A Cascade of Memories
Updated: Apr 24
Part 1 : Bali 2006
Ubud, Bali. Late one Friday evening in July. In the circle of friends sharing laughter, good food and companionship. The songs of our chatter and the voices of frogs blending
together in the cool, freshly-washed night air.
Discussions over dinner bounced from one subject to another as we travelled round the globe on a journey from Bhutan to South Africa, the Maldives to Scotland, Singapore to England. From Thimpu to Cape Town, Male to Iona, Changi to Heathrow. We walked along the Ring of Fire and wandered through the Himalaya. We debated nature versus nurture and pondered man’s footsteps on the moon. We counted the joys and the pitfalls of the World Wide Web and decided that reading a novel on a computer screen could never replace the pleasure of turning the pages of a book. Somehow our food managed to slip in-between our words and after a couple of hours we were ready for dessert. Not too much, just something small we could share. A touch of sweetness to complete our meal. As the smiling face of the new moon hid behind a cloud a selection of chocolate desserts was placed in the middle of the table. Hot and cold, rough and smooth, hard and soft, bitter and sweet. Dark temptations placed with care on a single square white plate. Conversation slid from wherever it was into silence as our senses sent high speed memory messages to our brains triggered by the sight and smell of what lay in front of us. My first bite of rich dark truffle launched a cascade of memories that tumbled through my consciousness like a waterfall transporting me in an instant back in time to a chocolate shop in the depths of a Genoese ghetto, found through serendipity as I cycled through Italy in the blazingly hot summer of 1992. As I let the truffle melt on my tongue I reveled in the deliciousness of chocolate – both of the one I was eating and the memories of those a little old lady had so lovingly chosen for me all those years before. With my taste buds tangoing from liquid hot chocolate to hard ice cream, from soft soufflé to crunchy biscuit I let my mind wander over the wonder that is memory. As an aromatherapist I am very aware of the influence an aromatic memory can have on our well-being. An essential oil whose aroma is linked to positive past events will usually have a more powerful therapeutic effect than one with a negative association. I mentioned this to one of my dining companions once there was no more chocolate left on the plate to eat. I took from my bag a blend of oils that I call ‘sunshine in a bottle.’ Whenever I ask an English person what its aroma reminds them of they always say the same thing. As did my friend … sherbet lemons. Sweets of our childhood. Hard-boiled lemon candies with refreshingly sour sherbet in the centre. Just inhaling this aroma sparked a walk down memory lane that lasted for ages. We laughed until we cried as we jumped from one childhood sweet to another remembering not only their taste but their wrappers, where we bought them, who we ate them with, how some cut the roofs of our mouths if we sucked them too hard and how we always found others in the bottom of our pockets all stuck together and covered in lint. From remembering sweets so strongly we could taste them, other memories leapt into the conversation. No conscious thought to the process. They were just there. The colour of autumn leaves. The day my father dug up our lawn and planted rose bushes from one end of the garden to the other. The overwhelming smell of lavender that we always associated with elderly ladies when we were children. We talked about maths teachers that were so boring they left us with a lifelong dislike of their subject and how one teacher imbued inanimate objects like rocks and fossils with so much soul that every person in the class achieved an ‘A’ in their Geology ‘O’ Level. Dinner eventually drew to a close and I rode back home at midnight through a darkness prettily pierced by an infinity of stars. I started with surprise as I pulled into my home compound fifteen minutes later. It was one of those moments when I realised I could not recall one centimeter of my journey, such is the power of memory, because since saying goodbye to my friends I had been absorbed in the texture and taste of Indian sweets that I used to buy from a particular place whenever I was in Calcutta. I would buy them nowhere else on the sub-continent. Only there. From a shabby restaurant up a rat-infested side street. They were not even the best quality however they were made and served by a man with a smile that wrapped itself around me and made me feel so special; as if I were his only customer. Every bite of his sweets was imbued with the memory of that smile. I wandered a while through my garden thinking about the inextricable link between the ‘butterfly effect’ and the creation of memories. How every one of our words, actions and even thoughts, positive and negative, leaves in its place an imprint, a memory. Not just in our minds, but also in those of every person present in the moment that memory was created. These memories may lie deeply hidden in the recesses of our minds but they are always there. They can never be erased and we never know when they might surface again. A powerful reminder of the need to act with integrity of thought, deed and word, from a space of non-conditional love and compassion, kindness and forgiveness. In good times and in challenging ones. From this foundation the memories we create are much more likely to be positive and a joy to re-live, rather than ones that are threaded with pain and unhappiness. It is a tall order, I know. Some might say an impossible dream. But they said that about the Wright brothers and look now. We don’t just fly from London to Sydney … we send space craft to Mars. It just goes to show that anything is possible…we just need to believe and try.
Part 2 : Rural North Devon 24 April, 2020
I reread this this morning, sitting in my garden surrounded by countryside bathed in sunshine and birdsong, watching a world that immediately around me is as it always is and yet is so very far from the normality of the past.
We are in the 4th week of our lockdown here in the UK; the world is in the 4th month of the global pandemic caused by SARS-COV-2; China is in its 5th month. The world has all but ground to a halt. Businesses have been forcibly shut and 1/3 of planet Earth's population is on lockdown - a phrase previously used only in the context of prison riots - with movement severely restricted, and when we are allowed out it has to be at a social distance of 2m. 'Social distancing' - a new phrase for our lexicon. More people are in lockdown now across the globe than were alive during WW2. A virus, with no locomotion of its own - minuscule particles that need to hitch a ride in or on a host, in this case, humans - is rampaging its way from country to country with impunity. The world as we knew it no longer exists.
Unprecedented times. Scary times.
Times when it is all too easy to allow our worries and fears take over in turn taking us into a negative cycle of thoughts, deeds and words. It's a natural response - in any circumstance that worries us, lest alone during a period such as this.
I am very glad I turned to this tale this morning. No coincidence.
It is good to be reminded of the need to be positive, no matter how tough things are. To be reminded to look for possibilities in chaos and to capture every moment of joy we can find in each day. It is good to be reminded of need to cognisant not just of what we are doing with our time but also what we are doing with our spoken and unspoken words. It is essential for our wellbeing and mental health and it is necessary, too, for our physical health.
If we make these choices then in the future, when we take a wander through our memory palaces and revisit this most strangest of times, we will recall the experiences we are creating now in a positive light. Instead of reflecting only on a time of disease and death, of fear and loneliness, we will look back on the strength we found when we thought we had none. We will remember the friendships we shared when we were so isolated and the recipes we tried out that we received from strangers. We will celebrate the new skills we had the time to learn and queuing in the sun to get into the supermarket. We will remember sharing the food we have made with our neighbours and receiving tasty surprises from them too. And much more too.
I have made the choice to create a cascade of positive, joy-filled memories from this time. It is not easy. I say that quite openly. I need resilience and strength, and to remember that the only moment I have is the breath I take and to live this moment as fully and positively as I can. And I need to remember to be kind to myself and that although I am desperately lonely at times remember I am not alone.