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Needless Suffering from Unreliable Memories
This morning, as I was recognizing a connection between my nightly dream and the impressive plot of the late night movie I watched---with a smile I thought again how we tend to see movies as "real" events. I also thought how that illusion usually disappears the moment we start thinking about the technicalities of making that movie.
Like, it suddenly stops being important whether the main hero will survive all those perils; or whether he and his female partner will tie the knot with a bedroom scene at the end of the movie---as soon as the script-writer gets into the picture. Just a shift in perspective makes the whole experience different.
Something similar you see with certain tunes which suddenly sound different after their lyrics have been changed. Take the song like "It's Now Or Never" performed by Elvis Presley, which was originally the old Italian song "O Sole Mio". Elvis's lyrics of an "impatient love" have nothing to do with the Italian "sunshine".
Just for another similar example, "No Other Love" with Jo Stafford, sounding by lyrics like an "ode to love" has absolutely nothing to do with Frederic Chopin's classic "Tristesse", which by the title obviously romanticized "sadness". Exactly the same tune, just different lyrics, and there you have two different musical experiences.
As we are about to see, nothing much different happens with our painful memories once when we change their meaning.
We Merely Remember Our Reactions
Let us start by saying it all in a nutshell: we don't remember what "actually" happened back there, but only our state of mind at the time while it was happening, or our interpretation of it.
Since memories, especially those with a strong emotional charge attached may stay with us forever posing as a "reliable record" of what actually happened, we never bother examining them for their truthfulness. But we should.
You see, in all experiencing where we are somehow "relating" to the something or somebody---unlike that impersonal school or job material that we are memorizing---our mind is bound to process it by a bunch of beliefs and attitudes we have at the time.
Thus, you may not remember your last birthday at its factual value, but merely as the end result of that inner processing. As a matter of fact, our mind is incapable of experiencing anything outside of that computation involving those important parameters of our beliefs and attitudes. We literally have to "believe in order to see", not the other way around---to "see in order to believe".
Now, if any of you may have some traumatic memories from childhood or later in life, you may even derive quite some relief from this logic.
Memories Are Made of Dream Material
Just try to think in terms of this folly of all our memories which don't allow us to remember "real" events, but only our state of mind at that time---which makes one hell of a difference.
Remember how our process of growing up basically meant dropping away so much of that innocent silliness of young age. So, if I happened to ask you: "What significance has your toilet training in your present life?"- you would laugh at the silly question. But, when you think, I mean really deep about it, all your childhood emotional experiencing should have the same impact on your present emotional repertoire.
Before you protest this strange logicalness, let me assure you that remembering a state of mind from our formative years or even later in life is equal to reliving a dream. Both are equally unreal in your present life---they only meant something at time of experiencing, as even your dream felt as real while you were dreaming it.
My wife is an expert in memorizing her dreams, and I always have to try hard to keep my face serious while she is telling a whole long story with big eyes and excitement in voice, sometimes even wiping something from her eye. Myself, I can only remember fragments of my dreams, and those are not a match to her vivid and detailed stories.
And as I am listening to her, it's almost impossible to tell whether it's a figment of her nocturnal imagination or a real experience, for at times she may even show me her goosebumps as if to "prove" something as real in those dreams. She takes them seriously as a sort of "nightly events"---even though she knows those are only dreams.
Likewise, we all know that our memories are just "water under the bridge"---and yet, on a certain level we take them seriously enough as to allow their participation in the computation of our current experiences.
Refusing a Slavery to Bad Memories
Unless and until we change something about their significance, not much can be done, because that's the way the brain works, by the principle of association and reference. Whatever we presently experience, brain associates with some similar-by-detail experience in our past.
Since there is always enough similarities in those details, we suffer needlessly, allowing those "bad" experiences to emotionally color our present emotional processing of our current relating to people and situations.
A child's strong impression of not being treated fairly by a parent may later in life trigger the same emotional experience at the slightest boss's mishandling of a situation in which our personal value is at stake. And that emotional causality is bound to stay intact for as long as we don't start dismissing our memories as unreliable.
My personal story, or at least a part of it, could do for a pretty poignant tear-jerker movie---and yet, I just feel incredibly enriched by everything that was happening back there. All it took for me was this realization that I was perfectly capable of switching a "victimhood lyrics" into an emotionally neutral or even comical one---even though the "tune" stayed the same. All over again---Chopin's "Tristesse" turning into something like an "ode to love".
