Theosophy Northwest View

The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
April 2006 -- Vol. 9 Issue 2

A New Leader

On March 4th Randell C. Grubb assumed leadership of the Theosophical Society. Rand, 54, grew up in West Seattle and for over twenty years has worked at the international headquarters in Pasadena, California. For the last several years he was Grace F. Knoche's private secretary and assistant. The Northwest Branch looks forward to working with Rand in the Society's continuing task: fostering brotherhood and compassion; promoting exploration of theosophic wisdom in its many expressions; and encouraging people's "free and fearless investigation" of themselves and of life's fundamental questions.

Memory of Past Lives

Q. My little niece, about three years old, stood looking with wide eyes at her grandma doing the cooking. Presently she said: "Grandma, when I was a big woman like you, I used to do the cooking!" Not a word had ever been said to her about living before. Why don't we teach children about such things, when they already have the sound basis of it in their normal consciousness?

A. Yes, I ask just the same question. But just as long as you have the notion that your child is nothing but a little beast, a lump of soulless flesh, a chemical product, you won't under-stand the wisdom of the child's soul, memories out of the past, that it itself cannot fully express or adequately explain, but which nevertheless manifest themselves in the strange utterances and sayings of children, and in their interesting questions. And I can tell you that some of the questions that I have heard children ask have astounded me, for they touch, in some instances, upon the profoundest questions; they are intuitions in the child's mind. The child does not mentally understand them, however. These ideas just pass through its brain, so to speak, from its own inner god, the latter trying to express itself through the as yet imperfect brain, and hence the child utters these often wise and deep sayings, these strange questions.

The divine Plato was right. It is all reminiscences out of the past from former lives. Why don't we remember our past lives? In fact, we do remember our past lives, but don't know that we do remember them; and we remember them because we express them as our character, as our instincts, as our impulses, our biases, our trends, our penchants, our tendencies. That is the way in which the memory comes streaming in to us from the past. The old physical brain was dissipated into dust, and most of our daily recollections belong to the brain, as for instance, what happened today -- and therefore when the brain is gone, you don't expect to remember those feeble impressions of daily life; but all the recollections and memories that you have innate in you, that express themselves as genius, as capacity to do, as power to think, as character, are deeply implanted memories out of the past when you thought and strived and acted and aspired.

Recollection, remembrance, memory! Yes, you remember everything of the past because it is stamped in your character. But there will come a time in your evolutionary growth when you will consciously remember the past. Everything that you have thought, every emotion that you have had, every impulse of your soul, laid its mark indelibly on the fabric of your constitution; and one day in the far distant future you will see; and nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of a thousand you will turn your faces from the picture, preferring to look into the future where there is greater hope and a more glorious outlook, and forget what will then be to you the sad and often sorry pictures of the past. -- G. de Purucker

Interfaith Fair at BCC

On Saturday, May 6, the Eastside Interfaith Fair will take place in the cafeteria building at Bellevue Community College from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is part of the larger Multi-Cultural Festival 2006, which also includes a kids fair, food festival, parade, cultural performances, arts and crafts, and a film festival. Admission is free.

Monthly Discussion Group

This month "Mysteries of Memory" is our subject. We will be discussing such questions as: How do we create ourselves through our memories, and what identity do we have without them? What role does not remembering play in human life? What have scientists discovered about memory? Is memory a function of nature itself, as in Rupert Sheldrake's morphic fields, concepts of the astral light or akashic records, or ideas of a Recording Angel or Book of Life? How are memory, karma, and reincarnation related? What about déjà vu, false or implanted memories, near-death life reviews, and the collective unconscious? Come and share your ideas!

Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge
Upcoming Topics
May 11: Wisdom – The Understanding Heart
June: Our Kinship with the Stars
July: The Continuum of Life
August: How Does Karma Work?


The topics for the monthly discussions are chosen by members of the Northwest Branch. If there is a subject that particularly interests you, or if you have ideas or suggestions about the meetings, please do not hesitate to email or mail them to the Branch or to mention them after the meetings.

Theosophical Views

Mysteries of Memory

By Sally Dougherty

Most of us experience our lives as stories with ourselves as the narrator and main character. Hence our sense of who we are depends on the memories from which we construct our tale, as the disrupted lives of Alzheimer patients bear out. But what is memory, where do memories reside, and who are we apart from our remembered past? The complex and interrelated character of many brain functions are being revealed more and more by ongoing scientific research. But though physiological and chemical aspects of memory formation and retrieval are better understood, the location of memory storage remains unclear and many mysteries remain.

In psychology most researchers have concentrated on questions that lend themselves to lab studies with animals or undergraduates. In Why Life Speeds Up as You Get Older Prof. Douwe Draaisma discusses some of the larger questions which interest people most: How does memory affect our sense of the passage of time? What about our life "flashing before our eyes," as in near-death experiences? Why don’t we recall events forward instead of in the order they are formed, from most recent to least recent? Why don't we remember very early childhood? What about the ability to filter information -- selective forgetting is crucial to our functioning, for were we to remember with equal clarity every detail we sense, our thought-life would become unmanageable.

Then there is déjà vu, the sense of "reliving a fragment of your life" and feeling you know what will happen or be said next. Those with serious chronic cases may feel that large portions of life are repetitions of things they experienced the day, or even year, before. Traditional explanations include reincarnation, eternal cyclic return, previews of the near-death life review, material from dreams or earlier waking events, or a time-lag in perception. Nowadays déjà vu tends to be considered a symptom mental illness, and researchers feel that the processing of impressions by three separate areas of the brain may hold a key to understanding its physical causes.

How accurate are our memories? Modern research has shown that even recalling a memory often changes it. There are also implanted memories: patients under hypnosis who adopt suggested past events retain them as firmly and vividly as real memories. The mind also has difficulty in distinguishing things that actually happen from visualizations and imaginings. Scientists working with athletes have found that rehearsing something through concentrated visualization can help prepare them almost as much as physical practice.

But is memory strictly personal? Psychologist Carl Jung posited a collective unconscious which transcends time and from which all of humanity draws archetypal images expressed in dreams, myths, and art. Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, in books like The Presence of the Past, put forward the idea of "morphic" (formative) energy fields as the carrier of memory. Every action creates or reinforces a morphic field, which then affects everything else in the universe. But it most strongly impacts entities similar to the one who created the field, and the field's creator most of all. He holds that even natural laws are "habits" build up by repetition rather than necessary consequences of the structure of the cosmos. Through these morphic fields nature preserves a dynamic cumulative record. Sheldrake's theory is particularly interesting because it allows predictions that can be tested objectively.

Jung's and Sheldrake's theories bear similarities to the theosophical concepts of the astral light or akashic records. The astral light is said to be a type of substance more ethereal than physical matter that surrounds and penetrates all objects and preserves a record of each thought, act, and word which has ever taken place. Thus the earth's astral light is a "picture gallery" of everything that has ever taken place on our planet, and those able to access it can "see" these phenomena with varying degrees of accuracy and understanding. Individuals, too, have an "astral light" or auric field surrounding them, a personal "book of life" in which everything they think, feel, and do is automatically recorded. In all these theories memory is retrieved by the brain from more subtle aspects of nature. Like a television, it doesn't make or store the images it shows, but rather picks up signals from the surrounding atmosphere. If the TV's components are damaged, images may be distorted or lost, but the broadcast signals continue to be available to functioning sets.

Scientific research is giving us valuable knowledge about how we form and retrieve memories, but it may not have the final word on the many fascinating mysteries of memory.

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