Archive for March 18th, 2020

Like seeing things at a distance coming suddenly into view as a gentle fog lifts, so are our memories.

The French novelist and essayist, Marcel Proust, had a lifelong fascination with what he called the ” translucent alabaster of our memories.” His book, In Search of Lost Time, epitomizes that passion. His reflections were so influential that we, to this day, make reference in Psychological circles to ” Proustian memories.” Proust himself referred to such memories as “Involuntary”. These recollections act as primers for other memories tied to them.

Proust illustrates this in his novel, Swann’s Way, in which the pleasure he takes in dipping a madeleine ( small French cake) into lime-blossom tea brings swiftly to mind the house in which his aunt prepared that sweet delight for him as a young boy. Along with it, he would see “in his mind’s eye,” the town surrounding the house and other details of the community. These autobiographical memories, referred to elsewhere as ” precious fragments,” more often than not, involve olfactory and taste cues to recalling other emotion-laden details.

We all can relate. This happens to me ( and many people I know) around certain Holiday foods. My grandmother made “Struffoli,” Italian honey-balls, at Christmas. Whenever I eat them, I immediately recall three things: the joy she had in presenting these homemade treasures, the speed with which they vanished, and, above all, the house , her kitchen in which we spent so much time, the singing, and the laughter. I see the wallpaper in the kitchen, I recall the other fragrances of homemade cooking, and I recall my state of mind as ebullient and playful and time itself seemed to slow to a delightful crawl!

Memories encapsulate the marker events that have shaped us and that continue to wield their influence in our lives. It is curious how we recall certain things vividly while other events and experiences fade away so profoundly that we can’t recall them even when prompted. My wife will sometimes mention an event from the past and, for the life of me, I cannot recall it ever happening though her recall is vivid. Recall and forgetting both are often meaningful and telling aspects of our constructed autobiographical story. It is always a journey of discovery to journal about them.

I reflect on the phenomena of memory during this Covid-19 crisis and the attendant call to engage in social distancing. We are spending more time than many of us may be accustomed to being indoors. What a great time to focus on examining our own story out of time. There is a projective test called the ” Early Memory Procedure” developed by Arnold Bruhn. It asks that we consider our earliest memories in different categories: earliest memory of being comforted, of being afraid, of being curious, of school, of family, etc.. I love it. It strikes me as a very apt way to spend some time, while in relative seclusion, as we travel through Lent considering the memorial loops that define us.

Toward what end do we do such reflecting? Well, Proust summed it up quite nicely: “The real voyage of discovery consists in not seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Such reflection can both honor the experiences on which our sense of self is built while affording us greater degrees of freedom in how we write our next chapters.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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