Monday, March 14, 2016

Letting Go of Memories

We love our good memories. We think positively of people who have been strong influences on our life’s direction. People who have been greatly helpful in teaching us about survival, values and happiness. People who have been with us at significant times and places. We remember special situations that nourished our mind and body with sensual treats, impossible to adequately describe later to friends. And we remember unique experiences that made us feel fulfilled, encouraged, challenged or loved.

We also love our bad memories. We think negatively of people who harmed us, thwarted us, led us astray. People who taught us fear, separation, and distrust. We remember situations that assaulted our senses, overwhelmed our capacity for understanding and forgiveness. Experiences that left us physically or spiritually hungry, discouraged, unmotivated, alone or unloved.

Loving our memories may seem an appropriate way to describe our feelings about “the good times,” but an inappropriate way to describe “the bad times.” But such a distinction exists only on the surface. When we look closely, we see that we experience our memories much the same regardless of content.

We apply significant portions of our time and attention to our memories. We usually direct ourselves to a consistent pool of specific memories rather than exploring the extensive image inventory of our mind. Feelings flow deeply from those memories, generating strong emotional responses rather than a simple cold, factual retelling. We are usually definite about their circumstances and details, even in the face of contrary facts and perspectives from others. Whatever lessons we may have learned from these memories are accepted fully and lived  rigidly, reinforced  by frequent retellings to ourselves and others. We instinctively sense that we would be someone other than who we are if we lost those stories. Which is why we love those stories so much – because we believe they define who we are, why we live and think as we do.

The greater concern is that every nanosecond that we spend in memory is time not spent in today. Time not spent moving us to tomorrow. Life pulls us into today via our daily responsibilities, yet it is our choice whether we fulfill those responsibilities in yesterday’s memories or today’s fresh thinking.

Memories can serve us well when we keep them in proper perspective and of limited duration.  We can recall good memories to maintain a positive direction and to reinforce a  balanced perspective of many good blessings received. We can recall bad memories as a way to avoid repeating bad choices because we have learned otherwise. Problems arise when we chase trying to recapture good times long gone. When we fail to recognize new opportunities emerging out of past seemingly familiar circumstances. When, in our imagination, we futilely seek to undo old mistakes made long ago. When the ill-treatment we received blinds us to the ill-treatment we have given. In these instances, we are hanging on to a life already lived rather than embracing our life where it is and could be.

In meditation we often talk of “just letting go.” Myriad thoughts are continually fighting for our attention, and many of those thoughts are reflections of memory. It can be tempting to reengage those memories, sink into the details, and relive their pleasures and pains. But in the quiet of that meditation, we put our emphasis instead on just letting the memories go. Acknowledge them, yes; indulge them, no. They were; they are not. We can love our good and bad memories. But to truly love them is to just let them pass into empty space. Thereby, we allow ourselves to pass into the new opening space that always awaits us.

©   2016   Randy Bell