There are four kinds of memory
- Short term memory
- Working memory
- Long term memory
- Muscular memory
However, none of these terms really identify what memory means. Memory is essentially about association.
We remember because of our associations between things and people, and the strengths of those associations.
If you learned to ride a bicycle and you did a lot of riding, there is a strong set of associations with your muscles. The same would be true about dancing. Walking is muscle memory. You don’t hold onto the other forms of memory like you do muscle memory. Your life doesn’t depend on them nearly so much as you think.
Memory is not nearly so much about the past as it is the use of past associations to prop up and inform forward moving decision-making, planning, and living today.
A lot of memories are just as well forgotten when they don’t serve us to move on in the transitions of life.
Memory is not identity. Identity is much more.
We depend too much on memory to secure our identity. What if you could not tell someone who you were without referring to the past or to your work? What if you couldn’t tell people your story as a way of identifying yourself? We have an increasing number of centenarians who do not let memories get in their way and they are not “super-glued” to their opinions.
The brain is always covering over memories and recovering them with new material to be stored. The brain is also always trying to build new, more meaningful associations between neurons. You have heard that neurons that fire together, wire together.
It is also true that when you sleep, cortisol is busy in the stress of your negative dreams, defragging many of those useless associations that don’t serve the ongoing development of the brain. That’s what nightmares do – they defrag your brain using cortisol or stress in the process. Consider that your nightmares are your “cleaning crew.”
The brain is always changing. It is only when we will not let the brain change that we need to worry. The stronger your opinions, the tighter your perception squeaks, the more at risk you are.
As you grow older, your brain is going to change the amount of diddle you can remember because it has a larger task. The energy that used to go into ridiculous song lyrics, answers for tests, the names of people you don’t care about, phone numbers and things that make you think you are losing your memory, is trying to be redirected into a larger vision of yourself and the world, literally a “new identity.”
You are losing some of your short-term memory, and it’s very natural. You might argue that there are people who never forget a thing, no matter what age. So it is possible to hoard memories like we hoard junk.
Right now, there are memories and associations your brain is waxing over, building a kind of scab over, neurons of memories that aren’t useful for an evolving mind. And it’s all very, very normal. What is not normal is to refuse to allow the brain the cleanse and rewire itself, and for the structures of the stages of neurocognitive development and wisdom to emerge.
We treat memories as though they were all precious gold. A few are, most are not, and you usually know the difference. But you are making a big mistake to rely on them for meaning. Don’t allow yourself to say that your memories are all you have. That’s a terrible admission that you aren’t using your brain to grow and evolve into the next stages of your life.
Memories are not simply pictures of the past; they are working elements in the brain that move us on and move us forward to a wider and deeper comprehension and consciousness of reality. If we are moving ahead in a healthy way, we are learning to know ourselves more accurately, to see others more clearly, absent of our projection onto them of what we need them to be for us.
We are freer, and we allow everyone around us greater freedom from our expectations.
© Dr. William K. Larkin