“10,000 flowers in spring
the moon in autumn
a cool breeze in summer
snow in winter–
If your mind is not clouded
by unncecssary things
this is the best season of your life.”
by Wu-Men (Chinese poet)
Isn’t that a secret we’d like to have an answer to–how to stay present within this moment and not drift off into the past, future, fear, worry, conjecture, etc? At least more of the time. Being present to one’s daily life experience is desirable.
However, when we write (or paint or create art), we move in all directions, don’t we? There is very little that is linear about the creative process, especially in the initial stages. That said, I begin with an intention. Even if I seem to veer off course. For me, setting a creative intention rouses personal process. The goal then is to stay present with my process as I write or paint–wherever it might take me (even when it changes course from my original creative intention).
Year ago, I began reading a translation of the French author, Marcel Proust’s classic, Remembrance of Things Past, otherwise known as In Search of Lost Time. At that time, I found that reading the first volume (one of seven) was both laborious and tedious. My mind stumbled over the slow revelation and wanted to skip ahead to get to the story behind the array of descriptive words.
Today, I realize that one of the author’s intentions was to explore memory itself and take the reader on a journey through his process around resurrecting his memories. He considered both voluntary memory and involuntary memory. An often recounted episode from his book is the memory evoked when tasting a madeleine cake dipped in tea!
“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”
— Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time
Invoking a memory is considered a voluntary memory as you have chosen to retrieve a memory from the past and write about it. Proust compares voluntary memory to involuntary memory–which has a visceral quality to it and can therefore be expressed as a vivid and direct experience with greater impact for the writer and the reader.
Have you had this experience…something in the moment triggers an old memory and brings it fully into the present…so much so that all of your senses are awakened around that memory? Have you written it down?
In the movie Ratatouille, at the end, the food critic is sampling the chef’s ratatouille dish and is transported back to his childhood and the savory comfort food that his mother served him. He is personally comforted by the memory as his tastebuds approve of the dish.
(Click on the play arrow and then click on “YouTube” on the bottom right corner and you will go directly to this clip.)