Tag Archives: Autobiographical memory

The straight stuff on the Dome of Heaven

My last post focused on the idea of building autobiographical memory by rehearsing your story, and exercising declarative memory. Your personal dome of heaven, is a structure built to house the ‘you’ in you’.  Your DOH (the acronym I like to use for sake of simplicity) is  a structure built to house all that you wish it to contain. The only limitations on what can be under your DOH are the limitations imposed by reality. There is no room for the imaginary or the illusory within a Dome of Heaven.

Kiefer’s painting entitled “Everyone Stands Under His Own Dome of Heaven”, depicts a miniscule figure standing in the middle of a barren field. The figure is cloaked in a military style coat and displays a “Hail Hitler” like salute. Some may take acceptation to Kiefer’s depiction, but if you think about it, that is the Dome of Heaven followers of Hitler created for themselves; a DOH that is barren, supporting no growth, dully coloured, with the minuscule figure at its centre cut off from the world around him. Your DOH will be very different.

All DOH’s are bounded spaces but not limited in area. The are expandable according to the wishes of its builder. As you reconstruct your autobiographical memory, you can begin to construct your DOH by deciding what elements to include within its bounds. As you make your decisions on inclusions, you exercise your judgement and decision-making functions (executive functions)  of the brain at the same time you exercise your declarative memory functions.  What you include under your dome is up to you entirely, but my recommendation is to include everything that made you feel good in even the smallest way. Include experiences, decisions, people, places, and things that increased your sense of well-being and gave you a sense of satisfaction and joy when you think about them. Your DOH needs to be a feel good place, for when times get tough, it may be all you have that gives you any joy and any stability.

The skeptic may well ask the following questions.  “What about the negative stuff? What gives us permission to exclude the negative? What should I exclude? The answer is simple; your memories are your memories, good and bad alike. Negative memories never go away, and just hang out in our mind whether we like it or not. You can, and will, carry negative experiences and negative feelings around in your mind, but you need not include them within the bounds of your DOH. Your Dome of Heaven is a personal place, and a sacred place. It is a place into which you can retreat from the world when you need respite from its stressors and complexities. If you build it carefully, and look around inside frequently, you should see every thing, every person, and every experience that enhanced your sense of self. If you learned something through a negative life experience, don’t include the negative experience, but do include the positive consequences that resulted from whatever you learned through that experience.

As you imagine yourself within your DOH, your avatar standing under the apex of the dome you construct, will still be just a minuscule figure for on a universal scale, that is all we really are.  Your DOH is important to you, but it is a very insignificant place within the greater universe. Since, as Kiefer depicts, everyone has their own dome of heaven, your DOH is just one among the multitudes. That reality takes nothing away from the fantastic place your DOH is for you.

What might the Dalai Lama add to this discussion? Please comment…..

As always, your faithful blogger,

L. Alan Weiss – Author – Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment

Please visit my author website at www.lalanweiss.com

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Why Anselm Kiefer?

Prior to a visit to the SFMOMA, I knew nothing about Kiefer and his work. The museum showcased his work in a special exhibit on display at a time I happened to be in San Francisco. Of all his work on display, a painting titled “Every man stands under his own dome of heaven” captured my attention and my thoughts.

Kiefer is a bit more than a year older than I, so he is one of my contemporaries. He was born in post war Germany (vanquished and diminished in so many ways), and I was born in the USA (one of the victors, and among that group of nations, the least devastated by war). As I learned more about the man, I tried to put myself in his place, growing up in a country so marked by the vestiges of war, that unexploded bombs still turn up as construction crews excavate for new projects or unearthed in a farmer’s field while cultivating. I thought about what it would it be like to grow up hearing of the shame associated with your country, and seeing the results of the physical and economic scares of defeat while you were in your formative years. In the USA, it was not shame, but the glory of helping to rid the world of evil that was the theme. I clearly remember my mother taking me to see Eisenhower’s motorcade down Broad Street in Philadelphia shortly after his election. I was taken to see the great man, the architect of conquest, who on at the end of his eight years in office, warned of the dangers of the mitlitary/industrial complex. I began to think about the impact of early memories and how they shape our future.

As I learned more about Kiefer and his art, it became clear that his creative expression was in part a reflection of his reactions to the influences of his youth. His history shaped his art and his philosophy as expressed in his works. It became apparent that the memories of his youth were integral to his autobiography, and hence his autobiographical memory was integral to his identity.

The concept of each one of us creating our own dome of heaven captured my imagination, and forced me to examine what my dome of heaven looked like, and how it came to be. In the process, the idea that preserving autobiographical memory was critical to preserving a sense of self became a dominating thought. How do you go about preserving memories that have already begun to fade? How does one go about resurrecting their autobiographical memory? How important is the preservation of self to our sense of well-being?

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