Auld Lang Syne



Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot 

And days of auld lang syne.

This grand old mare of a holiday’s-end tune will get its sonic wearing out later this week.  For this stricken year of 2020,  we’ll be more likely singing it over Zoom or in small, distanced gatherings rather than in big parties or Times Square.  Guy Lombardo will nevertheless turn over in his grave, how and wherever it’s performed.  (Look him up, kids.)

The song is an old Scottish folk tune, with lyrics later applied by the legendary poet Robert Burns.  It asks us to consider the value of times old… long… since.

Should old acquaintances (relationships and their memories) be forgotten?  And never brought to mind?  Most suggest Burns is in favor of carrying the past with us in memory.  George Santayana, the essayist who gave us the aphorism, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” would agree.  Yet we most all have some relationships worth forgetting, and know some folks that insist on looking always forward and never behind, if they can help it.

Two ideas about memories adjacent to the purpose of this blog come to, um, mind.

First: we may choose not to bring old stuff to mind, but rare is the mind that can keep it out.  Short of substance use or neurological conditions, we store experience as memory.  The “witnessed” (generally perceived as “visual”) aspect is stored;  I tend to nickname that “video.”   So is, at least initially for most events, the somatic and emotional aspects of events… the “soundtrack.”  Potent events, especially traumatic ones, tend to have the sensory soundtrack aspect remain, and even be over-represented in recurring memory. For trivial events, the soundtrack mostly dissipates, like a train having passed.  Events may stay back in the “library stacks” of mind, in “implicit” memory, only to emerge into an “explicit” state with some hint or trigger:  a song, an image, a new situation that replays or reminds of an old, powerful one.

In these situations, it can be helpful in the moment to employ skills we use on the cushion.  Take a moment and a breath, then open to the memory as the object to briefly observe.  As memory is mostly perceived as cognitive, it’s easy to jump into loops of associated thoughts and judgment of the memory.  But consider instead a “drop into the body,” or even the imaginal “breathe into the body” tactic.  This week’s dropped “A Mindful Moment” podcast, on the “Mindful Breather,” gives yet a fuller but still brief practice of tuning into a moment such as a powerful memory, via a purposeful survey of body, feeling, thoughts and the quality of the observing.  (This is also some audacious cross-promotion.)

The other idea:  we may not have the time or inclination to engage an “auld” moment in the current one.   No worries; save it for later, using it in formal practice time.  Practices in Part II of Practical Mindfulness include moving our “anchor” off the breath and onto more complex ones.  My snarky metaphor for this derives from competitive cooking shows:  we can drop the theme ingredient into mind to work with.  We “sit with” a relationship, and observe how that “auld acquaintance” operates in us in body, heart, and thought.  We can keep a “meta” eye on how some aspects may drive distraction.

It’s a mindful way to attend to our acquaintances, understand them better, and cultivate the valued ones as we emerge into a brighter 2021.  Happy new year!

 Take care, stay safe.  GCS

Practical Mindfulness: A Physician’s No-Nonsense Guide to Meditation for Beginners (Mango Press, available 1-19-2021) is available for pre-order at this fine sites:


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