Sunday, 5 December 2010

Memory Maker or Moment Maker?

"Enjoy your memories...but don’t forget that memory is like salt, the right amount brings out the flavour in food, too much ruins it." Paulo Coelho

Several years ago I was visiting Paris for the first time and since no visit to Paris is complete without a visit to the spectacular Louvre, on my first morning I headed straight there.

I have to say I wasn’t disappointed, as I entered the courtyard of the Louvre Palace, with its magnificent architecture and sparkling glass pyramid, I knew this was a special place.

Once inside I headed straight for one of the main attractions, the original painting of the Mona Lisa. I went into a large room and saw a surprisingly tiny painting at one end housed in a glass cabinet and protected by a security guard.

In front of me was a melee of several hundred people with cameras and mobile phones held aloft as everyone tried to grab that precious snapshot, that precious memory. I dived in, camera first and flashed away until I was satisfied with my own tiny burred image, my own special memory, and then I moved on.

Later, that experience and a number of others made me realize something surprising:

Memories are a pretty poor investment.

I had been to visit one of the most famous paintings in the world and because every one of us there was trying preserve the memory, our experience had consisted of fighting our way through a crowd, pointing our cameras in the air and leaving with a tiny blurred image that hardly even resembled the Mona Lisa. 

We would have been better off just printing a picture off the internet. Trying to preserve the memory had robbed us of the richness of the present moment.

This wasn’t a one off. I started to realize time and time again that when something special was happening I was often dragging myself out of the moment in an attempt to capture it or make it more memorable. 

As I started to review my own memories, I also realized a second thing:

Memories are unstable.

I started to notice how many decisions I made based on the fact that they would create memories. I would think, I want to travel to such and such a place because ‘it would be great to have been there’. Or I want to go to this concert because ‘it would be great to have seen them live’. I suddenly noticed this was all in the past tense. My motivation for doing things was the creation of memories.

And here’s the problem with just trying to create memories, we can have the most amazing adventures but it only takes one bad thing to turn the memory of them sour. 

For example, at the end of that great trip we have our passport and all our money stolen, that great memory we were making turns into a nightmare. Or that perfect wedding we spent months planning with all those amazing photographs in the beautiful gardens is spoiled by the wind and rain. I realized that being a ‘Memory Maker’ is a dangerous game to play.

So instead, I started to shift my attention into the present moment, I started to become a Moment Maker and I noticed how it was much more rewarding. I found that the memories still made themselves, I couldn’t stop them, the difference was just a shift of my focus.

As a ‘Moment Maker’ I no longer made decisions based on creating a remembered past and I no longer felt I was continually grasping trying to hold onto memories. It was amazing how my priorities changed. I started to seek out meaningful experiences rather than just ticking off things I thought would be good memories.

When we become a Moment Maker our happiness is derived from the present moment, always fresh and new. It removes that sense of loss or helplessness over the past, over memories turned sour. All we are left with is the present which is all that really exists anyway.

Of course, memories still have their place, we couldn’t function as humans without them. But I think if we take care of the moment, the memories will take care of themselves.

Image courtesy of Mike Baird


  1. I wrote about memories and salt yesterday as well...Coelho is really making a difference.
    Love this blog :) Following you now!

  2. Thanks Anna, I thought Paulo's salt metaphor was perfect. Looking forward to checking out what you wrote too.

  3. Simplismente me sinto privilegiada em poder ler essas coisas lindas que você escreve, pois elas falam alto dentro do meu coração...quando leio , sinto-me invadida por uma imensa e deliciosa paz interior...não tem jeito...sou sua eterna Fã...Amo este blog e mais ainda o homem maravilhoso que o escreve...e se eu tivesse que resumir o que você e este blog significam pra mim em uma única palavra ...seria...Dádiva...seguirei vc sempre...

  4. Patty, obrigado por suas palavras muito generosas. Eu espero que você continuar gostando o que você lê.