For many of us in the U.S. Memorial Day means a long weekend and the start of summer. Historically, though, it is a day of remembrance for those who have lost their lives in military service. Now in another era of war, our country has lost many men and women to combat in the last decade. Memorial Day is our way to pause and remember those lives as we continue on our own journey.
The Sanskrit word Smrti means literally “that which is remembered.” It is one of the five Vrttis, waves or fluctuations of the mind. It is one of only five ways that our mind moves. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali speak to these five thought waves in Sutras I.5-I.11. Each is said to be Klista Aklistah, colored or not colored. Memory can be colored by conditioning, ignorance, fear or attachment, or it can be pure uncolored memory.
Coloring the waves of our minds makes life interesting. My daughters and I went to see the musical Mary Poppins on Saturday. Some of the most memorable scenes involved bright colors, representing the magical places Mary could transport Bert and the children to (remember those horses that leapt off the carousel in the movie?). Mary could take the children from the greyness of their London life to a technicolor fantasy world, and make them “feel like I could fly.” But now I’m getting diverted to another of the five Vrttis, Vikalpa (imagination)…
The challenge of coloring our memories is that over time it becomes difficult to separate out the real from the unreal. This leads to Avidya, ignorance, and the other Klesas, the five causes of suffering. One of the practices of yoga is to become a witness to the Vrttis, our thought patterns, to progressively learn to remove the charge or coloring, from these waves as they move through our minds. Then they stay clear and we learn to see life as it is rather than through distorted lenses.
Even the American day of Memory, Memorial Day, can be colored, by aversion or attachment. Those who disdain the military and U.S. involvement in the affairs of other countries could refuse to acknowledge this day. Others could experience it as a tragic day of mourning for those lost at war and be upset that others are having a social BBQ. A Memorial without color might simply honor lost lives, with a moment of silence, or the decoration of a grave (Decoration Day was the precursor to Memorial Day).
Memory is powerful. It can shape our present in a variety of ways. If we can uncolor it, we let go of the drama that surrounds the past and arrive more fully present in each moment.
Posted by: Anne Phyfe Palmer