the impact of a cognitive frame of reference and personality formation. Since the path of rAgAnugA is all about personality transformation, I am curious as to whether our good audience shares similar inner experiences, or whether we are all alone in the strange worlds of our psyche?
Advaitadas - Wed, 10 Dec 2003 03:54:50 +0530
Perhaps it depends on the individual smarana shakti. I have a memory that goes back very long, it filters out the bad things from the past, though the very bad things like my marriage of 10-15 years ago lingered longer. Now it is fading. The extremely special period, like my time in Vraja, 15-23 years ago, lingered for long but is now also disappearing. Of course you became a devotee at a very young age, 15 I believe, and that is indeed a break-up of your youth. When kids get into real life you actually broke it off. Spiritual sadhana affects the smarana shakti, like drugs do. Anyway, again, I think it depends on the sensitivity and smarana shakti of the individual.
adiyen - Wed, 10 Dec 2003 04:30:18 +0530
I think vocabulary is important, and corresponds to what is usually regarded as 'brainwashing' but which is really an essential part of the human experience of growing up in a particular culture with a particular language. (Existential Psychology like Victor Frankl's Logotherapy uses this idea in a positive way).

For example, during my 7 years in Iskcon, I learnt a whole vocabulary which both helped me describe experience peculiar to that group, and restricted me from describing other experiences outside the group. Eg 'love' or 'love of God' acquired a specific meaning, different to the way outsiders used it. This explains why it is sometimes difficult to persuade those immersed in a group: the words have different meanings for them.

On the lighter side, when I got a 'karmi' job, there were some hilarious problems of adjustment, such as answering the phone in the office with 'Haribol?', 'Harry who?' said the salesman at the other end. Or saying 'Krishna' when sneezing. 'What was that?' said the boss.

It's true for me that now most of my Iskcon 7 years is just a blurr. Having lost the vocabulary, the memories are difficult to access.

Advaita I think you are unique in your ability to hold fast to the ideal, even if you are sometimes alone in it. I admire this, but I tend to adapt to my environment to a greater degree. It's my nature.

I went to school reunion 3 weeks ago and participated in the Catholic prayers, while my 'liberal' school friends refused, I had no problem making 'the sign of the Cross' and saying 'Our Father...' even after 30 years lapse.
vamsidas - Wed, 10 Dec 2003 16:35:56 +0530
QUOTE(Madhava @ Dec 9 2003, 10:17 PM)
There are a number of theories on why we cannot remember practically anything of our first two years, and memories from the subsequent years are considerably faint and hard-to-access as well. One theory suggests that we require a suitable cognitive frame of reference for storing memories, and since the personality of the child has not adequately developed in the early years of life, one lacks the adequate frame of reference for pulling up memories.

The reason I'm bringing this up is I've observed the same pattern repeat throughout my life, whenever substantial transformations of psyche have taken place.

For what it's worth, I haven't really experienced what you describe -- or maybe I'm just misunderstanding your description.

My memories before age 5 or so are VERY fragmented. But, starting with elementary school, I have fairly clear memories extending over the next four decades. Unlike Advaitadas, I seem not to have filtered out the bad things from the past; they remain as strong memories along with the good things.

It does seem, though, that for the older memories I can choose whether to "enter into" them and recapture their joy or sorrow, or whether to "observe" the memories from a bit of a distance.

Perhaps this continuity means that I just haven't undergone any radical transformation of psyche? Or perhaps it means I'm a very shallow person? Or that my "verbal world" was well-formed before my immersion into Gaudiya Vaishnavism, yet not too much transformed by that immersion?

What fascinates me most about "memory" is the research I have read about "false memory." Yes, I "remember" my elementary school experience... but how can I really KNOW that I am truly "remembering" the experience itself, and not just projecting my current state of mind, or my opinion of my former state of mind, onto old photographs? Outside the realm of external "facts" that are easily verifiable (which teachers I had, which friends, books I read, places I visited, etc.), how can I truly KNOW that I am accurately recapturing the inner life of my youth? For example, I think I remember the sadness and confusion I felt when my mother died... but to what extent am I today remembering my childhood state of mind, and to what extent am I filtering that mindset through my adult perceptions?
Advaitadas - Wed, 10 Dec 2003 17:07:44 +0530
Quite right. Last summer I scanned in photos of myself from my very birth upto the present day and I was struck to see that my history, the situations and environment were quite different from what I thought I remembered so well. As a small child you experience the world as very big, even the room in which you dwell. When you come back as an adult it's all very small...
Mina - Thu, 11 Dec 2003 01:49:16 +0530
This is an interesting topic. I think what Madhava has described has more to do with transformation and remembering the events that occured prior to becoming transormed taking on a different context than it has to do with retrieval of the memories from brain cells. I look back on my attitudes and actions from earlier phases of my life and think to myself that I really was quite a different person back then. That should be viewed as something positive, because it means you have made some progress and have grown through a learning experience. Can we say that we are no longer that person? Perhaps, but it might make more sense to say that it was the old me and that today you see the new me, who has an entirely different outlook.

