At least they are to many of us who don’t particularly feel a great deal of fondness for exercise and discipline. These two words often conjure up images of sweat, repetitive motion that creates sore muscles and a backache among other things. Something most of us would avoid if at all possible.
In my last blog, I spoke of memory as a seductive, maybe even perverted little bugger. It can be both of those things and a whole lot more. Memory can be slippery, sliding in and out of focus, moving us swiftly from one thing to another, often at the speed of light. It can also be incredibly detailed, sharp with concentrated camera-like images that make one feel as though one is in that immediate moment. Other times, it can be hazy or seemingly in slow-motion and we want to speed up to the action we know is just within the next frame. It is also the least expensive tool we carry with us to inform and teach us about the world we inhabit.
Memory just happens, right? So what do exercise and discipline have to do with a seemingly inexhaustible and unstoppable force like memory? Are you familiar with the old phrase: “Use it or lose it?” We will be celebrating my Mother’s 90th birthday in one week. Oh, the stories I could tell. But I won’t. She is, besides being a source of ongoing delight, a constant reminder to me that one of the best things I can be engaged in, at this moment and time of my own life, is writing. My journal pages are my daily work out in that arena. And, I might add, there is very little sweat or sore muscle involved in it.
Writing forces us into remembering. Memory is the result of Association. It is triggered by coming in contact with sights, sounds, smells, and tastes that we have encountered in the past. Do you remember the last time you eagerly ate Aunt Lucy’s potato salad because it looked so darn good, and how sick you were afterward? Maybe Aunt Lucy’s culinary skills are slipping, or she accidentally grabbed the wrong ingredient, but whichever, you vowed that you would not make that same mistake again. And your memory will inform you of that fact. More so, if you happened to record the incident on paper after recovering your equilibrium.
Writing, on a regular basis, helps memory. It makes a note of things and that note is then more readily available in the process of connections and associations. Remember the learning process? How it takes numerous encounters before we actually know a thing instinctively? Writing facilitates that process in numerous ways. It would be wonderful if Aunt Lucy realized where she went wrong, but she might not. That means you are on your own. The discipline of writing exercises the memory function. Actually puts it into play on a deeper, more readily accessible level.
The very action of finding words to describe anything exerts added force to the process of recall. Seeking a means to express what occurred makes a note of it. Setting down the words is another note, and rereading it is yet another. Depending on how detailed you choose to be, each moment of the incident is another note to remember. Aunt Lucy, the wonderful appetizing appearance of that bowl of potato salad, how hungry you were, how long it had been since you had eaten that particular type of salad, and of course how sick you were afterward, all the trips to the bathroom, each of these is another note in your process of remembering and learning what you need to know the next time you go to Aunt Lucy’s house.
The more notes you make, the easier it is to remember. Not just the general queasy feeling, but what led up to it. Although I am using Aunt Lucy as a sort of silly example here, without all that writing, you may actually forget. It might be another six months of day to day business before you are back at Aunt Lucy’s house, once again, looking at that bowl of potato salad (one hopes its not the same one), and all you get is a queasy feeling which you ignore and then dig in anyway. And heaven forbid that it takes several more visits before you actually connect the salad with the sickness.
Most people don’t want to take the time to write on a daily basis. It’s too much like work and that dirty word discipline. To some, it might even mean breaking out in a sweat at the very thought of a writing exercise. If memory truly is an important tool in the learning process, can you afford to skip this one? If you are inclined to do so, please remember that Aunt Lucy might very well live to be 105 years old and feel that her greatest accomplishment is her secret ingredient for potato salad.