Prison of the Past: Compassion of the Present

The Vedic horoscope is a reflection of our past experiences, playing out as today’s karmas.

All of us rarely have a true encounter with the people and events in our life because past events and memories shape our current perceptions by creating a filter through which we interact with the world. Our mind is like an “anticipation machine” that continually prepares itself for the future based on what has happened in the past. It often prejudges incoming experiences and forces us to assume the outcome before it occurs, as it has already decided what is good and bad.

The two planets that represent the mind in the horoscope are Mercury and Moon. Mercury shows our ability to see objective reality and moon our subjective reality. The Moon is the emotional responses created by our mind conditioned by past memories and Mercury the mental skills, knowledge and education we have acquired to navigate and understand our world.

Interestingly, in Vedic Astrology, the Moon is also called manas, or mind, signifying that since our memory bank is subjective, very often so is the response of our mind.  Mercury, is called Budha, or intelligence, showing the mind’s capacity to perceive objectively. A joining of moon and mercury, or when they are in each other’s signs, can cause our subjective and objective reality to become muddled.

Only when we begin to free ourselves from the subjective prison of our memories or Moon Mind can we become the active authors of our own life story.

The key to this freedom is Presence; in the present we are in touch with ourselves, our True inner essence and the planetary karmas, old patterns and memories lose their hold. When we are not in the "now” but in the past or future we are completely at the mercy of our memories.

To understand how to become Present we have to first understand how memory works and how the experiences of our past influence us in the future. (Vedic Astrology includes the influence of past life memories, that linger in our consciousness and re-inter our mind through the moon, guiding our behaviors).

Neuroscientists describe two types of memory; implicit and explicit.  Implicit memories are triggered involuntarily, and explicit memories are the ones we voluntarily recall. Implicit memories are created by the brain for efficiency, so that we can automatically recall something we have learnt, like riding a bicycle, without pausing and retrieving. However, they constantly influence our present without our awareness.

We encode implicit memories throughout our life, and in the first eighteen months many researchers believe we encode only implicitly. Beginning in the womb, the infant encodes the smells and tastes and sounds of home and parents, the sensations in the belly of the mother, when she is hungry, when she is happy and even how the mother’s body stiffens in response to fear and anger. In Vedic Astrology, the first 18 months are decoded in the first house (ascendant), and as such, the first house is the basis of which the whole chart is read. A troubled first house can make it difficult for the rest of the planets to fully manifest, regardless of how well they are placed.

Recently, I had an amusing episode, where I realized how powerful implicit memories are when we lose touch with the present. As a child I lived in a third floor apartment in a very congested city in India, where the water and electricity were sporadic. Bath time was often eventful because if the people in the apartment below turned on their tap there was often not enough water pressure in our bathroom upstairs. My mother would time our baths to avoid this problem, but many times this did not work out and in the middle of a bath the water would get turned off. As I got older, I learned to do what my mother did which was to lean over the balcony and say “hey, neighbors below, turn off your tap, it’s our turn”. A few days ago, I was in my shower in my home in Austin, rushing to get ready as I had a plane to catch, and realized that my daughter had once again borrowed my shampoo and conditioner and taken it to her bathroom and forgotten to put it back. Annoyed, shivering and dripping wet with hair color running down my face, I wrapped a towel and ran upstairs to my daughter’s bathroom to retrieve my toiletries and by the time I reached the top of the stairs I realized that I had involuntarily repeated “hey neighbors below, turn off your tap, it’s our turn”. This completely involuntary recall of a long forgotten memory of more than 45 years ago left me with the realization that heightened emotions and bodily discomfort had completely removed me from the present moment triggering an irrelevant implicit memory.

When we retrieve an explicit memory we are aware that we are bringing something from the past into our awareness, which is not the case with implicit memory. High emotions (ie rage, discomfort, even happiness) shut off our ability to be present and trigger implicit memories. Long periods of excessive stress can even block the formation or access to any new explicit memories making all our responses highly subjective, as they are driven from implicit memory only.

During Sade Sati (the seven and half years as Saturn transits our natal Moon) or Moon planetary periods, implicit memory becomes boundless, which is why it is even more critical to work on becoming more present in those periods.

So how does one create Presence?

Budha taught that the source of all suffering is our attempt to escape from direct experience. Being present means not directing our attention at trying to change the situation but being with what is happening, no matter how good or bad. It means paying precise, nonjudgmental attention to the details of our current experience, as it arises and subsides and rejecting no part of it. Being present means respecting the dignity and rationality of each situation and person, it means suspending our own views temporarily and not wishing for things, people or situations to be different. It means releasing our preconceived expectations and above all it requires a great deal of patience and trust. This applies to pleasant experiences as well, which we so often fail to relish, because of future fears or past distractions.

Contrary to what it may sound like, being present does not preclude fully participating in life or delaying taking action to improve our lives. Rather presence allows us to truly understand what needs to be done to change the situation, if it needs changing. And, accepting our situation if it cannot be changed. It allows us to access our intelligent mercury mind and the wisdom of Jupiter, the fearlessness of Mars, the principled action of the Sun, the love of Venus, and endurance of Saturn, rather than relying solely on the emotionally reactive moon mind.

In 2014, may all our actions be filled with the compassion of Presence towards ourselves and others.