Memory as Remembering Who We Are

Last week we mentioned the importance of discovering what we have called a true story–a true image of who we are and a worthwhile script to follow in living out our life. We need a story that takes into account all our spiritual richness and complexity and depth, as well as our inner wounds and failures. At the root of it all would be the our ineradicable sacred worth and our connection with all that is.

We might distinguish here between our true story and our inherited script. Our true story would be the unfolding of our life according to who we are in our inmost self. Our inherited script would be what we have been told we are from childhood on by family, school, culture, society, etc. What can happen is that we lose sight of who we truly are, we forget who we truly are.

In an article on folktales as rooted in the experience of wonder, G. K. Chesterton writes.
These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water. …
We have all read … the story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man … cannot remember who he is. Well, everyone is that person in the story. …We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awe-filled instant we remember that we forget. …

These words suggest that memory is far more than recalling past events, it is really recalling to our mind and spirit, who we truly are. In the thought of Gabor Maté, it is tuning in to our need for authenticity that has been obscured by our need to belong. This need leads us to set aside our authentic self in order to make ourselves seemingly acceptable to others.

An example is found in the well-known the story of the prodigal son, A young man, after securing his future inheritance, squanders it completely. He then arrives at the end of the line in his life after having followed a false script. He then remembers that it once was better. He feels he has lost his family position, but thinks that he might get a servant’s job with his father. Yet, on his return, his father greets him as his beloved son, despite his time of lostness. The story suggests that our sacredness is deeper than and not obliterated by any wrongness. Our true self is not lost, even if we fail to see it or even violate it. Yet sometimes it needs a caring other to help us get in touch with and see our worth and our true identity.

Memory is not then just related to past facts but to our present identity. We might remember a task of memorization required in our schooling, possibly especially in the daunting challenge of studying for exams. It is interesting, however, that one expression for such an activity is to learn and know something “by heart.” There is also a song by Eva Cassidy called I Know You by Heart, and part of a verse reads: “I see your sweet smile/ Shine through the darkness/ It’s line is etched in my memory/ So I’d know you by heart.”

The term heart here refers to the core (from the Latin word for heart, cor) or inmost centre of our being. If we understand something or someone in our heart, that person or event is so deeply rooted in us that they remain always in our awareness, at least in the background. They are ready to be drawn upon at any time. They that they remain an integral part of us, and shape who we are and who we are becoming.

When we remember something of this kind, the feeling level of what is recalled, whether joyful or painful, is also a part of this memory. If we hear a song, for example, that we associate with a particular time or place or person, we feel again what we felt at that time. The memory is not just a return to a past situation but is its experience anew in the present. The same experience may occur if we look at a photograph that evokes our connections with those whose lives are or have been intertwined with our own

In both these cases, memory is not just a remote connection with something long gone, but more of a tuning in to our identity. It is a bringing forth not just what we have done or has been done to us, but a calling forth of who we are.

May you always remember, may you always know by heart, who you truly are in you inmost sacred self. And may you find in your heart the core of who you are and all those who have entered into your heart and remain there always.