The Field of Memories

Originally printed in the JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2006 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Bland, Betty. "The Field of Memories." Quest  94.1 (JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2006):4-5.

Theosophical Society - Betty Bland joined the Theosophical Society on April 30, 1970. She helped to establish the Mt. Gilead, North Carolina Study Center.  Mrs. Bland served as President of the Theosophical Society of America from 2002 to 2011.

My mother and I have been going through old photo albums and letters from my dad written over seventy years ago. They bring back the memories of many happy moments. The letters in particular paint a word picture of the quite remarkable man my father wa—sensitive and profoundly philosophical for a young person. These and other not-so-well-documented memories blend with the present to form the background of personal history that I carry with me. They are a part of the continuity that is my self.

For everyone this field of memories is a mixed backdrop of the good, the bad, the bittersweet, and the joyous. Some things we are most glad to have finished and relegated to the past; yet occasionally we worry them with our minds just as the tongue keeps seeking out the sore place. And those times that we wish would last forever all too quickly recede into the eddies of time.

These elements blend to weave a rich tapestry that gives definition and meaning to the "who-ness" of what we are. There may be things we would like to forget and things we would like to cling to—ever unchangingly. Neither changing the past nor clinging to a static, changeless present is possible. But the past is modifiable depending upon how we ride the karmic patterns as they flow through our lives.

Each day the only moment is now. This "now" even at this moment has already receded into the passing shades of time. This baffles the mind and so it grasps the present moment in such a way as to make us feel that "this is it." It acts somewhat like the distortions of a magnifying glass. Those events that are nearest its center focus are magnified to larger than life, but very quickly, as the glass drifts toward a new scene, the former experience becomes fuzzy. It does not usually hold our attention any longer, but if it does, the situation is seen in a warped manner. We are usually sure that we are clearly remembering the event exactly as it happened, but as any investigator of a crime scene will attest, the view of every witness is distorted by his or her particular perspective.

We humans have the power to determine what some of our memories will be. We establish birthday and anniversary observances so that we can mark our lives with celebrations and touchstones. Even the universal countdown to a new year, ringing out the old and welcoming the new, brings resolutions for change and hopes for the future. For our children and for ourselves we establish traditions that are intended to bring happiness to all.

Ah, but does it always happen this way? Sadly, it does not. The dish breaks; Uncle John gets mad; little Joe gets hurt. Things just don't turn out according to plan. As is said about the plans of mice and men, things oft go awry.

Yet we have an even greater power. We can choose what to focus on, what to pay attention to, what to magnify. A picnic overrun with ants may be held on a beautiful day in a lovely setting. When a bee sting no longer hurts, one can relish the blessings of normal, healthy skin. Even in the midst of stress or tragedy, we each have the power to lift our eyes to the wider view that encompasses many blessings.

Even when his charges were suffering and dying in the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh was able to remain mindful of the simple blessings of life. His teachings and presence were, and continue to be, an inspiration to many. He has taught his followers to be mindful of the present moment, one breath at a time, and to smile. This may seem simple, but it is amazingly profound. The practitioner builds a field of gentle thoughts and memories even in the midst of strife.

With this power comes opportunity and responsibility. We can actually select what materials we will use in building our interior landscape. We can people our inner world with pleasant moments that translate into pleasant memories as they glide by our consciousness. Like the cloud of dust that hangs around the head of Pigpen, the character in the Peanuts comic strip, these thought—as Madam Blavatsky tells us in The Voice of the Silence—remain with us and swarm around our heads:

If thou would'st not be slain by them, then must thou harmless make thy own creations, the children of thy thoughts, unseen, impalpable, that swarm round humankind, the progeny and heirs to man and his terrestrial spoils.

During any particular event we can pay attention to the problems that are occurring, or the help received from a friend, or, if nothing else, the joy of breath or health. When a hurt or an illness heals, we can savor the joys of a vibrant spirit or a vigorous body.

We can choose not only what to pay attention to in the moment, but also what to cultivate in our memory banks. Although it is true that our thoughts are wild and hard to tame, with steady focus we can direct them. We can notice our thoughts and work to corral them in a positive direction. If it is useful to review an old hurt, we can do so with the aim of healing and bringing closure—never to relish a vengeful or hurt attitude.

Humanity has been granted the unique power of creativity. Every moment of every day we are creating our field of memories. These will swarm around us for either good or ill. A most critical use of that power is to people our world with at least harmless "children" and hopefully with helpful ones. Daily we can build that field with warm and nourishing memories by directing our attention to the Good within every moment. In this way our thoughts are able to lighten our own lives and create an atmosphere that fosters blessings for all beings. May you cherish and use wisely this most marvelous power as you cultivate your field of memories in the coming year.