|Flowers in my yard. We all take time and patience grow.|
Tonight memory emerged as a main theme during my Buddhist book discussion group, where we are currently reading Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard, a French-born Buddhist monk. We focused on finding inner-knowledge, regardless of our personal histories, by making a regular practice of quieting our minds to allow for new inspiration. Following prescriptions forged by past experiences do not always lead to productive decisions. We can become trapped in a cycle by reacting as we always have. That can lead us back to exactly where we started.
This topic led to a bit of an aside. We discussed how our past changes us, how we reflect upon previous experiences, and how we only know turning points in our lives upon looking back. We do not have to disavow our pasts in order to make effective choices. Sometimes we learn by getting burned - by a flame, candle or otherwise, for example. Our pasts shape us, but our memories do not have to control us.
This idea inspired me. Someone mentioned that he can look at memories with a clarity that is not present when the past is, well, present. We extract information and insight from experiences as they are occurring, but we gain wisdom from observing our pasts from afar. Distance from an event, in both time and space, allows us to look back upon an experience without being affected emotionally. We can remember past occurrences without reliving them. We can become observers of our own lives. That is when the fruit of the past is ripe for picking, eating and digesting. Some experiences take more time to ripen than others; sometimes we remain embroiled in the present (presence?) of an experience for so long, we do not know how to quell the blaze.
Here are a couple examples of experiences that have affected me greatly - one is old and silly, the other is recent and serious:
1) For YEARS I was embarrassed about a middle school incident - because middle school is rough on everyone, and even little events become gigantic traumas. My shoe squeaked in gym class one day when we were all silently lined up in our rows, and my classmates accused me of farting. I was so humiliated, and it took time, distance and the realization that a) I am probably the only person who remembers the event, and b) I have actually farted in front of people who really mean something to me. Finally, after years of reliving the red-faced heat of that moment, I can look back and see the humor. I am no longer so afraid of standing out, because I know I can live through/with embarrassment;
2) When my Aunt Vickie died unexpectedly a couple months ago, I played that day over and over again as if it were my favorite record. I relived the phone call, the drive over to my aunt and uncle's house, the first sight of my cousins' faces, my uncle's pain, and on and on and on. I drowned in those feelings. They prevented me from sleeping and caused intense panic attacks. This event has caused trauma of a different sort - related to my own mortality, the mortality of those I love, the fear of being alone, etc. It took going to a therapist and meditating regularly to begin to dissipate those feelings. It's only been a couple of months, so, obviously, the forces of that event are still affecting me. I still do not have the clarity of distance my acquaintance mentioned, but I really want this experience to be profound in the most positive way possible. Because I do not want to be ill, I have decided to make coping an activity into which I put real energy. I am developing skills I can take along with me into future experiences.
I am in no way a Jedi Master, a guru, a saint or a genius. I am a person who thinks too much, too deeply, and, at times, too darkly. I most certainly chew the cud too often. From my perspective, time, patience and space from an experience help. So does intentionally re-focusing my mind whenever I start to ruminate. Feeling that I have a choice in what I think about, and intention in how I think and act, makes me feel like I am in control of the content of my life. I may not be able to control what happens during my life, but I can react in ways that benefit my well-being by being conscious of my thoughts and actions.
Any reflections on memories and how your recover from the past, apply lessons to the present, and take the skills learned into the future?