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Do you have a good memory?

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I heard the other day that getting school children to memorise chunks of poetry is back in fashion. When I was at school memorising, or “learning by rote” as it was sometimes called, was also in fashion.

(To call this “fashion” is not actually accurate. There is something more going on here i.e. power games and competing ideas. What is in fashion is the “thesis”. An idea, the antithesis i.e. what has gone out of fashion, is backed by those who want to make their fame and fortune and so they promote the antithesis until it takes over again.)

Speaking personally, I always had difficulty memorising poetry as a pupil. For one thing, I never understood poetry in those days. Most of it was meaningless to me. Nor were the poems I was required to commit to memory of my own choosing. The teacher chose them for us and, for the most part, I didn’t like them. Thus the job of memorising was slow, laborious and effortful and contributed to putting me off poetry for a long time.

The need to memorise vast quantities of unrelated facts or poetry or equations or whatever else my education demanded of me, was the bane of my student life. This experience led me to think that I had a “bad memory”. Yet contrary to expectations, as I get older, I find that far from getting worse, my memory has improved. Memorising is no longer a laborious chore, but effortless. The following explains this phenomenon.

There is a common expression in the English language which means the same as “to memorise”: to learn off by heart. It’s rather an odd expression when you think about it. What on earth can it mean? What has the heart got to do with memorising?

What this expression is pointing to is the recognition that when one is following one’s likes and interests, memorising becomes effortless because one’s heart is in it. This understanding has now been lost, but when the expression “to learn off by heart” entered the language, people must have understood the concept.

The way I was required to memorise, however, and the way people are still required to memorise, is “heartless”. That is, one is being forced to stuff one’s memory full of meaningless junk, making the process extremely difficult and burdensome. Not only that, but it does a great deal of damage psychologically. Being told what to memorise, and, by implication, what is important, is a killer, is treating a person like a machine. It leads to a loss of a fundamental and vital aspect of being human, one’s spirit. This is what it means to become dis-spirited.

So, memorising or learning things should be effortless, which it is as long as one’s “heart is in it”.

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