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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Getting to the point.

Let’s get to the point of this blog. I’ll start with a little humour to get my point across.

There is a joke that may have some variations on the theme, but it goes like this…

One day, a man was visiting a friend in a long-term care facility. At the desk, he was told to have a seat in the recreation room and wait for his friend, who was receiving some form of therapy for about twenty minutes more. On entry, who does his see sitting at a table working on a puzzle, but his first true love, his high school sweet heart. He goes over to the table and says, “Milli, it’s me. Do you remember me?” Milli stares at him blankly. He tries again, “Milli, it’s me Herman, from high school. I was your boy friend during our Senior year. We went to the prom together.” Milli stares blankly at him. “Milli, surely you know who I am”, he said with some emotion. Milli finally speaks saying, ” I don’t know how you know my name. I’m really very sorry. I don’t know who you are. I can’t help you at all, but if you go over to that lady at the desk she will be able to tell you. She reminds me who I am everyday.”

Milli not only has no idea who Herman is, but she needs to be reminded each day who she herself is. This joke pokes fun at a pretty serious problem, and one has to be careful who you tell it to, since it might cut close to the bone. There really isn’t much to laugh about when it comes to memory loss due to aspects of aging. The two individuals who are the subject of this joke represent polar opposites in terms of memory. Herman, clearly as old as Mille, still has his personal history intact. Milli has lost her history, and essentially has lost herself, save receiving a reminder each day. So, given the choice, I would like to be a Herman as I age, and not a Milli.

I’ll be sixty-seven this year, and very much aware of my own mortality, and the possible fragility of memory. Is there nothing one can do to combat intellectual decline and preventing the loss of one’s personal history? The solution to combating intellectual decline is to keep your mind active, engage in learning new things, and maintaining old interests as much as possible. There is evidence in support of those ideas. The common wisdom is, use it, or lose it. There are many computer related programs to help one exercise various components of our memory, just not the memory compartments associated with autobiographical memory.

Preventing the loss of personal history is another story, but my Aunt Rose presented me with a solution, for at the age of 100 as of October 2012, she is s sharp as a tack. Her secret is that she is completely in touch with her personal history, and the histories of so many others. She is able to relate story after story about events in her life, and the lives of many family members. I concluded, that story telling based on her autobiographical memories rehearsed those memories so many times that they became indelibly etched in her mind.

In her story telling, the element of recall of fact was important, but as she related facts, they were embellished with how people reacted in the scenarios she related. My centenarian aunt is exercising her mind in such a way that she exercised and strengthened her declarative memory.  So the key ideas that drive my blogging relate to this idea of exercising declarative memory for the purpose of preserving the self thorough the reclamation and rehearsal of autobiographical memories.

I’ll relate all this to the idea of a personal Dome of Heaven in my next entry.

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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