Friday, October 19, 2012

My Experience Dealing with a Deficient Memory

Alexander Technique is about being exposed to a stimulus
becoming aware of our reaction or non-reaction, 
stopping whatever we are doing which is unnecessary and unhelpful, 
and directing ourselves into the next moment with conscious choice.

These days, I am noticing a familiar pattern in myself, and I'm going to write about ways I deal with it.  The topic is my memory - or lack thereof!

I don't have a "terrible" memory; I also don't have a "great" memory.  Of course, I have a memory - there is a lot I remember!  I always did well in school, remembering what was necessary for the tests; and I was able to remember long pieces of music without any problem.  My IQ is not low. But there is so much that I don't remember, too, and I constantly find myself in situations where I am expected to remember things but cannot.  This is a recurrent stimulus to me, which I must inhibit my reaction to, and direct myself well in response.

Here are a couple of examples of stimuli which have tempted me to react recently:

- I am an accomplished violinist, and I will be performing a violin/harpsichord recital in two weeks.  When I was asked a few days ago what is on the program, I could not recall more than two of the pieces on the spot.  Slowly, over the next few minutes, I remembered what I'd been practicing every day for some time, but it took much much longer than normal.  In fact, "normal" would be to be able to rattle off immediately all the details about the program.  Not remembering the pieces I will be performing is definitely not "normal"!

- A colleague recently shared all sorts of interesting information with me, a slew of facts on topics that I am actually interested in, and which I enjoyed hearing about immensely, but I knew that I would not be able to retain most (or any?) of what was said. If I had been tested on the material ten minutes later, I would surely have failed the test.  My goal while listening to people has often become simply to remember ONE fact from the conversation, and even that one often slips away.

How do I react to the idea that there may be something "wrong" with my brain?  
I smile to myself.  Truly.  Because I know it's not true.
Then, I inhibit the thoughts that tempt me to think things such as:

"I have such a terrible memory!  This is so embarrassing!  They must think I'm incredibly stupid.  I should be able to remember this.  I want to remember this.  But I can't!  How can I call myself a real musician if I know almost nothing about what I'm doing?  I'm a real fake, a real imposter.  I have no business calling myself an early music specialist, because I hardly know anything about it.  I'm a failure.  People must think there is something wrong with me, or that I don't care.  What is wrong with me?  I can't remember anything!  I've heard this a million times, and I still don't remember it!"  etc., etc.

But I know that my brain is just fine - it just works differently from most people's, and it always has.  This is not new.  I've never placed much importance on whether I can remember facts or details.  Something in me recognizes that these things are ephemeral and secondary.  Memory is nice, but living in the present is so much more important for me - and there are SO many wonderful things to pay attention to in this present moment!

I suspect that my purpose in speaking with and relating to others may actually be somewhat different from most people's.  It's not about accumulating or displaying information, or about learning facts and details about them or their lives; it's about connecting, sharing, and loving Being with another, in the same space and time.  Words are somehow superfluous, even though they can be very useful.

My purpose for performing is perhaps different from most people's, as well.  It's no longer primarily about conveying the composer's intent or replicating something that happened hundreds of years ago, true to history, keeping the past alive.  These are noble purposes - they're just not mine anymore.  To me, performing is above all about connecting, sharing, and loving Being with others, in the same space and time.  The forms change, but the purpose remains the same, and this is what I focus on, more than anything else.

When I speak with someone, I find myself paying much more attention to their face, their expression, their tone of voice, their body language, their emotions, their soul, their intentions, the meaning of the meeting...and of course, my own body-awareness and feelings/emotions and thoughts, etc., too...  What's going on under the surface in people is just TOO interesting for me to pay more attention to the surface!  My interest in people trumps my interest in the words and information that they are conveying.  I LOVE people!  I truly love and want to connect with everyone I am speaking with.  People talking to me might think that I am uninterested or that I don't care, because I keep forgetting their name or the last time I saw them or what instrument they play or whether they have children or where they're from, etc., but this just isn't true; I care so much more about their BEING, and about the moment of connecting, than about the details, what they are saying or thinking or doing....  I am just fascinated in the moment.  And then I move on to the next moment, and forget about the details....

I am playing a recital in a couple weeks, but I am so much more interested in the experience of the moment -- whether practicing or performing, the experience of making sound and connecting with myself and the audience -- than in the facts surrounding what I am playing.  If I cared about the details more, I would research the composers, I would remember their names, I would remember their dates and details about their lives, I would remember the difference between a Gavotte and a Bourree (another stimulus to potential embarrassment last week, when I exposed my flagrant forgetfulness), I would know about the politics and culture of the time, I would understand which ornaments and embellishments to use where and what is appropriate to a given piece and country and what is not, I would study and research the treatises of the time, I would learn more and more and more....and on and on and on........

But we focus on, develop, and remember what is most important to us.  And our brains grow and change according to how we use them.  I think I was born with less interest in details, so I never cared much about growing my brain in that direction; therefore, the skills of memory, which I could have worked on and improved over many years, have not improved.  But I don't really care, because I know that my capacity for awareness and love has increased greatly.  Being, and present experience, are most important to me, so I remember That, and direct myself into That.  The rest is secondary to me, and largely unnecessary.  I manage just fine in my life with a very deficient memory, thankfully.  I certainly appreciate whatever I can remember, but I let go of the rest.

I'm grateful that there are people who can see through my apparent lack of interest or intelligence, beyond my forgetfulness.  Even though I forget most things, even if the facts and details of the mind pass through me sometimes as if I were made of air, these people know that I care very deeply about their essential Being, and true intelligence is hidden in the heart.  This, to me, is my purpose in life, so I will continue to live this way, inhibiting my ego's reactions to my forgetfulness, and I will continue to direct myself further into Love and Being.

...And there's an added bonus:  I get lots of opportunities to practice honesty and humility, as I inhibit and admit again and again that "I don't remember" and "I don't know"!

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