Remember when? I wouldn't be surprised if your answer is "no." These days, most people can't. Everything is pre-programmed, memorized and stored via smart chips, clouds and Google. We've even coined a phrase to encapsulate our unwillingness to make an effort to remember just about anything - "Google that s**t."
It's not hard to witness the effect the "immediate information" age has on our brains. Most people can no longer sit down and read a newspaper - the articles are too long and command too much of our time and attention. Blogs have replaced articles and Twitter feeds are the new headlines. Our critical thinking and reasoning skills have denigrated as we've become used to taking in information in bite size sound bites, bullet points and numbered lists.
Nowhere is the inability to concentrate more obvious to me than on the yoga mat. My students seem to have difficulty remembering a simple sequence even after I've guided them through three or four times. I assure you I do not choreograph asana like I do dance, stringing along pose after pose like Christmas popcorn decoration. My vinyasas (simply translated as linking breath with movement) usually include one or two postures maximum along with the universal chatturanga, up dog, down dog flow in between. Often times, given my students' physical abilities and limitations, I even skip that. In other words, I'm not asking them to memorize an entire Broadway dance routine. After a few guided rounds, I'll instruct students to do the last one on their own. Without fail, they stand at the front of their mats wide eyed, like someone just asked them to solve world peace and wait for me to once again commence instruction. Depending on the mood of the class (and mine), I either concede or just watch them work through the discomfort of questioning their retention skills. I do not do this out of malice or to sarcastically make a point. I do this to emphasize the fact that as a general population, we're contributing to our own mental demise.
There is nothing wrong with having phone numbers stored for quick dialing or enjoying the conveniences of modern life, but there's something much more important at play here. Memory can serve as an important tool when considering psychological and spiritual growth. In Sanskrit this is known as smirti.
Remembering the pain of a break up and what caused it can certainly be useful in changing behavior so you can recognize a similar pattern in the future and avoid heartbreak. Or, consider when you've accomplished a tremendous goal (possibly losing weight). Most likely, you dedicated quite a bit of time and effort to succeed. Remembering what it took the first time around may help you through the struggles of a current challenge and the memory of achieving your goal can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.
In my case, when I find myself in times of struggle and despair, I turn to remembrance of my true nature - the divine light of the soul. I've been lucky enough to have glimpses of this presence in times of great joy or meditation. I keep these memories close to my heart and call upon them frequently as a reminder that at the core of my being is a place of unconditional love, joy and freedom. While my emotional anguish may not completely vanish, it is very comforting to know that my essence is omnipresent, always at peace.
What you had for dinner last night or a colleague's email address may not be as critical as remembering the light of your soul, but your daily actions and habits build the world you live in. Memory is a muscle, and like any other muscle - use it or lose it. One wonderful way to bring a sense of concentration and focus back into our lives is meditation. You don't have to be a Zen master to practice meditation. There are even apps to guide you to a practice that will best suit you. I would encourage you to explore this as an option to still and focus your mind.
It is my hope you had the perseverance to finish reading this over 500 word blog, and better yet, you'll remember the case I make for beginning to use Google less and your brain more.
What tactics do you use to keep your memory muscle strong? Let us know in the comments below.