That's right folks, it doesn't take much more but listen to the Beatles' "Hey Jude", and stop at the place where they say: "Take a sad song and make it better". Think of that sad or bitter or scary moment back there, and allow your imagination to go wild with one question: what would it take to make it all comical?
After all, those masters of humor have made funny just about anything tragic---from folks who were handicapped, stuttering, depressed, terrified, to those dead.
Our Younger-Selves' Present---but Not "Our" Past
Just for the hell of it, we could even go a little deeper into this whole matter of memories, which are ultimately nothing more than mind's constructs. And, if we would want to visit the truth even one flight of stairs deeper, we would be facing the fact that the whole life is nothing but a state of mind. O.K., we won't go any deeper, because there we might see something like one colossal virtual reality which we prefer calling our life.
But, without digging that deep into the matter, we might examine a little what we mean when we say "my past". Who told us this lie that it was "our" past? We are not that same person of our teenage years. We only got the same DNA, and our fingerprints, giving us that evenly spread sense of "I-amness" thoughout all our ages.
That sense, plus our ability to memorize gives us an illusion that we are talking about the "same" person. Memory initially serves us to learn useful material for our psycho-physical survival, but somehow our "bad memories" became the part of that "learning" as well. While we are capable of un-learning, somehow we choose to stick to our memory of our earlier ages.
Let me put it this way: I am not that teenager that I remember. Every atom of my body has been replaced several times since then. Just because I can remember a lot of Latin language and other high school material, doesn't mean that that teenager is also a reliable memory.
Like for example, that Latin saying invented by us horny teenagers: "Bonus penis---pax in domus" - or, in plain polite English: " Good penis---peace at home". The real value of that saying doesn't make that teenage-me more "real".
My present remembering that teenager is merely a mental act in this present moment, and it completely consists of remembering his experiencing of himself, which says nothing about me-the-72-years-young-dude. The only "me" is this one, I can't "be" a memory, just like I can't "be" a dream.
Indeed folks, in order to set ourselves emotionally free from all those sabotaging bad memories, we just have to junk that Freudian notion of emotional slavery to the past. Yes, we may choose to be exactly that, but to the rescue comes the truth that it's only so as long as we agree with that slavery.
Let Us Not Identify Ourselves with Those Memories
It's totally true when we say that old adage: "Today is the beginning of the rest of our life". Doesn't it even sound better than: "We are the sum total of all our up-till-now thoughts, emotions and beliefs".
Yuck! Who wants to get stuck in that Freudian garbage? Even he shouldn't have liked it, because it didn't make him mentally healthy person, but someone who mistreated his wife, and ended up with an arranged suicide. How is that for being a celebrated analyst whose crap is still being studied at universities and professed widely in the world?
Thus, I am not a bona fide scholar giving you some "academic marvels", but instead--- a choice between taking your past seriously or treating it like my wife's long dreams before she gets her morning coffee. Today is the time when all those bad memories can lose their significance.
There is no psychological or neurological obstacle to that. Just think how a good hypnotherapist can instantly cure you from a kinophobia---an irrational fear of dogs. A memory of a dog bite in childhood may haunt you for the rest of your life so severely that you fear even those tiny and cute puppies. How is that for unreliable memories?
But then the good hypnotherapist scoops deeply into your memory bank and turns your memory in such a way that afterwards you are rushing to the nearest pet store to buy yourself a puppy. It's all about the change of the perspective.
Just like a tense movie stops being tense the moment you remember the whole filming crew hidden in front of the scene---those bad memories stop being bad when you accept it on your gut level that memories are not more truthful than a dream you had last night.
Like I said in so many other of my articles: mind is infamous for playing tricks on us. Needless suffering because of some painful memories shouldn't continue---because we have a power to see them as harmless.
I am aware that the material in this article may be a little strange to some of you, because it is within our cultural paradigm to give much importance to memories. Just look how important we see our "glorious" histories, which are really nothing but a bunch of shaming stories.
Mankind should really snap out of glorifying their toilet training phase of development---so then maybe they would stop crapping all over the globe.
Likewise, in a more personal sense, our memories are just dragging us down to those stages of our development which were meant to be outgrown, not perpetuated by suffering in any way.