On Memories (or How to Live in the Present while Enjoying the Past)

When I lived in a tiny village in France, there was a café where I would sit and do my studies. Cafes in France are great because they are wonderfully social, while also being inherently solitary. (The French have a different cultural sense of privacy, which can seem stand-offish to Americans. It does have a good side and French cafes are evidence of this.)

One day, in an attempt to avoid studying, I watched an elderly man sipping an espresso. He must have been sitting there for several hours. I remember wondering what he was thinking about and being envious that he clearly had no need to rush, or study, or do anything except contemplate.

I imagined that he was probably replaying some lovely memories like a cinema in his head.

Watching him, I decided at that moment that it was very important to have enough lovely memories in my life so that one day, when I’m old, I can spend time watching my “memory movies” while sipping an espresso in a French café.

***

The other day, my daughter took her first steps.

It was one of those picture-perfect moments. We were at my parents-in-law’s house and everyone was lounging around in the living room. Eva had just had her bath and was rosy-cheeked and cute in her PJs.

She must have felt more confident or just happy in that moment, because up until that evening, she wasn’t really interested in walking on her own.

But with just a little bit of coaxing, she took six steps and fell into my outstretched arms.

I’m such a sappy mom, I realize, but when she looked up at me with such pride and joy, I thought: I will never forget this moment.

 

***

I know, I know: we’re supposed to be living in the present.

But is it possible that the prospect of such a beautiful future memory enhances the present enjoyment of a moment?

What if it’s possible to live twice – once, enjoying it as it happens and twice, when we replay it in our memories?

Creating memories, after all, is an ongoing process.  First, we receive information in the present, then we register and store it in our minds. Finally we retrieve it when we need it (or when we simply want to “re-live” it).

But over the course of these stages, we modify the memory – sometimes we gloss over the bad stuff, and turn it into something perfect. Other times, we extract key lessons (sometimes hard ones) and use them as advice for future situations. And then there are those memories that we merge with others, so that the blending of experiences enhances the story.

All of these memory modifications are part of crafting one’s own personal history, creating stories – both fact and fiction – that are part of a unique legacy.

***

It’s a bit of a riddle, but I’m pretty sure that by exercising our ability to live in the present, we enhance our potential for enjoying the future.

Did you know that meditation can improve your memory?  According to studies, those who meditate regularly experience a thickening in the brain’s cerebral cortex.  This part of the brain is responsible for things like learning, memory and concentration.

Meditation, the practice of living in the present, works out the brain, making it stronger and better able to take on endurance tasks – like making beautiful memories.

These days, I don’t really get a chance to sit in French cafes, which I do consider a shame. But funny enough, I find myself replaying “memory movies” on a regular basis.  It’s almost like I’m doing it simultaneously – living it and recording it for posterity.

What memory will you record today?