Basically all young children are inherently narcissistic, and that (if they succeed in maturing, and not all people do) this wears off gradually until we become less self-involved and more altruistic in our tendencies. This process is actually exaggerated for a sAdhaka, who not only matures but actually transforms his/her self into an other-wordly personality with this completely separate inner existence (a mystical state, if you will).

Just as we have no memories of previous lifetimes, on account of those having faded entirely, so we also gradually lose our memories in this life over time. For most people, it is easier to remember the minute to minute details of everything that happened yesterday than it is to remember the same details from any particular day from a decade ago. It is really a practical matter. If we were bombarded by too many memories of the past, we would become non-functional. Hence, the mechanism that selects memories by filtering out the noise from the really significant events.

What Madhava is describing could also involve some process of selective memory by which those memories that are considered to be inferior are suppressed. That does not mean that they are necessarily lost entirely, and with triggering mechanisms (regression under hypnosis for example) they can be brought back from their place of storage in the brain. You might run into a person on the street and they recognize you, but you cannot remember them at all. Then in the course of conversation, as they start to recount some past experinces involving the two of you, suddenly you remember them. That is a result of the triggering mechanism.

Can you remember in which grade you learned your multiplication tables? I think for me it was the third grade, but I am not entirely sure. Most people probably remember in great detail their first time having sex, no matter how long ago it was.
Rasesh - Thu, 11 Dec 2003 09:10:42 +0530
Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories, sweetened thru the ages just like wine

Quiet thought come floating down
And settle softly to the ground
Like golden autumn leaves around my feet
I touched them and they burst apart with sweet memories,
Sweet memories

Of holding hands and red bouquets
And twilight trimmed in purple haze
And laughing eyes and simple ways
And quiet nights and gentle days with you

Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories, sweetened thru the ages just like wine,
Memories, memories, sweet memories

Song by Elvis Presley
adiyen - Thu, 11 Dec 2003 16:41:12 +0530
Memory by (Andrew Lloyd Webber) : ["Cats"]

Not a sound from the pavement
Has the moon lost her memory
She is smiling alone
In the lamp light
The withered leaves collect at my feet
And the wind begins to moan

All alone in the moonlight
I can smile like the old days
I was beautiful , then I remember
The time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again

Every street lamp seems to beat
A fatalistic warning
Someone mutters and the street lamp gutters
And soon it will be morning

I must wait for the sun rise
I must think for the new life
And I mustn't give in

When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And the new day will begin

Burnt out ends of smoky days
The stale cold smell of morning
A street lamp dies
Another night is over
Another day is dawning

Touch me !
It's so easy to leave me
All alone with my memory
Of my days in the sun
If you touch me
You'll understand what happiness is
Look, a new day has begun!

Jagat - Thu, 11 Dec 2003 21:33:42 +0530
The constant changing nature of the subtle body was one of our arguments for the existence of a soul, was it not?

The idea of samskara also seems significant. We are cultivating our next body through our sukshma-sarira. It is what is prominent that counts.

I find this particularly relevant when I encounter my own not inconsiderable intellectual limitations, like when some young and brilliant individual comes along and starts bandying about the names of new and rising philosophers I have never heard of and ideas that are beyond my capacity to understand. Ultimately all that will be left to hold on to is the Holy Name and, hopefully, the Divine Couple. The rest is ephemera.

This is the wisdom of old age, I guess.
Pagal Baba - Thu, 11 Dec 2003 23:25:13 +0530
If I could only forget....
Gaurasundara - Mon, 15 Dec 2003 19:47:11 +0530
I think that Madhavaji's examples of the different phases of his Vaishnava life serve his point well. I have also experienced similar effects when considering my own psycho-religious development with various schools of thought, and I can no longer remember tangible details of these times though the general 'vibe' is still very much there.

This is annoying, since I am currently interesting in documenting all of my experiences on paper and I find that I can no longer remember specific events or "ideas" with which to supplement my writing with. I find that I have to return to the original source material (books!) to select a topic and viewing/summarizing that topic with my current perspective. A fascinating idea, but it is absolutely useless when I am trying to document the evolution of my own thought.
So why does this happen? I have no idea, which is why I intend to take my final year in a psychology degree as well. For now, I can only accept that as we undergo some types of traumatic events in our lives they have a tendency to become the defining moments of our lives which we shall later remember.

I remember an old anecdote relating to Arjuna and Krishna. When Krishna told Arjuna that He could remember all of His previous lifetimes while he (Arjuna) could not, Arjuna enquired as to the reason why. Krishna replied that it was because He was interested in everything which is why He could remember everything. So I think that whenever something sufficiently interesting (read traumatic) happens in our lives, they become the defining moments; but the memories of such moments will also tend to dim with age.

I personally take SB 3.25.33 and 3.28.37-38 to be useful in this regard.