An interesting experience with memory

I’ve recently been enjoying Night Court, a sitcom from the early 80s I have not seen since it first ran on TV decades ago. I was watching an episode where a ventriloquist said he would not get a dummy until he found an inspiring one. He had a look at the character of the balif, played by an extremely tall and bald actor. I suddenly remembered that the ventriloquist would go on to have a custom dummy made in the bailiff’s image.

There is no way this episode was in my thoughts for over 30 years. Had you asked me the day before, I wouldn’t even have remembered the existence of that episode.

Yet, coming close to it, some sort of associative recall kicked in and the memory came up effortlessly, naturally, in my mind ( often the way many memories do when I meditate, memories if I was asked about I would have no conscious knowledge of ).

It made me think of an account of rebirth I watched a few years ago on YouTube. I was watching a video from a former nun talking about rebirth. She related the story of a family member who upon arriving someplace in Australia, had a flash back to a former life. Never been to that place ( at least in this life ), not especially into thinking about rebirth.

It also reminded me of a talk by Ajahn Brahm on rebirth where he related the story of a comedian, who was also not especially focused on rebirth, stumbling across a neighborhood in London, and instantly knowing that he lived in a particular building before. Somehow he discovered his past name.

I’m not making claims of any kind.

I just think it is neat how a memory can come out so naturally, as in no big deal…but if someone asked you about it a day before you would have no recollection of it.


I just read The Mrmory Book by Harry Lorraine and he suggested that memory is just a series of links. The book was techniques for increasing memory by storing a starting link which was unique/unusual. This would certainly relate to your story.

I guess seeing a unique feature deeply stored in your memory from a previous life would do the same. I know someone who had this experience while traveling in Asia and was able to navigate around a city they’d never visited in this lifetime.

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I read that book over 30 years ago. I still remember most of the list from the first exercise.

It does make you wonder. You could travel somewhere someday and instantly get a stimulus to bring things back, or just be doing ordinary meditation and after ordinary, but forgotten memories float up, more significant ones further back could float up too.

This happens all the time. To make sense of experiences like this I refer to what I learned from bhante @sujato on saññā, perception, which has the function of matching things to their “holes”. Just like in that toy every toddler has got around, in which you push the stars through the star-shaped hole.

Hence, the experience of the episode was not kept somewhere in your mind but the whole or impression was still there. Maybe not perfectly preserved but as the episode unfolded all the rough and rusted edges got cleared up and hence it felt “like if it was yesterday”.

Does it make sense to you?

I have a lot of that sort of thing with auditory memory. If I listen to an Audible book again, several years after the first hearing, I frequently know what is coming up, and get flashbacks of exactly where I was the first time I heard whatever section I’m in. Sure would be nice to be able to pull those memories up at will, but it doesn’t seem to work that way.

I have similar time-and-place memory responses to pieces of music I haven’t heard for forty or fifty years, but only if I haven’t heard it a bunch of times in between.

I’m pretty sure these are common experiences, but I rarely hear anyone talk about them.

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Yes I have strong auditory memory too. I realised this about 10yrs ago and decided to buy a new album every time I travelled. Then when I listened to that album later it’d transport me back to the place. I have albums for all sorts of places. I was more likely to lolidten to music than look at old photos.
Now I’m on 8 precepts I don’t listen to music but I use places to help learn chanting.

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