A Good Memory is the Key to the Present

Lotus positionA couple times a week, I start the morning with a whole-body-work-out yoga routine. At the end of the video, the instructor introduces the “rest and receive” time, where you lie on the floor in what’s called “corpse pose,” with a quote from Sylvia Plath. “Remember, remember that this is now. And now. And now. Live it. Feel it. Cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of alI I take for granted.” I could remember this quote, much like every song I’ve ever heard, after the first time I heard it; I have the auditory equivalent of a photographic memory. A therapist once made the incredibly validating comment that it is really important to have a specific memory; to cultivate remembering details. I don’t have to cultivate it; it just happens. This sounds like a neat party trick, but it’s actually super annoying to a) remember everything you ever hear, including horrible songs and really mean things people say to you and b) be the only one who remembers things like conversations, agreements, etc. Turns out, though, that this kind of memory that I’m good at, is about the past.

This is the kind of thing Facebook does when it shows you posts you made a year or two ago. This used to annoy me; now, I see it as kind of an excellent way to do a couple things: one, I’ve accidentally started charting my personal growth. As in, “oh, wow, I was saying that last year?” Or, “yep, this must be a consistent thing about my personality.” Two, it can be a good way to combat the amnesia induced by the 24-hour, 140-character news cycle we’re all totally sucked up by and plugged into all the time. There were things I’d posted fervently about a year ago that are still major issues today and I’d completely forgotten about them. Having a good memory is essential to participating well in civic life, understanding oneself and one’s relationships and cultivating gratitude (which is a great antidepressant once you get the hang of it).

But what I don’t seem to remember very well is that “this is now.” I wake up at 1:47am (exactly) every morning, as well as a few other times, quaking with anxiety about something that has happened or will happen. There is nothing about “this is now” at 1:47am for me. What I’m clinging to instead of the present moment of being warm in my bed not having (or being able, really) to do anything is what has already occurred or what I’m certain will occur.

I don’t understand Plath to be talking about “the eternal now” – she’s definitely not trying to practice Zen or she wouldn’t be talking about “clinging” to stuff. I’ve never been able to relate with the idea that “all we have is now;” while it is technically true, I don’t see how it makes people feel better. I can’t remember where I read this but someone once wrote that “no one is anxious about not having lived 100 years ago, we’re only anxious about the future.” Not true at all. I am regularly anxious that I am living now and not some time in the past and have had those feelings since I was a small child. But the novel thing about Plath’s quote is that it’s kind of the opposite of the meditative approach to The Now that advocates letting go and just being in the flow of the now. I’ve heard Plath’s quote read hundreds of times by now, twice a week and this is the first time I’ve thought about what it means to remember that this is now and to cling to it as a way of practicing gratitude.

I’ll likely always have a ridiculously good memory. Instead of replaying audio recordings of stressful things or really bad songs, perhaps now I can direct it to clinging to now. And now. And now.

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