• Karl Thunemann

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Updated: Mar 8, 2020

It’s late August, and the Wellness Committee is having its first meeting of the new season. Somehow, I’m reminded of the second time I attended a meeting of this committee, a little over a year ago.

I had just resigned my positions on two governance committees of the senior residential cooperative where I live. I could sense my executive function slipping away… I could divine that I should give up my vision of serving on the co-op’s board; instead, I ought to turn to committees that were more immediate. (Aah, executive function: Just exactly what does that mean?)  (1)

I have no recollection of my first Wellness meeting. But that second one! The secretary handed out the minutes of the preceding meeting, and certain facts leapt out at me. I had volunteered to look into four matters concerning future programs—count them, four! —and I had no recollection of them. Obviously, I had given them no thought and was unprepared to discuss them. I was shocked, but not totally surprised, for over the preceding two years I had noticed that my memory, which I had considered exceptionally good for a person my age, had become dodgy, riddled with gaps large enough to drive a huge Perterbilt rig through.

When I first introduced the subject of memory to my meditations, I perceived a mysterious image: A field featuring representations of the letter a—all lower case, in a wide range of fonts and styles.

At this first meeting of the new season, I gave no mention of this perception. And, because we have a new chairwoman whom I like and want to help, I very soon volunteered to work with another member on developing a program on a subject I feel very knowledgeable about. I even noted it on my calendar.

A few minutes later I glanced at my calendar. The name of my fellow committee member was scrawled there, but in a panic, I could not remember what kind of program we were going to research together. This panic lasted a couple of minutes, until I was able to piece together what exactly we were talking about. And now, four days later, I still have a fair grasp of it.




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But please, dear reader, take heart: This essay is not about committee life at my little co-op. My sense of panic led me back to my loving-kindness meditation and a major challenge I had noted. Under the rubric of May I Be Well, I had observed that the subject of memory yearned for attention. But what form should it take? Obviously, nothing would be gained by excoriating my memory for its malfunctioning.  (You are a bad memory, and don’t forget it!) This would be neither loving nor kind. And similarly, little would be gained by concocting a loving eulogy devoted to the late, great days of my memory. That would be pathetic, and completely useless.

A few days ago, when I first introduced the subject of memory to my meditations, I perceived a mysterious image: A field featuring representations of the letter a—all lower case, in a wide range of fonts and styles. This field of a’s seemed three-dimensional; a format I find difficult to replicate. And they were not so linear as in the headline on this epistle. If there was a definite pattern to these a’s, I could not discern it.

I suspect wisdom is hidden in this vision. Perhaps these tiny a’s are a-kin to eggs arranged in a virtual incubator, unformulated components that conceivably could hatch to fill in the missing answers in a vast field of Q&A. Bathing them in loving-kindness, I must affirm them. And I ought to be patient.  I usually remember what I have forgotten by category, if not in precision, and that usually does prompt recall, though the lag time can be enormous. (2)  These agitated little a’s give every impression of wanting to be recovered. And sometimes they succeed dramatically.

So I am giving them time to incubate. I want to befriend them. I’m not rushing off to study the 3.4 million hits that come in response to a web search for “using meditation to improve memory.” It feels as if a home-grown response is required, though it might be helpful to know more about the way memories are retained, and how I might help this process recover from injury.

(1) According to WebMD, executive function is a set of skills to help get things done, from organizing information to setting priorities. People who know me well might say my executive function has always been faulty, but in the last three years I have noticeably lost ground

(2) For the past several days I have been trying to remember a particular verb that starts with a. A friend wanting to be helpful rattled off several possibilities, but they rang no bells. And no, it is not acquiesce. This word does lie within hailing distance, even if I must double-check its spelling. In the end, I recovered the verb, which has no a’s. It was “reconcile.” Try mapping that path!