Quote of the Day

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

it's all in your mind

Last evening the sky was like an impressionist painting. A painting in motion, turquoise swatches peeking out from between big jaunty puffs of cloud, slowly turning color as I walked from Market Street to Divisadero; darkening cumulonimbus encroaching upon the last strains of sunset and reminding me somehow of early summer nights and gently tumultuous seas... and something else, a persistent feeling I could not pin down, floating just out of reach on the late evening breeze and lingering on my mind.

I have these moments when I encounter an inexplicable sense of abstract nostalgia, triggered by something so subtle, so obscure that I can't quite seem to put my finger on it. It may be the color or cloud pattern of the sky, the route taken home, a faint whiff of incense or wood smoke, even just a certain intangible energy in the air. I don't know what it was the other night that evoked in me this feeling, just as I can't account for why a year ago, wandering alone down strange streets on my first trip to Chicago, I found myself overcome with an odd sense of familiarity almost akin to deja vu. And it wasn't the first time it had happened.

I can't explain how a place I've never been before can awaken nostalgia in me, or how I can suddenly be transported to a completely different time and place while walking down the same streets I see every day. And I'm not sure whether this is a common phenomenon or not. It's a very curious and slightly spooky sensation, this feeling somewhere between nostalgia and deja vu and yet not quite either. But it's also actually quite pleasant, if at times in a bittersweet way. I can only describe it as feeling very alive, very aware and present, and yet at the same time with a slight shift in consciousness, caught up in a vague ephemeral ghost of memory or mood.

It's the kind of experience that makes me believe that there could be such a thing as reincarnation, and leaves me marveling at the complexity and mystery of the human brain, that tiny subtle cues of sight or smell or sound can somehow trigger connections that we didn't even know were there, or that seem impossible, that we can't even explain in words.

Perhaps serendipitously, this morning on NPR I happened to hear a story about a recent study published in the scientific journal PNAS. The research in this particular study found that "the emotion tied to a memory lingers in the mind even after the memory is gone." So maybe this is what I've been experiencing all along. Perhaps even after long forgotten events and days have faded into the distant depths of mind and heart, their ghosts linger on to haunt us at an unexpected time or place, leaving us slightly shaken or strangely comforted. I wonder if some of us are more prone to this than others, and if so why. Either way, I find it fascinating to ponder the possibilities.

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